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Humanizing Tech

"How Pringle’s Almost Failed" in Humanizing Tech

But found the answer to success in consumer behavior

I. Overview

Proctor & Gamble (P&G) is a major consumer goods company, and make a majority of the brand name products you use around your house. Things like Bounty paper towels, Downy laundry detergent, Charmin toilet paper, Cascade dishwasher soap, Crest toothpaste, Gillette razors, Old Spice grooming products, and the list keeps going.

But back in 1967, they also made food products, like potato chips. But chips, as we all know, have this little problem with breaking. Back in the Space Race age, these bags of chips would break on the way to supermarkets and spoil quickly.

P&G needed a solution.

That’s how they came up with Pringles. At first, they were a hit. An innovative chip that didn’t break or spoil and tasted just as good as regular chips in blind taste tests and reached a whopping 25% market share.

All seemed to be going well until sales began declining. In fact, the issue was that once people tried them, they never went back for more. Repeat purchases were tiny. Uh oh.

II. Attempts to Solve The Problem

As you might expect, P&G started with focus groups to try to get inside the minds of the people who bought once, but didn’t buy again. They studied the psychology of “the why”. What they found might surprise you.

Consumers said that Pringles seemed artificial. Because the chip was a different shape, and stored in a different container, people associated this artificial concept with an artificial flavor. Remarkably, people actually tasted something different because it looked different:

  • Pringles had a uniform shape and texture, unlike chips.
  • They weren’t burnt or greasy, unlike chips.
  • They weren’t broken and came in cans, unlike chips.

They weren’t broken. Wait a second. P&G solved the problem that consumers had asked them to solve, but now they didn’t like it. Strike that, we didn’t like it. We humans taste with our eyes first and our mouths second.

Our feeble human brains make us believe something that appears different, is different, and that’s a bad thing.

Sounds a bit like the Civil Rights movement, no? More on that in a bit.

Even though P&G solved the primary problem, it created an unintended second problem. How do we solve that one?

III. A Framework for Solving Unintended Problems

The team went back to the drawing board. They knew from blind taste tests that the product was just as good. They knew people bought them in the first place, at scale, creating an enormous market share. So, they had a successful product on their hands. If the problem isn’t the product, then what is?

The message?

They were confident in the problem that needed solving. They were confident in the solution of how they solved it. They echoed that exactly in the messaging. The message told the truth. Therefore, it wasn’t the message that was the problem.

That only leaves one thing left, then.

It was assumed at the beginning of the focus groups that the target market for their new Pringles product were the people buying the chips. The families and upper-middle class adults. Because they’d have the biggest problems with broken chips, they wanted the cleanliness of the can, and were willing to pay a higher price for these features.

What you might be realizing is that it wasn’t the product. It wasn’t the message. Nay, it was the market.

Let me stop you right here. Doesn’t this sound a lot like the conversations we hear over and over again in the tech community? Pringle’s hadn’t found “product-market fit” yet.

IV. Product-Market Fit for Pringles

The team assumed they were talking to the right market with the right product and the truthful message. But they were wrong.

Instead of the families and adults who were used to and comfortable with the taste of sameness, they needed to find a market where the modus operandi was something of un-sameness. Of rebellion. Where we stick it to the man, roll up our smokes in our white t-shirt, and slick our hair back because black leather jackets. Wait, wrong decade. In the 1960s, it was the hippies.

Adults weren’t open to the non-traditional. But teens liked being non-traditional because being different means being cool. Reminds me of modern-day Snapchat.

So what did P&G do? They:

  • Changed the target market to teens
  • Addressed the other concerns the teens had, by lowering prices and adding fun new flavors
  • Changed the TV commercials to appeal to youths

You might be picking up on the human rights issues inherent in this. It takes a different generation to see differences aren’t bad, but are something to be celebrated. Whether it’s the shape of our potato chip, the color of our skin, or more recently, our sexual orientation, our differences are what give us our unique flavor. And that’s a wonderful proposition.

V. How Pringles Are Doing Today

What started as the “Pringles Newfangled Potato Chips” today is one of the most successful snack brands in the world. It’s available in 140 countries and has the #4 market share position after Lays, Doritos, and Cheetos.

They come in a variety of flavors, each targeted towards different markets (e.g., Jalapeño in Latin America) and different times of year (e.g., Pumpkin Pie Spice in the fall).

As it relates to your own startup, brand, product, or market positioning, it’s a case study in not just consumer behavior, but also in getting the product, messaging, and target market trifecta in perfect alignment. Only then can you achieve product market fit.

But sometimes, even though it may not seem like it at first, it really pays off to be different.

— Sean

Read More

The Most Important Human Behavior Technique I Learned At Chicago’s Booth School of Business


How Pringle’s Almost Failed was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Read the responses to this story on Medium.



from Stories by Sean Everett on Medium http://ift.tt/2aNbUKJ