The most time-tested, trusted tool for success.
Lean in. Listen up.
Since time immemorial, in the marketing world, it’s The Consumer, folks. The Consumer. Never take your eye off the prize: The Consumer.
My first job out of college was with Procter & Gamble at its world headquarters in Cincinnati. It was 1968, and I worked in the Market Research Department. I was in a training class for five weeks. P&G was considered the epitome of marketing research. We learned the essential value of understanding the consumer and the tested tools to acquire what is needed.
My first assignment was a top-secret, revolutionary product that had already been in R&D development for five years. It would be a total of 10 years before this product became available nationwide. And once it did, it would change the way mothers diaper their babies, forever.
And that top-secret product? Pampers, the first disposable diaper.
A better way than cloth
The genesis of disposable diapers to replace cloth diapers and diaper services came from the New Product Department, scanning category numbers to find high-volume, high household-penetration product categories “ripe for innovation.” Bingo. Every household in America with babies bought diapers. There had to be a better way than costly cloth diapers and the required diaper cleaning and delivery service.
R&D began the methodical process to develop ideas and prototypes and then hired engineer specialists to create the equipment to make this revolutionary product. All was extremely top-secret, confidential. This P&G approach ensured “technical insulation” because once the world and competition knew about the product, patents and highly specialized equipment ensured category leadership and domination.
Now, The Consumer. How would mothers respond to this new alternative to their current protocol? The men in the office and R&D—yes, at that time they were all men—were 100 percent convinced that mothers would run to this more convenient, less messy, less smelly and eventually less expensive replacement for the current cloth diapers.
Our MRD personnel were sent around the country to engage with mothers of babies in their homes, pre-arranged through local market research companies. Our people would observe the diapering process, talk with mothers about diapers and diapering, and understand the dynamics, strengths and weaknesses of current, all key factors.
This qualitative research is now elegantly termed ethnography, but we called it Getting To Know Our Consumer. This was in-home, on-site consumer research. Qualitative research also includes focus groups, IDIs (individual depth interviews), triads, diads—all personal interface with The Consumer. Qualitative researchremains the most trusted, valued tool for the Fortune 500 today.
Sharing the love
The astounding key learning from this in-home, on-site consumer research: Mothers never brought up the inconvenience, the mess, the smell or the cost. The dynamic observed was one of love, loving and bonding, and the primary goal and satisfaction of motherhood: “healthy, happy baby.”
The path to convincing the marketing-product management and R&D people was not easy, but the direction was crystal clear from the consumer research. “The voice of the consumer” was our mantra.
The final result is history: Pampers. Not EZ-DIAP!
How has Pampers maintained its leadership in the still growing category, with the encroachment of similar brands Huggies, Luvs and eventually store brand and value competition? By staying in touch with The Consumer, staying ahead of trends, observing category shifts, continuing qualitative research with target audience consumers.
Pampers has evolved into Baby Care, not just diapers, with value-added line extensions, loyalty programs and coupons direct-delivered that make the cost almost equal to value products.
Bottom line: There is no substitute for consumer research, qualitative in particular. Yes, quantitative research—SurveyMonkey and MailChimp, audience research, online research— serves its purpose.
But there is no substitute for qualitative consumer research and your personal interface with The Consumer.
Leslie M. Westbrook is the founder of Leslie M. Westbrook & Associates, Inc. She is a consumer research specialist/marketing strategist. She also teaches a course in Global Brands at the Meek School of Journalism & New Media at the University of Mississippi. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.