Should CPG Brands Care About User Experience?

Guest Author on Jul 2, 2018 in Marketing Strategy

By Brittany Hodak

The consumer product goods (CPG) category seems virtually set up for success. Its products — ranging from soda to laundry detergent to deodorant — are available everywhere, regularly consumed, and regularly needed. Once a consumer runs out of deodorant or detergent, she’s at the store to buy more; it’s a necessity, not a luxury.

But it’s not always coming up roses for CPG brands. Nielsen found that 85 percent of new CPG products flop in the marketplace; even those that find traction struggle, with two-thirds of the world’s largest CPG companies posting negative growth in 2016. In fact, as Consumer Goods Technology points out, “These decidedly disappointing results confirm the research at IDC Manufacturing Insights, which finds that only 3.0 percent of the $35 billion in net growth in the consumer goods industry over the last three years has come from traditional, large enterprise players.”

That means that large consumer brands are being edged out by the innovations offered by newcomers to the space. One way all CPG brands can get a leg up is by offering a strong personalized brand experience and prioritizing UX.

Where Brands Are Missing the Mark

Like every other category, consumer packaged goods have been upended by the digital revolution. Seventy-six percent of CPG shopping starts online, but less than 13 percent of these brands’ CMOs can quantify the impact of their social media advertising. That could be because many CPG brands are hesitant to invest in social media marketing, believing consumers don’t have casual conversations about razors or potato chips on their social accounts.

That’s not true — and Brandwatch found that responsive CPG brands that are active on social actually get a bigger social community boost; their social reach correlated with their response times. Brandwatch’s research also indicated that only a third of CPG brands’ social media real estate is devoted to videos, yet videos garnered three times as much engagement as photos did.

And, of course, we would be remiss to not mention the user experience hosted on brands’ sites themselves. Visitors to CPG websites spend 37 percent more than non-visitors, and they spend 53 percent in the category as a whole. In a world fueled by multichannel experiences, CPG brands with inconsistent or irrelevant messaging between their websites and call centers or clunky mobile experiences lose visitors — and sales.

One other big way CPG brands can make an impact on the category is by creating a personalized web experience. Personalization including showing individualized offers, product recommendations, and other content to your customers based on their previous actions, demographics, and other personal data can make a huge impact to the bottom line.

According to Gartner, “By 2020, smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable digital businesses to increase their profits by up to 15 percent.”

Where CPG Brands Can Find Success

Nielsen flagged Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light Lime Ritas as a success story: In an effort to capitalize on the trend of pouring beer over ice in Asia, the brand tried to develop a beer that tasted good on the rocks. It struck out but realized cocktails on ice successfully maintained their flavor, with margaritas being the most popular; the company then created a beer-margarita hybrid.

“The margaritas were sold in non-threatening 8-ounce cans reminiscent of beer, but brought traditionally non-beer drinking demographic groups, such as women, into the Bud Light consumer fold,” Nielsen SVPs Rob Wengel and Taddy Hall explained. “The Bud Light Ritas example illustrates a company’s ability to expand its product category in a way that gets outside the box but not off the reservation. Anheuser-Busch stayed true to its brand identity, while increasing its consumer reach.”

CPG brands investing in unique vehicles for promoting their goods are also seeing success. Brands like Kellogg and Chobani have launched pop-up stores as a way to test new products and build camaraderie and buzz. St. Ives even erected a “mixing bar” in New York City to allow consumers to create custom lotions and scrubs. Food Dive’s Caitlin Mannering says, “These retail locations are taking advantage of recognizable products and putting them on display in ways slightly different than consumers may use them at home.”

How can other brands replicate their success?

Stay current on what customers want. Sandy Marsico, CEO of Sandstorm Design, a Chicago brand experience agency, says CPG brands should invest in user experience research to understand how their customers’ brand perceptions, motivations, and behaviors are changing as technology changes. “CPG customers’ desire for a customized and personalized experience has been driven by the one-to-one social engagement they’ve come to expect and the increased use of artificial intelligence and machine learning  — people like to try new products when you can accurately predict their needs, and CPG brands have to keep pace,” she says. “Customer insights have to influence brands’ digital and website strategies.”

In-depth one-on-one customer interviews, usability studies, website analytics, and social media data can all help brands pinpoint what consumers want and where to prioritize their marketing and technology budgets. Assigning ownership of incorporating those insights ensures companies don’t just collect the data but use it to identify motivations, behaviors, personalization opportunities, content, and functional requirements. For example, for CLRbrands.com, being able to find a retailer to purchase specific products was a top priority for its customers, so developing an easy-to-find, intuitive, and data-driven real-time “where to buy” feature was a focus for the launch of its new website. Use of its tool grew more than 300 percent in the first quarter after its launch.

Ensure brand interactions are consistent. Consumers who visit a brand’s website and then call its customer support line — or consumers who switch from mobile browsing to desktop browsing — should be able to reasonably expect consistency in the branding, messaging, and ease of use. If the desktop experience is interactive and engaging, but the mobile version lacks intuitive functionality like click-to-call or geolocation, visitors will be frustrated and abandon the brand for another.

This also applies as CPG brands experiment with different distribution strategies. Consumers who purchase a brand’s products in the store shouldn’t experience radically different quality than a subscription customer. While the packaging may differ and additional items — like samples or accessories — may be included, customers should experience consistency in the product and branding.

Don’t shy away from venturing outside the norm. This may seem to contradict the argument for consistency, but consumers want a consistent message and vision from a brand — not necessarily the same product for years on end. Keeping longtime favorites static and adding new versions or developing products that customers are asking for can inject vigor into a brand’s offerings and interest in consumers.

These don’t have to go outside the CPG brand’s wheelhouse; a new product can be as straightforward as adding a teeth-whitening line to a toothpaste brand or a juice brand developing stain-proof juice to appeal to parents.

Identify and cater to your superfans. Focusing on UX will lead to “superfans,” or users who over-index in their affinity for a specific brand. Superfans are usually vocal and want to interact with the brand. The company should cater to them, whether that’s by liking their statuses on social media or sending them special offers in the mail. Their recommendations to friends and family will fuel that business’s growth — and at a much smaller price than most other marketing options.

And friends have more influence than businesses may think. Only 3 percent of in-store consumers will consider purchasing an item after seeing an online recommendation by a celebrity, but 30 percent —  10 times more — would buy it based on the recommendation of a peer. With nearly 60 percent of consumers relying on phone research while shopping, a smart UX strategy geared at superfans will attract even more sales.

The user experience — from social media interactions to on-the-street distributions — absolutely matters for CPG brands. By failing to capitalize on opportunities to give consumers what they want, CPG brands create an opening for newcomers and give up their edge. In a category where people always need their products, CPG brands can make a difference through UX.

Brittany Hodak is co-founder of ZinePak, an entertainment agency that helps brands and celebrities convert consumers into superfans.