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Certification Fatigue: Is it really a thing?

Yes, it is. No question. Just ask a few of your customers. It seems every month a new certification seal pops up. For the end consumer, excessive certifications are an alphabet soup of buttons and badges that make their eyes glaze over after a brief encounter with a digital or print ad, sell sheet or scrolling web page.

Do Certifications Add Value to Brands?

In moderation, certifications can add credibility and legitimacy to a brand offering. They also add an implied third-party endorsement, which matters greatly to end consumers. In the past decade, in particular, as transparency has become of greater concern for consumers and customers, certifications add a note of authenticity to a brand by assuring buyers the brand made the effort to validate for certain standards.

How Do Claims Differ from Certifications?

For many customers and consumers, the line between claims and certifications is increasingly blurred, mostly because marketers have invented their own terms and seals and wording that make it difficult to discern what is a legitimate third-party certification and what is “marketing speak.” Common claims include “no artificial ingredients,” “all natural,” “no high fructose corn syrup” or “clean label,” to name a handful. These can be marketing statements or claims, and while FDA, FTC or a class action lawyer might take offense to how a brand makes these assertions, most of them go unchecked without an agency enforcing compliance. Certifications are more formalized third-party endorsements with strict standards for compliance, such as USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified or NSF certified. 

In terms of the role they play, claims primarily serve to address potential consumer concerns, dietary restrictions, or attract those on an elective diet regimen like ketogenic, paleo, vegan, gluten-free, etc.  Certifications serve to reinforce product or ingredient quality, and also to build trust and equity in the brand name.

What Causes Certification Fatigue?

Increasingly, effective marketing outreach has revealed (often the hard way) that when it comes to brand education, sometimes less is more. A target audience member only has so much time and attention to devote to a brand message, and the more information crammed into each point of contact, the more likely consumers or customers are to tune out or move on or delete or click “close.” Brands that “over share” are often not the ones that successfully engage consumers because, frankly, they are throwing way too much at an audience that likely doesn’t care.  Smart marketers are selective in what they share and where they share it. This applies to certifications as well. I would argue a stream of 10 miniscule certification seals or logos is dramatically less effective than three or four key certifications that mean something to the customers or consumers who buy or consider buying that brand.

In addition, detailed certifications don’t belong on the principal display panel (PDP) of a label. They belong on the brand’s website or literature where they can be showcased and explained. Because, let’s be honest, the majority of consumers likely can’t define what non-GMO means, and non-GMO and USDA Organic are commonly confused even though they are not at all the same thing. If all the money spent educating consumers about these big time certifications is producing lackluster results, it should cause concern about the other dozen claims and seals plastered all over every piece of marketing communication.

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