3 Trial Barriers Preventing Your User Base From Growing

April 7, 2016 Patricia West Doyle



If you want to grow your brand or product, you need more users.

Simply put, trial barriers are the reasons why a target consumer does not purchase (shopping trial) or regularly use (usage trial) your brand/product.

Deeply understanding what your trial barriers are is the first step to breaking through those barriers. (Here, I'm writing in the context of consumer products in a brick-and-mortar shopping environment, but similar concepts could apply to other products/services and customer outlets.)

Finding trial barriers can be as easy as asking target non-users “why don’t you buy/use X?” But there are often unspoken, even unconscious, reasons that require more in-depth consumer understanding.

Brand personifications, observational research, and emotion-based research can reveal underlying strong barriers to trial.

It is helpful to think about the full range of barriers across various consumer touch points:

Awareness Barriers

What paradigms do target non-user consumers have about your brand? Whether they are “true” or not, they are the consumer’s truth! 

Many brands have dealt with breaking awareness paradigms. You may recall “Oil of Old Lady” or “FORD = Fix Or Repair Daily.” Car companies are great at addressing these problems and their claims have become iconic.

"Have you driven a Ford lately."

"This is not your father’s Oldsmobile."

"There are still people with blue hair who drive a Buick."

Questions to ask about consumer awareness:

  • What are people saying about you online? Are they making jokes about you? What is your persona?
  • Are the barriers about the category (carbonated beverages), sub-category (diet soda) or brand (Diet Coke)? If you are the category leader, your brand barriers might also be the category barriers.
  • If you are not the category leader, how can you use your differences to the category barriers (if you have them)?

Shopping Barriers

What prevents a target non-user from seeing you “on-shelf”? What is stopping her from buying you when she sees you?

Most package/product design is done in the 1-foot visual space, but store-aisle browsing is often at the 3-foot or even 5-foot distance. Are you visible at 5 feet–do you stand out on the shelf? At 3 feet, are your various offerings obvious, relevant and appealing? You want to get the consumer to the 1-foot pick-it-up point.

Awareness carries over to the shelf ala the Pygmalion Effect. If I don’t expect the brand to have an offering, I won’t see it. (I’m certainly not looking for it.)

Where are you shelved in the store? If a consumer is looking for you, are you where she will naturally go look? Are you among the right competitive set? 

What is being done in store to drive purchase? No one will ever say “make it more expensive.” But really understanding price/value equation as a shopping barrier is critical.  

Questions to ask about consumer shopping:

  • How do consumers think about price points in this category? What is the comparative set for pricing? Is this a unit pricing issue, especially for first purchase? Many stores have gone to bigger size for lower per-use price point, but does that create a “first try” purchase barrier?
  • Have we created an environment that limits trial? For example, a couponing/sale driven category.
  • How does the consumer measure value in the category and how is our brand/product perceived? For example, is it about speed/efficiency or quality of ingredients? What does the consumer need to know at the shelf to drive her to buy?

Usage Barriers

What prevents her from using you for every possible occasion you are good for? 

Questions to ask about consumer usage:

  • What are her beliefs / paradigms about frequency of use? 
  • Are there dispensing or storage challenges? In use product negatives? 
  • Is she using you correctly and if not, why not? Are there compensating behaviors?
  • Are there delight factors that can be used to drive in-store purchase?

Understanding and Breaking Barriers

Once you understand what the barriers to trial are, then comes the time to figure out how to break through them. Breaking trial barriers is a ”Relay Hurdles Race” – break through every barrier (jump over every hurdle), pass the baton, and do it again… and again. 

Steps to take for breaking trial barriers:

  •  Drive to action by getting clear on barrier busters –identify consumer relevant ways to change the mindset about the trial barriers.
  • Explore busting barriers differently across touch points; shopping barriers need to be addressed differently than awareness barriers.
  • Explore non-direct busters, not just New & Improved. Find the deep emotional connection and unique claims language (language trends/shifts) that “obviously" busts the trial barrier.
  • Do not be afraid to repeat. While we internally might get that "been-there-done-that" feeling, it takes continued effort to change consumers’ minds. To really break the barrier, consumers need to hear the message we want to tell them over and over and over. We get tired of our ideas/insights/concepts long before the consumer hears them.

What are your product’s trial barriers? How can you get target non-users to buy you? How can you get users to use you more regularly? How can trial barrier understanding help you grow your business? Contact us to see how we can help you overcome these barriers! Subscribe to YourEncore Insights to keep current with the consumer industry and regulatory affairs.

Patricia (Pat) West Doyle is an expert in insight discovery and technical brand building. During her 32 years with P&G, she specialized in Franchise Products Research and achieved the level of Research Fellow. Since retiring in 2014, Pat consults through YourEncore, has vigorously explored retirement transition success, and has become a Certified Retirement Coach.

Subscribe to YourEncore Insights


Previous Article
Transparency Isn't a One-Way Proposition
Transparency Isn't a One-Way Proposition

Transparency in medicine isn't a one-way street.

Next Article
FDA Gets Out In Front on Single Source Problem
FDA Gets Out In Front on Single Source Problem

National Public Radio’s Marketplace program reports: The Food and Drug Administration recently...