A large ice cream manufacturer recently acquired a start-up company founded by two women entrepreneurs in New York City. They made a killer artisanal sorbet but had very limited distribution (starting in farmers markets) and no brand awareness outside its core geography.
It was purchased by a major CPG company who anticipated that this product could be a successful addition to the parent company brand portfolio, playing in the Super Premium segment and giving the company an offering to compete with brands like Talenti, Ciao Bella, and Haagen Dazs, among others.
In preparation for a national launch, the marketing team and their advertising agency wanted to establish a differentiated brand positioning -- the strategic driver to all aspects of the brand including product development, targeting, packaging graphics and messaging.
We needed to get a handle on this Super Premium ‘ice cream and beyond’ space and how consumers perceive and use the various segments. What are the jobs of each and how satisfied are consumers, and why?
C+R Research conducted exploratory qualitative research via an online community of Millennial women. The goal was to deeply understand the target, her aspirations and pain points. How does she live and eat? What is her food philosophy? How does she interact with all the segments within the ice cream arena? Trying to uncover unmet nets, we explored:
- Occasions and the role of the super-premium segment, including sorbets, non-dairy, gelato and other niche segments
- Projective activities to uncover emotional connections and explore perceptions of the ice cream/gelato/non-dairy/sorbet landscape
We learned sorbet was a tiny segment without a lot of fans because sorbet is seen as icy (low-fat, non-dairy), rather prim and proper. Healthy, but not an exciting indulgence. The product had limited shelf space and tended to get lost in the freezer section of the grocery store, tucked in a far-off corner. Yet the product vision is a new kind of sorbet formulated to be creamy, made with nut butters, not milk fats, and includes lots of chunks and inclusions. People loved the product once they tried it, especially health-conscious Millennial women who don’t want to deprive themselves but don’t want to over-indulge and deal with the physical and psychological consequences.
On the other hand, premium ice cream, was a relative goliath compared to sorbet; garnering tons of shelf space. But also, lots of competition. And not the kind of better-for-you indulgences our target Millennials desired. Super high fat ice cream was kind of ‘yesterday’ to these women who were adopting balanced lifestyles and finding their tastes changing.
There was also the non-dairy segment where the product could play, but, at the time, non-dairy products were small niche brands, perceived as not tasty: almost not worth eating too many except for those with dairy restrictions. The taste compromise was too great for many consumers.
After quantitative testing and refinement, the winning positioning was able to expand the brand’s potential well beyond niche sorbet in a way that’s consistent with the target’s values of treating oneself right without denying oneself. The tagline sums it up perfectly, It’s Not Ice Cream. It’s Better.
What’s a brand to do?
A Positioning Workshop
A day-long positioning workshop, facilitated by C+R was held in the client’s offices, and included the teams from the client brand, research and R&D, C+R, and the agency.
The hands-on session began with grounding teams in consumer personas to immerse in the lifestyles and food lives of our target consumer, using artifacts from the Online Community research study, we teased out emotional and functional needs and insights.
The day played out with a number of creative exercises designed to jump-start thinking around the building blocks of positioning.
To help participants think through the key strategic question: What do we want our frame of reference to be? We used the product in a Solar System exercise where teams used hula hoops, balls and paper cutouts to ‘position’ where the brand could live. Where is the greatest opportunity? Where’s the white space? What are the advantages and disadvantages of competing within the various segments?
What better way to help teams articulate benefits and reasons to believe than through the senses? So, participants did blindfolded product tastings capturing nuanced ways to talk about the sensory experience, noting the impact on each sense. Teams explored all the possible reasons to believe, and product attributes, that could make the benefit believable.
Archetype projective exercises also helped teams explore brand personality.
The output of the day: 6 strategic positioning platforms. We captured these strategically, spelling out the target insight, frame of reference, the job of the brand, based on occasion and the emotional and functional benefits, as well as reason to believe. Each positioning territory was dimensionalized through story and imagery as teams crafted mood boards. From these robust blueprints, the agency developed positioning adcepts to show consumers.
Positioning Assessment and Optimization Research
Focus groups were the perfect methodology for positioning assessment since we could physically interact with them observing their nonverbal and system 1 responses to the positioning adcepts. We could also let consumers taste the products to see if they ‘delivered’ differently depending on the positioning and to then refine positionings after the taste experience. Which positioning best elicited interest and captured the experience in a compelling way?
Two Idea Building Consumers were included in each focus group. They were recruited from a proprietary panel and specially trained to build and improve ideas. Idea Building Consumers worked alongside everyday target consumers, co-creating and optimizing positionings starting from the adcept stimulus.