Demand Validation – Don’t stop with what is easy, available and fits your hypothesis

As days get hotter, customers line up at Good Humor ice cream trucks only to be disappointed to find that their favorite ice cream, Toasted Almond Bar, is no more available. Truck after truck, customer after customer, similar story. Customers cannot believe the truck  does not any more carry their favorite product. (Full story here)

What is wrong with the business that does not know its own customers and their needs?

Why are they refusing to heed the validation they get from the ice cream trucks (their distribution channel) who are outside the corporate building and with the customers?

This is not because Unilever that owns the Good Humor brand is not customer centric but because it is looking at aggregate customer demand, not just handful of customer inputs. These anecdotes about disappointed customers are just that, anecdotes and do not provide demand validation.

One, two,…, hundred people walking up and demanding a product is not enough. When Unilever looks at its flavor mix, the hero of this story is actually the least popular, bringing in only 3% of the sales. Their data shows that the almond bar is popular only in Northeast especially among grown-ups (see footnote on segmentation).

Talking to handful of grownups from Northeast, just because these were the only ones available (like talking to few people in Coupa cafe in Palo Alto) is not demand validation.  These anecdotes can only help you frame better hypothesis about about customer needs and not proof for the hypothesis itself.

Even if you were to pick 100 grownups from Northeast (good enough sample size that will provide 95% confident answer at 10% margin of error),  you are going to end up with wrong answer about your customers. (Because you are not doing random sampling from your entire target segment.)

When it comes to demand validation do get out of the building. But when you return don’t go building almond bars because a few grownups in your Northeast neighborhood (or others at a boot-camp ) said so. You have some serious market analysis work to do.


Note on Segmentation: ‘Grownups in Northeast’ is not a segment. This is a measure of their customer mix. We still do not know why these people love this specific flavor.