Wednesday, 30 January 2013

More Nuts ? or More Caramel ?

More Nuts ?  or More Caramel ?

I found myself in B2B marketing a couple of weeks ago identifying the price (and product) taker position for most customers in the B2C context, which is often different in a B2B context where some proposition tailoring or development might reasonably be considered on both buyers and suppliers.

One of my favourite brands, McDonald's, came to mind to as an example.  Whether you love the gherkin or not, I doubt very much if you will get McDonald's to leave out the spicy green slither of pickled vitamins.  When you work with groups of truly global students it is always helpful to have a range of familiar global brands to use when you want to invite students to draw on their own experience.

As a truly global traveller (I have visited McDonald's in more than 45 countries worldwide) I know that Mickey D's offers a pretty similar (but not identical) short order menu everywhere.  Okay - strictly speaking Burger King did promote a customisable burger experience (along with flame grilled burgers and toasted buns) with a tag line along the lines of "Have it Your Way" allowing choice of ketchup and onions.  Fortunately, this didn't come up.

Randomly I then picked on a Snickers and suggested it would not be reasonable to ask a confectonary retailer to increase the amount of nuts in the bar, nor change the mix of fluffy mallow and chewy caramel. 

Imagine my surprise and quite frankly speaking, embarassment, when a week later I noticed strange labels on my favourite chocolate bar.  What's this I thought ?  More Caramel, More Nuts ?  Limited Edition. 

Does 'Limited Edition' engender a sense of urgency "buy me now or regret it forever" ?

Clearly following the current trend (possibly initiated in UK by Walkers crisps) for engaging consumers and putting out new product development into production, allowing consumers themselves to influence the final decision. 

Clever, thought I.  (I'm going as an oversized Yoda in an authentic Jedi dressing gown to a fancy dress party soon, needing to adopt his sentence structures, am I).  They can assess the produce sales speed and figure out if consumers prefer a mixture that has more of either of the key ingredients.  But, engaging my logistics/supply chain management MBA learning, it soon dawned on me this was going to be less clear.  Assuming even numbers of product delivery and identical point of sale display might see the more popular item put on reorder and result in sales demand pulling through the more popular product (our B2B Marketing class voted for more Nuts, I was up for more caramel with a sizeable minority).  However there are a number of potential pitfalls in this methodology.  What if consumers preferred the (not available) original formulation ?  What if  (as happened in our College shop - packed full of sweets and very popular with students) most popular option sold out, and the reorder didn't happen until the rest of the stock was also sold ?  Or worse still - what if boxes were put on special offer (2 for 90p) down the back and withdrawn from the regular point of sale. 

Being different - not an obvious brand attribute ?
Indeed, the samples I bought for inclass consumption were found nestling with the current Kit Kat promotion - four flavours, the strongest consumer vote sees it reach mainstream production (if only for a limited period).  This heavily promoted TV advertising campaign seeks to encourage consumers and fans to vote using Facebook.  Rather than tapping into actual consumer behaviour (n.b. issues with Snickers research methods) they are looking to engage the market and express their feelings towards the brand and register their attitudinal preferences.  Of course, facebook can enable a 'fair' vote (one person, one vote) except we know that professional bloggers and alike have been known to have multiple online personalities.  And of course, a single vote does not allow for differentiation by numbers of servings - surely it is important to consider the views of heavy buyers more that those of infrequent consumers.  It is dissertation proposal deadline tomorrow, I've clearly been far to focussed in critiquing possible methodologies.

Obviously Mint is in there as a decoy - the only time chocolate should be consumed with mint is after a very good dinner party and a glass or two of wine.  The idea of Chocolate fudge again is a bit of a personal no-no.  Anyone born outside the world of Cadburys "chocolate flavoured coating" as the EU requires the labelling of our high fat, low on cocoa formulation will question just how much dust from the coca bean is present.  "Yum, yum ! - cardboard and brown dust."  So the choice is clearly Coconut (unusual) or Hazelnut.  I went Coconut & it was ok - but not amazing.

Wasabi: zingy horseradish taste similar to chilli chocolate
Kit Kat have done this kind of democratic, virtual-and-digital market engagement before I'm told, with peanut butter winning out.  It's clever, it appears to work. I'm not sure it really is about creating new product formulations or clever brand extensions, merely putting in place a change for a while.  But I wonder at what point will these kinds of actions just become just random noise and lack traction ?  

Personally I prefer the Japanese duty free specials, four fingers (not the chunky) in a boxed set - Sakura or my most favourite - the green coloured, wasabi flavoured Kit Kat.  (pictured above right).

At this point, I've come to my senses and recognised that I've entered marketing geek territory and time to get stuck into something else.