How Products Get Messed Up

how-products-get-messed-upWhen you are developing new products it is very easy to mess them up. I think more disasters are caused by spoiling good ideas than by trying to get a bad idea to work. Here are a few ways to convert soaring swans into frumpy turkeys. 

Too many features.

Adding lots of features is very tempting, and in some industries makes perfect sense.  In the consumer electronics business adding loads of bells and whistles is probably the key to success.  Multifunctionality can be turned into a feature in itself. BB creams are a good example – why not combine a foundation, moisturiser and sunscreen.

But I think it is very easy indeed to go too far with this.  If you have a great moisturiser, it really should be primarily a great moisturiser.  You can add a sunscreen maybe, or perhaps an anti-wrinkle action. But if you try and add too many features you are in danger of losing the key benefit and confusing the customer.  If you claim to do everything you risk losing out on what your product actually does best.

Do you really need  a range?

There is a pervasive idea around that consumers value choice and that you should create not just a product but a range of products.  And in fact there is one really compelling reason to do so which I will get onto in a minute.  But first lets have a look at the idea that consumers want to be offered a lot of choices. It sounds like the most obvious proposition, and one that is self evident. If you offer more choices you will make more sales. Right?

Well maybe not.

A study by Sheena  Iyengar and Mark Lepper demonstrates pretty convincingly that this is not the case.

They set up a free tasting booth in a grocery store, with six different jams. 40% of the customers stopped to taste. 30% of those bought some.

A week later, they set up the same booth in the same store, but this time with twenty-four different jams. 60% of the customers stopped to taste. But only 3% bought some!

In other words, offering the consumers more choice lost the jam 90% of its sales.  That is a sobering thought.

Would Creme de la Mer have done better if it had come with Creme de la Terre, Creme de la Ciel and Creme de quelque autre place?  I doubt it very much.

And I can confirm the observation from personal experience.  One company I was working with had a range of three products that were selling very well.  They increased the range to seven, and overall sales fell. In fact they fell so much that even the original three were delisted from some supermarkets.

Why you might need a range

But of course there are times when adding extra variations is not only a good idea but an essential one.  If you look at the Head and Shoulders range next time you are in a supermarket you’ll see that there is a lot of choice available.  There were 10 distinct variations on offer the last time I counted in my local Sainsburys.  But if you look at P&G’s advertising they really only promote the anti-dandruff effect which is the brand’s key selling point.  What is going on here is that the variations force the retailer to give much more shelf space to Head and Shoulders than they might otherwise do.  In other words it is a tool in Proctor and Gamble’s war with Unilever for facings rather than any rational response to consumer desires.

So if you have come up with a world beating anti-dandruff formulation – and somebody has to some day – don’t think you need to go in with as wide a range as P&G have.  In fact, you’ll find it much easier to get in if you don’t.

Do people REALLY want what they say they want

Results from surveys and market research need to be treated with the utmost caution.  Most of us are mysteries to ourselves let another others and have no idea what the true reasons are for our behaviours and preferences.

Most people who work in product development have stories of how misleading market research data is.   My personal favourite is quite a recent one.  A company with a couple of men’s products tried out a new packaging style with some consumers and found they preferred it to the old one.  So they added five new products in the new pack style, and found that the old two continued to sell and to outsell the new ones.  (They might have taken some notice of the previous point about too much choice.)

So they are faced with a marked preference for one pack in sales despite the fact that their market research told them the exact opposite.  They have decided to go with the research and put the old products into new style packs.   It will be interesting to see how that one turns out.

New product development will always be more of an art than a science, but that doesn’t mean you can dispense with a lot of hard work and hard thinking.  And remember that it is really easy to ruin even the best idea.


When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? Sheena Iyengar & Mark Lepper

1 thought on “How Products Get Messed Up”

  1. Brilliant blog article! I am tired of Amazon et al telling me that lots of choice creates more sales. Rubbish – I have over 100 products on there and guess what? Only 10 that really sell :-). I shall go and eliminate quite a few now.

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