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BW Businessworld

Analysis: What The Brand Said...

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I really love the way brand managers Abhi, Salma and Prakash have gone on their journey of discovery of each brand’s on-pack communication. Like the Welsh explorer, Henry Stanley and the Scottish missionary Dr Livingstone, our intrepid exp-
lorers have moved from label to label, to decipher the code… What has each brand said to the world about its product information, its use information, use instructions. How might readers... its consumers and others… be evaluating this information, its pluses and minuses, for their own use situation or use case?

The threesome’s focus here has been on food products, but similar principle scan be easily seen to hold true for any category — whether personal care products (for example, cosmetics), home care products (for example, floor cleaners, dish wash), or durable products (home appliances, etc.).

Through their research of several food products belonging to different brands, we saw the various shortcomings in the ways brands communicate information and the incomplete instructions, such as tiny fonts, scattered and dispersed locations for presenting information, missing pertinent information,  (for example,  how many days is the product safe to use after opening a can/ pack and under what conditions), ambiguous language used (for example, ‘recommended’, ‘best if...’), using a language unsuitable for certain categories of its users (use of only English despite knowledge of Indian lifestyle habits of using illiterate domestic help); use of random measures such as ‘take 2-3 cups of water’ and not defining a cup measure.

Add to this information presented on non-permanent parts of the packaging (for example, the disposable outer carton, crimp of tetrapacks) and inadequate communication of warnings.

Brands have to take ownership of the journey of discovery about themselves, especially the discovery that is made from packaging. The journey of discovery is an integral part of the consumer’s overall brand experience, especially in the usage situation and the resultant brand perception.

Any shortcuts by the brand, or lack of sensitivity, worse, misrepresentation through use of fuzzy language such as ‘recommended’ by the brand — may or may not be upfront unethical but it will downgrade the consumer’s perception of the brand as dependable and she will vote with her wallet and her voice, including on social media. This will not be a secret ballot for sure!

How can a brand do the right thing by the consumer?

Some pointers: First, list out all the legally mandatory and necessary information at the most logical and visible place on the packaging. Think like a buyer, not like a seller. (What is “necessary information” follows.)
Use multiple languages, use pictures, icons, colours to communicate and highlight relevant information. Remember, many consumers won’t understand the medium of instruction you use.

Test your brand’s on-pack communication internally and externally with colleagues, family, consumers, competition users, non category-users. See what they say and understand why. Correct yourself where needed, re-test.

Additionally, use the digital medium — a 2D bar code (QR code) communicates more than a label. Of course, it assumes a human being has the equipment to interpret the bar code (usually a smartphone suffices)!

Now, a reality of life on what information is “necessary”. Every use-case of every brand user cannot be covered by the brand. One has to carefully consider: which use-cases make up the salient 90 per cent, 95 or 99 per cent of usage? For the rest, the brand has to develop its own understanding of the use conditions to assess what needs to be communicated.
For example: A soap bar may be used to make a dance floor slippery by teenagers for a party, but that use case usually does not need a specific message addressed to the teens! A relevant use case message may however be — cautioning aging users about the slipperiness of wet soap in the bathroom. How many soap manufacturers have ever said — ‘Use soap carefully — if wet, soap may fall to the floor, step carefully away from the soapy area’? Points like ‘Replace cap after use’ are worth pondering over as we move further on this fascinating journey.    

The writer is marketing director at Tupperware India. He has experience handling sales, marketing and business leadership roles in companies such as HUL, Pepsi, Nokia and Wrigley

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-07-2014)