At NASA, a term called ‘ground truth’ is often used. Now what is ‘ground truth’? While satellites and other devices measure the distances from space, a person on the ground or from an airplane measures the same thing at the same time. Usually the ‘ground truth’ is relied as the more accurate measure and the satellite is then calibrated accordingly. See how NASA defines ground truth.
So, how can you get ground truth about the viability of your business idea? The answer is market research. Market research is a study of your consumer’s preferences and your competition. It’s sad that in most organizations market research is carried out in retrospect or merely given lip sympathy to. Why is market research necessary? Because each individual is unique. All have different tastes, different ideas about what’s important in our lives, and different ability (or willingness) to pay a particular price for what we want. Often business custodians believe they have a great idea for a new product or service, only to discover that people either don’t want that service or product, or they’re not willing to pay the price that the business needs to set in order to be profitable.
In the part one of a two part exercise, we will try and explore insights which marketing research offered and turned around the products, sometimes safely netted the certain failure of the business and in some ignorance towards research led to failure of certain product launches.
In the mid-1990s, P&G executives started work on a secret project that could eradicate bad smells. They wanted it to position it differently than a normal air freshener and hence spent millions formulating a colorless liquid that could be sprayed on a stinking couch, smoky shirts and voila! Make it odorless. To many consumers, there were no good solutions to eliminate odors on fabrics. Febreze offered a distinct point of difference versus Air Fresheners - it provided a new and completely unique way to actually clean away odors on fabrics and it could deliver its promise. They knew they had a winner. They rolled out the product set the ads in heavy rotations and sat back anticipating how they would spend their bonuses. A month elapsed. Two. Sales shrunk and shrunk even more. The product failed to take off. Febreze was dead.
The panicked marketing team then employed a Harvard Business School Professor to carry out the ethnographies. It was during one of these instances that they came across a woman who lived with her cats. The house was by no means dirty. It was clean and organized. But when the P&G execs entered the living room where she and her cats spent most of the time, the scent was so overwhelming that one of them gagged. When quizzed about the smell, the woman exclaimed that her cats were so great they hardly smelled.
Similar observations played out in other smelly homes as well. The reason Febreze wasn’t selling was not because it was a bad product or because consumers didn’t need it. It was because it was pitched on the wrong platform. The insight was that even the strongest odors fade with continual exposure. The positioning cue – bad smells which were supposed to trigger use – was not pitched to people. And Febreze’s reward (an odorless home) was meaningless to someone who couldn’t smell offensive scents in the first place.
Ads were made to pitch the new positioning, in which the trigger had to be changed. Febreze was now aimed to create a new routine. Each ad was designed to appeal to the habit loop: when you see a freshly cleaned room (cue), pull out Febreze (routine) and enjoy a smell that says you’ve done a great job (reward). Febreze, the ads implied, was a pleasant treat, not a reminder that your home stinks. And so Febreze, a product originally conceived as a revolutionary way to destroy odors, became an air freshener used once things are already clean. The Febreze revamp occurred in the summer of 1998. Within 3 months of post advertising launch, Febreze achieved 9% trial – surpassing the 4% benchmark and went on to achieve 40% trial, 30% repurchase by the end of its first year in market. Today it’s a billion dollar brand.
So that was the ground truth for Febreze.In the next post we will explore some more examples of product successes and failures owing to market research.