Danielle Pinnington asks in this issue: What are you selling?
The recent controversy over how some New Zealand lamb has been slaughtered reminded me of the reactions of some focus group respondents to the horse-gate scandal – “It’s not that I’m against eating horsemeat – I just want to know that is what I’m eating”.
Today’s consumers want to make informed choices. We all know they are more savvy about price than in the past and are clued up enough on price comparisons to make those choices confidently. But did you also know they are increasingly thoughtful about their purchases, and aware of the power that their own spending now gives them?
If consumers feel duped or conned, it does make them stop and think. And given how much choice they have nowadays, if they feel concerned it is easy for them to switch – whether to another store, to another brand or to an own label. And switch they will, if they feel strongly enough.
The issue for brand owners or manufacturers is that transparency and honesty is key to creating the trust that builds brand loyalty. And honesty can be as much about what you don’t say as it is about what you do say. Consumers are recognising that they take too much for granted: that they really do need to check the small print on promotions or they could miss a sleight of hand; that some retailers raise prices before a grandly announced price reduction; that large packs badged with great value aren’t always better value than the equivalent amount in smaller packs. This is creating a hotbed of cynicism that can quickly move from questioning pricing to questioning ethics.
So when headlines hit the news suggesting retailers or brands haven’t been entirely open about the way particular products are produced consumer confidence is knocked. The information that was kept from them might not actually have changed their habits – and in fact we’ve yet to see if sales of New Zealand lamb have been affected. But talk to anyone in the ready meal industry and there is still a way to go before that category recovers from horsegate.
So, the latest headlines serve as a reminder to us all that consumers need to trust what they are being told, because if they don’t they will walk.
And as we all know, if trust is lost, it is incredibly hard to regain.