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Episode #185: The Hidden Danger of Marketing Preconceptions

Grad Conn

March 24, 202222 min read

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Gathering customer insights is so important we’re doing a second show about it. In this follow-up podcast to my discussion with Sonia Sahney, I go into detail about the time I literally went into people’s homes and watched them do their laundry. It’s taking customer insights to the extreme, and it’s a valuable lesson on how our preconceptions can negatively impact our marketing strategies.

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It’s been a very reflective day, good day. Good day, very reflective. Good day. Following on some pretty intense stuff the last couple of weeks. Been crazy here at the Unified-CXM Experience. So welcome to the Unified-CXM Experience. I am Grad Conn, your host. It was a bit of a light week last week on podcasts because it was our annual sales kickoff… known as ASKO… here at Sprinklr. A really invigorating and motivating time. Get a chance to see, meet, and connect with all the people in the field, both on our sales and success teams. Get a chance to give out awards to both customers for the very first time, and also to our employees and field sellers. And congratulations to everyone on both the customer side and our field side for well earned rewards. And it certainly was a fantastic year, and that was reflected in the effort of everybody who did so much for Sprinklr this year on both the customer and the Sprinklr side.

I think that when you think about SAS software and think about the world that we live in today, it really is a cooperative effort. You need the work and the help of the customer as much as you need the people within your own company to deliver. It is something where both sides are necessary. That’s always been true. But it’s never been so obvious as it is in this area. So super grateful. And a tremendous amount of gratitude and love for our customers who’ve done so many amazing things for us and helped us do so many amazing things for our employees. So it’s a great waterfall.

I was in a reflective mood. I was talking to Randy, just before the show, and we kind of go through… I don’t know if you know how we do this show. We’re at 180 I think this is episode 183. Randy, are we getting to?

Randy Choco 

All right, that’s pretty cool.

Randy Choco 
Yep. 185

185. So the way we crank that many out is that we don’t script them. So as you can probably tell, I just start talking. And I talk until essentially about 18 minutes or so passes, and then I stop talking. And then ideally Randy just posts it. He does some editing top and bottom. There’s a bunch of work to make it a podcast ready, but we’re not getting in there and editing. And I actually think that is one of the cool things about the Unified-CXM Experience is that it’s not heavily edited. And you get to hear me making mistakes and asking Randy questions and, and doing all sorts of ridiculous things. And typically, I mean, unless we have a guest, and we had a great guest on our last episode, which is Sonia Sahney, and I’m going to talk about something that came up during that episode, I’m going to dive into a little bit more today. So I do prep a little bit on the guests, but not much. Usually I do the whole guest thing in one block. We book an hour, and we brief it and talk about it, and then do it all at once. And of course one of my favorite co hosts, Katie Martell, I mean, I think we’re almost in negative preparation territory, we start the episode before we start thinking. That’s actually one of the reasons I love working with her so much. But on something like this one, which is going to be a singleton, Randy will read out a list of topics that we’ve collected. And I’ll just keep saying, Hey, that’s a cool idea, or let’s talk about that. And he’ll whip them by me. And I’ll say, Yeah, we’re going to do that one today. And today, we’re going to do a reminisce from my Procter and Gamble days. And we’re going to talk about in-home laundry visits. So it’s one of my favorite stories. I love this. And I haven’t talked about it in a while, but it came up in the Sanya Sahney interview. So she is the CMO for GE Healthcare. And she is in their molecular imaging and CT scanning space. And so she’s got a pretty interesting super technical job. She herself, super interesting person, went to my alma mater, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. And we just had a wonderful time, both in the prep session. And in the interview itself. I could talk to her for hours.

But one of the things we were talking about is how to get marketers closer to their customers. And she was talking about how it’s important for her marketing team to go visit radiologists. Go to hospitals, see scanning, you know, happening in place, and then take a lot of the insights that come from that and bring that back, sometimes to the product team, also reflect that in the marketing materials. And we got into a whole discussion about rolling up your sleeves and really getting close to the customer. And I’m gonna say for some reason, but I think I do know the reason. So let me say that for some reason, just as a bit of verbal jousting, and then I’ll get into what I think’s going on. For some reason, most marketers don’t spend a lot of time face to face with customers. So why is that? You may have heard me talk about this. This is a tiny bit controversial. I don’t think that most marketers really like what they do. And I am not 100% sure that most marketers wanted to be marketers, you fell into it. It’s the job. Now, in my case, it’s the only thing I could have ever imagined doing. All I wanted to do my entire life is what I’m doing right now. So for me, this is a profession, a vocation. I read about this all the time, I have piles and piles of advertising books, and some I’ve got some brand new ones that are amazing. Oh, Randy, can you make a note, I got some really awesome books. Recently, I ran across the same treasure trove of out of print ad books, that someone must have listed. And I’ve grabbed them all. And I want to dig into some of these.

But, I think if you don’t think of this as an avocation, you don’t want to spend the time and the hours on it. And going and understanding what customers think takes time. And it’s inconvenient. And it takes travel, and it takes energy, and it takes evenings and all that kind of stuff. And so I think that most marketers lazily wave it off, or more dangerously, assume that they know from their own personal experience. And you can always tell when someone’s a bad marketer, and I’ll actually use that judgy word there, I will say a bad marketer, when they actually say things like I wouldn’t, or I don’t think or I never read ads, or I never do this, or I don’t click on this anymore. What you would do as a marketer is unimportant. First of all, you’re in a strata of society that’s reasonably narrow and fairly exclusive. Secondly, you’re massively overexposed to stuff in the field. So you’re super cynical about it, because you’ve seen so much of it. It’s like a lot of people in theater. I love theater. I love musical theater, I love Broadway. It’s been a big part of my life for a really long time. Not as much recently, but probably will be again, and for 25 good years, it was a big part of it. But one of the things that bothers me about theater people, and I’ve always guarded against this, is they’re very cynical about shows. They go to a show, and they rip it apart. And this is a show people have spent, you know, that often their friends have spent months or years working on, and they just shred it. Whereas, you know, regular people who aren’t in the industry, just love it. And I do think that there’s something when people are overexposed to something, they become overly cynical, and this happens in marketing all the time. So what you think as a marketer that you would do is probably the opposite, actually. If anything, what you think is probably the opposite of what’s going on out there.

And it’s very important not to ever get into a state where you think that you are some kind of some judge of people’s behavior. And you need to take a scientific approach, you need to assume that you’re a scientist. Make a hypothesis, you can start that hypothesis based on your personal experience, but be very comfortable to disprove the hypothesis and learn what’s really going on. And that’s what really true insight comes from. So anyway, so Sonia and I were talking about this, and she was talking about how she’s on a journey, hopefully I’m not misquoting her, but pretty sure that she said she’s on a journey on this front. And it made me reflect on some of the things that we used to do at Procter and Gamble. And I think I talked about them a little bit in the show. One thing was we had focus groups. Nielsen ran focus groups, and every Friday there was a day-long focus group, and they would have different products in the focus groups. And those were good. I mean, I always I’m a little cynical about focus groups, because I’ve been misled by focus groups. Dangerously, I would say, I made some pretty big mistakes with focus groups. And there is just… humans posture for each other and it’s hard to put a group of strangers in a room and have them tell the honest truth.

My story, I think, I was telling Sonia, there’s one time I was in a focus group for Tide detergent. And one of the people around the table sort of admitted that one of her laundry problems was she would forget sometimes to go back and unload the washer, and days later would go and it would be covered in fungus. And the horrified looks of the other people at the table shut her up for the rest of that focus group. I always remember that. Just a little insight. There was reality there for just a second, a little tiny crack open in a door. I was so like real life, and then it shut right again. Dude, public disapproval. So then I said, you know, we used to do in-home laundry visits and I didn’t really get into that story. So that’s we’re gonna do right now.

Our PDD department and Craig Backman… I don’t know if Craig ever listens to these. But Craig Backman was a peer of mine and has gone on to have a fabulous career. Craig is great guy, super smart. But just a great person to work with, strong points of view. We would have great debates and super ethical, super principled, really hard worker, I loved working with Craig.

And so we were working on Tide and I was relatively new in the company. And Tide was quite dormant and stagnated quite a bit, there hadn’t been a product improvement in years. And as a result, the brand was actually declining quite significantly. It was being chewed off at the lower end by a bargain detergent called ABC made by Colgate Palmolive. And the upper end by something called Arctic Power, which was primarily in cold water washing regions like Quebec and places like that. But the combo was brutal. We we’re getting sawed off at both ends. And it was challenging the business quite significantly. So there are a bunch of really good stories on how we fixed that. And Randy, make a note of this, like the Tide historical business review, and historical promotion review, that’d be a really great topic for us to do as well. But I’m going to talk about one initiative that we went after that was very successful.

So Craig came to me, and we were talking and he said, you know, if we could just get people to use the correct amount of detergent, we would solve all of Tide’s revenue problems like that. So the here’s the insight he had, and this is from a study they had done: People were using on average 66%, so two thirds, of the recommended amount of detergent in every load. It was a significant decrease. So a third less than recommended in each load. And we didn’t know why. There were some open ended questions. And we might have been… are people trying to economize, do they not know what a recommended dose is. Like there are many hypotheses.

There are a couple of very significant issues here. One is, when you’re using less than recommended, you’re also going to get less than optimal cleaning performance. Because the recommended dose was one that also made sure that the clothes would be clean. And particularly in hard water regions, there’s a component of detergent called a builder. And the builders tie up the hard water molecules that would be in water, particularly around the East Coast, and Midwest, and allows the surfactants, which are what surround and remove dirt (and I’ll get into how surfactants work one day)allows the surfactant to work and not get tied up. Because otherwise surfactants are attracted to the molecules in the hard water. And so if you don’t use enough then you don’t have enough builder and all hell breaks loose and hilarity ensues. And so there’s big product quality issues. Secondly, with people only using a third of the recommended, we were only selling two thirds of what we could sell. So that obviously was a big revenue opportunity if we could fix that problem. And the story in detergents over the last 20-30 years, has all been about trying to get people to consume the correct amount. And again, Randy, make a note of this. But the story of detergent consumption and improvements was very interesting, and ties to the issues of liquid detergents, caps, like there’s a whole bunch of really interesting innovations on this one very, very focused area.

But Craig said to me, and we we’re probably at dinner. All of us would… the way it works at P&G is we had to be at your desk at 8:30 in a suit and tie. And then you had an hour for lunch, we all went to lunch together. And then you couldn’t leave your desk before 5:30. And then we’d often leave around 6:00, 6:30 and go get some dinner, and then come back to the office and keep working. That was kind of how that all played out. And so we might have been at dinner and I said, you know, the only way to really understand what’s going on and to really get at this hypothesis would be to go and see people doing their laundry and really see what’s going on. Like what’s going on? Why are they using so much less? Great idea. So PDD, Craig, and that team they all set up a series of in home laundry visits.

Now the instructions we gave people were very specific, which is do not do anything special. We are coming to see you do your laundry. And we want to see you do your laundry the way you do your laundry, warts and all. And if we’re feeling like you’ve staged it for us, then you know we’re not going to stick around or we’re not going to do it again. You’re not going to get paid for this thing. You’ve got to show us how you’re really doing it. And then we got in a car and we literally drove to people’s houses, went inside, and watched them do the laundry. It was a fantastic experience. It was almost one of those like, why haven’t we done this before? It was so on the metal, you know what I mean? It was just, it was like so base… watching people do their dirty underwear and how they would do it and, and we would sit there silently taking notes. It must have been somewhat intimidating for the people doing laundry. And often they would… we gave them instructions to do laundry in their laundry, doing clothes. So they’d be in dressing gowns and fuzzy slippers and all this kind of stuff. And there’s all these people and blue suits and red ties and white shirts and black shoes, with clipboards, making notes as they’re doing it. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.

So anyway, so getting back to the topic here. So it was detergent. Now one thing about detergent, if you’ve ever interacted with it, many people are loud liquid users or pellet users. But powder detergent destroys anything that it comes in contact with when it’s in a dry form. If I was to use, you know, say this coffee cup, I’ve got a really nice white coffee cup here holds about 12 ounces of coffee. If I was to use this to scoop detergent into my washing machine, I would never be able to drink out of this again. It would be permanently smelling detergent, it’d be scoured on the inside, it would ruin the cup. We didn’t provide any kind of dosing device. liquid detergent has a dosing device, but the powder days no dosing device. So when people do, they found something in the house to measure the detergent with otherwise, they couldn’t just pour it in, they had to have some way of knowing how much they’re pouring in. And they knew they wanted to have a regular amount every time they were reasonably motivated to actually use the right amount. They just didn’t know what the exact right amount was, that didn’t want to use a measuring cup. Because their Pyrex measuring cups are actually very useful, important kitchen tools. And again, they would be ruined by the detergent, you never be able to use it again, reasonably expensive.

Anyway, so we found out something really interesting, and it had never really occurred to anybody. So our hypothesis going in was that people were using less detergent because they’re trying to save money. And that’s not an insane hypothesis. And again these price brands are out there. And everyone’s complaining about how much everything costs. And let me think, about the time a 12 liter box of Tide was $3.99. Or a 6 liter box, a six liter box was $3.99. What a deal. But nonetheless, you know, people were complaining about pricing. And, and so we thought that was it. That wasn’t it. People had no awareness, actually of how much detergent they were using. And they had no awareness of how much it really cost. They knew a good deal was $3.99 because Tide was normally you know, $4.49 or $4.99. But that was the reaction in store at that first moment of truth. Once they get home, they weren’t thinking I should get 25 loads out of this box. That was not in their brain. What was in their brain was I need something to pour the detergent into the washing machine with because there was no dosing meter in the box, it was just a box full of powder. And at the time, this is detergent days. So this is pure powder detergent. The way they make it is it’s made as a slurry which is mixed together. And then it is blown into a tower almost like sprayed essentially. And then from below, there’s a massive heating coil and air that essentially freeze dries this spray liquid in the tower and then it falls to the bottom and then it gets put into boxes. A little bit like making popcorn in an air fryer… in an air… what do we call those things, Randy? Air popper? Look it up, I think I’ve got close on air popper, they don’t really sell those anymore. But anyway. So that’s how you make detergent. And by the way, if you ever buy detergent, at the time it was very popular to have like power pellets in the detergent, the way the power pellets worked is the ingredient was in the slurry. So it was real, the ingredient was there. But to visualize it for the customer, we would spray a dye on the slurry as it went by. And then as it got sprayed out, the dye would sort of mix up and then as it got popped into popcorn, it would all kind of mix up and so look like they’re a little power pellets in there. But it’s just a dyed in sprayed on top just to give a visual look. So don’t be fooled by power pellets.

So anyway, so getting back to the topic here. So it was detergent. Now one thing about detergent, if you’ve ever interacted with it, many people are now liquid users or pellet users. But powder detergent destroys anything that it comes in contact with when it’s in a dry form. If I was to use, you know, say this coffee cup, I’ve got a really nice white coffee cup here holds about 12 ounces of coffee. If I was to use this to scoop detergent into my washing machine, I would never be able to drink out of this again. It would be permanently smelling like detergent, it’d be scoured on the inside, it would ruin the cup. We didn’t provide any kind of dosing device. Liquid detergent has a dosing device, but the powder has no dosing device. So what people do, they found something in the house to measure the detergent with. They couldn’t just pour it in, they had to have some way of knowing how much they’re pouring in. And they knew they wanted to have a regular amount every time, they were reasonably motivated to actually use the right amount. They just didn’t know what the exact right amount was. They didn’t want to use a measuring cup. Because their Pyrex measuring cups are actually very useful, important kitchen tools. And again, they would be ruined by the detergent, you would never be able to use it again, reasonably expensive.

So what would they use? Broken piece of china, some old cup they found somewhere, some piece of plastic, some toy that was discarded. They would essentially use a piece of garbage to measure out the detergent. And in most cases, those pieces of garbage were… you guessed it, about two thirds of an actual dose. Now, as obvious as that sounds… I say that now and you’re like duh, but our brains had not gone there. So what came from that? So we sat down, Craig and I said, you know, what if we gave them a dosing device? And looking at what we had seen on these in home visits, it didn’t need to be super fancy. And so Craig came back with the first prototype, which is a beer cup with measures on it, and the tide logo. And the beauty of a beer cup is that they could be blown into the box at very high speed. Because you couldn’t do anything with a Tide box, it slowed down the production line, because the speed of production was a key determinant of the cost of product. Because it was boxes per minute that were being made. That kind of drove cost of products so you had to maintain the production line. And also, if we missed one, it didn’t matter. It was a beer cup. And they were super duper cheap. That increased consumption by 25%. the first year. The beer cup maybe cost fractions of a penny. It contributed millions and tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars to the bottom line at Procter and Gamble.

It’s a great lesson. There’s the insight, the insight drove a little bit of an insight around what to do. But often… first of all, consumption is always a place you should look to improve your product. Even if you’re selling SaaS software, your NDE is really important. How many, how much more of your product are your current customers buying, that’s always going to be your biggest opportunity. And what’s the plastic beer cup solution you need to make that work better? Think about that. That’s a nice reflective way of thinking about the past and it was one of my earliest lessons in my career. So we’ll do a few more of these through a few while we’re talking. Randy, thanks for taking notes on that. Did you ever get the name is it air popper? Popcorn air popper?

I think air popper is right.

It sounds right. I’m sure I’ll hear from people if I’m wrong. All right. Well, thanks. That’s it for today. And that’s it for today’s Unified-CXM Experience. As always, I’m your host Grad Conn, and I’ll see you next time.

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