Get Set America for the Product Era.

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Andrew Wardlaw

30 Sept, 2021 | 4 minute read

We need to talk about the end of the brand era. Marketing campaigns have been losing impact, which is why your product is more important than it has ever been. In this article, Andrew Wardlaw, Chief Ideas Officer at MMR examines how your product can step up as part of the total user experience.

Back in the day when I worked for General Mills, and we’re talking late nineties here, it was not uncommon for advertising creative to generate a 6-10% uplift in sales. Oh, happy days, because today’s marketing commentators have a different story to tell.

In 2019, Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at Proctor & Gamble declared that ‘the days of advertising as we know it are numbered’, advising that we must ‘plan for a world without ads.'

He may have been reading ‘The Long & Short of It’, by Peter Field and Les Binet, which make it abundantly clear that marketing campaigns are losing impact. They blamed a shift towards short term activation at the expense of long-term brand building.

And just before the pandemic struck, WPP told The New York Times that these are ‘dangerous days for advertisers’, adding that ‘shifts in viewing habits, commercial impressions in the most viewable, highest-attention media are in free fall across the world.”

End of mediocre

In a provocative new book, ‘Post Corona’, Scott Galloway declares a transition from the brand age to the product age. He writes about the acceleration away from advertising funded media to subscription services and says that this will make brand building even harder. Such a prospect is enough to ‘erode the competitive advantage once possessed by many of the dominant firms’ he says. It’s a book that should worry brand managers.


"Many companies sell essentially the same mass produced and mediocre product but registered a premium due to multigenerational investment in brand building.”

Scott Galloway, Post Corona, 2021.

No wonder then, that in an exclusive survey for MMR conducted in September 2021, 45% of CPG professionals agree that brand building will become more difficult.

But there is a way forward for America’s top consumer brands. With many marketing commentators predicting a surge in ‘sensory seekers’ – people wired for new experiences – product development professionals have an opportunity to push past standard liking metrics and create products that are far more engaging and memorable.

Towards elevated experiences

As a result of the pandemic, people are going to place even greater value on experiences in their lives. The last 18 months have deprived us of so much that many grocery items were bought in order to fill a void. In future, this expectation of experience is going to filter down to everyday consumer goods. I expect that the Post Corona American will want to be wowed, surprised, and thrilled by what they find in their grocery store. They will want an elevated product experience that makes life a little more satisfying.

To grow core ranges, America’s greatest brands will need more than a new flavor or format. I anticipate demand for supercharged innovation that is capable of swooning Generation Z - famous for their preference of experiences over stuff.

So, to make a lasting impression with your product, it is time to tune into the work of psychologists, who report that people tend to only remember the peak of an experience, and how it ends. Moreover, exceptional peaks have the power to lift residual memory of the whole experience – even if the bulk of it was unremarkable.

Chocolate icecream bite sensory

In the product age, where experiences matter more, it is time for our greatest brands to engage the ‘peak-end rule.’ Example of peaks include the popping of the seal on a can of Pringles. The ‘snap, crackle and pop’ of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. The Listerine Burn!

Beyond the peaks, I see opportunities to supercharge a product’s overall sensory signature – making your distinctive presence more potent and harder to give up.

And how could we make products more adventurous, responding to Americans whose ‘always on’ lifestyles are driving a need for even greater offline stimulation?

Following the shock of World War One and the 1918 flu epidemic, society entered an age of hedonism that is often reviewed as the ‘Roaring 20’s’. It was an unprecedented period of creativity and innovation. It gave rise to Art Deco, a luxurious and opulent decorative style, and was reflected in everything from interiors to fashion.

In the wake of this pandemic, we think we’re on a fundamentally different path.

Scott Galloway, in his provocative new book ‘Post Corona’, claims that this pandemic’s lasting legacy will be as an accelerant of trends already in play. Whether it’s eCommerce or mental health, it’s hard to argue with his sentiment.

Taking Galloway’s prognosis on board, we expect a number of trends that were ‘bubbling under’ pre pandemic will begin tipping into more mainstream mindsets. Collectively, these sub-trends are converging towards one big idea. That small is beautiful. That less is more.

Timing is everything

Post Corona, America’s legacy brands have a valuable and unexpected chance to reassert themselves and reward people’s display of affection. And that time is now!

Dr Sara Bru Garcia of MMR’s Behavioral Science think tank remarks that ‘In 2020, high levels of stress and anxiety caused a shift towards habitual shopping behavior in a bid to reduce uncertainty. But as we move into the Post Corona era, we can see that people’s preference for legacy brands will wane.’

Challenger brands have every chance of bouncing back and even surpassing their pre-pandemic momentum. Many commentators talk about ‘huge pent-up demand for newness.’

Coincidently, in our survey CPG professionals, 61% agree that sales growth will become harder over the next 18 months. Creating elevated user experiences for the future will help brand hold on to recent increases in penetration and loyalty.

Post-Corona innovation

History has shown that massive shocks such as a pandemic drive fresh ideas and innovation. We are only at the start of the ‘post’ period, where winning strategies for the longer term are still there for the taking. If we are to accept that the role of a brand is likely to be reduced, then something must take its place. Brand owners love to talk about the user experience, and as such, the role of the product is now ripe for elevation.

Making your product experience more memorable with sensory led approaches to innovation is now the way to go.

If you’d like to read more about how you can supercharge your innovation, click here to download our FREE eBook today.

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