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06 Jan The Lean Cuisine Makeover: How to Change the Course of a Declining Brand 

In 2015 Nestlé made a change to Lean Cuisine that had a stunning impact on sales. No, they didn’t change the name or lower the price point or even reformulate the product—things most of us would have done to invigorate sales. Rather, they gave the brand new meaning. Let’s roll back the clock and set the stage. For the last several years, sales of Lean Cuisine products were locked in a death spiral. Consumer tastes shifted from processed frozen foods to fresh foods, and “diet” became a four-letter word—two seemingly insurmountable obstacles. How could this brand shift from processed to fresh and reinvigorate a dying category? Nestlé came up with a profound solution. Rather than looking for new ways to talk to their customers about diet, calories, and weight loss, they shifted the conversation to the aspirations of working women—their most important target customer. The key was this: instead of focusing on her functional needs, they created an entirely new, meaningful brand positioning. They created a brand with a soul that empathized with how a career woman wants to be perceived. To deliver on that promise, they created a new variety of appealing and convenient foods to empower her on-the-go life without sacrificing healthy nutrition.

In short, Nestlé gave new meaning to Lean Cuisine. No longer was it a diet food. It was now an ally to empower the working woman and help her meet the challenges of her lifestyle head-on. Using the new brand positioning as a mantra, they changed everything. They rolled out a new communications strategy, packaging, and recipes. Sales spiked; the decline halted and even reversed. Nestlé discovered the power of giving brands new meaning by finding a more relevant relationship between the brand and the target customer.

That’s the power of giving brands new meaning or, said differently, a relevant meaning—and Lean Cuisine isn’t the only brand to do this. Just look at BMW, Harley Davidson, Chipotle, and Chobani if you want to see meaning in action.

So what’s going on? In a major quantitative study, academic researchers demonstrated that focusing on meaning creates value for brands in three ways.

  1. Customers are willing to pay a higher price for meaningful brands. When brands connect with the values and aspirations of customers, consumers not only prefer these brands, but they are more likely to pay a premium price compared to other brands in the category.
  1. Customers are more loyal to meaningful brands. Meaningful brands connect deeply with each customer’s sense of self. These brands feed their self-image and take on their causes, becoming a part of the customer’s persona and creating a highly loyal following.
  1. Customers are more likely to talk about meaningful brands. Because meaningful brands embrace relevant causes and fuel customer aspirations, their followers become advocates. As a result, customers are more likely to tell family and friends about these brands and even support them on social media.

Brands can take meaningful roles in the minds of customers by digging deep into the aspirations and values that motivate their behavior. To achieve this, marketers must focus on the underlying cultural forces that connect to these aspirations. Meaning is often found where unconscious aspirations intersect with the forces that drive emerging trends. When brands use these cultural forces to create a meaningful “soul” to feed a consumer’s aspirational self, they can achieve meaningful success.

Make 2016 the year you unleash the power of meaning to create success for your products and brands.

–Mark Capper


Activating the brand: Nestlé’s “Weigh This” video.


Kompas Strategy