Many of you have probably read, or at least heard of, Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point,” or “Blink”. I recently ran across a 2004 TED Talk video of Mr. Gladwell speaking on the topic of spaghetti sauce. You can view the short (about 17 minutes) video clip.
Though it fails to strike us as revolutionary today, in the early 1980s there were few selections of prepared spaghetti sauce on the supermarket shelves. Ragu was the predominant brand name but failed to satisfy consumers on the quality of adherence to the noodle. Campbell’s, owner of the Prego brand, hired Howard Moskowitz to conduct Market Research on spaghetti sauce.
As you will learn from the video, or from commercial New Product Development efforts, consumers sometimes cannot give voice to unspoken needs. While Mr. Gladwell tells of Mr. Moskowitz’s journey across the country with 45 types of spaghetti sauce and unknown numbers of focus groups, no consumer ever said that he or she wanted, had a need for, chunky spaghetti sauce. But Mr. Moskowitz’s focus groups (who each tasted about 10 bowls of spaghetti) found that one-third, ONE-THIRD, of the market preferred chunky spaghetti sauce!
The lesson for New Product Development and Market Research? Recognize that Concept Testing and Product Use Testing are essential for commercial success. Relying solely on market surveys or focus group data may lead to conclusions to “tweak” the current product (spicy vs. plain spaghetti sauce).
Malcolm Gladwell calls this phenomena, a “horizontal” market. That is, there is no hierarchy in spaghetti sauces, just different tastes for different folks. This is particularly true of consumer packaged goods and the food and beverage markets.
Now, a second caution for New Product Development Professionals and practitioners. Making too many individual products for individual tastes (apparently Ragu now has 36 varieties of spaghetti sauce) may lose the productivity or efficiency advantage (cost-savings) than making fewer products for fewer categories. A great case study for Product Roadmapping!
I hope you enjoyed the TED talk video and that Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis of horizontal market research can stimulate your thoughts regarding your NPD Portfolio.
Image of spaghetti courtesy of foods people.
Image of horizontal markets courtesy of cool clips.
originally posted 9 September 2010
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