Unconventional Wisdom Three: If it Ain’t Broke, Why Not?

If you’re trying to improve your brands and products, you may be moving in the wrong direction. Dane Smith says it’s time to get ugly. Here’s why.

This is part three of Unconventional Wisdom – a marketer’s guide to bad economic decisions that make great psychological sense. Check out part one and part two » 

One of the troubling legacies from traditional economics in modern business thinking is a two-dimensional view of ‘utility’.

Utility theory suggests that individuals have fixed preferences for things, regardless of the time and context in which they make a decision. It holds humans up as rational ‘optimisers’ – a careful breed who assign special values to their choices and make selections on the basis of what will provide them with maximum utility. Soft drink X has a taste enjoyment score of eight, making it my immediate preference over soft drink Y, with its measly taste enjoyment score of six.

When laid out like that, it probably feels like quite an odd way of thinking (humans are pretty irrational, duh). And yet, when brands are looking to improve their products and services, they still spend a huge chunk of time thinking through the lens of maximum utility, not psychology.

Imagine you are Listerine in 1966. For the better part of a century, your product has defined the mouthwash category – facing little-to-no competition and reaping all the profits. Out of seemingly nowhere, Proctor & Gamble shirt-fronts you with its new, cutting-edge mouthwash revelation: Scope.

To make matters worse, this new mouthwash tastes much, much better than yours.

Flash forward to the aftermath of a (hypothetical) emergency focus group. The consumer opinion is unanimous: people demand that you make Listerine taste better. Perhaps even release it in cool confectionary flavours like cherry or cola.

What do you do?

Read the full article on Marketing Mag here.

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