Is Marketing Corny?

I came across a story on CNN this morning from a JAMA study about how diners react to the names of vegetables and how their perception affects how much of the vegetable to eat. In the study, vegetables were labeled with one of four types of description. Basic (corn), healthy restrictive (reduced sodium corn), healthy positive (nutritious corn) or indulgent (rich buttery corn). The vegetables were prepared in the same way every time with only the description changing.

I bet you know what happened. The vegetable with the indulgent description led to a 23% overall increase in the diners selecting the vegetable. It’s no surprise that a name, especially a great descriptive one entice and attract customers and users; but can it really be as easy as adding rich and buttery to your product name or business? 

Let’s break down a little about how the corn effect can work for your business.

First we need to establish why boring old c-o-r-n just doesn’t do it for the average consumer anymore. Think about a product from your business or offering that doesn’t do as well as it once did. Perhaps it’s an older model that’s since been replaced, or it’s a product you offered a couple years ago that’s become a bit stagnant. That’s your corn. So why doesn’t seeing corn on the sign and in the vegetable bin get people excited anymore? Why aren’t your customers still buying your corn like they used to?

Corn is boring. At least that’s what the customer is thinking. But they’re wrong right? They just don’t know how to best use corn! (I bet that’s what you’re thinking about your product)

The problem is not that corn is’s that we need to help people understand how to use corn! 

One of the major challenges that ubiquitous and well known products face is stagnation in the marketplace...just like our friend corn. It’s been around so long, been such a part of our lives that people think they’ve figured it out and have seen every version of corn to be seen.

It’s our job as marketers to inspire the imagination and help create a vision that engages with our audience and helps them connect the dots for themselves. The association between corn and rich, buttery taste sensations is lying dormant in just about everybody. We’ve all sat in a darkened movie theater with a big tub of salty, buttery, rich and indulgent popped corn. Movie popcorn and it’s much less indulgent cousin fresh healthy corn don’t really have much in common other than where they started but we associate the two.

Is the association disingenuous? I get question a lot from small businesses who are cautious to lean into seemingly obvious brand associations as it seems too cliche or pedestrian. “Doesn’t everybody know that corn is rich and buttery?? Why don’t we call it Magic Corn instead?” My answer is that obvious branding and messaging resonates with customers because they are direct and touch on associations and truths that our customers already know. 

By relying on this association, the researchers were able to inspire the imagination of the diners to convert 23% more of them to healthy corn eaters (at least for the day). So how do we make your boring corn into rich, indulgent and buttery corn?

Step 1: Make a list of all the most obvious things people should know about your product

You might think that something is too obvious to even say, but not the case! Remember you spent hours, days and maybe even years developing and refining your product. You know it best! 

Step 2: Ask around

Talk to your friends and family about why they have or haven’t used your product and what 3 words they would use to describe it to an alien that just landed on earth.  

Step 3: Keep track of everything people tell you about your product

Don’t write anybody off because “they don’t know about the industry, etc”. These are excuses we give ourselves to allow giving in to our own preconceived notions about our product. Your customer is not you! They don’t know what your product can do for them!

Step 4: Market for children

Not that you’re selling to children, but if you were to take all the feedback you just got and sell your product to an 8 year old...what would you tell them?

Step 5: Test, test, test

Finding free market testing is easy. Divide between industry insiders (your existing customers) and outsiders (your friends and family). Create 2 or 3 options for new ways to describe your product and see what gets the best response.

Remember, this process can be fun and easy if you lose your inhibitions and preconceived notions about what your corn is and what your customer thinks it can be.

Evan Roosevelt