What could possibly go wrong? Part II

The second thing that I’ve learned the hard way, concerned with launching new products, is: Replicate every single step a consumer will take in using your product or service.

Far too many people employed in the marketing profession these days adhere to the commonly held notion that marketing is just concerned with the communication of a product or service’s attributes and benefits, in order to secure a sale (or possibly some repeat sales too).  Their knowledge of the marketing mix is either hazy or non-existent, left behind at school or college, if it was ever encountered at all.

Yet the most important element of the marketing mix will always remain not the promotional campaigns, important though they often are, but the core product or service being promoted. If the product ‘P’ does not fulfil the claims made for it, or fulfil customer expectations, all the clever promotional activity in the world will not save it.

Here are two examples of how the NPD (new product development) process failed to adequately replicate the exact usage experience of the customer, the first experienced personally and the second by a colleague:

A new product concept that combined a rich flavouring stock cube (think Oxo) with a gravy thickener (think Bisto) researched very well, as did the physical product in use (it crumbled like Oxo), the packaging developed for it, and the TV advertising campaign.  The cube was given the well-received brand name of Thick n’ Beefy, under the umbrella brand of the homely British brand Brown & Polson, its stable mate Knorr carrying inappropriate continental associations.   A regional test launch in the South West and South Wales initially met forecasts, but then the problems started.

Customers began to bombard us with tales of their brick-like cubes, needing hammers and power drills to break them down.  Much of the tone of the complaints was regretful rather than angry in nature – even humorous sometimes.  Whilst complaining about the product experience, consumers took time to compliment us on the concept, the packaging and advertising.

What had happened? Every other product that the company CPC (later acquired by Unilever) made at that point in time was a powder (e.g. Knorr soups), a liquid/sauce (e.g. Hellmann’s mayonnaise) or a paste; the significant factor being that no temperature testing was included in the standard test regime.  The launch began in late September and the problems started with the first frost (and in the early 80s British homes were generally much more poorly heated and insulated): the new cubes simply froze.  With an ambient temperature increase the cubes would defrost again, and the door-to-door sampling operation went ahead, but it was a doomed launch from that point on.  R&D quickly resolved the issue by replacing the animal fat with the corn oil used in Mazola and other products, but a relaunch – which was never attempted – was needed.

The second example relates to the innovative Duracell (branded Durabeam) cycle lights introduced into the UK market in the late ‘80s, on the back of the highly successful torch range that had been launched over previous years.  Again, consumer response to the lights, which were much brighter and more attractive than competing products, was very positive, and a TV advertising campaign was developed to support the launch.  But soon after launch it became apparent that there was a major problem – customers reported that the lights were falling off their bike when they went up curbs or the bike suffered a jolt.  All of this had been tested, but always with the lights switched off.  Unfortunately, the same mechanism was used to both clamp the light on to the bike, as well as turn the light on – with the light on, the clamping effect was substantially reduced.  It had never occurred to anyone to road test the lights with them switched on – the road tests had always taken place in daylight, whilst the lighting tests took place in the laboratory. In this instance the defect was remedied, and the product relaunched successfully, but with an inevitable stigma attached.

Marketing is nothing if it is not customer-focused.  Taking that customer focus through to the necessary granular detail can sometimes be very difficult, requiring a high degree of curiosity and a willingness to question every detail; it is, however, vital.

Further discussion of this topic is welcomed.


Check out the ‘How to’ resource libraryfor a comprehensive range of documents relating to the preparation of marketing plans, as well as the practical and conceptual issues surrounding their preparation and role within the organization.  The resources include some downloadable templates and guides.

Image credit: arkela / 123RF Stock Photo


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