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P&G Leverages Shoppers’ Opinions for New Product Launch (June 2015)

By Dale Buss

When Procter & Gamble was testing one the biggest extensions in several years of its major dental-care brand, Crest Pro-Health [HD] two-step toothpaste system, the launch had an army to back it up. Not just the usual army of P&G sales reps and ad agencies, but also a “shopper army”: an engaged online audience of thousands of consumers who eagerly had taken the trouble to tell the company what they thought of the concept, to try the actual product in their own mouths, to share their perceptions and reactions via social media and other digital means, and then to follow up by displaying continuing interest after Crest Pro-Health [HD] was introduced in February.

This unique procedure aimed to help P&G strengthen and refine their product before officially launching it.

Shopper Army is the proprietary name of a platform created by Toronto-based BrandSpark International to aggregate and deliver to the brand self-selecting but demographically appropriate groups of consumers who are willing to serve as sounding boards and guinea pigs for CPG product launches. Its highly successful engagement with Crest Pro-Health [HD] was BrandSpark’s first use of the Shopper Army platform for a U.S.-based brand, but company executives believe it was a good start for them south of the border.

The reason is simple: Shopper Army works.

“Brands are sitting in this world with Twitter and Facebook and all these other things they’re engaging, but have they really, truly created honest and engaged two-way dialogue with consumers, or just another vehicle for one-way communication?” said Robert Levy, president and CEO of BrandSpark. “The exciting part for us is helping brands transparently pierce that veil and letting brands and consumers really interact. Even when the brands get feedback that isn’t all that positive, there’s great value for them in interacting and breaking down barriers.”

Shopper Army has its roots in BrandSpark’s annual shopper studies in Canada and now in the United States, in which the company talks to tens of thousands of consumers online, aggregating them from brand suppliers such as Better Homes & Gardens, and Groupon, as well as from BrandSpark’s independent sample providers. “We go very deep with these shoppers, understanding everything how they perceive new products, what is driving their opinions and decisions, how do they make shopping lists and other things.”

The company also sponsors annual Best New Products Awards in about 80 categories each year, based on the opinions of people in its consumer database. “So over the past decade we’ve created a database of thousands of products that have been evaluated by people who’ve tried them, and we’ve created product performance metrics and a lot of information about products and categories,” Levy said.

Thst’s where Shopper Army comes in: It is built on BrandSpark’s expertise as a custom research company as well as its consumer database and its experience in the “credentialing” of new products through its awards. On top of that, the company has layered a mobile platform, which is the one used by most of its online correspondent consumers.

A further key is to “encourage [members] to talk with one another in a community style,” explained Jay Sheldon, vice president of operations and development for BrandSpark. “They feel they’re part of something bigger. We try to make it a meaningful experiences. Sometimes with CPGs it’s harder to get engagement in that kind of discussions compared with cars or electronics. So we’ve built a mini-culture around an interesting contextual discussion of CPGs, including how you shop, how you make decisions, what’s your shopping strategy, what intelligence do you, as the consumer, have to share with us. We make it fun and playful.”

Enter P&G. The company considers Crest Pro-Health [HD] a crucial new product, yet also a risky one because it requires tooth brushers to use two different substances, each for a minute, to get the desired results. A big switch from the decades-old, much simpler habit of squeezing one dab of toothpaste onto a brush and using it for a minute. The new product also represents a deeper foray by the Crest brand into the whitening obsession that has overtaken much of American dental care. Also, with a suggested retail price that Levy said would be around $15, the “system” asks American consumers to plunk down a lot more than they’re used to paying for conventional toothpaste, even varieties with special whitening benefits.

BrandSpark recruited about 1,500 people from its Shopper Army across the United States to try samples of the new Crest product. “We asked these people to accept joining a ‘mission’ to evaluate this product, and 60 percent of people accepted on their mobile devices right away,” Sheldon said. Crest also tested a couple of other pre-launch products with the Shopper Army.

This first segment of the Shopper Army provided their initial reactions to the concept. Then BrandSpark mailed out actual samples of Crest Pro-Health [HD]. They asked members to document their use and experiences with the toothpaste innovation over a couple of weeks, as well as share their experiences with a group online. Levy himself kicked off the “sharing” with his own experiences with the product.

“It wasn’t that all the comments were generically positive,” Sheldon said. “A lot of questions and concerns came up. People had questions about the instructions for the product, for instance, and other members would jump on and respond to them. This very natural dialogue arose. And that happened because we had created an environment where people weren’t given a product and then expected to be a ‘brand ambassador’ for it, but to be honest about it.”

After that two-week period, the Shopper Army members were asked to share their final opinions of the new Crest product, any photos they had of their experiences, and a review. BrandSpark focused on some key metrics that arose in this process, such as quality and purchase intent, and was able to compare the performance of Crest Pro-Health [HD] with those of oral-care products that had won the company’s top-product awards. And, in fact, P&G ended up putting BrandSpark’s “Top Ranked by Shoppers / Shopper Army” logo on one of its first pages on the Amazon site for purchase of the product.

“We also asked our Army members to post reviews of the product on Amazon, good and bad, and everyone did that,” Sheldon said. “Even the reviews that weren’t the most positive were still very thoughtful. We even had meetings discussing specific reviews and how insightful they were.”

Online avatars came in handy as well, such as ones that BrandSpark created for Levy and Sheldon and also for P&G brand managers, who thanked Army members. “We gave Crest a lot of content, information about barriers to trial and repeat purchase for different [consumer] segments,” Sheldon said. “It helped them strengthen and refine their product before launch.”

After the February launch, the Shopper Army’s value continued to be felt. BrandSpark invited Shopper Army members to a Twitter party hosted by the Crest team and shared coupons with Army members. “Now that brand managers can be closer to shoppers and actually involve them in the process of launch, it unlocks new possibilities,” Sheldon said.

From BrandSpark’s viewpoint, the Shopper Army is a perfect way for brands such as Crest to harness consumers’ increasing interest in product transparency and in having a meaningful role in what comes to market. “It’s a delicate balance as we get people not just to blindly support a product, or blindly malign a product, but tap into people who feel valued as shoppers,” Sheldon summed up.


View original article on CPG matters

About CPG matters
Now in its tenth year of publication, CPGmatters is a twice-monthly e-zine designed to help makers of consumer packaged goods build brands through retail. We publish information and advice that is topical and actionable, and reach over 17,000 subscribers both in North America and around the world.

Jun 01, 2015 | By Hsing Liang | Tags:

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Concerns? Contact us at 647-727-4575 or email us at

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