Amidst all the hype and razzmatazz that characterises the business of marketing, it is easy to forget about the item that sits at the centre of it all – the product.
OK, so products are getter better all the time, even skunky beer is a thing of the past – so it’s easy to see how the product gets taken for granted. But we should never forget that ultimately consumers buy products, not the wrapping – they want products that do the job and do it reliably, over time they expect to see product improvements. In spite of all the progress made in production technology and quality assurance, all products are not equal.
If the evidence in the annual Which? magazine car owner survey is to be believed, I am still much more likely to experience top class vehicle reliability with a Japanese auto than with any European offering (and that includes Germany).
So if product is central to the offer, logically we should be paying more attention to that underrated old war horse of the market research industry – the product test.
Which brings me to my point.
Not all product tests are equal, any more than the products they are assessing. As with products, the finesse and technical robustness of product tests has improved over time. But one element of the process remains curiously vulnerable to human weakness – the selection (& preparation) of the products for testing.
I have spent a substantial amount of my professional life working on beer brands, and as a committed consumer of the product myself I was always fascinated to see the outcome of a product test.
Over time I noticed that in these tests the client product seemed to perform best on a suspiciously large number of occasions. So I asked around and discovered that while competitor product was typically sourced from a wholesaler (and so not especially fresh), the client product was hand picked straight from the brewery by the production people (who obviously wanted to show what they could do). So what we were testing was the sourcing procedure, not the product.
While I cannot be certain I strongly suspect that this error – let us call it ‘selection and presentation bias’ – exists in many tests, that pitch factory sourced client product against distributor sourced competitor product.
In some cases the error can be reinforced at the preparation/ presentation stage – a development chef employed by the company is going to make a better job of cooking/presenting the company product than he is with a competitor product.
So, the moral of the story for all FMCG marketers:
- Never forget the product
- Keep a close eye on the status of your product against its competitors
- Keep a close eye on your product testing procedure – watch out for human-induced error
- Product is (still) king