We are primarily all ­category shoppers

It has been empirically proven that brand preferences and buying frequency are more influenced by habit than loyalty, says Stefan Brehm, head of global growth platforms in the Flavor Division. Customers need to know this.

Brand loyalty is a myth! Why do you think this, and is it true for all brands? Here’s a not entirely serious anecdote related to this question: A brand manager was asked which brand he works for. His answer? It’s only known to insiders. The truth, though, is that the brand is so small that nobody has heard of it. Although a few shoppers are expressly loyal, brand loyalty is essentially a myth. Empirical data based on quantitative studies in more than 50 consumer goods categories worldwide has proven this. The core finding is that we are primarily all “category shoppers”; 72 percent of all Coca-Cola drinkers in the United Kingdom also buy Pepsi. Findings like this have a decisive impact on our customers’ budgets.

What matters when it comes to making a purchase, if not loyalty? A brand has to be easy to buy. Sensory and semantic factors like color, packaging, logo, design and celebrity endorsements have to make it easy to remember the brand positively when you see it on the shelf. Once it’s bought, the product also has to be convincing. Brand preferences and buying frequency are more influenced by habit than loyalty.

This is also easily understandable according to neuroscientific findings. Our brains are constantly processing huge amounts of data, an estimated 100 megabytes per second. That’s about 33,000 books the length of “Alice in Wonderland” every minute! Our nerve center has to filter and classify all this information. Negotiating a typical supermarket can be neurologically overwhelming. We have to make the right decision fast, and our brain filters and organizes according to tried and trusted options. This means we generally go for the same brands and products, a habit that we confuse with loyalty.

Stefan Brehm says, “Our brain does what it was designed to do: It orients itself to things it knows and has experienced, in order to shorten the decision-making process.”

What does this mean for our customers’ brands and their brand strategies? IIt really comes down to two factors: First, they should make sure that the product is distributed and available as widely as possible. Ease of purchase, visibility on the shelf and a prominent position in the store are important for success. Second, the absolute focus must be on the recognition features of the color, design and logo. These should ideally be unique and proprietary, but they are in any case absolutely essential in facilitating the purchase decision. So it’s all about market penetration by gaining more and new users of the brand. Consequently, casual brand users should be the main target group for all marketing activities. As we say, if you’re looking for loyalty, buy a dog.

Do you put it like that to the customers? Of course. But you have to be sensitive about it. The big multinational groups are aware of the data and its consequences. We all speak the same language. But if you look at the marketing departments in these companies separately, they’re feeling a little disenchanted. They don’t want to hear about it. This know-how could provide a lot of value to our medium-sized, international or larger local customers.

As we say, if you’re looking for loyalty, buy a dog.”

Could you give a concrete example of how you show a customer the path to more growth? As part of our partnership with Mondelez, we were invited to a marketing, product development and purchasing event in 2018. The assignment was to figure out how a flavor manufacturer could return our confectionery brands to a growth path in Brazil. We cooperated with Symrise LATAM, purchased market data and were able to make clear recommendations for action at brand level based on a detailed situation analysis.

We then developed targeted product and flavor concepts aimed at increasing buyer reach for the brand in question. Our Sensory & Consumer Insights department can then verify whether these concepts and flavors are really effective through special consumer reach tests before market launch.

Do you address every customer request the same way? No. It depends on three criteria. First: What is the customer’s question? The brand structure and the competitive situation can vary. Second: What is the nature of the relationship? Is this a global or a regional customer for us? Are their sales significant? Do we have access to marketing or are we interacting with Purchasing? Third: As Symrise, where do we draw the line? We are not a strategic brand consultant, and we want to make sure that we don’t dilute the core Symrise brand. Once we can answer these questions, we adapt our know-how and are prepared to use our marketing strategy and other specialized knowledge for the best possible benefit of our customers.

You have incredible knowledge of this topic. How do you pass it on? Mostly through on-the-job training. When Symrise colleagues are asked by customers to think beyond a pure Flavor perspective, I get involved. We also offer our expertise proactively within strategic partnerships. Our primary contacts in the R&D divisions can use this to gather ammunition to use with their marketing departments. We are always work as a team. In this way, our whole organization continues to learn.

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