Who would have thought a year ago that Nestlé would launch a national "taste for yourself" sampling campaign comparing Taster's Choice to Starbucks? The idea would have seemed absurd. Incredible. Ridiculous. But when Starbucks launched VIA, its own instant coffee brand, the doors of opportunity flew open and Nestlé sampling teams are indeed on the march.
From my biased perspective, as a former Taster's Choice brand manager, here are a few observations about this peculiar turn of events:
1) What an opportunity: Typically, a new competitor coming into your market with a bigger brand and a superior product would lead to lots of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But this is a case where such weeping would be misplaced. The VIA launch creates news in a category that never makes the news. It gives the category credibility it sorely lacks. It establishes a price point that makes Taster's Choice seem cheap by comparison (68 cents for VIA vs 17 cents a cup for TC). And it may bring new, younger consumers into the category who would never otherwise have been interested. If VIA is successful, the entire instant coffee category will be revitalized. It's not just an opportunity, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
2) The response: To their credit, the Nestlé team has been quick to respond to the opportunity with its sampling campaign. But the approach is defensive, intended to protect and repel rather than leverage. The fact is that Taster's Choice will be better off if VIA succeeds than if it fails. So instead of comparing prices, talking about how the VIA launch is a "lot of hype" and otherwise trying to stick it to VIA, the better approach would be to work out how to live and thrive in a VIA-successful world.
That said, I know that creating/selling a crisis is one of the best ways to get a bigger marketing budget. If more money was obtained by using a sky-is-falling argument (such as: "OMG, Starbucks is launching an instant coffee. We need more money or we'll be ruined") then it's not surprising that the campaign funded by those dollars has gone negative.
3) The problem of taste: The current campaign focuses on the one clear cut advantage that Taster's Choice has over VIA. That it's cheaper. Which is undeniably true. What the campaign doesn't talk about is the fact that VIA tastes a lot better. As I posted earlier, the VIA claim that it tastes as good as a Roast & Ground coffee actually stands up. I have no doubt that the Nestlé product developers could come up with something of similar quality if they were allowed to increase the cost of goods somewhere in the VIA ballpark. Hopefully they are working on that.
4) The media: A while back I criticized Nescafé's Twitter presence (@nescafeusa) as a "rather bland, occasionally ill-fitting, half effort where the toe has barely touched the water." While the new sampling campaign hasn't exactly exploded the number of followers (762 as of Nov. 3oth vs. 558,217 for Starbucks(!)), it has provided some relevant material. The tweets now feature up-to-the-minute reports of where the Taster's Choice samplers are handing out samples. Same for the Nescafé Facebook page. It's a small example of the evolution of marketing and media. Sampling programs help create the content for social media which, in turn, makes the sampling programs a more valuable part of the marketing mix.
By the way, if you want to taste Taster's Choice for yourself and haven't come across a sampling team, you can order from here.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009