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Winning in the Moment of Truth

At Egg Strategy, we regularly advise clients about what drives consumer choice and how to translate that understanding into winning brand activation. It’s a subject clients are constantly coming to us to ask about. Over the course of a week, three clients in three different categories came to me with the same dilemma: “We know we have a superior product… but consumers aren’t switching to buy it. What gives?! Why don’t they just read the package and educate themselves about how awesome our product is?!”

So I thought, who hasn’t experienced this? And, voila!, a thought piece was born.

When consumers aren’t selecting their brand in the moment of truth, it’s natural for brand managers to conclude that this is because consumers just don’t “get it.” The brand and product teams are certain they’ve built a better mouse trap and are determined to plead their case to consumers by leading with facts.

So the team shifts into “education” mode, going to great lengths to tell consumers why their product is the best. They plaster packaging with benefit language and facts: quality certifications, sourcing and sustainability stories, etc. And brands often have lots of good facts to share. Quality is important. Sourcing clean ingredients is important. Sustainable packaging is important.

But these facts are not likely to drive a purchase decision in the moment of truth.

To explain why, let’s quickly reground in the science of how we think, decide and behave. While it seems perfectly logical to assume that if we give consumers the facts, they will make the obvious, rational choice, the reality is much of our decision-making is irrational and heavily shaped by our constraints and environment.

So how can we help drive brand selection in the moment of truth? Here are three strategic imperatives to consider.

1. Design for distinctiveness and craving at shelf.

When it comes to decision-making and behavior, there are actually two selves within each of us: the planner and the doer. The planner is rational and future-focused, seeking to make decisions that optimize for our future health and wellbeing. This is our willpower. The doer, on the other hand, is impulsive, driven by emotion and really only cares about finding pleasure in the moment. Consider the doer our desire.

Away from the point of purchase – when the planner is in control and prompting consumers to consider what their future selves will want – consumers tend to be more inclined to make a rational, more “responsible” choice. They plan to pick the healthiest option or select the brand that best aligns with their values. (Because our future selves are in great shape and paradigms of ethical living, of course!)

But at the moment of truth, willpower often takes a back seat and desire takes over. The doer is drawn to color and foods that look delicious and spark craving. The consumer’s WANT overrides their SHOULD, making them more likely to select the item that will give them the most pleasure in that moment and/or in the near future.

To win in the moment of truth, brands should ensure their product stands out with a distinctive look and feel that conveys an exciting experience, activates emotion and sparks craving. Key emotional design levers to consider for product packaging include iconic form factors that stand out and intuitively convey an emotional benefit (e.g. strength or calm), vibrant colors and color contrast that draws the eye in, as well as delicious food photography that conveys both flavor and texture.

So what about all those facts? There’s a great place for those: the back and/or side panels… and your brand website. Just be sure to reserve the prime on-pack real estate for colors and imagery that activate emotion and spark craving. Because unless we draw the doer in and engage them at the moment of truth, consumers aren’t apt to dig in deeper and explore more, even if that just means taking a minute to read the back of pack.

Case in Point:
Amy’s Kitchen does this quite well. While other brands in the plant-based meals space tout claims, ethics and certifications – often highlighting what’s NOT in the product more than what’s in it – Amy’s puts its food on a pedestal with full-bleed food imagery that conveys a delicious taste and texture experience. And you can read all about its ethics in action and product intrinsics on the back of pack and website. But it touts real, delicious food first.

2. Curate selection and streamline packaging to enable a quick and confident choice.

Considering the average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions per day, it’s no surprise decision fatigue is real and consumers are often in a fast lane mentality when grocery shopping.

While it’s natural to assume that more choice is always better, the truth is that this is often not the case. When faced with an overwhelming assortment of brands and products, consumers are more apt to default to inertia bias – selecting the same brand or product they’ve bought before – or walk away without making a decision at all. And even when they do choose a product, choice overload can actually cause consumers to feel regret as they hem and haw about whether they made the right choice. (And who wants consumers to associate their brand with regret?!)

To win in the moment of truth, brands should focus on limiting choice and providing simple visual cues to help consumers quickly and confidently find the right product. Consider whether each variety is providing significant, incremental value to the consumer. If not – or if it’s providing value only to a niche audience – consider discontinuing it or relegating it to e-commerce. Beware of overwhelming consumers with too many options! Another strategy is to organize options in a way that encourages them to make sequential choices based on key product attributes (e.g. full fat vs. ½ fat vs. fat free, flavors, organic, etc.) Ask yourself, how would Chipotle organize these options to help consumers make 3-4 simple choices?

Case in Point:
Ripple plant-based milk has grown in part by keeping things simple. It’s sleek bottle helps it stand out among other plant-based milks, making it relatively easy to find among a sea of cartons. Then, Ripple helps consumers choose between just three flavor options – Original, Vanilla and Chocolate – with different color accents pulling each apart. Finally, consumers can quickly select either an unsweetened or sweetened variety of each. And Ripple keeps its pack relatively uncluttered, highlighting only 3 key facts of critical importance to consumers when selecting milk: protein, sugar and calcium comparisons to its primary source of volume, dairy milk.

Brilliantly, Ripple has leveraged the same, simple packaging structure and design aesthetic – though in smaller form – to introduce plant-based creamers, making it easy for Ripple fans to quickly find their creamer amidst a sea of other options.

3. Answer their Killer Question at Shelf

The closer consumers are to the point of purchase, the more likely they’re to be in a concrete (“get it done”) vs. abstract (“curious exploration”) mindset. Understanding the difference between these two mindsets is critical to illuminating the moment of truth.

In an abstract mindset, far upstream from the moment of truth, consumers are more open to considering different brands and building brand preference based on which brands they find interesting and in-line with what they care about. In the moment of truth, however, consumers have often already built brand preference and are in the concrete mindset, asking more detailed questions to ensure they make the right choice…and fast.

To win in the moment of truth, ensure your on-pack communication directly aligns with what consumers are most seeking clarity around in the moment. While it can be tempting to feature key benefit language and reasons to believe on pack in an attempt to build brand preference at shelf, doing so runs the risk of not clearly answering consumers’ concrete question and losing the sale.

Case in Point: My favorite example of this principle in action comes from perhaps not the most exciting category: trash bags. In this highly commoditized category, brands were focusing on touting key benefits on pack, and mostly strength. But it turns out consumers in a concrete mindset are most concerned about fit when shopping for trash bags. (It can be very frustrating to purchase trash bags and return home only to realize that you’ve picked the wrong size!)

A leading brand recognized that consumers were asking this killer question at shelf, simplified its pack and introduced a simple tall kitchen icon on its front panel. This seemingly small change reaped huge rewards for the brand, as it was helping consumers make the right choice at shelf, quickly and confidently.

Driving selection at shelf first requires a proficient understanding of judgment and decision-making – especially in environments where we are pressed for time and presented with lots of options and therefore decisions to make. Through translating that understanding into carefully curated varieties, emotionally engaging packaging and smart cues that directly address the questions consumers are asking at the moment of truth, we can help consumers make quick and confident choices and have more positive brand and shopping experiences.