Formula Won: a Category You Can Trust,
New parents inherit a lot of responsibility when the nurse deposits mom and baby curbside and strolls back into the hospital, and no matter how much they may have thought about and planned for this moment, it’s overwhelming. The first few anxious weeks as a parent of a newborn are typically complicated by the fact that you have to make a lot of decisions with little clear direction. One of those moments of truth is deciding what to feed your baby, but it’s apparently one of the easy decisions for most parents and something that they will ultimately feel pretty positive about if our research is any indication.
Even among families that opt to breastfeed, most will supplement with formula at some point. I’ve done a little informal polling among friends and co-workers and it’s interesting, given the presumed importance of the decision, how few people actually spend much time on the choice of infant formula. I’m sure that my wife and I spent a lot more energy selecting the strollers, car seats and baby monitor than we did looking at formula options. It appears that most of us either start off using what the hospital provides or we get a recommendation from the pediatrician. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of advance planning either.
This seemed like an interesting category to shed some light on brands and consumer trust, so we included the three most popular infant formula brands—Enfamil, Gerber Good Start and Similac—in the 2010 Q3 imc² Brand Sustainability Map (BSM) survey. If you’re familiar with our BSM tool, you’ll recognize that the goal for most brands is to reach the Sustainable Relationships quadrant (the upper right portion of the map), which means that the brand has both high trust and high transactions with consumers.
The results were a little surprising. This is the first time since we started mapping brands that an entire category ended up in the Sustainable Relationships quadrant.
It should probably be less of a surprise than it is (Who would let their newborn eat something they don’t completely trust?), and it seems likely that infant formula is a higher trust category in general. But trust, as measured in the BSM consumer survey, is a composite of credibility (Does the brand deliver on its promises?), care (Does the brand understand my needs?) and congruency (Do the brand’s values resonate with me?). And here, the results are not necessarily what I expected.
None of the infant formula brands ranked highest among the 58 total brands in the survey for credibility. In fact, none of the three even made the top ten for credibility—essentially establishing, whether consumers believe the product does what the brand says it will do. But since parents tend to rely on recommendations from influencers in this category, and less on their own research or product advertising, they are not dealing with the brand’s promise so much as they are relying on the people and institutions advising them. And the fact that the FDA regulates infant formula probably helps establish the entire category as generally acceptable.
Survey respondents noted high results for care, with all three brands ranking highly, though not first, in this measure of a brand’s concern for consumers. But congruency appears to be the real story. In this component of trust, Gerber Good Start, Enfamil and Similac ranked one, two and three respectively among all 58 brands in the survey. Something is clearly happening here and I could speculate, but I would prefer to hear your thoughts.
What is it about the values of these companies that so clearly resonates with consumers? How did you select formula for your newborn? Has that brand done anything special to build a relationship with you and your family?