I heard a wonderful story yesterday about the extraordinary design firm IDEO who was recently featured on 60 Minutes. IDEO worked with Steve Jobs and Apple for years on product design. The story is packed with a rich lesson about understanding what problem you are really
trying to solve. Thanks to Pat Merrill
from Merrill Research for sharing this gem.
|Are you asking the right marketing question? |
A toy company
approached IDEO about helping them with a problem. They had a jet propelled toy rocket that sold
for $200 and could go 250 feet into the air. They wanted to find a way to redesign
the rocket so that it could rise higher into the sky so they can announce a new
and improved version. But, and there is
always a but, the price has to stay the same.
They needed a new design to make it go higher but the price had to be the same --- $200
So the design team found that they could double the height
of the rocket with a new motor but it would increase the price from $200 to
$400. This wouldn’t meet the criteria set out by the product management
team. One inquisitive engineer said that
we should talk to kids who buy the current product to understand this more
So the engineers got some kids out in a field and watched
them launch the rockets. And they asked the kids to explain to them how they
knew how high the rocket was going. Like
most 15 year old boys, they said….we just know. But how do you know? How are you sure about the height? What
is the method you use to measure it?
Most of the kids shrugged their shoulders and said, we just know.
One of the kids, a pimple-faced 13 year said, the way I know
how high it has gone is by judging how long it takes to come back to the
So the problem to be solved isn’t how to get it higher in
the air but how to get it to come down to earth more slowly. Suddenly, the design problem became crystal
clear. The engineers figured out a way to get a parachute to open up when the
rocket reaches its zenith. Now, the new design has the same rocket, goes the
same height but it comes back to earth three times slower. They solved the real problem because they asked the right question: How do you know it is going higher?
Do you really understand what problem you are trying to
solve with your marketing efforts? Is it clear that what the consumer or trade
tells you they want is really what they want?
For years, a company I worked for in the snack industry believed that
teenage girls didn’t like or want to eat our product. (The iconic Slim Jim brand).
We took an anthropological approach to the problem and had a female
researcher spend time with groups of teenage girls as if she was studying a
tribe in the Pacific. She lived with them and spent time in their world. What
she found was that we didn’t understand the problem- girls loved the product
but they didn’t want to eat the product when they were with boys because it left them with meat snack breath.
We thought the
issue was the taste but the issue was a social one. They just want to eat the
product at home or with other girls. With this insight, we stopped trying to develop a new product for girls and focused on a channel approach. Our solution was in focusing on a strategy to get the product in their home so they could eat it in private.
If you want to smile, watch the great commercial we produced to reach young girls. We had never shown a girl eating our product in a commercial. And, we wanted to make sure that we accurately represent the pink inside of a typical girls stomach filled with veggies. It was great fun but most importantly, we figured out how to reach girls. Sales grew as we learned to ask the right questions.
Slim Jim Commercial: Eat Your Veggies
Do you know what problem you are trying to solve? Have you
asked the right question? Are you ready to launch?
Labels: Apple, IDEO, Marketing Moments, Steve Jobs, the right question