How social media is like spaghetti sauce

Malcolm Gladwell explains the secret to sauce, but what’s that got to do with #socialbiz? LotsTweet: http://ctt.ec/7ni05+

I watched this TED talk with Malcolm Gladwell the other day. In it he talks about research that was done by psychophysicist Howard Moscowitz, specifically about some research Moscowitz did on consumer preferences for Pepsi and Prego spaghetti sauce.

When Moscowitz told Pepsi they should be looking not for the “Perfect Pepsi” but the “Perfect Pepsis” it was initially lost on us. As marketers we are often focused on the end goal, to make our product appealing to consumers.

To be brutally honest, our goal is often to make consumers see the value in our product and not someone else’s, and we want to narrow the product line to the one thing everyone universally wants, right?

That’s the wrong approach 
Consumers have much more diverse tastes than we think (or maybe want) them to have. Trying to create one product that appeals to everyone is not the best for everyone at all.

When Gladwell talks about the research for Prego tomato sauce it all makes sense
In researching the perfect tomato sauce for the American palate, Moscowitz and his team created 45 variations of spaghetti sauce and took it to consumers. The consumers taste tested and rated the sauces. At the end of the process he discovered that rather than a shapely bell curve, he had several clusters of information showing that Americans liked their sauce in 3 main groups; plain, spicy and chunky. Not only was this news to Prego, it was news to the entire industry. One third of the US market wanted chunky tomato sauce and it wasn’t even on the supermarket shelves! When Prego released a chunky sauce they took over the market. Simply listening to what the consumers wanted let to a huge product breakthrough. Over the next 10 years they made over $600 million on extra chunky tomato sauce. Ragu quickly followed suit and now they have 36 varieties of spaghetti sauce on the shelves. The food industry started to market varieties more and one-taste-fits-all products less.

What’s that got to do with social networks?
Lots. See, here’s the thing. We often look at social networks with blinders on. We like one network more than the others because we’ve gotten good responses there or we are more comfortable in that user interface. Over and over I hear marketers and sales people say “My market just doesn’t use that network”. But do they really know? Probably not.

We craft the perfect message to our own ears, not the ears of the consumer. We “know” what we want them to think and the action we want them to take, and often our messaging is created in a vacuum, written exclusively for our own internal audience.

The other telling bit of this video was when people are asked what kind of coffee they like, they invariably come back with “A deep rich flavorful dark roast”, but we know from watching the market that a goodly portion of people really want a thin, mellow, milky drink at the coffee house! Some with added flavors and sweeteners to the point you can barely recognize the source, and that’s OK, that’s what the market wants and not what the coffee roaster may have envisioned.

In focus groups people say what they think the marketer wants to hear, or will enhance their pubic facing persona, but if we listen to them talking among themselves, as social media enables us, we may find a completely different story.

Bottom line
Marketers used to say people didn’t know what they wanted, they needed to be told what they wanted. Those old school methods are no longer valid.

We need to ask better questions of our market to find out what kind of conversations they want to have with us and where they want to have them.

We need to learn better how to communicate with our consumer and find out what it is exactly that they want and be willing to accept it may be something completely different than what everyone else thinks they want.

I guarantee you that if you search for mentions of your product, your competitor’s product, or, even better, the need your product fills, you’ll find a wealth of information you can use to make your product serve your customers better. Who knows, with a more mindful social approach maybe you’ll have a chunky sauce epiphany and change your entire industry!