Does your product experience cut it in 2022?

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Andrew Wardlaw

27 Jul, 2022 | 2 minutes

Let’s face it, modern life has become emotionally draining, and detrimental to our attention spans. For manufacturers, it’s becoming even harder for their latest innovation or renovation effort to get noticed on the airwaves – or even in store. Maybe it’s time to ‘weaponize’ the product experience – making it much more memorable and shareable.

As we move beyond the pandemic, brand saliency is again under pressure. We are living in an era of longer working hours, an acceleration of digital distractions and ramped-up anxiety levels which together are consuming vast amounts of mental energy. So, for your latest innovation effort: ‘ain’t nobody got time for that!’

I have the opportunity to talk to many product developers working on some of the world’s best consumer brands, and I’ve been exploring new ways in which we can improve the tangible elements of the marketing mix – principally the pack and the product. Having worked in the CPG sector for over 30 years, I believe that we are now at a point where we must let go of our quest for optimization (‘Just About Right’ in survey lingo) and instead act on opportunities for sensorial elevation – creating mini-moments of awe and wonder in mainstream spaces.

In 2022, people are expecting more from their supermarket haul. That’s because almost everything matters more. Concerns over the future of our planet, our mental & physical state and even our ability to survive the current cost of living crisis is creating more intentional purchasing. In other words, the momentum behind every shopper’s purchase decision has increased. And by implication, the expectations placed upon product choices will have risen.

Running in parallel to all this is what some commentators are calling a post-pandemic ‘vibe shift’ - where experiences are valued much more highly. Consumer forecasting experts at WGSN predict the emergence of sensory seeking consumers, who are hungry for physical experiences to fully realize life’s rich mix.

WGSN expect the YOLO (You Only Live Once) mindset to apply across more aspects of our lives, meaning that ‘User Experience’ should at the forefront of every brand manager’s agenda.

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Create Tangible Value

But is ‘UX’ worth investing in at a time of rising costs? The current situation has shifted industry focus on value, and rightly so. Private label is already benefiting from shoppers’ increased scrutiny over what they buy.

It’s immensely concerning – but not overly surprising - that an MMR survey conducted in March found that four-fifths of shoppers in the U.K and U.S consider supermarket brands to be every bit as good as brands. In respect of quality, there is very little to pull brands and supermarket alternatives apart.

When private label quality is perceived to be at parity with brands, what else beyond investments in brand distinctiveness and purpose is there? Is there something more tangible to offer the more scrutinous consumer? Something that is ‘worth paying more for’?

In light of the forecast from WGSN, it’s important that we acknowledge that many people remain intent on living a little after the ordeal of a pandemic – and affordable experiences from supermarket shelves are a highly attractive option. Now more than ever, brands must demonstrate superior experiences – achieved by what I am labeling ‘heightened product theatre’.

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Heightened Product Theatre

For brands in mainstream spaces, the shift in people’s expectations can be felt quite quickly. Manufacturers must react fast or risk becoming irrelevant. Recently in the U.S, Danone admitted that its Greek Yogurt was losing household penetration, especially with Millennials. The company did some research and learned that although many people choose yogurt for its functional benefits, the product experience was lack-luster. The sensory journey was mediocre.

At PepsiCo, we’ve seen some pretty amazing launches since the pandemic to break into people’s attention spans with products that are dramatically different to standard fare. Take Nitro Pepsi, which uses ‘nitro tech’ to deliver an elevated cola experience.

“Nitro Pepsi is the first ever nitrogen-infused cola that’s actually softer than a soft drink – it’s creamy, smooth and has a mesmerizing cascade of tiny bubbles topped off by a frothy foam head.”

PepsiCo.

MMR’s sensory specialists were hugely impressed by Pepsi’s effort, noting that every single sensory touchpoint – sound, appearance, texture, aroma, and taste – had been positively impacted.

When it comes to heightened product theatre, brand managers should take inspiration from this product.

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Think differently

As brand managers and product developers wrestle with the growing need to act differently, responding to the vibe shift in people’s daily lives, I would urge CPG manufacturers to consider how they can create products capable of breaking through and being more remembered. The alternative is to risk slowly fading from the collective consciousness.

Our increasingly digital lives may be shattering for our attention spans, but according to neuroscience, they are also generating huge appetite for heightened sensory stimulation – and therein lies the commercial opportunity!

So, think about your category. Consider your total user experience and not just the moment of consumption. Where in your consumer journey can you create a memorable peak? What aspect of your product’s sensory signature could you amplify so that it offers customers more of what they love? What sounds, aromas and textures could you bring on to shift perceptions your customers’ entire experience?

These are challenging times, but there is further headroom for brands to outclass private label. In many cases the solution can be minor. Remember to download our guide to better user experiences here. If you want to understand how to elevate the ambition of your next innovation brief, get in touch here.

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