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Kid Twists on Adult Products: Creating a Story of the Unexpected

Adult gummy vitamins, energy jelly beans, vitamin C lollipops, all of these dosage forms and more are helping to drive sales in the supplement space. What is appealing about them? Certainly, they help with “pill fatigue,” an ever-present issue in this category, but beyond that, I think they offer something unexpected. A twist on the usual, the mundane. A bit of a surprise that appeals to us.

Every successful product has a compelling story behind it. Not the story of how it came into being, although that often exists as well. But rather, it’s the story of why the product exists and the impact it has on the consumer. The best new products genuinely solve consumer’s problems, enabling them to do something new, easier, faster or feel better, emotionally or physically. Every successful product has a story to tell.

To illustrate, consider one of the leading edge storytellers—Pixar Studios, creators of Toy Story, Cars, Monsters, among many other top-grossing movies. Emma Coates, former story artist at the studio has pieced together the story line that has made films like Toy Story and Nemo incredibly successful. The template goes like this: 

Once upon a time___. 

Every day, ___.

One day ___. Because of that, ___.

Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Take, for example, the plot of Finding Nemo: 

Once upon a time, there was a widowed fish named Marlin who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo. Every day, Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away. One day, in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water. Because of that, he is captured by a diver and ends up as a pet in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney. Because of that, Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way. Until finally Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite and learn that love depends on trust.*

Let’s see how this translates to a new product. Consider the introduction of OmegaSwirls, which disrupted the omega-3 category with a new delivery form that tasted great. It might go something like this: 

“Once upon a time, study after study was published about the benefits of omega-3 and DHA/EPA from fish oil, in particular. Every day, consumers choked down horse-pill sized soft gels of fishytasting oil. Others just stopped taking their omega-3 supplements. One day, Barlean’s found a way to prevent fish oil from tasting fishy through a new and proprietary technology. Because of that, adults were far more likely to take their fish oil. Because of that, their kids were introduced to great tasted fish oil, too. Until finally, the inflammation levels of the population at whole were reduced, and millions of lives were saved.” Is it a story? Yes. Does it illustrate the power of a new product in solving a particular problem? Absolutely.

Here is what Jorge Soto might say about the simple, non-invasive test that he and a group of international scientists are developing to very quickly screen the blood for specific microRNAs that detect the presence of early stage cancer: 

Once upon a time, 40 percent of all people were diagnosed with various stages of cancer. Every day, sick people went from doctor to doctor, being tested, poked and prodded, being frustrated by how long it takes to find out what was wrong. Thousands died because they were diagnosed too late. One day, a new test was developed that used 1 mL of blood to detect tiny changes at the cellular level that indicated the presence of very specific cancers, long before symptoms showed up. Because of that, far more people were able to get diagnosed early, and begin treatments that were much gentler. Because of that, millions of lives and billions of dollars were saved. Until finally, cancer was no longer viewed as a death threat, but simply as an inconvenience, similar to the common cold. Now that’s a powerful story! What’s yours?

Telling Your Story—the Power of Packaging 

Sometimes, in the world of functional foods and dietary supplements, we have an incredible story, but it’s not being told well. The story needs to be communicated in a way that engages your consumer.

Prestige Brands recently rolled out new labels designed by Little Big Brands, for their Fiber Choice Weight Management products that tell a great story—the product is made from 100 percent natural fiber found in fruits and vegetables. While technically, this may not be news to scientists, it is compelling to consumers. We know that most people would rather get their fiber from whole foods, but know that they can’t always do that. Fiber Choice, by focusing on the source of the fiber, enables consumers to feel more connected to the source.

What if the nutrition aisle had more of a grocery store appeal, with whole food sources being highlighted? What if consumers could look at the rows and rows of dietary supplements and feel more like they were in the produce section than the medicine cabinet? Purchasing supplements might be compelling, rather than overwhelming.

Finding Your Story—Coming up with the next great idea 

So how are great stories written? How are new products and packaging concepts developed? Volumes of books have been written on this, but I believe it comes down, at the end of the day to two basic factors: Having a learning mindset and developing the internal systems that support the generation, evaluation and translation of great ideas into products.

Learning Mindset 

People with a learning mindset ask lots of questions, both of each other, but especially of the customer. They learn to see things from other people’s perspective. Consumer insights are key to developing a new product or package. The two stories illustrated above both have important consumer insights that show a clear need in the market. Getting consumers to take their omega-3s was troublesome. The human suffering involved in mis-diagnosing, and the cost in lives and dollars involved in cancer is staggering. They both are clear problems that need to be solved. The packaging example shows what can be done when consumer motivations and desires are understood and translated into label design that stands out on-shelf.

One of the techniques that I like using is what I call ATT: Ask/Test/Tweak, and is based on the well-known Scientific Method. (That’s what happens when a scientist becomes a marketer!) We come up with hypotheses, do the research and then test new product concepts, prototypes or messaging with consumers, analyze the results and then go back and tweak. Iterative interviewing is another technique that is incredibly powerful in understanding what is really meaningful to consumers. This technique involves interviewing a number of consumers, but changing the script according to the findings, unlike focus groups where all groups are exposed to the same stimuli and questions. Inherent in this is the ability to embrace risk and experimentation.

Developing Internal Systems 

We need to make sure that our innovation strategies align with corporate mission, and that we have put processes and systems in place to ensure that from problem identification through idea generation, evaluation and development, we have disciplines in place to support the creative process. Otherwise, it is too easy for pet projects to slip in, and for our scientists to be working on too many projects at once, resulting in little progress forward. These systems will vary widely, depending on the size of the organizations, and there is no onesize- fits-all. And everyone, from the CEO down, needs to be accountable for following them.

What will your next story be? Do you have the pieces in place to be able to create a powerful product with your own unexpected twist? I encourage you to bring together a diverse team with different perspectives, have the candid conversations, and embrace experimentation— it’s not as risky as you think. Slowing down to create the story and develop systems actually gets you there faster. Experimenting is less risky than moving forward without feedback. That’s the twist to my story.

References:

* As told in To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink