You might think that a well-known, veteran consumer products company like the Campbell Soup Company has it made. After all, when people think of soup, they think of Campbell’s. Selling products under such an iconic brand name should be a snap. But if you ask Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell, she’ll tell you a different story. Just a few years ago, when Morrison took over as head of the world’s oldest and best-known soup company, she faced a big challenge—reverse the declining market share of a 144-year-old brand in a mature, low-growth, and fickle market characterized by shifting consumer preferences, ever-expanding tastes, and little tolerance for price increases. Turning things around would require revitalizing the company’s brands in a way that would attract new customers without alienating the faithful who had been buying Campbell products for decades.
Morrison had a plan. A core element of that plan was to maintain a laser-like focus on consumers. “The consumer is our boss,” Morrison said. “[Maintaining a customer focus] requires a clear, up-to-the-minute understanding of consumers in order to create more relevant products.” Morrison’s plan involved transforming the traditional stagnant culture of a corporate dinosaur into one that embraces creativity and flexibility. But it
also involved employing innovative methods that would allow brand managers and product developers to establish the cus- tomer understanding that was so desperately needed. In other words, marketing research at the Campbell Soup Company was about to change.
Reading Consumers’ Minds
Soup is a well-accepted product found in just about everyone’s pantry in the United States. However, not long ago, Campbell researchers discovered that marketing soups presents unique problems. People don’t covet soup. Sure, a steaming bowl of savory soup really hits the spot after coming in out of a bitingly cold rain. But soup is not a top-of-mind meal or snack choice, and it’s typically a prelude to a more interesting main course. The bottom line—consumers don’t really think much about soup, making meaningful marketing research difficult.
For years, Campbell researchers relied on good old paper- and-pencil surveys and traditional interviews to gain consumer insights for making ads, labels and packaging, and the products themselves more effective. But Campbell’s experience with such traditional marketing research showed that traditional methods failed to capture important subconscious thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that consumers experience when shop- ping for soup.
So instead, to get closer to what was really going on inside consumers’ hearts and minds, Campbell researchers began employing state-of-the-art neuroscience methods. They outfitted shoppers with special vests that measured skin-moisture levels, heart rates, depth and pace of breathing, and postures. Sensors tracked eye movements and pupil width. Then, to aid interpretation, such biometric data was combined with interviews and videos that captured each shopper’s experiences.
The high-tech research produced some startling insights. Campbell knew that people hold strong emotions associated with eating soup. After all, who doesn’t remember getting a hot bowl of soup from Mom when they were sick or cold? But the new biometric testing revealed that all that warmth and those positive emotions evaporated when consumers confronted the sea of nearly identical red and white Campbell’s cans found on a typical grocery store soup aisle.
In the past, the top of a typical store shelf display featured a large Campbell’s logo with a bright-red background. But the new research showed that such signs made all varieties of Campbell’s Soup blend together, creating an overwhelming browsing situation and causing shoppers to spend less time at the aisle. The biometric research methods also revealed that the soup can labels themselves were lacking—the big bowl of soup on a Campbell’s label was not perceived warmly, and the large spoon filled with soup provoked no emotional response.
Bases on these research insights, in an attempt to prompt and preserve important consumer emotions surrounding soup consumption, Campbell’s began evaluating specific aspects of its displays, labels, and packaging. This led to seemingly small but important changes. For starters, the Campbell’s logo is now smaller and lower on the shelf, minimizing the overwhelming “sea of cans” effect. To further encourage browsing, can labels now fall into different categories, each with distinguishing visual cues. Varieties like Beef Broth and Broccoli Cheese, which are typically used as ingredients in recipes, feature a narrow blue swath across the middle of the can with a “Great for Cooking” label. A green swath and the label “98% Fat Free” characterize reduced-fat varieties. Tomato Chipotle & Olive Oil, part of Campbell’s “Latin Inspired” line, features a black background rather than the traditional white. And top-sellers such as Chicken Noodle, Tomato, and Cream of Mushroom feature the plain traditional label with the center medallion, immortalized by Andy Warhol’s larger-than-life recreations of Campbell’s soup cans. As for bringing out those warm emotions, Campbell’s labels are now adorned with steam rising off a larger, more vibrant picture of the featured soup in a more modern white bowl. The nonemotional spoons are gone as well.
Can such minor label changes make a real difference? Yes, they can. Campbell’s claims that its sales of condensed soups are up by 2 percent since making the changes. That may not sound like much, but even a small sales bump applied to a $2 billion consumer brand means real money. The sales jump also indicates that consumers are receiving greater value through a more fulfilling shopping experience.
Diving Deeper for Insights
Although the insights from Campbell’s biometric marketing research have proven valuable, it will take more to capture the attention of a new generation of customers and stay attuned to
the changing nature of consumer food tastes and preferences. Additionally, the Campbell Soup Company makes and markets much more than just soup these days. Over the years, the company has added or created such brands as Pepperidge Farms, Swanson, Pace, Prego, V8, Bolthouse Farms, and Plum Organics. Today, Campbell’s house of packaged food brands includes something for just about everyone. With that kind of product portfolio, maintaining and creating relevant products based on a clear, up-to-the-minute understanding of consumers is an especially daunting proposition.
To capture clear and contemporary customer insights, Campbell’s researchers turn to deep dive marketing research— qualitative methods employed in the fields of anthropology and other social sciences for up-close-and-personal study. Camp- bell’s researchers and marketers dive in and spend time with consumers on their own turf. “We’re in their homes,” says Charles Vila, Campbell’s vice president of consumer and customer insights. “We are cooking with them; we’re eating with them; we’re shopping with them.” By spending hours at a time with consumers and observing them in their natural environments, researchers can unlock deep consumer insights of which customers themselves are often not aware.
By employing deep dive marketing research methods, Campbell researchers have identified six different consumer groups, each with an extensive profile. For each of these groups, Campbell has created six fully equipped kitchens at its Camden, New Jersey, headquarters, each designed to mirror the homes of consumers in the six groups. Each kitchen has a unique design, with different appliances, different features, and, most importantly, different food in the cabinets and refrigerators.
At one end of the spectrum is the group called “Uninvolved Quick Fixers.” These are individuals and families who are not acquainted with or into cooking. Their kitchens are strewn with pizza boxes, and collections of takeout menus adorn their fridges. Their stoves and ovens often look like they’ve never been touched. “They’re doing a lot of microwaving and frozen foods,” explains the manager of Campbell’s test facilities.
At the other end of the spectrum is group six, the “Passionate Kitchen Masters.” Their kitchens tend to be filled with well-used, high-end appliances. Their refrigerators are stuffed with fresh produce, dairy, and meats. Gourmet sauces and artisanal breads and pastas are complemented by a wide variety of spices.
Such levels of detail help Campbell marketers discover and understand existing and developing trends in each consumer group as well as in the general market. For example, ginger is in. Only a few years ago, this herb was something found only in ethnic restaurants or in obscure recipes. But now its popularity is soaring. Campbell expects that it will soon be an important ingredient for each of the six consumer segments, a valuable insight for developing new products.
Another conclusion from Campbell’s deep dive is that although Passionate Kitchen Masters consume far fewer prepared and packaged foods than other consumers, they still buy a lot of ingredients—such as broth. Broth flies under the radar of most consumers. But for people who like to cook, it’s a sturdy component of soups, sauces, and braised meats. Under both the Campbell’s and Swanson brands, broth is also a $400 million business for the Campbell Soup Company. Applying the 2 percent sales boost resulting from the label changes discussed earlier translates to $8 million sales gains in broth alone. That’s why Campbell’s researchers are so interested in consumer trends, big and small.
The main goal is to enhance the customer’s food experience. For example, Thai dishes are becoming more popular for foodies. But coming up with key ingredients like lemongrass is both time consuming and expensive. “Even for confident cooks, to bring those together, to go and purchase them, and actually blend them in such a way that it actually works, that’s not easy,” says Camp- bell’s vice president Dale Clemiss, who oversees the Swanson and other Campbell brands. Add that to other insights that Campbell’s research has uncovered, and a new broth is born—Swanson Thai Ginger, a broth “infused with flavors of lime, soy sauce, coconut, lemongrass, cilantro, and ginger—a simple way to make delicious restaurant inspired global dishes at home.”
Every marketing research method has pitfalls. So Camp- bell combines multiple research methods. In addition to neuroscience and deep dive research, the company still employs traditional methods of surveys and interviews. The triangulation of data across methods allows for greater accuracy as well as the ability to cover larger consumer samples.
In the packaged foods business, every little bit helps. It’s all about staying in tune with consumers and keeping up with the changes—large and small—in consumer preferences. That philosophy has worked well for the Campbell Soup Company in the past. And as Campbell has dug deeper through multiple marketing research methods, the proof is in the pudding. Last year, Campbell’s corporate revenues were up 2.4 percent, following a 5.1 percent increase the year before. Net profits are steady at 8 to 10 percent. Campbell’s stock price has also increased by nearly 50 percent in the past few years. As the company Web site states, “For generations, people have trusted Campbell to provide authentic, flavorful, and readily available foods and beverages that connect them to each other, to warm memories, and to what’s important today.” With the help of Campbell’s marketing research program, it looks like consumers will continue to trust Campbell for generations to come.
Questions for Discussion
1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Campbell Soup Company’s marketing information system?
2. What objectives does Campbell have for the marketing research efforts described in this case?
3. Compare the effectiveness of Campbell’s biometric research with its deep dive research.
4. Describe how traditional marketing research could be integrated with Campbell’s research efforts from this case.
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