When a new product is being launched, one of the most important tasks is clear communication of the benefits of that product. Anyone who has been involved in such a launch, and many who have not, will recognize this statement as a truism. However, even if that communication is successful, with consumers believing that your product is appropriate for them and triggered to purchase the product, countervailing forces may be at work. It is all too easy to overlook or make unwarranted assumptions about barriers to consumer action, such as concerns about taste, convenience, or substantiation. If those barriers are not addressed with well-thought-out assurances, they can easily disrupt communication that is otherwise successful.

For example, a consumer may develop an interest in a light ice cream because it promises less sugar and fewer calories (triggers) while simultaneously feeling uncertain about its taste (barrier). This doubt may be strong enough to prevail over the appeal of the health benefits and ultimately prevent purchase. However, if the brand communication focuses on taste, the barrier is addressed and the consumer’s mind can be set at ease.

Specific research into triggers and barriers can reveal persuasive reassurances that convince consumers. The research process involves three steps:

Step 1: Identify potential triggers and barriers regarding your product. If your fellow employees have sufficient market and consumer knowledge, this can be done collaboratively within your company. Alternatively, the research strategies outlined below can be used to discover the most relevant triggers and barriers.

Step 2: The importance of each trigger or barrier is quantitatively validated. This process will bring to light the proportion of the market that is predisposed to particular triggers or barriers and which are therefore the most important recipients of communication efforts.

Step 3: Consumers identify the reassurances that can help them to overcome barriers to promote an initial trial or increase usage. After all, it may not matter how many reasons to purchase the product are provided if key issues are addressed and resolved.  

Full exploration of reasons to buy (triggers) and product concerns or issues (barriers) helps to reveal consumers’ complete decision-making processes, as shown in Figure 1. Every stage involves some risk that the product will fail to convince. However, as long as the consumer is willing to pay the product’s price, marketers can use triggers and barriers to increase the likelihood that a consumer will at least put it in their basket for an initial trial.

For products that are new to market or especially expensive, pricing should be evaluated as an independent trigger and/or barrier. Figure 2 provides an example in which price is considered. However, if willingness to pay is not a key step for the brand or category being assessed, there is no need to introduce it into a consumer’s decision-making process during the study.

Designing a study

Before conducting a triggers and barriers study, researchers typically create a list of statements to test as triggers, barriers and reassurances through preliminary qualitative research. These statements can emerge from a wide variety of sources, such as a brand’s existing key claim, a tagline or any form of communication that is directed at consumers. The statements can also be derived from aspects of other brands, products that consumers are dissatisfied with or those that are valued and could therefore be imitated.

The key to developing the optimal communications strategy is gauging a consumer’s acknowledged or unanticipated triggers or barriers. These can be identified with open-ended questions. Researchers can combine the qualitative insights derived from the open-ended answers with the quantitative results from the triggers and barriers method to reach a fuller understanding of the best approach to a communications strategy.

The main goal of the study is insight at the category level (Figure 3), but it is also possible to improve understanding of the statements that pertain most to key brands. After identifying the triggers and barriers that apply across a category, researchers can investigate more specific statements that are relevant to key brands. For example, “keeps you sharp, energetic and focused” might be a category trigger for energy drinks, while “a shot of long-lasting energy in just seconds” may be connected exclusively with one brand. By definition, all energy drinks are expected to provide energy, the promise of speed will resonate only with certain brands.

Connecting reassurances with barriers

An essential element of the proposed methodology is the identification of ways to overcome barriers, freeing consumers to use the product without any hesitation or doubt. In other words, what can marketers say to reassure consumers that the barrier they have in mind is not relevant and can be disregarded? It should be noted that these statements do not have to correspond directly to the triggers. They can also include additional reasons to feel comfortable with the product -- statements that are not triggers but could nevertheless encourage people to set aside a specific barrier.

The original example of a light ice cream can illustrate the acceptable gaps between triggers and reassurances. In this scenario, consumers find a lighter option appealing, but they are concerned about the taste of the ice cream. Communicating that the ice cream has 30 percent fewer calories or less fat than alternatives is a means of triggering the consumer to try the product. However, this approach does not address unease regarding taste and allows consumer doubts to persist. To genuinely reassure the consumer, the brand may state that the taste of the light ice cream is comparable to that of regular ice cream. In triggering trial or uptake, the taste statement may not be as effective as the health statement, but it can be vital to the communication effort as a reassurance to surmount the barrier.

Taking action

The end result of a triggers and barriers study is a thorough understanding of the factors that prompt consumers to use a product, as well as the barriers that are most likely to prevent them from unconditionally accepting the offering. With attention to reassurance statements, marketers are able to evaluate the power of certain messages to overcome barriers and ultimately increase product trial and usage.

This process delivers a forecasting instrument that identifies the portion of the market that can be reached with a combination of benefits and reassurances. For example, if we know that 75 percent of those who decline to use deodorant do so because they believe it causes cancer, we can also determine the percentage of those individuals that could be converted by a reassuring statement that tests of the product show no threats to health. With that knowledge, marketers can create an optimal communications strategy that can prompt consumers to try a product while simultaneously removing any doubts that might interfere with that choice.