BANGKOK: Brand relaunches carry a significant risk of losing existing customers to rivals and it can take a long time to win them back, but Unilever found the use of nudge theory can help make the change almost seamless.

In an ESOMAR paper, Ramanathan Vythilingam, CMI at Unilever in Singapore, explains that for consumers to buy into the change they need to be convinced that the change is to their advantage.

“There is no better way than for consumers to understand the reason for the change, as being in their interests – that they are being asked to ‘migrate up’ to a better brand, with additional tangible benefits,” he says.

Achieving that, however, requires a clear understanding of current consumers’ reality, along the entire journey they undertake in the interaction with the current brand.

For this particular relaunch project, Unilever narrowed down the consumer segment to a specific geographic region in Thailand which contributed the most to the current business of the brand.

Ethnographic exploration then sought to understand the risk involved with the change.

“It was to identify moments when the relaunch could potentially cause a disruption to existing habits,” Vythilingam explains. “Every moment of disruption is a potential moment for consumers to make choices – like switch to competitor brands or drop the category, both of which are not ideal.

“We not only wanted to understand the possibility of disruptive moments, we also wanted to understand how we could mitigate it and drive decision making.”

The next step was to define what would be done in-market and to assign roles and responsibilities for implementation.

“This is potentially the most important part of the project, and getting together the right team to work together is paramount,” Vythilingam stresses.

“Timing is very important for how and when consumers are made aware of the relaunch, and what messages they get from the new brand,” he adds.

By positioning the relaunch as a change for the better, the brand tapped into the behavioural science principles of social norms and reciprocity.

Other nudges based on the implications decoded from consumer observations included the use of design (salience), clarity on the shelf (framing) and word of mouth from both shopowners and opinion leaders (transmitter).

“From a business stand-point, we have seen a more stable buyer base – the net share position of the combined relaunch and existing brand at the end of 12 months, maintained at the levels prior to relaunch,” Vythilingam reports.

Sourced from ESOMAR; additional content by WARC staff