Bridging the language gap

Date of publication: June 15, 1989

Company: Molson Coors

Author: P. R. Wolf

Abstract:

This paper discusses one approach in bridging the communication gap between consumers and technical experts. Despite being a fairly simple product to manufacture, beer is a very complex tasting product. Consumer taste test results have historically been very weak in providing brewers with any actionable direction beyond preference. This weakness lies in the fact that brewers and experts use a different language to describe the taste in beer. Consumer descriptors are usually very general in nature and lack the specificity and flavour note focus that are used by brewers. Historically, our probing of consumers with focus groups and scouring open ends of questionnaires has provided very little to understanding technically what a consumer "likes" about his beer. The descriptors are just too loose to effectively provide guidance to brewing a better liquid. To further complicate matters, a word like "sweeter" does not mean the same thing from respondent to respondent. Expert brewer tasters, for their part, deal in descriptive terms that summarize complex sensory effects and are so technical that only other technical experts can agree or disagree on their presence. Because of this gap in the use of terms, descriptors and meaning, a very large communication gap has existed between consumers and brewers. Our Molson approach not only considered the technical problems but the organizational ones as well. Individuals were assigned from Marketing and Production to be accountable for consumer driven product design. This overall strategic approach has allowed each function to share in their expertise towards a common goal. It avoided the traditional conflict that arises when a master brewer pronounces his liquid as a "crowning achievement" only to have Marketing, through the untrained consumer, say it is not competitive.

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