When Better Is Not Better

by Paul Simister on April 13, 2011

Imagine how you would feel if your competitor started advertising the fact that in blind tests (the brand names were hidden), a large proportion of people tested preferred their product to yours.

Ouch, that’s got to hurt.

Now imagine that you decide to repeat the tests so you can get the evidence to make your competitor withdraw the advertisements.

Horror of horrors, your blind tests confirm that people prefer your competitor’s product.

They weren’t lying but telling the truth.

What should you do?

The answer seems pretty obvious.

You need to improve to improve your product.

So you do.

And run more blind tests.

Your new product beats both your old product and more importantly, your competitor’s product.

Confident you have a winner you start a massive marketing campaign, withdraw the old product and launch the new.

But it’s a disaster.

Your customers complain and demand the old product (which was being rejected in taste tests) back.

You may have recognised the story.

It’s one of the best known marketing failures from one of the biggest brands in the world.

It’s the story of how Pepsi was preferred to Coca-Cola and caused the company to create and market New Coke.

And the old version was put back on sale 77 days later.

For more of the story see New Coke

I’ve got a number of points that I want to make about the New Coke fiasco.

First, a warning about market research that focuses on one customer attribute – in this case taste – but ignores the whole buying decision and experience. The question forces a conscious preference when much of the buying decision may be made unconsciously.

Second, Coca-Cola’s marketing had set themselves up for a fall. They’d spent a fortune on advertising to convince consumers that Coca-Cola was the real thing and then they took it away. No wonder there was a strong emotional attachment which created a huge sense of loss and outrage.

Third, the controversy sent Coca-Coal’s sales through the roof. it totally reinvigorated the brand in a way that’s difficult to see how any marketing strategy or tactic could have done. Very embarrassing for the top management but very rewarding for the shareholders.

It seems that better isn’t always better.

Preference is both complicated and fickle.

That’s why I believe you should aim to be different.

Paul Simister is a business strategy coach who helps small business owners to profit from differentiating their businesses, being distinctive in the eyes of their customers and standing out in a crowded marketplace.

You too can move past your profit tipping point (free report) by answering the seven big questions of business success.

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