The Do’s and Don’ts of Changing and Marketing Your Product

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This article was originally published in Sacramento Business Journal on September 30, 2016.

Changing or updating a product or service is exciting.  The company is making a massive change and has invested tremendous capital.  These are heady times and the excitement and anxiety is palpable.  The urge to pull the trigger and launch is paramount.   Which is exactly where the biggest and most costly mistakes occur.  Consider the triumphs and tragedies of some iconic brands in the food and beverage industry that illustrate the perfect example of both.

As consumers pressure companies for healthier offerings, producers are forced to balance between improving their fare while keeping existing customers loyal. Dare you tamper with a classic?

While changing a beloved product always includes risk, you can mitigate it with your marketing strategy.

Consider the following recommendations:

Evaluate—and promulgate—the “Why.”

Answer these vital questions before you even commit to the change: Is this change driven by consumer demand? Will the change add to the brand’s perception and value? The answers will play a vital role in your marketing campaign. Don’t just tell your customers that their favorite product is changing. Explain why — and illustrate, compellingly, why the new version is better.

Research the impact of change.

Remember the disaster that was New Coke? Even though focus groups liked the new recipe, Coke failed to account for the millions of non-focus-group consumers who were deeply attached to the original. The company mistook their loyalty to the product as loyalty to the brand—and considering that the original recipe hadn’t changed in a century, the two had seemed synonymous. Coke’s then-President, Donald Keough, conceded in a July, 1985 press conference that “all of the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on a new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the depth and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”

Develop a strategic communication plan.

Now think of that iconic bright orange edible: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Under pressure to make it less neon and more healthful, Kraft announced in April 2015 that it would eliminate the product’s artificial flavors, preservatives and dyes. But here’s the twist: Months later, Kraft announced it had actually made the change (in March of this year) after updating the recipe. This move, I think, was brilliant. By the time Kraft revealed the switch, they already had thousands of testimonies that it tasted the same—because people weren’t talking about it. Kraft even incorporated the switch into their marketing campaign, including a hashtag (#didntnotice) and alerts of other news stories that received more buzz. (Example: National Squirrel Day garnered 55,000 more tweets than Kraft’s recipe change.)

[Tweet “Changing your product? These #marketingstrategies will help your audience with the transition. http://bit.ly/2dDu8wk via @MerlotMarketing”]

What are the take-aways?

A lot of marketing is understanding human psychology and how it affects consumer behavior. So stay proactive. Know your audience, make meaningful product changes and be careful how you roll them out. Monitor and respond to reactions (both good and bad) on all platforms, especially social media. You might not be a multi-billion dollar brand like Kraft or Coca-Cola, but the exact same principals from their stories apply to your products—and keeping your customers happy and loyal in the face of change.

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