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Variety for sale.

How to satisfy consumer demand for variety while encouraging product loyalty? The answer may be a branding strategy based on line extension, price promotion, and customized advertising and retail display.

For centuries, we have recognized that people like variety in their routine. So it is with shopping--after a while, the same old products, the same old brands, seem tired and listless. Consumers begin demanding a change, something to perk up their supermarket carts.

Satisfaction can come from trying new brands or flavors, or by alternating among varieties. Brand managers know this. Michael Miles, CEO of Philip Morris, for example, bases his strategy on what he perceives to be consumers' five greatest concerns about food: taste, nutrition, convenience, value, and variety. In the restaurant business, menus evolve; and in the fast-food arena, McDonald's offers Breakfast Burritos and Chicken McNuggets.

Shifting consumer tastes create opportunities for both upstart and well-established products. But to capitalize fully on the possibilities, it is necessary to explore why consumers seek variety. Once motivation has been understood, a company can customize a marketing strategy based on line extension, advertising, retail display, and price promotion.


We can classify the motivations for consumers seeking variety into four categories: (1) changing external usage situations; (2) satiation or boredom with existing offerings; (3) stimulation or curiosity about exciting possibilities; and (4) uncertainty about future preferences.

* Changing usage situations: Varied purchase patterns could result from consumers using items within a product class for different purposes. The occasions on which a product is consumed can differ due to time of day, season, vacation, the presence of other people, or the presence of other consumable products. For example, variety-seeking in the soft drink category could result if a consumer drank a cola beverage at lunchtime and a tonic mixer with gin at the cocktail hour. At the household level, variety-seeking may also occur because of the attempt to satisfy different users within the household.

To stimulate variety-seeking that is motivated by consumption, a marketer needs to pay attention to natural, expected external changes and to capitalize on them. One way to do this would be to make an environmental change seem to call for a special treat or a new experience. Thus, a way to increase variety-seeking behavior is to tie purchase behavior to holidays (as is commonly done with candy and soft drink packaging) or to make social occasions special (some advertising campaigns, for example, equate the use of their product with a "time for good friends"). Under such circumstances, the communication theme would be that these identifiable external occasions call for a change in brand choice.

* Satiation or boredom: Some variety-seeking behavior comes about because individuals tire of certain attributes provided by available brands. They are therefore less likely to choose that brand again. In addition, consumers may not find a single brand that satisfies all of the attributes they seek. Thus, they purchase different brands to maximize their ideal combination of attributes, or they alternate among familiar items.

Situational factors, such as the frequency or intensity of consumption and the mode of consumption, can affect how quickly a consumer feels satiated with a brand. The more frequently and intensely a consumer uses a product, the more quickly he or she will feel satiated. For example, in categories such as soft drinks or shampoos, in which the product is consumed frequently, strategies to promote a change of pace can be quite successful. 7-Up's "uncola" strategy and Neutrogena shampoo's suggestion to "take a refreshing vacation from your regular shampoo" are examples of two such successful strategies.

In addition, consumers are more likely to be satiated by particular attributes if they relate to a primary product being consumed, rather than a secondary one. In other words, if bread is thought of as a food in itself--such as in shops that specialize in home-made breads or in specialty breads--then consumers are more likely to satiate on specific attributes and to seek variety. On the other hand, if bread is thought of as the outside of a sandwich, the attributes of the filling in the sandwich (the primary product) are more likely to cause satiation. For example, Stokely USA has succeeded in convincing consumers to think of vegetables as interesting entities--rather than as complements or side dishes to a main entree--and therefore also has succeeded in promoting variety-seeking among its offerings.

* Novelty/stimulation: In other purchase situations, consumers are satisfied with current brand choices. They are not bored, not satiated--but seek variety because a tempting, stimulating opportunity has been presented. For example, a marketer may offer a new product or feature an "item of the week." Here, consumers are satisfied with their current brands but are willing to try something new or different for the fun of it, the thrill of it, or just to satisfy their curiosity.

Research has shown that to increase the desire for stimulation, managers should increase the positive feelings a consumer experiences in the purchasing environment and decrease general uncertainty in the purchasing decision. To increase the positive feelings in the purchasing environment, managers can include colorful packaging, interesting retail displays, or free samples. For example, at Glen's Markets in Gaylord, MI, a labor-intensive, special retail display section known as "Something Special" has become popular in the fresh fruit and vegetable section.

The following quotation from author Salman Rushdie on some of the things he misses since he has been in hiding illustrates the spirit behind this suggestion:

"It is not that I ever was a big shopper, but when you cannot shop, you come to understand better the pleasure it affords, because everything must be gotten for me ... you can't go into a shop expecting to buy a certain item--and then spot the item next to it, and see that is what you really wanted. The pleasure, you see, had been in the choosing."

Marketers also need to lessen the perceived cost of a change in brand. As pointed out in an article in Restaurant Business, for example, the way to bring diversity into the dining experience is to develop concepts that fit into consumers' lifestyles. It is important not to frighten customers away with unfamiliar food and atmosphere. The best strategy is to provide a comfortable environment with the lure of unique offerings. Other ways in which marketers can decrease the perceived cost of a decision would be to allow consumers to sample the product at in-store tastings or to promote special introductory price promotions.

* Preference uncertainty: Sometimes consumers seek variety in purchases to generate a portfolio of brands. The portfolio acts as a hedge against the uncertainty of any changes in taste. When the consumption of the products is separated temporally from the decision to buy those products, consumers may be uncertain about their future preferences. Choosing a variety of brands helps ensure satisfaction.

One strategy to induce variety-seeking in a category among consumers motivated by this factor would be to increase the likelihood of a consumer purchasing multiple items during a single shopping trip. A tendency to purchase a number of items would increase the chance that several different brands or flavors would be chosen to diversify the brand portfolio.

Increasing the number of purchases per shopping trip can be accomplished through promotions or quantity discounts. Another way would be to decrease the size of the package. Supermarket owners are observing that new, single-serving units are purchased by families as well as by individuals. The move to single-serving packages in soups and vegetables, for example, increases the variety-seeking tendencies in those categories. Similarly, the repackaging of juices into smaller-sized juice boxes can induce more variety-seeking.

Finally, advertising slogans can be used to increase the perceived uncertainty about future preferences, and thus persuade the consumer to purchase a variety of items. An example of this is the Peter-Paul candy slogan: "Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don't. Almond Joy has nuts; Mounds don't." The implication, of course, is that the consumer should buy both brands.


If consumers are already seeking variety in a product class, the optimal strategy for a brand would be to satisfy the consumers' desire for variety--but at the same time to encourage as much brand loyalty as possible. The marketing tools used to manage the process are sometimes called the "Four P's": product, place (or retail display), promotion, and price.

* Product: When consumers express a preference for variety in a product class, leading brands should feature multiple offerings. If properly executed, the strategy helps to ensure that variety-seekers do not have to switch to a different manufacturer to satisfy their desire for change. The offerings can be separate, such as Nabisco's Triscuits and Wheat Thins, or they can be a set of offerings bundled together. For example, yogurt, cereal and many kinds of candies are offered together in variety-packs. In luncheon meats, Oscar Mayer satisfies the demand for variety with a chicken "Variety-pak." Ideally, a single purchase provides sufficient variety and convenience, and fosters an allegiance to a firm's brands.

Variety-seeking behavior also has implications for new product strategies. The introduction of new brands in such product classes may be a requirement for maintaining market share. For example, users of non-cola soft drinks tend to be variety-seeking consumers. Consequently, managers of Slice, a lemon-lime drink, felt it was necessary to develop line extensions. They added Mandarin Orange Slice, Apple Slice, and Cherry-Cola Slice to their product line to provide flavor and variety. If offering multiple brands or flavors is not a practical option, a brand can increase the loyalty to it and answer a consumer's need for change by presenting "new and improved" versions of the same brand.

* Retail display: One way for a leading brand to encourage consumers to buy only its offerings, even when seeking variety, is through in-store retail display strategies. Under the approach, flavors of yogurt, cereal, and crackers are arranged on supermarket shelves under common identification symbols (e.g., logo, brand name, and packaging). This strategy--which produces at least the perception of a variety-pack--reduces the shopping time and costs of consumers, and need not be accompanied by price incentives.

* Advertising: Variety-seeking behavior may also offer the opportunity to educate consumers through more lengthy advertising and promotional copy. Consumers looking for variety in brand choice are more open to receiving brand information. This suggests that in variety-seeking markets, educational, informational advertising can be effective in inducing consumers to switch to a leading brand if they have not used it before or to stay with an "improved" formulation of the leading brand if they have.

* Price: The patterning of price promotions perhaps can be used to provide structured variety-seeking for consumers. According to a mid-1980s study by Tod Johnson, published in The Journal of Advertising Research, while the use of price promotions has increased dramatically in supermarket goods, overall brand loyalty has not declined. Perhaps consumers temporarily are taking advantage of the price promotions while simultaneously satisfying their desire for variety. Under such conditions, brand loyalty is not threatened.

Variety-seeking is an intrinsic desire of consumers. The marketers of smaller brands can capitalize on this desire by depicting their products as a "change of pace." This is a strong strategy for augmenting market share. For the corporate parents of larger brands, meanwhile, the task is slightly more complex. They must satisfy the need for variety while maintaining brand loyalty.

Both types of companies, however, must understand the motivations for variety-seeking behavior, then use that knowledge to develop focused, integrated marketing strategies. The alternative is the erosion of market share, the loss of competitive advantage, and, in some cases, corporate demise.

Barbara E. Kahn is the Stephen M. Peck Term Associate Professor of Marketing at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Chief Executive Publishing
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Wisdom from Wharton; satisfying customers' demand for variety
Author:Kahn, Barbara E.
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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