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John Marovino


By Shelf impact No Comments

For “challenger” brands, retail shelf impact is the best place to gain a competitive edge

Retail shelf impact is the most critical performance indicator for a brand at the First Moment of Truth (FMOT). You have heard the saying “Not seen not bought.” There is a direct correlation between being seen and being bought.

INSEAD Associate Marketing Professor Pierre Chandon conducted an extensive study (in collaboration with Wharton Professors Wes Hutchinson and Eric Bradlow, 2009) that examined the effects of in-store marketing on both attention and choice. His conclusion is that: “The impact of being visible in the store, where the majority of purchases are still made – so-called ‘visual equity’ – is more important than brand awareness or “memory equity”. This is especially true with challenger brands and brands with lower market share.

Visibility is the precursor to choice

More than 65 percent of all facings on store shelves are not seen by shoppers in a typical shopping trip. We also know through our research that shelf placement plays an important role on how visible your brand is and how likely it is to be purchased. Have you ever wondered why your brand is performing much better in a particular banner verses another? We often see disparities in sales between two banners of over 20 percent for the same brand, even though the competitive sets are very similar and the only two major variables are store brands and the planogram, while the Purchase Conversion Index for the brand remained constant for both banners.

Shelf placement also has an effect on people’s perception of your brand. Results from our studies as well as various independent studies (Otterbring, Wastlund, Gustaffson and Shams, 2014, and Lang, Kelley and Moore, 2016) show that shoppers are inclined to search the upper part of the shelf more than the lower part by an average of 20 percent. Research also shows that people expect products of higher quality to be found at the top of the shelf (Chandon et al) – while not necessarily relevant to visibility, it’s an interesting observation to mention.

So how do you increase your brand’s retail shelf impact?

Picture yourself walking down the aisle of a grocery store looking for the coffee section. You see it, it’s halfway down the aisle to your right. “Ok I see it now, there’s the Maxwell House…and there’s my brand, oh what’s that? Hmm…”

Several things happen in those few seconds on the path to purchase: From 30ft away, you locate the coffee section (navigation). From 20 to 10ft you locate your brand (selection). From 10 to 3ft after locating your brand you take a quick glance to see what else there is and compare features and prices (decision making).

Visually, this is what it looks like:

Shelfs and distances

As shoppers approach the shelf their eyes are constantly scanning the shelf to see what else there is – this is the moment when another brand can catch the attention of the shopper and become part of the purchase consideration. It’s a game of seconds; brands noticed in the first ten seconds of search are 80 percent more likely to be picked up*

*Source: Visual Shopper data: 2015–2016

As you were reading the previous paragraph did you notice yourself looking at the white boxes within the shelf? That’s an example of disruption. When we ran an eye-tracking test, we found that over 60 percent of viewers looked at the white boxes, in an area of the shelf that normally wouldn’t get that much attention. There are many ways to create visual disruption on shelf, and this is only one example. The key learning is that when designing a challenger brand one can’t underestimate the importance of breaking through the visual clutter.

In our experience, brand owners of lower market-share brands are inclined to choose designs that visually conform to the category.

They seem more preoccupied with fitting in rather than breaking out. As a result they become part of the backdrop and are seldom noticed. For 85 percent of all brands “out there”, mass advertising to create consumer awareness isn’t an option. Most challenger brands live or die by how well they perform on shelf. For these brands visibility on shelf is critical.

Some challenger brands have a higher purchase conversion ratio than the leading brand

Our tests repeatedly show a very strong correlation between what shoppers look at and what they purchase.

It stands to reason that market leaders would have a high purchase conversion ratio: Brand loyalty, brand awareness, and shelf placement are all working in their favour. However, based on our studies, many challenger brands demonstrate a higher purchase conversion ratio than the leading brand, suggesting that in some cases the design of the package may be very appealing but simply not visible enough.

This redesign increased shelf visibility by 25%

Dare Foods Canada asked us to re-design the Bear Paws brand. One of the design objectives was to bring the personality of the bear to life to increase the emotional connection between the brand and consumers. Our immediate attention went to the shelf to see what the brand was up against:

Oreo cookies were the dominant cookie brand (fig. 1) in every store banner across the country. Our challenge was to generate enough disruption to capture the attention of shoppers. The Oreos packaging creates a highly conspicuous block of bright blue accentuated by the “bull’s-eye” effect of the large black and white cookie. In order to compete, our design would have to create a visual distraction to capture some of that attention.

We saw an opportunity to bring the bear closer to the shopper and to create eye contact. We felt very strongly that the eyes were the key. This became the basis of our proposal to the client. Now we had to prove it:

We tested three concepts monadically: Control (Current design); “The Bear Face” and Design “B”. We asked respondents (200 respondents / cell) to “shop” the shelf.

Results from V-Shopper® indicated that the “Bear Face” design would increase shelf visibility by more than 25 percent from “Current”, leading to an increase in total sales of an estimated 6 percent. Actual sales 12 months later were considerably higher, even though media, trade spend and competitive activity were fairly constant.

In this test even though more attention was garnered by the new Bear Paws design, we noticed that it wasn’t at the expense of the leading brand. It was at the expense of low market-share brands.

Results from the heat map (fig. 2) also illustrate the relationship between brands noticed (red dots) and items purchased (purple dots) – 71 percent of all purchases in this test occur in close proximity of the brand that shoppers notice first. This is just a few points above norm.

The green and grey areas in our heat map (fig 2) indicate very low visual traffic – capturing less than 10 percent of reach (viewing time). Brands in the “dark areas” of the shelf will struggle to realize their full sales potential. Hence the saying “Not seen – not bought!”

Visibility is affected by two factors: location and disruption. If you can negotiate a better shelf position with some banners I would strongly advise that you do so. If your brand can be positioned closer to eye-level, you will see as much as double digit improvements in sales. Some will argue that micro-merchandising is simply not tenable. In that case consider a disruption tactic with the help of your design team, to achieve greater visibility.

Visibility is vital. We have helped hundreds of challenger and lower market- share brands increase their sales with design that truly delivers measurable results.

Would you like to know more?

At Marovino Visual Strategy, we have more than thirty years of experience at translating consumer insights into compelling visual propositions for consumers. Our award winning designs also win the hearts of consumers.

If you would like to know more on how we can help you win the shelf war by optimizing your brand’s performance on shelf contact us


By Visual Branding No Comments

You’ve updated your packaging and now sales are in decline…

According to research from Perception Research Services, “It is far easier to damage a brand than to grow it via packaging design. In fact it’s about twice as likely, as approximately 20% of new packaging systems drove declines in purchases from the shelf – as opposed to the 10% that drove sale increases”. (Winning at the two moments of Truth. Quirk’s Marketing Research Review. Jan 2010).

A brand’s value or equity is dependent on people’s perception of it. Building these perceptions can take many years, as a brand’s reputation is built by repeated proof that it deserves the consumer’s trust. The visual properties that consumers associate with the brand are an integral part of brand equity. One could argue that in consumers’ minds they are the brand. When marketers make changes to the appearance of the brand, they risk cutting the chords of familiarity with consumers which will affect their perception of the brand, their ability to find it on shelf and may re-introduce competitive brands as part of the purchase consideration.

As consumers’ tastes and expectations evolve, brands also have to evolve. Understanding and managing a brand’s visual properties during a design change will prevent self-inflicted sales erosion. Even some of the best marketing minds can at times get too far ahead of consumers with their packaging changes, leaving consumers in the dust and paying dearly with loss of sales, market share and consumer loyalty. The Tropicana re-design of 2009 and Coca Cola’s Christmas pack of 2011 are some of the more notable examples.

Visual brand properties are the main link between consumers and your brand.

90% of all transmitted information to our brain is visual. Brands exist in our minds mainly as visual snapshots. They are the Visual Brand Properties that connect brands to consumers. In 2012 consumer connectivity was the headline for consumer trends. In 2014 the headline read: “Content is king!”. Today the new horizon is the digital experience: AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) are expected to be the new frontiers of consumer experience. The core element? Visual content.

Visual images are already the content of choice for Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and other social media platforms. So why is it that marketers invest hundreds of thousands of dollars getting their packaging system ‘right’ and then seemingly throw caution to the wind when updating their packaging, creating promotional packages or web pages seemingly using a completely different playbook, with little or no concern for Visual Brand Properties?

Visual Brand Properties reside with consumers but are stewarded by the brand owner.

Typically, the visual cues provided by the design of the packaging become the residual visual cues that consumers will use to identify the brand. In a recent study that we conducted with over 3,000 category buyers, brand recognition of challenger brands doubled when consumers were shown the package.

The importance of identifying and protecting these visual cues is not lost on some brand owners who spend millions of dollars in trademark and trade dress protection. One of the most notable examples is Mondelez’s efforts to protect Cadbury’s Pantone 2685C vs. Darell Lea Confections in Australia; Cadbury vs. Stollwerk, Poland; and Cadbury vs. Chocolates Bariloche, Argentina.

And you aren’t likely to find Pantone PMS 1837 in any Pantone Matching System swatch book. That’s because it isn’t publicly available as the colour is trademarked by Tiffany & Co.

Simple but effective solution

Throughout the years, we have asked consumers to perform a very simple exercise to help us identify brand properties. We asked them to draw a picture of ‘their’ brand. When asked to do so, consumers intuitively keyed in on colours, logos, word-marks and shapes. Colours and logos are typically the strongest mnemonic. Our results show that most brands will have more than one visual cue. We have also noticed that brands with lower top-of-mind awareness are recognized not by a single visual cue but by the gestalt of the entire package (no Identifiers, but several Contributors).

If you are a brand owner considering updating your packaging how do you know which visual elements play a role in distinguishing your brand? For the past twenty years we have used a very simple formula to group all visual elements into three buckets. The first two groups identify the elements that are most significant in maintaining a degree of recognition (Familiarity) that will help to bridge any transition, whether it is a brand name transition, or a substantial re-fresh where you might risk losing existing brand ‘loyals’ if they can’t find the new design on shelf.

The third bucket identifies those elements that don’t play a significant role in retaining recognition. This is a simple chart to illustrate:

Visual elements that identify your brand without the help of any other element

Unique to your brand and Trade mark-able

Visual elements that contribute to the identification of the brand but do not succeed in doing so entirely on their own.

May not be unique only to your brand. Cannot be a functional part of your product

Visual elements that perform functions not related to brand identity ie. flavour, size, features and claims.

Category Conventions, read more…

From Electrasol to Finish

When Reckitt Benckiser asked us to transition Electrasol (Domestic brand) to Finish (Global) our research showed that consumers strongly associated the stem glass with Electrasol. However, when we showed only the stem glass to a separate group of consumers, very few were able to link it to Electrasol. Although the glass and the blue background are Contributors not Identifiers, the glass’ strong association to the brand was considered a very important element to retain familiarity and help bridge the brand transition from Electrasol to Finish.

After several years of adhering to their Brand Properties, Finish has garnered sufficient familiarity with consumers that it could safely expand its segmentation under a cohesive visual umbrella and clear segmentation.

So what went wrong with Tropicana?

When Tropicana launched their new packaging in 2009 their sales immediately dropped by 20 percent. The new design failed on several fronts. The most egregious fail was the complete elimination of the Identifiers – the word-mark and the orange with the straw. This design could just as easily have been for a private label brand. There was nothing to assist consumers in linking the new packaging to the Tropicana brand. The chords of familiarity were completely severed.

When consumers looked for their familiar Tropicana package – they couldn’t find it within the few seconds that they were willing to spend looking for it.

Our Visual Diagnostics research tool demonstrates that within 1/3 sec, the average shopper will notice a brand and be able to decide whether it should be part of the purchase consideration set or not. The redesigned Tropicana package had nothing that would trigger recognition within that time frame, therefore it wasn’t seen by many consumers who were scanning the shelves for their familiar brand. Not seen, not bought.

When Coca Cola introduced its 2011 Christmas pack they didn’t take into consideration the visual properties of their two iconic brands: the red can stands for regular Coke, the white can stands for Diet Coke. That is how millions of Coke drinkers identify ‘their’ Coke. When Coke launched their special Christmas pack promoting their support of the World Wildlife Fund, they sought to create a disruptive package, and they succeeded. However, they also created confusion and frustration with Diet Coke drinkers who were picking up the package thinking that they were picking up Diet Coke…white background, red branding? Must be Diet Coke! One month later Coca Cola reprinted 1.2 billion cans of regular Coke, with a red background.

Would you like to know more?

At Marovino Visual Strategy, we have more than thirty years of experience at translating consumer insights into compelling visual propositions for consumers. Our award winning designs also win the hearts of consumers.

If you would like to know more on how we can help you win the shelf war by optimizing your brand’s performance on shelf contact us