Unilever – how the marketing team returned Pot Noodles to sales growth

This case study looks at how understanding your consumers and your consumers’ motivations better, helps you keep your brand in growth.

Pot Noodle has been a supermarket staple aimed at 16-24 year olds. The brand became iconic in the ’90s when Gen X (aka slacker/MTV generation) embraced the brand for its ease of use. According to Marketing Society, ‘These were the kids who were proud to sit around in their undies on the sofa watching Men Behaving Badly and playing on their PlayStations. The ease and convenience of Pot Noodle made it the perfect food for this infamous 90s lifestyle, and the brand became emblematic of slacker culture.’

The team had been using music themed ads for this target segment. In the noughties, the Pot Noodle team launched a new ad campaign, ‘Why try harder’, which according to Marketing Society, featured a man marrying a footballer in order to live the easy life and another pretending to be a towel so people would carry him to the beach every day. While the ad was in keeping with the generation they had previously targeted, the 16-24 year old of the millennial generation had different values from the previous one. So the brand started losing share to others in the same category. The irony was that the category was in growth and Pot Noodle was underperforming vs the remainder of the brands in the category.

What was causing this?

This generation, the Millennials, had grown up watching their peers become tech billionaires and global peace envoys. According to a 2014 survey, 79% said career success was important to them, 76% wanted to achieve more than their parents and 55% planned to start their own business. In complete contrast to the ‘slacker’ image portrayed by the Pot Noodle ads, this generation was probably the most ambitious one yet.

So why was the rest of the category in growth?

It wasn’t that the rest of the category was in decline as well. In fact the category grew by c. 2% (value) between 2013 and 2014, but Pot Noodle’s market share dropped by c. 5% (value) during the same period.

When the marketing team behind Pot Noodle at Unilever dug deeper into this, by spending time with people in this generation, they found that convenience was still a highly valued selling point for this category. They found that this generation valued convenience not because they were lazy, but because they were ambitious and driven. Spending less time putting together snacks & meals gave them more time to focus on their career.

This was a generation that was defined by the financial crisis in 2008. They knew that unless they focussed completely on their careers, they would not be able to enjoy the same quality of living as the previous generations did.

So they bought and consumed instant meals/snacks to make more time for work.

However, the ‘slacker’ image portrayed by Pot Noodle was not in line with the ethos of this new generation.

A different portrayal of the same benefit

While the fact remained that both generations valued convenience, the reason for why they valued this convenience had changed.

While Gen X valued the minimum effort that went into putting a snack/meal together, Millennials valued the time it saved them, that they could use to focus on their careers.

So the Unilever marketing team launched their ‘You can make it’ campaign.

Re-launch of the Pot Noodle brand in September 2015

They used the 3 months of December 2015, to completely re-launch the brand. Given they were now targeting a generation of digital natives, the campaign focussed heavily on digital channels. The campaign kicked off with the story of a young man who dreamed of success in the Boxing ring.

You can make it

They also ran mobile and online ads around this theme, ‘You can make it’. They went beyond just running ads however, they launched partnerships with online youth sites to back entrepreneurs. They launched music careers, funded & launched launched inventions through their on pack competition and handed out c. 100k samples at Universities.

Turnaround of the brand

The campaign resonated with this generation and completely turned around the brand performance in stores.

#youcanmakeit generated a whopping 29 million impressions during the campaign period, with the majority of the users aged 16-24 (Pot Noodle target age).

The ad changed the way Pot Noodle was perceived by people. Pot Noodle went from being a guilty pleasure to one that gave its consumers more time to focus on success.

Major media outlets and youth influencers praised the positive message about gender choices that the Boxer spot delivered and were supportive of the message behind the ad. During the campaign period positive reports of Pot Noodle in the press outweighed negative ones by a factor of 10 to 1.

This change in perception had a major impact on sales, market share and penetration.

By understanding their target consumer/shopper segment better through data, the team behind Pot Noodle was able to reverse and even grow the brand. Sales value increased by 3.6% and nearly 364k NEW households bought the brand. Pot Noodle not only reversed their decline but became the fastest growing brand in this category.

Process – A newer addition to the traditional 4Ps

So you have a great product and you have defined and validated your target audience(consumer segment). How do you deliver your brand/SKU to the customer(brick & mortar/online) and make it available for your target consumers to buy? The next P, Process, covers this aspect.

The sales process followed in any organisation influences execution in store and how the brand/product is perceived by the consumer. As for your customers, it is crucial to make sure you’re easy to do business with, meaning you’re efficient, helpful and timely. 

The sales process followed directly impacts execution, including delivery of your brand/SKU to customers, in-store availability, placement on shelf, how communication with the customer is managed, new product launches and so on. An effective sales process will include all aspects of the 7Ps and describes the series of actions or fundamental elements that are involved in delivering the SKU to the customer, for the consumer to buy.

By making sure your team has a good sales process in place, you will also save time and money due to greater efficiency, and your standard of service to customers will remain consistent and high, which is excellent for developing a great brand reputation and to build a great relationship with the customer.

The more seamless and personalised your sales processes are, the happier your customers will be. Customers typically feel frustrated or dissatisfied by late shipping, additional costs, poor communication or a lack of support and when brands/SKUs run out of stock in store.

Every part of the customers’/consumers’ journey has to be seamless and efficient. 

Regularly assessing, adjusting and adapting your sales processes will help to structure your sales efforts so that your team can function at optimal efficiency. A great way to do this is to borrow from the tech industry. Map your customer and consumer journey on a regular basis. How does your brand get to the final user? What are the various steps in the journey to the final user/consumer and what process do you have in place that facilitates this? Prioritise elements that overlap with the customer/consumer experience.

The more specific and seamless your sales processes are, the more smoothly your sales teams can carry them out. If your sales team isn’t focused on navigating procedures, they have more time to build great customer relationships, enabling the business to grow.

Some elements to consider are as below: 

  • Is your customer carrying the right levels of stock? If too little, how much more needs to be ordered and why? If too much, how can you help the customer reduce this before stock needs to be destroyed/written off?
  • Is your logistics solution cost-efficient and timely? What does your scheduling and delivery logistics look like?
  • Will your customers run out of product at critical times?
  • If you are an e-commerce business, do items ship reliably from your website?
  • How often do you meet with the customer’s team and how do you communicate price changes, POS artwork changes and packaging changes to customers?
  • What technology do you use? How can your customer access it? Do they need access?

If you get more than one complaint about any element of the sales process, understand what’s going wrong and develop a solution. 

When you get your sales process right, your sales team will

  • be more productive, manage more customers and also have better relationships with customers as a result.
  • maintain or gain market share for your brand. Fewer customers delist your brand/SKUs as your team responds immediately to consumer needs/feedback.When people love your products, they experiment less and so remain loyal to your brand.
  • receive feedback from customers and consumers, and ensure it reaches relevant decision makers within the organisation. Feedback helps you change what needs to be changed, and helps your business grow.
  • sell and deliver the right volumes of your brands/SKUs so your customers are neither overstocked nor understocked.

This includes any technology sales teams use in their normal course of work. This ranges from sales intelligence solutions teams use to calculate sales volumes through to merchandising apps that monitor shelves.

If your sales process is efficient and any sales technology you use is in keeping with the process and with market conditions, your brand thrives and so does your business.

If you’d like to learn more about how to set up an efficient sales process or how to maximise sales team productivity using the right sales technology and tools, email me on veena@salesbeat.co