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Brand & package design intelligence for CPG food brand performance.

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image of two circles

Proactive vs. reactive consumers: who should you target?

By Vanessa Doll

How people see themselves is how your CPG food brand should strive to be seen.

Most CPG food brands that play in a the very wide arena of “better for you,” products will speak to both reactive and proactive consumers. While it’s tempting to speak to both persons, over-communicating will dilute whatever key message tops the decision tree for your target consumer. 

Succinctly described, positioning strategy is centered around the idea that: “your target is where you aim, not necessarily where you hit” (paraphrased from Blair Enns). The revelation: you can target a distinct shopper base, and still hit outside the specific mark. But you must determine a clear focus for messaging.

Thoughtfully directing your brand message toward a consumer helps you find the “sweet spot,” an exact point between disruption and relevance that optimizes your brand for growth. Without positioning, you run the very real risk of an aimless and cost-defective approach to brand building.

Directing your brand message helps you find the “sweet spot,” the exact point between disruption and relevance that optimizes your brand for growth.

All consumers fall within two broad types: Proactive vs. Reactive. Something as small as personal mood, store environment, or time of day can shift the consumer from proactive to reactive. You know the expression “don’t shop hungry?” That’s classic reactive consumer behavior that leads to impulse purchases. Ten minutes and an apple earlier, that shopper could be making totally different purchases. Shoppers are usually a combination of both “types” at any given time. Unfortunately, you can’t effectively appeal to both at once. 

Proactive consumers are defined as “creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.”* For CPG food brands, this can affect purchase decisions based on sustainability, quality, health, value, or functional benefit. In other words, people who believe your brand can improve their lives through making a purchase are proactive consumers. They are discerning and they do their research. The distinction is that they make selections to maintain or improve what is already an acceptable situation.

Reactive consumers are instead seen as “reacting to a situation rather than creating or controlling it.”* This consumer is also well researched and discerning but to a different end. They desire change. They are motivated to solve a problem. 

What you need to determine is who is more likely to select your product most consistently…

Human decisions are based on two things: 

  1. Convincing Benefit – reasons that drive motivation to act
  2. Low Barrier to Act – reducing or eliminating inherent aversions

A proactive consumer is already aware of your compelling benefits, and therefore it’s more necessary to overcome any barriers to act. These barriers can come in the form of cost, convenience, competition, or even company values. Speaking to points of differentiation in these areas should be elevated in your priority of communication. 

Conversely, reactive consumers are less likely to be prone to the barriers to act. If your brand or product helps them solve problems, cost or convenience become less important. Efficacy or cumulative benefits should be much more prominent in your messaging. 

Let’s play with consumer profiles to illustrate: A reactive consumer, Lauren has discovered Partake cookies because the message on their package’s PDP is “Top 9 Allergen Free” and on the secondary panel, a lengthy list of those specific allergens. With a highly allergic child, she thinks “at last, a solution”. 

Single, 24-year-old Jennifer is conscientious of all things health and fitness, and believes gluten-and dairy-free are better for her body (even though she has no reactions to either). She also loves a sweet treat. Because sweets are harder to find in the healthy category, she proactively seeks out Partakes for their ingredients.

Partake’s messaging strategy is overtly seeking a reactive consumer, one who is responding to a specific problem. Once solved, cost or convenience diminish the barriers. 

Ultimately, the greatest challenge with packaging design strategy is narrowing in on a message. There is usually more that can be said about the brand, which simply won’t fit. This requires positioning based on deep knowledge of the consumer, the category and the product itself. 

You can learn much through careful consumer research; this article explores a few methodologies to start with.

*Ref: Oxford English Dictionary

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