How Clear Are Your Instructions?

Have you ever eaten a frozen lunch by Michelina’s? These are inexpensive meals for a quick lunch. To heat it, you open the lid and put it in the microwave. After it has run for 2-3 minutes, stir it and put it back in. But for how long? The cooking directions are on the bottom of the box! If you didn’t memorize the timing before you started, you’re now in the position of either guessing the length of time, or holding it above your head so you can read the directions.

How does this happen? Do Michelina’s employees not eat the food? Do they spend so much time with the meals that they have the directions memorized? Or have they made a deliberate decision to sacrifice the functionality in favor of the branding on the top of the box?

This reminds me of the Tropicana rebranding failure from a few years ago.  You can learn more about it here and here.

To summarize, Pepsi (the owner of Tropicana) released new packaging for Tropicana. It looked okay on a carton-by-carton basis. But what about when you saw it in the store? First, it looked like a store brand. Second, all the versions looked nearly identical. Notice how the original clearly says “No Pulp Original.” Color variations differentiated the varieties, making it easy to shop. Now, look at the new version. Pulp free is there – but you have to look for it. It takes more work than the original. In addition, whereas the original had the iconic orange with a straw in it, the new one looks like a store brand! Imagine 7 varieties of the new carton all lined up together. It makes the shopper work harder.

Just to showcase the issue, I’d love to measure how may Tropicana shoppers actually look for the brand name when they pick up their juice.  I’m certain a sizeable minority just look for the orange. But don’t take my word for it – take the consumers’. Sales dropped by 19% before Pepsi reversed the decision!

This is an interesting product branding discussion. But how can we learn from this in developing our own customer experience?

Let’s examine how the Pepsi decision-makers shop for orange juice. Not the consumers – the people involved with developing the product. Pepsi has a pretty sweet deal for employee purchases. Pepsi provides heavily-discounted beverages for bulk purchase at the headquarters. Why would you ever shop at a grocery store when you could pick it up at work and save yourself a bundle in the process? You wouldn’t.

At first this program seems like a good idea, as it will get employees to drink more of their own products, and they can reinvest that knowledge back into the product development process. From an R&D perspective, that makes a lot of sense.

But this leads to the employees missing the shopping experience. I have no particular insight into the team that decided on the branding. They probably spent a lot of time in stores, and they probably mocked up a store display at headquarters. But did they deliberately put themselves in the customers’ shoes? All signs point to a definite “No.”

Let’s contrast this with Best Buy, where I do have some experience. Best Buy has both an online and a physical store experience. They offer employees a discount to they shop in the stores – but not when they shop online. Why not? Store employees (particularly those near the corporate campus!) would like nothing better than to get those corporate employees out of their stores. So why not send them all online for their purchases?

The answer revolves around customer experience. Best Buy knows that if they offer the discount for online purchases, a substantial number of employees will never go to their stores. As a result, they will never gain that insight that comes from searching through three stores to find that special power cable for their phone. Only by physically walking through the customer’s steps can you gain the insight needed to create a great customer experience. Best Buy knows this. Pepsi didn’t.

What are you doing to make sure that you have a deep understanding of your customer’s experience?

2 replies
  1. Avatar
    John Adams says:

    Jim – great insights on the consumer experience vs. what the marketing people were thinking (or not thinking). I often find myself asking these same questions, “What were they thinking when they made this decision?”, about so many different consumer experiences (B2C and B2B both!). Of course, one of the more recent examples of this kind of blundering is Netflix, which will no doubt end up as a chapter in a business book some day about how NOT to market your products to your customer base.

    Reply
  2. Jim Tincher
    Jim Tincher says:

    Yes, that’s a natural one! What’s also interesting is how Netflix is typically considered as a best-case study in the customer experience – by really understanding how consumers want to consume content (e.g., their download service, or their easy just-drop-it-in-the-mail-when-you-are-ready model), they were often a good group to study. But even the best company can stumble when they take their eyes of the ball.

    Jim

    Reply

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