Researching a significant but flat or declining SKU





In some current qualitative work we are researching now, there are exciting challenges related to brands that once led the market but are now flat, losing SKUs, diminishing in shelf position, as well as declining emotionally when consumers discuss their feelings about them. This marketing problem should be deconstructed—thought through with care—at the research considerations and design stages of a proposal for qualitative research. Sometimes it’s powerful to just research the original loyalists if we have evidence that this consumer segment who loves your core brand is still on target and on trend. Other times it’s helpful to feature the core loyalty segment but also include new segments that represent behavioral and emotional shifts away from the original loyalty. The first segment (loyalty consumers only) could be a lower budget, easier effort, while the second effort (new segments that are shifting but on trend) brings out the need for multiple psychographics and demographics, multiple regions, multiple methodologies, more days of research, and potentially more expenditures. Still, it might be worth it for the overall product’s brand health to move beyond loyalists, especially if transformation is going on in the industry and category.


Let’s take the example of trying to understand the deep persona of consumers who are your base, i.e., your most loyal and frequent users of a particular product, sub-brand, or category that once was high performing, leading the competitors, and supplying most of your company’s viability, income, and generative power. And now let’s say that this product’s market has been in decline for a few years as new strategies and solutions have been unable to stop the drain. Who or what are the best segment(s) to research especially on a limited research budget?


Of course, it’s brilliant to research the loyalist’s core essence and deep persona who continues to purchase your big product/sub-brand with regularity, over time, within the past month, and who also upon screening feels a tangible emotional-psychological loyalty. We will always learn good things about loyalty through depth interviewing in creative groups and individual interviews followed by ethnography, whether live or digital. In fact, as researchers, we will emerge with a profound portrait of your core loyalist.


But, suppose after we’ve conducted these productive methodologies and analysis, that the persona of this loyal brand user is counter to newer trends? Suppose we discover that she or he as a persona has old-fashioned behavioral patterns, doesn’t like change, is buying the brand only on sale, has shifted from emotional loyalty to pure habit, is stocking up on deal to be sure it’s always inside the home, shows traits averse to newer trends, is a luddite, seems out of sync with contemporary ways of doing things, is eating and drinking unhealthier products without awareness that makes them a “dinosaur,” or is radically or subtly opposed to how and where other notable segments in the market are changing and going. Then, it’s even more helpful to add in research that studies the emotional and behavioral perspectives of consumers who represent where the market is heading but still have fondness or some usage for your original brand. These newer segments we can contrast with core loyalists. This newer segment could be participants who may be feeling slight reluctance to purchase your core product, are lightening their personal usage even if still purchasing it for visitors and family, are being tempted by other solutions and ideas, seem wishful, and are beginning to honor different requests from family members. Perhaps these newer users are noticing how, around them in their community, their friends are using new brands and they emotionally want to fit in. Maybe core loyalists are dependents, empaths, people pleasers, place others’ desires ahead of their own, but in their heart space, would really enjoy the collegiality of shared experiences with friends using newer products. What if they’re beginning to wonder whether loyalty to their original brand is lacking something important?


If any of these research suspicions resonate for you as the lead researcher, insight manager, or among team members of your marketing initiative, perhaps an exploratory, bigger, but even higher-efficiency design would be to include multiple segments in the study. Go beyond core loyalists. Of course, the loyalist of the brand/product will always be a desired baseline, but also consider the user who used to be a once-heavy user who still buys the product but is now experimenting with new items in the marketplace.


In summary, an inexpensive, fast, and easier qualitative study researching just your core base of loyalists may get profound results that satisfy for the moment but may still be too limiting. Consider adding in a second or third component of lighter or lapsing segments who still purchase your core product but are changing their behaviors and feelings. Stepping up the segments as we continue to focus on the core loyalist could make your research more resonating, creative, and viable for successful new product generation and future strategies. We ultimately want to hold onto, expand, and meet the needs of the core loyalists as we go sailing and fishing on the bright blue ocean.​