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Friday, December 24, 2004

It All Starts with Good Ingredients

I've learned a great deal this year, for which I'm thankful. If I had to boil it down to one takeaway, it would be Godin's urgings in Free Prize Inside to focus on "going to the edge" in developing new products, services, and features. To engage in edgecraft, though, it won't do to simply act edgy. You need to go there... to put different stuff in what you make. Even if it just looks or feels different (design and presentation are real to the consumer, too -- it's just your marketing fluff that isn't).

Godin is capable of ripping off hundreds of examples on command. One good one, which he presented in a talk in October, was the example of the Honda Element. That funny, boxy-looking vehicle only got produced because the engineering team (imagine that) insisted on testing it head-to-head against the unremarkable "compromise" design favored by company execs. In real life, goofy-looking car outsold the "focus group friendly" car 3 to 1!

When it comes to the stuff they're buying, consumers are more informed than ever. Big brands know they used to win by aiming for homogenized, middle-of-the-road products and advertising them to death. Unfair allocations of shelf space don't hurt either. At the 7-11 today, I noticed the entire visible display of cough drops front and center at the counter was devoted to Halls. "But Fisherman's Friend is better," I thought to myself. I then went home to figure out why I thought that. It turns out Halls muddles along with one active ingredient, menthol, whereas Fisherman's Friend has several, including capsicum (cayenne pepper). Cayenne may or may not have health benefits. More importantly, you probably won't forget the experience of taking this particular lozenge. Although it's been around a long time, you might say that Fisherman's Friend "went to the edge." Now if it could only get equal shelf space, I'm betting it could take over the top market share spot with only about 20% the ad budget of the big-brand product.

I wouldn't be surprised at all, though, if someone came along with a head-sized cough drop in a few years, one that contained an even more memorable active ingredient. Maybe the TV-industrial complex isn't quite dead as Godin argues, but it's certain that the role of advertising is rapidly changing. Consumers are researching and reverse-engineering your product as soon as they take an interest in the category. All of this is made possible by the huge surge in available information and the speed with which your customer can access it.

Many dominoes will fall in this new age of radical consumer autodidactism. Perhaps even those grocery stores and convenience stores that try to prop up monopolies by allocating shelf space to crap people don't want.


Posted by Andrew Goodman




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