Do You Speak Organic?

You think you do, right? Then you know that organic means “low-fat product.” At least that’s what consumers shared in a recent study (Judgement and Decision Making, June 2010). The meaning really depends on the context, so “organic” changes when you talk about different types of products. “Organic” proves to be the most malleable of words. It adapts to meet a need and serve as a shorthand.

Context is everything

Pure Branding conducted research with over 3,000 consumers in a range of natural product categories. Our research revealed a different interpretation of organic in each category:

For consumers of herbal medicine, “certified organic” was the most important attribute when deciding which product to buy because they associate purity with efficacy.

Essential oil users presume the products are pure by virtue of the extraction process. Therefore, organic is a far less important factor in their purchase decision (ranked #4 attribute). When it did play a role, organic turned out to be more about exclusivity, something to separate consumers who’d invested time to learn about essential oil functionality.

Are you misunderstood?

You use the term “organic” every day to describe your products and source materials, pitch to retailers, work with certifiers, and market your product. Yet how are you being understood? In a recent survey (Pure Branding, 2010), consumers rated Celestial Seasonings as a top organic brand, despite the absence of certified organic products, due most likely to the emphasis on “natural” in their communications. In fact, consumers may trust “100% natural” over “organic” as it feels less like a marketing ploy (Shelton Group, 2009) when the opposite is true.

Milking organic

Understanding what organic means to your category and your consumers can help define your brand, solidify trust, and push it to the top of the market. Organic serves as a shorthand for safe and “free of.” The definition of ’safety’ depends on the context. For dairy consumers, organic means hormone-free. Horizon began in 1992 with less than $500,000 in yogurt sales. The FDA approved the use of rGBH in 1993. Horizon introduced its organic hormone-free milk in the same year and sales jumped to $3.7 million within 12 months, and to $85 million within five years.

Mother knows best

For mothers, organic means safe. Earth’s Best, a Vermont-based organic baby food company launched in 1985, was able to capitalize upon the public’s concern over adulterated apple products. When CBS’s 60 Minutes broadcast its segment on the carcinogenic Alar pesticide used in apple production, organic baby food sales soared. By 1993, Earth’s Best had captured 3% of the baby food market, representing $12 million in sales, and went on to be acquired by the Hain Celestial Group in 2000.

Listening to consumers

To speak organic fluently, always consider the context and the power organic has as a shorthand. From our consumer research and what we’ve learned from fast-growing organic brands, the message is clear: know how your consumers interpret “organic” in your category.

Take the time to talk to your consumers, understand their buying behavior, what motivates them, and how you can be the organic they’re looking for. Don’t assume they know why it’s important.