Sunday, July 30, 2006


Natural products and the market

If consumers are actively green attitudinally, behaviourally why are they passively green? Or worse, neutral? Is there something about the aura of naturals that their marketing is not touching upon? Why have businessmen or marketers not been able to fully leverage green inclinations? Are consumers indeed ahead of marketers in the naturals arena? It seems so.

Green Is Keen

Naturals are growing in appeal across markets. In flat categories, often the natural segment is the growing (albeit niche) one. There is prolific consumer evidence that people attitudinally prefer naturals. Several advantages of naturals are felt and perceived. From a product use point of view, naturals promise no side effects, holistic impact, non-intrusive action and long-term benefits. This ‘functional’ or product-derived credibility that consumers associate with naturals, across product categories, is well-established. What is more significant is that most young consumers are pro-naturals. This is borne out strongly in recent research.

Green inclined? Hell, yeah!

Young people (15-19-year-olds), who will be the mainstream consumers of tomorrow, show strong ‘green’ leanings. Lifestyle and attitude research based on TGI (target group indexing) with an all India sample size of 17,000 confirms this. In metros, 15–19-year-olds say they are prepared to pay more for environment-friendly products (index 112). Also, given a choice, they would prefer to use a herbal rather than a non-herbal product (index 110).

So, if the appeal of naturals is so evident, and their potential so ripe, why then are naturals businesses not the sweeping success they were meant to be? The aim of this thesis is to bridge the chasm between their business potential and business promise. It brings to life the fundamentally different stance a naturals business must embrace for consumers to embrace it in turn.

The Hypotheses

Study ‘the other 50 per cent’. Marketing theory tells us that beyond functionality, as much as 50 per cent of the overall appeal of a category or brand is driven by its emotional appeal or ‘tug’. So one has to examine if there is a deep and powerful ‘emotionale’, or emotional appeal driving the buzz around naturals. Few business ideas in today’s choice-cluttered world have the credibility, appeal and broad acceptance that natural products enjoy. So, could there be a latent ‘emotionale’ that (dormant) naturals businesses haven’t tapped into?

No more research please. Use category archaeology instead. Being a growing segment, naturals are, perhaps, among the most researched fields— qualitatively, quantitatively and in R&D terms. So, still more research is not going to unpeel this onion. However, starting from a different stand point like category archaeology might. This anthropological tool applies well to business and marketing, and is especially useful while seeking answers to a fundamental question, like ours. It unearths hidden meanings and associations that exist in people’s collective understanding, and is often remarkably revelatory. Given the momentum that naturals have built up over the years, and their overall attitudinal support and acceptance, is there a meaning and association with naturals buried deep in people’s minds, where glossy research reports don’t reach? Can we unearth this and leverage it to free the frozen potential of naturals?

The Duality Of Naturals

With these two hypotheses as the intellectual starting point of enquiry, we started ‘digging’. As we dug into naturals as a category, irrespective of products, we unearthed an interesting fact. Functionally, naturals are very strong and credible, with evident long-term benefits and lack of negative side-effects, regardless of product or service functions. However, beyond functional fitness, naturals, as an overall appeal, have a duality.

On one hand is the dark side of naturals. It is personified and visualised, both literally and metaphorically, as old and dark with associations like old age, grandfather, therapeutic, dull, old film songs, black-and-white, disease, ayurveda, etc. This comes with all the credibility and authority of naturals, but with sensorial, emotional and cultural associations which are off-putting, old-fashioned and distant from today’s consumers (particularly younger consumers, who are more pro-naturals).

On the other hand, the bright side of naturals was also revealed. It is envisioned both literally and metaphorically as bright and young, feminine, passionate, stylish, individualistic, artistic, in yellow and fuschia, liberating, opinionated, philosophical, life changing, substantive, warm, contemporary and ‘with it’. This is a side that is not only associated with all the credibility and authority of natural products but also carries rich sensorial, emotional and cultural associations.

The bright side of naturals is surprisingly stylish and design oriented. Indeed, the foundations of its distinctive style quotient lie in an attitude to life that is at the cutting edge of modernity. It is more and genuinely modern than the ‘stereotyped modern’. It embraces an overarching philosophy of life that is in sync with and inspires its design philosophy. As a result, it embraces choices that are passionate and ‘with it’, such as linen over denim, ceramics over bone china, beach run over the treadmill, juice over cola, environmental activism over biological engineering and happiness over success.

This bright side is a ‘new age’ stance to naturals, which enjoys the same credibility and authority as ‘old’ naturals, but with an incredibly complementary, ‘wind beneath its wings’ kind of cultural and emotional resonance.

In a nutshell, the archaeology reveals that the surface meaning of naturals is unidimensional and ‘dark’, but the deeper meaning of naturals is multidimensional and ‘bright’. The surface meaning of naturals is unidimensional — safe, traditional, knowledgeable products considered ‘very good, but not for me’. However, their deeper meaning is multidimensional. It shows that the world has moved from natural to ‘being’ natural, that is, ‘a new age way of life that inspires me’.

Shaziya Khan


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