INNOVATE

The Marketing Genius Behind Smarties Candies and Why They Still Sell Big Without Having Changed a Thing

And yes, you can use it successfully even if your brand is new.

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BY Wanda Thibodeaux - 04 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

As all the Halloween candy (already) hits the shelves, I'm trying reeeeeally hard not to go into sugar comas every three seconds. Some candies, like Smarties, have played this autumn game with me and other customers not for years, but for decades. How is that even possible in a market that changes faster than a toddler sheds pants and the mantra of new, innovate and adaptability is creamer in our coffee?

Jessica Dee Sawyer and her cousins, sisters Sarah Dee and Liz Dee, clued me in. The trio, who were named as Co-Presidents for the iconic Smarties brand earlier this week, have worked for the past decade to improve the company's impact, marking their success with consistent sales increases.

Familiar product translates to joy and loyalty, starting in the brain

"There is something comforting about nostalgia," Sarah notes. "When you see an iconic brand that you remember experiencing as a child, it has the power to fill you with the same excitement as it did when you first experienced it, or another special time that brand made an impact on your psyche. Iconic brands have the power to bring you back to places in your memory and bring you small moments of joy that touch upon another time."

Sawyer agrees, diving a bit further into the science. "Taste, smell and memory are so closely related that eating a Smarties roll can very easily bring you back to a specific, meaningful moments in your life," she says. In essence, the candy becomes a trigger that helps your brain recollect joy.

But if you change your product, suddenly the experience the customer has is different. The brain recognizes the lack of familiarity, and it's distracting. You don't get that same "ahhh!", because you're simply not making the same pathways and neurons in your noodle fire quite the same way. It's by keeping familiar products available, Liz says, that brands can deliver the predictable, expected experience that translates to outstanding loyalty.

Why nostalgia marketing is so effective for the contemporary business

The science of nostalgia marketing is always applicable, but the practice makes particular sense in today's environment.

"Today, more than ever, we are bombarded with information [...]," Liz says. "Many of us [...] think wistfully of a simpler time [...and perhaps] long for a break from the complexity of our modern world. Nostalgia marketing has a huge opportunity to remind people that there are certain products and services that offer uncomplicated, enjoyable experiences."

"The world we live in now is so different from just 30 years ago [...]," Sawyer adds. "Everything is moving so quickly, and it's hard to slow down to savor the moments as they happen. I think people feel that they are missing something in their lives because they are so busy and always on the go. Brands have picked up on this void. In return, they're marketing their products in a way that allows consumers to tap into that feeling of calm that they're seeking. Brands market to consumers' personal nostalgia for time past."

3 keys to tap into the psychology of nostalgia marketing

Understanding that today's world makes consumers more receptive to nostalgia marketing than ever, Liz breaks down exactly what you need to do to make nostalgia marketing effective, regardless of exactly what the service or product you have might be.

1. "Get the product or service to its absolute best. People won't miss what they didn't enjoy, but if they loved what you had to offer, they're more likely to come back for more.

2. Standardize your systems and practices so you can be sure you can deliver a consistent experience every single time. Consumers are discerning and vocal. [They] will pick up on even the slightest adjustment and they'll let you know all about it.

3. Once you lock in your winning formula, don't stay static in other areas of business. Resting one's laurels can get companies into trouble. Listen and respond to your customers' needs. Interact with your consumers. Continue to remain fresh and relevant through being a modern, transparent and vibrant company."

And if you're a newer brand? You still can meet some of the psychological needs nostalgia marketing targets if you are as authentic as possible.

"Brands that last are powerful because of who they are, not what they are trying to be," says Sarah. "A new brand should never be an imposter. It should stand alone for all the unique qualities it embodies."

Liz also recommends making sure that you have a great answer to the question, "What makes us better?". Consumers have to have a compelling reason to pick you, and it's up to you to explain why what you're offering is superior to the other options out there.

The final ingredient

No matter how good your nostalgia marketing campaign might be, everyone on your team has to be unified to make it truly work. For Sawyer, Liz and Sarah, being family helps rather than hurts.

"While we are three co-presidents, we want to come out of tough decisions unanimous," Sarah asserts, "And although we can make a decision 2-1, the ultimate goal is to all agree and feel good about where the company is going. And I have to say, I can't remember a time when that didn't happen."

"There is very little conflict in the way we manage our business," Liz agrees. "We put our best ideas on the table and take egos off the table, and at the end of the day, we like each other and we love each other. I don't think it can get better than that."