Using research in moderation has paid off for Green and Blacks


A combination of applied research and killer insights has helped shape the success of the Green and Blacks brand.

Those killer insights that have fuelled the brand made a talk I saw by former marketing director and non executive director Mark Palmer at the Marketing Academy Boot Camp yesterday a very interesting one indeed, and a case study I thought it would be useful to share.

The brand’s journey has been a mix of formulaic data, focus groups and customer segmentation as well as personal hunches and sheer chance – a formidable combination.

Palmer recalled how husband and wife founders Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley built the brand based on a perceived lack of fine chocolate in the UK, married with a desire to be an ethical pioneer.

When Palmer made the jump in 2001 from retail giant Burger King, he was tasked with finding new audiences to grow Green and Blacks’ following.

Although the brand had little budget for advertising and research, what it did do was carefully considered. Palmer discussed a particular focus group between an assembly of middle aged, female “chocaholics”, who had sampled every bar of chocolate from the variety of brands placed in front of them – except for the Green and Blacks.

Intrigued, Palmer questioned why this was, to be met with the response that the brand’s overt association with organic and Fair Trade had led them to all believe that the chocolate wouldn’t taste any good. And, one woman said, it was too “worthy” – too much of a message was taking the joy and indulgence out of eating the chocolate.

This led to Green and Blacks being reengineered to reinforce its identity as green and premium; that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The packaging needed to be sexier and more desirable, and more people needed to be introduced to the brand – giving design and sampling a strong role in its marketing strategy.

To move away from the constraints of being pitched as solely an organic product, Palmer then set about defining a clear set of target audiences, maximising a small budget by harnessing data from the Tesco Clubcard scheme: adventurous foodies looking for quality cooking ingredients; time poor professionals with enough cash to surround themselves with premium brands; people looking for everyday luxury; and, of course, consumers with a green and social conscience.

Palmer then faced a conundrum around packaging a new Easter egg range – without a plastic case, the eggs would break in transit, but such a layer of plastic contradicted the brand’s social identity.

The solution came from an unlikely source – a woman in accounts payable suggested making the eggs so thick that they would not break and would not need extra packaging – which would give them a further USP.

Palmer’s approach to research has been selective: “It can be powerful, but if you ask too many questions, you may lose the plot. Ask your audience what they think of ideas, but don’t ask them what to do,” he said.

He also advised that brands should avoid communicating with middle of the road consumers, and engage with the enthusiastic super fans about why they love the brand and are advocates, and those non-fans to discover what would convert them.

Sound advice, I think, especially when you are restricted by budget and must make careful choices that you must be confident will yield constructive results.