Loyal, fickle, tribal, niche – consumer behaviours are in a seemingly constant state of flux. The challenge for design agencies is to anticipate these changes and use them to influence the interaction between audience and content, especially when it comes to purchasing decisions.
“With consumers now, we’re seeing a movement away from what was previously taken for-granted. Established conventions are being overturned and the big brand mentality is being side-stepped in favour of more authentic experiences,” says Ben Reid, creative director at Auckland design agency Milk. “Even if smaller brands might not have the trust or credibility associated with a bigger brand, consumers love the discovery, the stories, and the sense of authenticity these smaller brands carry.
“Consumers are smart, independent, informed, selective and connected. They’re more ethical and aware, and they want more for their money. It creates issues, but there are huge opportunities in here too for brands with relevant content and product.”
Overly branded messaging is out
Milk works with Fonterra on its ‘We Are What We Eat’ inspiration platform, designed to bring Kiwi families back to the table for dinner. Reid says rather than relying on the typical approach of “plastering” branding across every channel at every opportunity, the platform went for an understated approach relying instead on relevant, helpful content “quietly underwritten with brand advocacy”.
“The food category, in general, is a very noisy segment,” says Reid. “We saw consumers had become tired of that kind of messaging, so we went with something new. And the results are incredibly and measurably successful for Fonterra.”
Sometimes convention teaches people that a product can be one thing but not another. Teaching consumers how to rethink those assumptions can be a catalyst for new purchasing expectations, which can ultimately influence the wider category, too. When API Consumer Brands wanted to launch its Only Good body wash brand, it wanted to make sure its design would convey the quality of its formulation and give it a premium feel.
“We challenged the convention that an ethical product with premium appearance needed a premium price point,” says Reid. By delivering a product that not only had a great formulation and premium feel to its packaging aesthetic, Milk was able to help Only Good become a desirable and affordable everyday indulgence. Even more; within six months of launching and with little in-store support and only four variants available, Only Good in Full Service Grocery has reached third in its category – behind Palmolive and Health Basics.
Reversing the trend
Health Basics is a loved Kiwi staple, but prior to its relaunch its personal care range had fallen from first in its category to third – and it was slipping further. “We researched every aspect of the product experience to understand the motivations before, during and after point of purchase,” Reid says. Milk worked closely with API Consumer Brands to disrupt the category with a new story, naming, and an “unapologetically New Zealand-based provenance”. The relaunch worked and within months, Reid says Health Basics was back in second place in its category, and climbing, as well as enjoying export sales.
In the same way consumers are gravitating towards smaller, more authentic-feeling brands and away from the establishment, Reid sees a similar trajectory mirrored in the changing agency-client landscape. Where consumers align themselves with smaller, more genuine brands, marketing teams are partnering with smaller, nimbler agencies.
“Mainstream means something different now,” Reid says. “And as an agency we’re interested in making that shift for businesses and brands that can see the opportunity.”
Creative from The Edge rebrand
He sees the small size and flat structure of Milk as a strength. The agency works with a network of partners who collectively bring a broad spectrum of experience to the table. “Because we’re a smaller agency, we’ve always had to be innovative and strategic with everything we’ve done. We’ve focused a lot on category disruption because invariably it helps a brand to get noticed.
We try to do as much as possible within the team here, staying close to strategy, design and writing. This is very much part of the passion for us, and clients appreciate that level of intimacy. It’s personal, in every meaning.”
Continuing fragmentation of the sector will see more agencies working within tighter and more specific areas of focus; SEO, digital, content marketing and so on. Reid says that while the specialisation allows for deep exploration of these areas, it makes it very difficult for brands to get a single, integrated view of their marketing.
“We think we strike the right balance between size and specialist. We understand the disciplines and apply them effectively without getting bogged down or limited, and we keep it tight. Nothing gets lost through inter-agency translation.”