Crafting a new strategy for a 1,000 year old brand

Can US Consumers recognize a true Italian masterpiece?


In 2020, the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium asked us to address the significant branding challenges it was facing in the US market. The cheese is fairly well known in the US, however few Americans can pronounce the name, therefore they use the word ‘parmesan’. Unfortunately, this habit resulted in people purchasing generic ‘parmesan’, mistakenly thinking they were purchasing the real thing. Obviously, this practice had a negative impact on sales, but the real problem was that the folks who consumed parmesan believing it was Parmigiano Reggiano would not enjoy the quality they had expected, and the inferior experience could easily damage the brand’s reputation and perception as a premium product.

This article provides some insights about how we crafted a new brand messaging platform. In a series of subsequent articles, we will share the new brand positioning campaign and a set of marketing activations that were instrumental in building awareness, creating preference and ultimately driving purchase behavior.

WHAT makes PARMIGIANO REGGIANO better than parmesan?

We knew that Parmigiano Reggiano tastes much better than generic parmesan, what we did not understand was how it consistently delivered such a superior experience. Among foodies, this Italian cheese is renowned for its rich and unique umami flavor, its delicate and nutty aroma, the gritty and crumbly texture, and the subtle differences that come with aging and terroir. In contrast, generic parmesan can be bland or bitter, the texture is often flat and soft because it is not aged, and the cheese can contain a variety of preservatives – especially when it is sold as grated product in non-refrigerated shelves.

We worked closely with the Consortium to learn the specifics about how and where Parmigiano Reggiano is made, the importance of provenance and craftsmanship, its history and centuries old traditions, etc. In the process, we learned the many reasons why Italians are so proud of this cheese.

Next, we made a list of the reasons why Parmigiano Reggiano is a better cheese, and we used this list as the basis for a new messaging strategy. Our goal was to help US consumers clearly understand the differences and help them identify the authentic product at retail, so that they would be better equipped to purchase Parmigiano Reggiano, as opposed to the many inferior imitations that are available in most American grocery stores and were confusing consumers.

the king of cheeses is a bit...cheesy

Research revealed that many US consumers associated the descriptor “The King of Cheeses” with the Parmigiano Reggiano brand. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this did not serve Parmigiano Reggiano well in terms of resolving its branding challenges.

For one, the notion of ‘The King of Cheeses’ suggests a monarchical, often authoritarian government that seems out of step with today’s values. Additionally, given that women make up the vast majority of the target audience, the idea of a king (and the patriarchical society it represents) did not resonate well. Lastly, ‘The King of Cheeses’ is not an official tagline of Parmigiano Reggiano, therefore it can be used by a variety of cheeses ranging from Swiss cheese to generic parmesan, all of which further contributes to the general confusion.

We saw an opportunity to introduce a new idea that could be exclusively associated with the Parmigiano Reggiano brand and communicated valuable and defendable differentiating points.

why Parmigiano Reggiano stands apart from the rest

After exploring a wide array of possibilities, we came up with “A True Italian Masterpiece” as the new messaging line for Parmigiano Reggiano. This descriptor takes into account the research findings about relevant differentiators, insights about the target audience and consumer perceptions, and the historical background provided by the Consortium. Within the span of four simple words, we were able to communicate a great deal of very important ideas, each designed to set Parmigiano Reggiano apart from the cheeses that were stealing away marketshare.

Next, we developed a playbook
to ensure messaging consistency

The new messaging line became an important strategic foundation for the branding campaigns we would develop over the next couple of years to build awareness about the new positioning. Additionally, we produced a set of Messaging Guidelines that include statements clearly articulating how the product is made, why it is better, how to spot it at retail, and much more.

We believe that repetition and consistency are crucial elements of successful brand building, and the Messaging Guidelines have helped ensure that everyone participating in the brand building activities is clear about how to consistently drive home the same messages across every possible touchpoint, including the PR agency, the Social Media team, the Retail Marketing team, and others.

Besides messages about the crucial differences between Parmigiano Reggiano and other cheeses, the Messaging Guidelines also addressed a variety of other important ideas. For example, we included messages that helped consumers identify Parmigiano Reggiano at retail, since that is where the brand was experiencing its biggest challenges. 

Additionally, the guidelines also included messages inviting consumers to enjoy Parmigiano Reggiano as a cheese that can enhance a variety of occasions, beyond using it on pasta, pizza and salads. And, given the growing awareness about the role of nutrition with respect to wellness, we also included messages about the health benefits of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

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DEVELOPING a new messaging strategy is only the beginning

Developing a new messaging strategy that addressed Parmigiano Reggiano’s brand challenges was crucial, as every good branding program must be based on a solid strategy, however making the strategy come to life through compelling branding initiatives is just as important. 

In the next few articles, we will share more details about the work we did to help Parmigiano Reggiano establish itself as the cheese that could turn a meal into a masterpiece, and ultimately helped the brand establish differentiation, build awareness and create traction with US consumers.

What could we do for you?

We help companies launch new brands, revitalize existing brands, and manage transitions due to mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. We deliver strategic branding initiatives that include naming, logos, packaging, websites, videos, environmental and event design, product design, advertising, and much more. Ultimately, we aim to build awareness, differentiation and preference for our client’s brands.

 Imagine what we could do for your brand!

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