Marketing Lessons in a Grocery Bag

600199_4182010_117PMtnuva_israel_2How often do you get marketing insights while shopping for groceries?

We spent this summer visiting family in the US. Our kids love staying with the grandparents, but there is one thing they absolutely hate about these visit – the food. Anyone who has ever been to Israel can vouch for the unbeatable taste and freshness of local food, especially produce and dairy. Over-processed American food is a letdown. So naturally, they were extremely excited to discover containers of all-too-familiar Israeli-made Tnuva “cream cheese” at the nearby Costco store.

The solution to my kids’ eating woes came with two great lessons in marketing. The first one was Tnuva’s handling of the product’s name. This cheese is very different from what American consumers are used to. While there is a technical name for the product – quark cheese – unless you are a foodie, it means nothing to you. Tnuva retained the technical term for people in the know, while also explaining the nature of the product for everyone else, by using descriptive words like “creamy and soft.”  The product’s name Quark Creamy Soft Cheese is a great example of walking the fine line between obscurity and loss of identity.

And Tnuva got another thing right. You don’t have to be a Hebrew speaker to spot the difference between the two containers pictured above.

5% fat content on the Hebrew label miraculously becomes 95% fat-free on the American one. While the inherent information is the same, the messages are completely different. For Israelis, the fat content is a gauge of the product’s creaminess (Tnuva carries a whole line of these cheeses with ½%, 3%, 5%, and 9% fat content).

However, since Tnuva’s cheese is a novelty product in the US, the 5% fat label is meaningless information for local buyers. But turn it into “95% fat free” and you are in sync with the health craze sweeping US supermarkets in the last decade. Anyone who can’t imagine presenting candies, potato chips, and cola as nutritious, doesn’t know the first thing about marketing.

Creating a product position, or in other words helping the buyer attribute the product to a certain category already existing in his mind, is the most critical step in selling anything. Tnuva’s cheese was a challenge because it did not fit into any of the categories familiar to American consumers. The 95% fat free label allowed Tnuva to places the cheese in the low-fat, health food category, thus creating a position for the product.

With these two moves, Tnuva successfully sidestepped a common mistake made by many companies, who use the company’s own language and notions instead of those of the client. To be able to buy, the client has to understand what it is that you are actually selling and why she needs it. To want to buy, she needs to feel understood by your company and in control of the purchase. If your product makes her feel uncomfortable simply because the package uses words she is not so sure about, your sales may suffer.

Another common mistake is using product features (like 5% fat content) instead of benefits to the client,  as well as overlooking perceived benefits (in this case – compatibility with a healthy diet). As with everything else you do, getting into your clients’ shoes is the first step to making a sale.

How to talk to clients in their own language:

  • Talk in simple words your clients can understand. Whatever you do, stay away from industry “jargon” and technical words.
  • Talk to your clients regularly. Use the words and ideas you hear from THEM in everything you communicate as part of your marketing.
  • Consider if your messages make sense to the client. Beyond the apparent meaning of the words, think what other messages the clients could be getting. Are you sure you want them to get that message? Is this the best way to send it?
  • People organize information in categories. How does your product compare with what your clients already know and think about this product category? How does your product compare with other products in the category?



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