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Branding Mistakes – Not Listening to the Consumer

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Redesigning your product packaging is fraught with danger. So when do you pull the trigger?

It seems crazy, but businesses don’t always cater to the needs of the consumer. We might think that good business practice is making as many people as possible admire and enjoy your brand, but branding is more of an art than a science. Sometimes, brands try too hard to be cool. Sometimes, they attempt to disguise attempts to cut costs. Occasionally, they publicly insult global mega-stars and everyone older than 50.

It’s easy to ignore the old maxim, “The customer is always right.” But when we do so, it can be to the detriment of our revenue and reputation. Hungry Jack, the pancake brand, got its syrup in hot water when it decided to ignore the one of the few qualities that home pancake-eaters want in their pancake syrups. And it wasn’t quality ingredients, nutrition, or even taste, really. People want their syrup conveniently heated to a desired temperature, and darn it if Hungry Jack didn’t rip that ability away from them. It was foolish of Hungry Jack for failing to anticipate the hellfire that followed.

A Sticky Situation in Packaging Redesign

If you weren’t following the pancake-gate saga, here’s the shorthand version. Hungry Jack’s pancake syrup was one of few major brands to provide its product in a package that was convenient to its consumers. It was short, squat, and manufactured in a microwave-safe material so that users could heat the entire bottle in the microwave without transferring the product to another vessel first. The parent company, J.M. Smucker, decided to redesign the package so that it was nearly identical to its competitors. According to the J.M. Smucker representatives, the reason behind the change was to decrease the package volume, and because “research” indicated that customers didn’t microwave the bottle. Well, that’s why you have to be careful how you conduct your research!

It turned out that some of Hungry Jack’s customers didn’t even realize what brand they were even buying; they just wanted the bottle that could be microwaved and that fit on their shelves. After the storm of protests and threats that flooded social media, Hungry Jack yielded and decided to restore its original bottle shape. Consumers were thrilled. They got their syrup bottle back, and their cries were heard and appreciated.

There are three lessons to be learned here:

  1. Listen to your customers
  2. Conduct market research very carefully
  3. Don’t abandon the one quality that separates you from your competitors

Although consumers might have been placated now that their bottles are back, the competition now has information that it would be foolish to ignore.

There might be a bit of fallout from this syrup revelation. Clearly, whoever conducts market research for pancake juggernauts missed how deeply customers cherish bottle shape. Now that it has been made crystal clear that it can influence buying habits, Hungry Jack competition might start giving customers what they clearly want—namely short, microwavable bottles. The only market edge Hungry Jack had might be gone if its competition has any guile whatsoever. Whoops!

As for the research indicators that helped determine Hungry Jack’s bottle shape, it isn’t clear if they were actually well-researched or something the representatives said to make the decision seem legitimate. Whichever it was, it simply underscores the importance of reliable market research. Frankly, research should never really stop.

Letting Customers Dictate Your Direction

Regardless of how this bottle debacle ultimately plays out, the important thing is that the brand let its customers have the final say and admitted as much. Whatever your brand message is, it has to be dictated by your desire to serve your customers if you want the brand to survive—particularly in the age of social media, when grievances are aired and pancake revolutions are launched.