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Keeping the Love Alive: Lessons From Heinz Ketchup
By: Diane Levine
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Long-term relationships are tricky. Many believe that the hard part is getting into one in the first place, but it's the hanging on that really takes work. Typically, both partners are charged with the task. But in the brand-customer relationship, the onus falls on the brand alone. And when it comes to taming the wandering wallets of fickle consumers, few have done as remarkable a job as Heinz Ketchup.

Since its introduction 135 years ago, Heinz Ketchup has maintained solid market dominance (they maintain a #1 or #2 market share in 50 countries). Their enduring success can be attributed to a few simple, yet brilliant, relationship strategies. So brands (and boyfriends), take note.

1. Maintain A Core (Or At Least An Air) Of Consistency
When Heinz lowered the salt content of their ketchup in 2010, it was the first change to the recipe in forty years. Heinz announced the change in the press, but executed it with little fanfare. The name and logo stayed the same; a customer in the condiment aisle would have to look at the nutrition label to notice the difference. This low-key approach stands in sharp contrast to the infamous New Coke, which hit shelves in a blaze of marketing glory only to fizzle out in a firestorm of customer fury. Here’s the funny thing. New Coke was actually preferred in extensive taste tests. But loyalty lives in customers' minds, not their taste buds. Case in point: while Heinz recently lost a U.K. taste test by an embarrassing margin, they have not lost a shred of their market share. When your customers are already in love with you, don’t try to change who you are.

2. Spice Things Up Once In A While
Now, you can’t confuse consistency with complacency. Over the years, Heinz has carefully expanded their product line to meet market needs. In 2000, EZ Squirt appeared, giving children everywhere the thrill of topping their food with blue, green, and purple ketchup swirls. Grown-ups looking to kick their favorite condiment up a notch can try Heinz Hot N’Spicy, the Tabasco-enhanced blend that hit shelves in 2002. And on November 14, the upmarket Heinz Balsamic Ketchup will make its debut not on supermarket shelves, but on the brand’s Facebook page, where 800,000+ fans will be able to purchase a bottle directly from the manufacturer. The classic tomato flavor now also comes in reduced-sugar, no-salt, and organic versions. All new varieties are sold alongside — but never instead of — the original. Even brands should try some new moves now and then to keep their lovers interested.

3. Be Considerate Of Your Partner's Needs
As cautious as Heinz has been about product expansion, they’ve been downright revolutionary when it comes to packaging innovation. Once upon a time, ketchup only came in glass bottles. Dressing a burger required waging war with either your palm or a butter knife. That is, until 1984, when Heinz introduced the very first squeeze ketchup bottle. They followed it up with the first upside-down squeeze bottle in 2002 (narrowly beating out Conagra, who manufactures Heinz’s closest brand-name competitor, Hunt’s). Then, at the end of 2010, Heinz introduced their latest revolution, the Dip & Squeeze. This dual-function packet holds three times as much as a traditional single-serve packet, and lets you choose your own consumption style: peel back the cover for dipping, or tear off the tip for squeezing. While seemingly small, these changes show how in touch Heinz remains with the consumer experience. And in the end, it’s the little things that matter most.

If you want to maintain successful relationships with your customers — or anyone else, for that matter — know that it will take some work to keep the love alive. But as the years go by, that loyalty will be worth its weight in gold. Or at least, market share.

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About the Author
Diane Levine develops campaigns and writes killer copy for advertising agency, Think Creative. She also blogs, tweets, and writes about meat. Find her here
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