[Originally Published in PL Buyer Magazine]


Marketers spend millions of dollars each year to “guess” what the customer wants next. New product development can involve taste panels, packaging focus groups, trend studies, and severl other traditional tools to help create something that will be successful on the shelf.

In spite of all those efforts, less than two percent of new products stick around for more than five years. The reasons are many. Even great products may fail due to poor marketing, insufficient trial, or any of a host of other issues.

With the advent of social media there may now be much easier, less costly, more direct, and – most importantly – more successful methods for identifying new product opportunities. Although “social marketing” has typically involved normal marketing, but just on social media, smart retailers and brands are identifying new product development opportunities offered by this medium.

For years, the content crowd has been pushing one version or another of the “tell, don’t sell” mantra. While traditional marketing activities can’t be altogether ignored in the digital world, they don’t typically resonate with shoppers. People log into their social networks to interact and engage, and retailers who understand this are able to leverage more and better information from their consumers.

Crowdsourcing product ideas and enabling customers to participate in the decision process that brings them to reality can create engagement, interaction and interest around new product launches. Taking a social approach for new items has several attractive features:

  • Advancing acceptance. Consumers that have been part of the process are highly likely to purchase the product when it comes to market. Even though this may only represent a small number of potential purchasers, the resulting word-of-mouth can exponentially increase overall knowledge around the product launch.
  • Creating buzz. Just waiting to see “what won” starts conversations among customers and elicits strong word-of-mouth and trial once the product is launched. Broadcasting these decisions on social media gets people talking in ways that are nearly impossible to duplicate with traditional media.
  • Validating trial. Items that have been “created” by shoppers, rather than by the brand, come to market with the built-in approval of “people like me.” This heightens interest and differentiates the item from most everything else on the shelf – and leads to a higher likelihood of trial.

So, where do you start? There are great examples of how private label (and some national brand) products have leveraged social crowdsourcing at every point throughout the product development process. Here are a few of them, and some ideas to help you get started.


The Taste Makers

Any manufacturer worth their salt has culinary expertise, consumer trend analysis, and scores of other resources to help them determine what flavors consumers want next. Social media provides access to another resource to help make these flavor decisions – the actual people who will buy and consume the products.

Giving consumers the keys to the kitchen without supervision is not well advised. However, social media allows for crowdsourcing enough ideas that strong options can emerge. One of the best examples of this comes from the national brand world, with the Lays “Do Us a Flavor” promotion. The contest allowed fans to submit their ideas for new flavors of chips. Almost nothing was off limits, leading to some “outside the box” ideas (and likely some really horrible ones as well). Finalists for the $1 million prize included Bacon Mac & Cheese, Cappuccino, and Mango Salsa, with Wasabi Ginger taking first place. Each of the four finalists was produced in limited release, so consumers could try them, and vote for their favorite.

From the private label side, the Weis Quality Ice Cream Flavor Creator Contest followed a similar path. The retailer received 400 submissions for new ice cream flavors via their Facebook page, and chose three finalists for their fans to vote on. S’Mores and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel lost out to Chocolate Covered Strawberry, which received over half (51%) of the votes cast. The winning flavor was added to the Weis Quality line, and its creator received a free year’s supply of ice cream – a small price for Weis to pay for a new product with built-in buzz..


All in the name

Admittedly, letting the internet choose flavors and products may be more than most retailers are willing to do. Fortunately, social media offers plenty of other opportunities for consumers to build engagement with products during the development process, without impacting the flavor profiles of stores’ private brands.

Food Lion’s You Name It is a great example of how to build consumer engagement online, without impacting the development process from a taste standpoint. The promotion offered prizes to fans who submitted new names for a number of the stores own brand sodas. Among the many submissions, winners included such names as “Omazing Orange” and “Roar! Root Beer.” From a marketing perspective, the genius of this promotion was that it was able to generate word of mouth around a product line without the need to create a new product!

This concept can have multiple applications. In addition to naming products, shoppers could be asked to submit “in the wild” product photography for use in new packaging or social media. These types of promotions not only generate new interest in old products, but help build word-of-mouth recommendations from those who engage with the contest.


Chow down and speak up

When discussing how the world has changed as it moves to digital, it is frequently noted that consumers are less trustful of brands, and more trustful of other shoppers. Most eCommerce sites now follow the lead of Amazon and prominently feature consumer reviews along with product listings. For private label products, positive consumer sentiment can be a strong driver of trial for new shoppers.

Harris Teeter uses this concept to drive social interaction with their “Taste and Tell” program. When new products are announced for the program, the first 1,000 people to like the Facebook posts are offered the current product for free, and are encouraged to provide feedback online and on Facebook.

The UK retailer Asda has followed a similar path, creating a whole line of products “Chosen by You.” The retailer launched the line in an attempt to bring shoppers back to their store brands, which had lost share over a number of years of negative perception of quality. With the #ChosenByMe hashtag, consumers are encouraged to tell the retailer about their favorite products. Asda is now incorporating these reviews on updated product packaging.

Raley’s Something Extra Try-It program provides loyalty points for trial, review and feedback on store brand items.


Now you do it

Social media provides ample opportunity to engage with your shoppers around your private label products, and develop buy-in throughout the development process. Whether soliciting product ideas via Facebook, compiling reviews via a Twitter hashtag, or acquiring product photos through Instagram, there are plenty of ways for you to engage your shoppers. What will you be doing to bring consumers into your newest store brand product development cycle?