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Innovation at Marvel Comics

Posted by Jennifer von Briesen

Thu, Oct 24, 2013

Originally posted on the South Street Strategy Group Blog

marvel avengers logoKristin Vincent, VP, Product at Marvel Entertainment, has been helping the 70-year old company re-define itself in the digital age. Not knowing much about comics when she joined the company in 2011, she quickly gained credibility and influence with her fresh perspective, insights and actions related to the company’s “Re-Evolution” digital strategy, which officially launched in March 2012.At a recent conference, she shared the principles Marvel has used to evolve its comics business so that fans continue to love their experience with comics, while traditional print and new digital formats and channels co-exist and thrive at the same time:

  1. Proclaim your intentions – Declare what you want to do and communicate this publicly. This not only creates anticipation and excitement, but it builds internal commitment and accountability.

  2. Develop new products with connections to existing products – This approach helps to minimize cannibalization, reassures existing customers and channel partners, and adds excitement to established products. Marvel gave everyone who bought a print comic a free digital version, and created an augmented reality application to be used with the print version to get additional behind-the-scenes information.

  3. Challenge the most basic assumptions you have about your products – For Marvel, this meant re-thinking what a comic is, beyond traditional attributes such as paper booklets, panels, and pages, to seeing it as serialized graphic storytelling with excellent graphics, opening up new “Infinite” comic possibilities that rethink what a comic page means

  4. Partner with users – Marvel used listening labs and usability testing to understand how fans experience comics. It brought fans in and used flip video cameras to record them in real world scenarios using comics and computers to understand pain points. Marvel also got fans to register to become Marvel Advisors to test products and provide input to their development pre-launch. Kristin says that as soon as the executive team watched a one-hour video highlighting all of the user issues and opportunities, it made a huge difference in helping to change the culture and continuing the effort to innovate

  5. Develop a roadmap that starts small and builds – Marvel started with one comic in a plastic polybag with a code inside for the digital download. Now users get a free digital download with all $3.99 comics in print

  6. Balance user requests with bold new ideas – Marvel re-launched Marvel Unlimited (a subscription program that gives users unlimited access to over 13,000 digital comics) but also sourced and introduced “Project Gamma,” an innovative new adaptive audio technology. It will be a cool new way to experience digital comics where the sound will change as you move through the story.

  7. Fail fast and pivot – Marvel had to take a promotion down on the first day when demand for free downloads was so great that the third-party servers it was using crashed and fans couldn’t buy digital versions for two days. They corrected course and used this failure as an opportunity to show customers they cared by being honest and transparent.

  8. Re-evolve –Marvel enhanced its print products with digital, and is using new formats.

In 2012, the innovations helped Marvel achieve triple digit growth in its digital business while keeping its core B2B brick-and-mortar store channel partners happy. The digital and print products complement each other, satisfying existing fans while opening up a whole new fan and user base.

Jennifer is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group. She recently received the 2013 “Member of the Year” award by the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP), the preeminent professional association for those engaged in strategic thinking, planning and action.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin Bailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies. Read South Street's Strategy Group's blog here.

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, product development, conference recap, customer experience and loyalty, growth and innovation

South Street Strategy Guest Blog: Co-creation at LEGO with Friends

Posted by Jennifer von Briesen

Thu, Aug 15, 2013

LEGO Friends Olivias WorkshopJust over a year ago, leading toy maker the LEGO Group launched its new line of blocks and figures for girls called LEGO Friends in key global markets in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. It is one of the most successful launches in the company’s history and has already generated twice as much business as expected.The story of Friends started long before the 2012 launch, and deserves a full-length case study; for now I’m excited to share a little of what I learned from meeting and listening to Laura Post, Senior Director, Strategic Planning and Insights, for LEGO in the U.S., when she talked about LEGO Friends at the IE Group’s Women in Strategy Summit in New York City a few months ago.

Laura attributed much of the success of the launch to a shift to a customer co-creation approach, and a willingness to really observe and listen to customers and to engage them in co-design of the products. The LEGO Group had tried for over two decades to expand its appeal with girls with little success. Barriers included lack of company focus and support, core products geared to boys ages 5-9, and products designed with strict adherence to internal ‘sacred cow’ beliefs about what mini figures should be and look like. LEGO was also in serious turnaround mode in 2003-2004 after straying too far from its core.

One of the things that LEGO executives realized needed to change was that employees needed to be empowered to make customer-focused decisions. Consumer insights are now core to LEGO’s strategy. As evidence of this shift, according to Laura, the company spent four years and conducted 13 major studies researching customer needs and wants related to Friends. It directly tested products with 3,500 girls and moms, and once a month, girls were brought in to co-create products with LEGO’s designers and researchers.

It was through this focused effort and investment that LEGO learned that the majority of young girls around the world prefer to play with building toys and figures that look very realistic, have vivid colors (especially pink and purple), and that have different personalities that increase the emotional connection. The traditional old mini figures with generic facial expressions just wouldn’t do. As a result, LEGO invented the Friends mini-dolls, each with their own names, interests, and favorite things and places (see Olivia and her invention workshop graphic).

This co-creation story is only one example of what the LEGO Group is doing in this space. There are many, many more examples of how co-creation is changing business for the better. As a big fan of the co-creation approach, I hope to tell more stories on the use of this customer centric methodology at Lego and elsewhere. Watch this space.

Jennifer is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group. She recently received the 2013 “Member of the Year” award by the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP), the preeminent professional association for those engaged in strategic thinking, planning and action.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin Bailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies. 

Join Tauck's Jeremy Palmer, CMB's Judy Melanson and South Street Strategy Group's Mark Carr on September 12th at noon for a webinar: Focused Innovation: Creating New Value for a Legacy Brand Focused Innovation: Creating New Value for a Legacy Brand

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, product development, growth and innovation

Innovating Inside the Box

Posted by Rachel Corn

Tue, Jul 02, 2013

thinking outside the boxDrew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg want you to Think Inside the Box.

Their recent article in the Wall Street Journal encapsulates the increasingly jaded perceptions of innovation in the corporate world—where “brainstorm has become a byword for tedium and frustration,” and innovators are told to “go wild making analogies to things that have nothing to do with your product or business.”Ouch.

But it’s true. Innovation has suffered from a bad reputation of unfocused creative sessions that, in the end, provide little value to solving a real business problem. The answer? We at South Street have long believed that efficient and effective innovation requires focus. Focus on solving a pressing problem which a business owner experiences…focus on how to get to an underserved but attractive customer segment… focus on ways to extract complexities out of the system.

It may sound counterintuitive, but in our work we advocate that constraints are a necessary element to fuel innovation and creativity.

So what techniques does focused innovation employ? Here are a few that we’ve found applicable across industries and clients.

  • Lightening up. Boyd and Goldberg call it “subtraction.” GE called it “de-featuring.” Regardless of the name, the strategy involves removing essential elements in order to get a new offering. Think: an exercise bike is a bike with one wheel removed. It’s a simple solution, but it opened up a new market of users. And it’s an idea that’s applicable in both product and service industries. For instance, we’ve worked with a top health insurance company to take a complex product offering that had become “richer” over time, and we created an affordable stripped-down model. The rich version has a place, but some segments may prefer the light version.

  • Merging together. In this case, rather than taking features out, seemingly unrelated features are offered in an all-in-one package. For example, the CAPTCHA system not only helps thwart hackers and fraudsters; the text you enter is actually contributing to transcribing old text that’s hard to decipher. At South Street, we worked with a client to merge several disparate products and services to serve a unique segment—one that could not have afforded or had access to the products à la carte.

  • Segmenting out. In our opinion, any innovation needs be rooted in a strong understanding of your target segment. Without this, techniques that define a new offering (such as lightening and merging) are taking shots in the dark as to what your customers really want or need. Look at a customer group that has strong financial potential for you. What are their highest-level goals and needs, and are you (or your competitors) currently satisfying these needs? What techniques can you use to pull from what you are already offering and customize it for this segment?

Innovation should be all about solving specific business problems. By doggedly sticking to this focus, innovation need not be a buzzword at your company.

Rachel Corn is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group, she specializes in finding growth opportunities in new market segments, new products and businesses and innovative business models.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin South Street Strategy GroupBailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies. 

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, product development, growth and innovation

Medical Devices: Innovation for Less Is More

Posted by Rachel Corn

Tue, Jun 18, 2013

medical device innovationIn the world of medical technology, the historical driver of value has been feature-driven. Hospitals, insurance companies and other payor audiences have been willing to pay a premium for new features—up to a point.

Today, though, in a climate of increased scrutiny over costs, more competition, and stricter reimbursement rules, payors are no longer eager to pay for minor features. This is especially true when looking to “leaner” markets outside of the US. Furthermore, consumers are becoming more empowered in their healthcare and as a result are increasingly looking for solutions that fit their lifestyles, rather than technical feature sets.It’s time for medical technology companies to think about step-change innovation as a driver of value for them and their customers. And this innovation needs to begin and end with focus:

  • …on the customer segment: What are the current and potential markets for this product? Are there under-penetrated segments where a gap exists? Traditionally, companies have not focused on the end-user (the patient); yet this is an opportunity for innovation. We have also seen quite a few products “de-featured” for emerging markets and then brought back to the developed world for a unique segment. Is there a viable market segment that would be served with a “light” version of your product?

  • …on the customer goal: What are customers trying to accomplish with your products? How can you make their jobs easier? This requires communicating solutions—rather that discrete features—that directly solve a pain point. This could involve software, services, etc.

  • …on regulation: Between healthcare reform, re-admission rules and electronic records, healthcare is a prime field to view regulatory changes as an opportunity to make the customer’s life easier. In what ways will regulations change your customer’s business and how can you help?

Looking for innovation in your existing portfolio can be highly lucrative. An example of a “de-featured” product is from GE India: it stripped the bells, whistles and 423 pounds from GE’s $100,000 Logiq 9 ultrasound machine and introduced a handheld device at about a tenth of the price. While this monitor was less advanced than its predecessor, it was a great fit for India due to small size and portability.

What hidden gems lie in your portfolio? Have you uncovered and exhausted opportunities for innovation?

Rachel Corn is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group, she specializes in finding growth opportunities in new market segments, new products and businesses and innovative business models.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin South Street Strategy GroupBailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies. 


Earlier this year CMB’s MedTech team partnered with the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council (MassMEDIC) to survey members for their perspectives on the past, present, and future expectations for innovation and growth in the medical device industry. Click here to download: The 2013 MedTech Industry and Innovation Study.

Topics: technology research, South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, healthcare research, product development, growth and innovation

AMP Up Marketing on a Tight Budget

Posted by Rachel Corn

Thu, May 30, 2013

marketingToday most companies are watching their expenditures closely and are challenged with how to effectively get the word out to prospective customers, but on a limited budget. The key to this is focus, across three different dimensions that we call AMP:

  • Audience. It’s tempting to think that “marketing” doesn’t happen until after a product is finished and ready to sell. However, efficient and effective marketing is tailored to specific segments. This requires a company to have a firm focus on what it’s selling and to whom – early on in product development.

  • Message. In today’s media environment, generic messages are worthless. With a specific, well-researched target market in mind, companies can craft tailored marketing messages that speak specifically to that target’s needs and goals.

  • Promotion. There are some core tactics that every marketer has in his or her arsenal of tools: advertising, PR, conferences, social media, among others. Focus on key tactics and related outlets that you know your target market will look to for the needs you’ve identified.

Blanketing the entire marketplace with broad messaging is expensive, and typically ineffectual for anyone other than big brands who have to maintain broad-based awareness. Doing less in a deliberate way can make your money stretch farther and deliver more tangible results in terms of new, worthwhile prospects. Following the above guidelines, in this specific order, can help you focus your marketing activities.

Do you already have a segment you can hone in on to AMP up your marketing?

Rachel Corn is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group, she specializes in finding growth opportunities in new market segments, new products and businesses and innovative business models.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin South Street Strategy GroupBailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies. 

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, product development, marketing strategy

Adventures in the Front End of Innovation

Posted by Megan McManaman

Thu, May 02, 2013

Next week you'll find us at the Front End of Innovation 2013 sharing how we, along with our partners at South Street Strategy, took a practical, focused, and innovative approach to new product development for Tauck Worldwide. Read a little bit about what we did here:

The Challenge

Tauck Case StudyTauck Worldwide, an industry leader with over 85 years experience in premium guided tours, wanted to create a new travel concept to meet the needs of a population increasingly comfortable with researching, planning, and traveling on their own. Tauck needed innovative thinking to define and build a new type of tour product – one that appealed to next gen customers, conveyed a unique brand identity while standing out from competitors in the crowded travel market space. 

What We Did

CMB and principals from South Street Strategy Group used a multi-method, multi-source approach to:

  • Select top opportunities on which to focus

  • Ideate across functions with executives and senior managers, leveraging insight and experience in the market

  • Research and assess the competitive landscape and baby boomer’s core  travel goals and needs – particularly un-met needs

  • Test alternatives to guide product development, pricing and identify target guests who are most interested in the new product line

  • Identify acquisition targets in the travel industry, new business models, and new product offerings, by leveraging core competencies, that would create significant value for the company and address baby boomer needs

  • Work with the CEO, CFO, and COO and the New Ventures Group to ensure recommendations were aligned with business constraints, addressed operational challenges and met business goals

How It Was Used

Tauck launched the Culturious brand as a totally new product line on time and with unanimous board approval. The new brand, which currently consists of 8 packages and destinations, meets customer needs by offering small-group tours geared toward active baby boomers with an interest in active, culturally engaging travel. The brand has won awards, including the 2010 Innovation prize from the Connecticut Quality Improvement Award Partnerships (CQIA).

To learn more about our approach to New Product and Service Development click here.

For more of our case studies click here. 

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, product development, travel and hospitality research, growth and innovation

CMB Case Study: Inventing a Tour for the Travelers of the Future

Posted by Megan McManaman

Thu, Jan 03, 2013

A practical and innovative approach to new product development.

The Challenge

Tauck Case StudyTauck Worldwide, an industry leader with over 85 years experience in premium guided tours, wanted to create a new travel concept to meet the needs of a population increasingly comfortable with researching, planning, and traveling on their own. Tauck needed innovative thinking to define and build a new type of tour product – one that appealed to next gen customers, conveyed a unique brand identity while standing out from competitors in the crowded travel market space. What We Did

CMB and principals from South Street Strategy Group used a multi-method, multi-source approach to:

  • Select top opportunities on which to focus

  • Ideate across functions with executives and senior managers, leveraging insight and experience in the market

  • Research and assess the competitive landscape and baby boomer’s core  travel goals and needs – particularly un-met needs

  • Test alternatives to guide product development, pricing and identify target guests who are most interested in the new product line

  • Identify acquisition targets in the travel industry, new business models, and new product offerings, by leveraging core competencies, that would create significant value for the company and address baby boomer’s needs

  • Work with the CEO, CFO, and COO and the New Ventures Group to ensure recommendations were aligned with business constraints, addressed operational challenges and met business goals

How It Was Used

Tauck launched the Culturious brand as a totally new product line on time and with unanimous board approval. The new brand, which currently consists of 8 packages and destinations, meets customer needs by offering small-group tours geared toward active baby boomers with an interest in active, culturally engaging travel. The brand has won awards, including the 2010 Innovation prize from the Connecticut Quality Improvement Award Partnerships (CQIA).

To learn more about our approach to New Product and Service Development click here.

For more of our award winning case studies click here. 

Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, South Street Strategy Group, product development, travel and hospitality research

Let's Talk about Importance, Baby

Posted by Nick Pangallo

Wed, Dec 05, 2012

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to begin this post with a cheap trick: how many of you marketers, advertisers, researchers, corporate strategists and consultants out there have been asked to “find out what’s important to [some audience]?”  While I don’t actually expect any of you are sitting there with a hand raised in the air (kudos if you are, though), I’m betting you’re probably at least nodding to yourself.  Whatever you’re selling, the basic steps to market a product are simple: figure out who wants it, what’s important to them, and how to communicate that your product delivers on whatever they find to be important to encourage some behavior.  No one ever said marketing was rocket science.

But no one ever said it was easy, either.  And determining what’s actually important to your customer isn’t merely another task to check off, it’s a critical component on which a misstep could derail years of effort and potentially billions in R&D spending.  I always tell my clients that you can design an absolutely perfect product, a masterpiece of form and function, but if you can’t communicate why it’s important to someone, there’s no reason for anyone to buy it.  As my esteemed colleague Andrew Wilson will tell you, not even sliced bread sold itself.

So that brings us back to that original, fundamental question: how do we “find out what’s important?”  The simplest method, of course, is simply to ask.  If you’ve ever looked at a research questionnaire, chances are you’ve seen something like this:

When considering purchasing [X/Y/Z Product] from [A/B/C Company], how important to you is each of the following?

Stated Importance

This concept, generally known as Stated Importance, is one of the oldest and most used techniques in all of marketing research.  It’s easy to understand and evaluate, allows for a massive number of features to be evaluated (I’ve seen as many as 150), and the reporting is quick.  It produces a ranked list of all features, from 1 to X, giving seemingly clear guidelines on where to focus marketing efforts.  Right?

Well, now hold on.  Imagine you have a list of 40 features.  What incentive is there to say something isn’t important?  Perhaps “Information Security” is a 10, whereas “Price” is a 9.  But if everyone evaluated the list that way, you’d find that almost all of the features were “important.”  In fact, I’ve found this to be common across industries, products, audiences – you name it.  While you can still rank them 1 – 40, there’s little differentiation between the features, and you’ve just spent a big chunk of research money with little to show for it.

By the way, these two features (“Information Security” and “Price”) are, in my experience, two aspects that almost every research study includes, and which virtually always come up as being highly important.  So, using a stated measure only, one might conclude that the best features to communicate to your customers are security and costs.

Now, let’s consider the other general way of measuring importance: Derived Importance.  There are many methods to measure derived importance, but they all involve one general rule: they look for a statistical relationship between a metric, like stated importance, and a behavior – common ones include likelihood to purchase or brand advocacy.  You might use the same question as above, but instead of using a 1 – 40 ranking based on what consumers say, you could instead look for a relationship between what they say is important and their likelihood to purchase your product.

That brings us back to the question of “account security” and “price.”  We know from our discussion of stated importance that most consumers will score these very highly.  But check out what tends to happen when we look at derived importance (using an example from an auto insurance company):

stated and derived importance

The chart above is something every marketer and advertiser on the planet has probably seen 1,000 times, so bear with me.  On the vertical, or y-axis, we have our derived importance score, the statistical relationship between importance and likelihood to purchase, advocate, or whatever other behavior might be appropriate depending on where you are in your marketing funnel.  On the horizontal, or x-axis, I’m showing stated importance, or how important consumers said these features were when purchasing from Auto Insurance Company X (all of these numbers are made up, but you get the idea).

You’ll see that, as expected, information security and price perform very well on the stated measure, but low on the derived measure.  What we can infer, then, is that while most of the consumers interviewed in this made-up study say information security and price are very important, these features don’t have a strong relationship to the behavior we want to encourage.  These are commonly known as table stakes, or features that everyone says are important but don’t really connect to purchase, advocacy, and the like.

But since the third feature, offering a tool for calculating liability, has a much stronger relationship to our behavioral measure, what we can infer is that while fewer consumers said this was important, those that did view it as important are the most likely to purchase from or advocate for Auto Insurance Company X.  So if you had to pick one of these three features on which to hang your marketer’s hat, we’d recommend the tool for calculating liability – since it’s our job as marketers to figure out what’s going to encourage the behaviors we want, and then communicate that to our customers.

I hope this discussion has lent you some knowledge you can pass along to your clients, internal partners, fellow consultants, friends and whomever else.  There are many ways to calculate derived importance, and many clever techniques that improve on traditional stated importance (like Maximum-Difference Scaling or Point Allocations).  But if you take one thing from this post, let it be this – in this crazy, tech-driven world we live in, simply asking what’s important just isn’t enough anymore.

Nick is a Project Manager with CMB’s Financial Services, Insurance & Healthcare Practice.  He enjoys candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach, and averaging-over-orderings regression.

match.com case study

Speaking of romance, have you seen our latest case study on how we help Match.com use brand health tracking to understand current and potential member needs and connect them with the emotion core of the leading brand?

Topics: methodology, product development, research design

Key Questions for Insurers in Wake of Supreme Court Decision

Posted by Amy Modini

Mon, Jul 02, 2012

Obamacare and health insurersAlong with millions of Americans-patients,doctors,lawyers and, politicians-health insurers also waited with bated breath for last week's Supreme Court’s ruling on health reform. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the basic provisions of the law, health insurers face the challenge of understanding how traditional markets will be impacted by the individual mandate and implementation of health insurance exchanges.  

Even with the ruling, there is still much that remains unknown about the law’s impact, and significant uncertainty about how the law will be enforced in each state.  But there are still critical questions insurers must consider now as they adapt to a new era in health reform, including:
  • How will this ruling and the establishment of exchanges impact company revenue and profitability?  Are there ways to take advantage of this ruling and increase company margins and revenues?

  • How do we compete effectively in an open exchange?  If price is the key criteria to consumer decision making, is there a way to minimize its influence and yet be successful?

  • Is there a need to re-examine the existing client base beyond the traditional demographics? Will an alternate classification help create a competitive advantage?

  • How do we move beyond the traditional employer sponsored channel?  How can we take advantage of technological shifts?

  • How relevant is the present communication strategy? Is there an opportunity to approach the future in a new, cohesive way that complements the product and distribution strategy?

Addressing these questions and mitigating the coming challenges will not be easy; surviving and flourishing in a changing market requires a truly new and innovative approach. We believe insurers must:

  • Reconsider how they approach product development – the insurers who will be successful in this new reality will be those who are able and willing to stretch boundaries of what insurance products look like to meet the needs of the customers, including offering supplemental insurance, wellness programs, incentives and monetary gains for meeting health goals, etc.

  • Go beyond traditional ways of looking at the market – motivations, attitudes, goals, and behaviors will become as, if not more, important to understanding and effectively messaging to insurance customers. Alternate classification of consumers could help insurance companies underwrite consumers in a more effective and efficient manner.  This could be especially advantageous for smaller insurance companies that cannot compete solely on price; perhaps it is time to start looking at a niche strategy. For a more detailed look at alternative market segmentation for health insurance, read our white paper: A New Approach to Segmentation for the Changing Insurance Industry.

  • Embrace the leaps in technology – insurers must explore the possibility of reaching consumers directly (internet, smartphone, etc.), and simplifying the purchasing process.  A simple product lineup with an easy buying process can go a long way in increasing an insurer’s favorability rating.

  • Consider a new messaging strategy – the health industry’s transition is a great time to consider resetting the existing image. Great products and great service need great messaging.  What are the goals people are trying to achieve? What is it that truly motivates them? What is it that truly sets us apart and does it add value to our customers’ lives? Is there a need to have specific messages to specific groups of consumers? Think about the answers to these questions. Insurers in the end must be able to convince consumers that they are partners in this journey and are mutually dependent on each other’s success.

Amidst all the uncertainty insurers are facing, we believe that to mitigate the uncertainties of the reform landscape, insurers will have to go back to the drawing board, rethink how they look at the market, engage in product development and address the fundamental goals of their customers. Insurers must recognize and leverage core capabilities that others cannot replicate. Competitive advantages stem from not one but from a series of strategic decisions. The correct mix of product, distribution, message and market coupled with inherent operational strengths (e.g., knowledge of a local market, ability to underwrite at low costs,  relationships with existing customers) can set insurers apart from competition and pave the way to long term success.

Posted by Amy Modini. Amy is an Account Director for CMB’s Healthcare Practice, when she gets the time she loves going to the beach with her two kids.

Topics: healthcare research, product development, health insurance research, market strategy and segmentation

The Big Idea: Product Sampling in the 21st Century Marketplace

Posted by Meg Gerbasi and Scott Motyka

Thu, Nov 10, 2011

This blog is first in a series, from CMB's Meg Gerbasi and Scott Motyka, exploring the latest in market research methods.

red wineImagine that you are given a glass of merlot at a wine tasting. You swirl the glass and breathe in the aroma, immediately picking up oak and then hints of cherry and dark fruits. Now tasting it, you detect cherry, blueberries, and blackberries mixed in with a blackpepper tone. Later the sommelier tells you that the wine was produced in India. Would you be surprised if we told you that you’d be more likely to buy a bottle of this Indian wine than if it was from Italy? Today we discuss a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Consumer Research by researchers Keith Wilcox, Anne Roggeveen, and Dhruv Grewal of Babson College.The Big Idea

Have you figured out why learning the Merlot was from India (instead of Italy) after tasting it would make you like it more? Wilcox and his team say they have the answer, but it’s a little complicated. When given product information prior to tasting, favorable information leads to more enjoyment of the product, but when product information is provided after sampling, favorable product information will lead to less enjoyment of the product.

This is counterintuitive, so let’s unpack it carefully. When given information about a product before you sample it, the information colors your experience of the product. When you taste something you expect to be enjoyable, for example, an expensive Italian wine, you actually enjoy the product more than if it were something you would expect to be less enjoyable, say, an inexpensive Indian wine. These findings aren’t new, several studies have shown similar results – Coke tastes better from a cup with a Coca-Cola logo, people enjoy movies more if they know they have good reviews, and drinks taste better when they’re purchased at full price.

Journal of Consumer Research 01What got us excited here at CMB were the results of what happens if you give a consumer product information after they’ve sampled your product – the results reverse!  That rich, fruity red with the silky smooth finish somehow doesn’t seem so great when you find out it’s $200 a bottle, does it? But it tastes even better when you find out that it is a Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck.”  Wilcox explains that when we sample an experiential product that excites our senses causing an emotional reaction (think food, movies, music) it forms an immediate impression. The product information provided after sampling is used as a measuring stick of our initial impressions, causing favorable information to actually diminish our enjoyment of the product (“I expected a $200 bottle of wine to taste better”).

A 21st Century Marketing Strategy?

What does this mean to market researchers out in the real world? As opportunities to demo video games, listen to music samples, and watch movie previews before purchase increases through internet, mobile, and OTT TV (e.g., Hulu) channels, this research has exciting potential to inform our digital marketing methodology. Through careful examination of both the impact and timing of the product information we communicate, we can maximize the digital experiences of our customers.  Should you provide your brand image, product name, or price at the beginning or end of a video game ad, before or after a person listens to a 30 second music clip? It depends. If you’re marketing a well-known brand or band, such as Call of Duty or the Beatles, you’d be better to let your customer know right off instead of leaving them hanging. If you’re trying to break into a new market, establish your brand, or present a relatively low-cost product, let the ad convert your potential customers first. In summary, this study reinforces the critical importance of companies to “hear” the voice of their customers through market research.

Posted by CMB researchers Meg Gerbasi and Scott Motyka. Meg holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton and specializes in the study of self-interest, psychometric validation, intergroup conflict, and decision making.  She has a passion for the color pink and the musical stylings of Lady Gaga. Scott is doctoral candidate in psychology at Brandeis University, his affinity for Lady Gaga is unknown.

Topics: methodology, product development