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How being distinctive helped a new chocolate company enjoy run-away success

You just might have heard of Tony’s Chocolonely – a relatively new chocolate company. And you might be wondering how its success relates to healthcare.

Tony’s was set up in 2005 by a Dutch journalist who was determined to make chocolate 100% free from the use of child labour. To raise attention to the issue, he even took himself to court for knowingly buying chocolate made with slave labour.

Now, with a turnover of €70 million, Tony’s Chocolonely is the biggest chocolate brand in the Netherlands. It has a market share of around 19% and growth of 27% compared to last year.

Clearly, the purpose of the company has been key to its success. For consumers, an association with a worthy cause means a great deal. But we all know that purpose alone is not enough for an unknown brand to make this scale of impact.

What else drove the success?

Well, Tony’s Chocolonely blatantly ignored the rules of what chocolate bars should be like. Their first bar was red – a colour that few other manufacturers have ever chosen for plain milk chocolate.

Furthermore, the chocolate itself is divided into a random pattern. So it looks unlike any no other chocolate bar. This unequal pattern is deliberate – it represents the inequality at play in the global cocoa production industry. The flavours are unique too – including Milk Caramel Sea Salt, Dark Milk Pretzel Toffee and White Raspberry Popping Candy.

So what can healthcare learn from this?

There are several key take-outs for brands looking to get noticed by healthcare professionals.

As with all brands and sectors, your story really needs to mean something to your audience. Tony’s did this by being authentic. Remember the old adage: No sound bites without substance.

Most importantly, however, is the need to be distinctive. Being distinctive allowed Tony’s to penetrate a mature market packed with numerous “stronger” competitors.

By being distinctive, brands in any industry can draw the attention of customers and influencers and open their eyes to the reasons to choose us over the competition.

Why do customers sometimes seem blind to your new messaging?

Ever wondered why customers haven’t noticed new information about your brand? Why it’s so difficult to change an established position in their minds?

Maybe it’s not because they won’t, it’s more that they can’t.

Our evolutionary history has always been about us as a species, learning and trying new things. But if that had been done without limits, the sheer number of failed experiments would have killed us all off long ago. That’s why there are guard rails built in to prevent this.

Once we’ve found something that works for us in a particular scenario, we tend to use that as our default position. This reduces the need for repeated risk taking, which could be prejudicial to our surviving long enough to reproduce.

Enter the uncertainty principle and negative transfer.

The uncertainty principle (not the Heisenberg one) states that people will pay more attention to stimulus that’s unfamiliar to them. They don’t recognise it and can’t predict what it means. So they will continue to pay attention until they feel that they know what it means.

At this point they not only stop learning about this particular stimulus, they are actively inhibited from doing so through negative transfer.

A common example of this is drivers who learned to drive in an automatic car. They often struggle more with a manual car than those drivers learning to drive for the very first time.

This concept is incredibly useful from a marketing perspective. If you are a major market leader, having your customers in a state of negative transfer is perfect as they aren’t looking to learn anything new about the problem you are solving for them.

So, if you want to communicate something new about your brand, you’ll have to do it in a way that your customers notice in order to push them back into uncertainty. Beware though, introducing the uncertainty principle at this point could destabilise your whole position, allowing your competitors to gain attention.

Find out how wethepeople can help you to use these principles and improve your communications whilst avoiding some of the pitfalls.

Implementing the reward mechanism to encourage behaviour change

As grown-ups in the 21st century, we are all patently aware of what we should do to live a healthier life. So why is there still a large proportion of the population that seems unable to do the right thing and make the correct decisions for their health?

A couple of things in this statement bear further scrutiny.

First is the vaguely judgemental tone employed by those of us involved in the healthcare industry to express our frustration. We tend to do this when large swathes of the population don’t take their medication, won’t increase activity, won’t eat the right food and won’t quit smoking. However, our judgment is often based on what we would do. This assumption makes us victims of what’s known as the false consensus effect. This is an attributional cognitive bias where we believe that our own personal beliefs, opinions, behaviours, likes and dislikes are also normal for most other people. Unfortunately, that bias is often reinforced by reflection from our friends and colleagues in our industry. The reality is very different.

The truth is that only a small proportion of the population actually spends its waking and working hours thinking about its health. Now let’s look at it from another, incredibly obvious, point of view. A lot of positive health behaviours, especially those that many people REALLY need to adopt, aren’t particularly attractive. Why? Simply because they often involve doing less of stuff that people like and more of stuff that they really don’t want to do.

Which brings us to the second thing.

Rewards are only rewards if they feel good to people. Again, from a healthcare industry perspective, what could feel better than a new personal best on a Strava segment, or smashing my 25,000-step record on Fitbit? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Non-health obsessed people (i.e. most of the population) are constantly expected and encouraged to replace things that have a built-in reward with something for which the reward is completely and utterly intangible. Reducing the odds of something bad happening at some unspecified time in the future does not get those dopamine juices flowing in quite the same way as a nice carb and fat laden meal, a drink, a cigarette or a Victory Royale in Fortnite. Tragically however, none of these aforementioned delights will do much to improve anyone’s type 2 diabetes, for example…

The key to making differences here is to make rewards for healthy behaviour relevant to the audience in whom we are interested, rather than to us. Harnessing the reward mechanisms in our brains is very helpful here. The interesting thing is that the way we process reward doesn’t appear to differ for real or virtual rewards. Creating surrogate, virtual rewards that are immediate for healthy behaviours is a powerful way to reward behaviour change. The most important thing to do here is to define rewards that our audiences find attractive and to keep changing and adding to those rewards over time to maintain interest.