Are you selling detergent, lifestyle or clean clothes?

Caldrea-Laundry-Detergent-LifestyleHere is a nice answer to question of environmental impact of our consumptions. The article link is from The Christian Science Monitor (and thanks to Joe Senft)

e360: How do you think about the tension between growing a business and lightening our collective environmental footprint?

Lowry: I think the answer is moving from products of consumption to products of service. Ultimately we need to get to close to zero resources used in order to get the job done, in order to be truly sustainable. But for me that is not a business that depends on selling more and more liquid no matter how concentrated. It’s a business that makes money every time somebody’s clothes get clean. It’s probably a format where a laundry detergent lives in a washing machine. When dirty, soapy water comes out of the back of the machine, the soap and the water get separated from the dirt and the soap and the water go back in the front of the machine and the dirt that comes out is compost. And we would get a little fee for the usage of the detergent.

This is a great thought and it mirrors what Ted Levitt wrote about customers buying holes vs. drill bits. You can also see the parallel to the newer “Customer Job to be done” metaphor. That is customers have a need to fill or a job to be done. It is that need/job marketers should focus on and build offerings that do that job far better than alternatives.

In that context you can see what Adam Lowry means by selling detergent vs. selling clean clothes. Customers are hiring detergents to get cleaner clothes. That is the primary job for detergents. And he suggests getting a fair share of the value created  in the form of service fee vs. price for detergent. This is very concise and cogent description of what customers want, why they hire products and how marketer gets paid.

Then Lowry goes on to suggest a technology that can achieve the end goal. That is not as important. Technology and service innovations can offer any number of ways to fill the primary need of clean clothes.

That said let us not forget that customers do not buy products for just one reason. A product won’t be hired in the first place if it does not do the first order job better than alternatives. But  first order jobs, like cleaner clothes, is table stake. A product is never hired for just one reason.  It is  hired for a basket of  reasons. Here is a quote from 1967 issue of Journal of Industrial Economics,

First, he tries to identify these desires. To do this he now has all the aids of marketing research. If he only researches into which detergent the consumer considers to wash cleanest, he may miss the fact that the consumer now also wants her detergent to be pleasantly perfumed.

Detergents as consumption products are not just about clean clothes. It was perfumes in 1967 but it is lot more than that these days.  Thanks to marketing magic these detergent brands have become lifestyle brands. Clean clothes have become utilitarian job and premium brands are hired for higher order jobs they promise to do.

Thinking of detergent as providing cleaner clothes is great ‘Job to be done” thinking, but it will be successful in the market only if it can address some or all of the higher order needs. Unless of course the marketer changes the reference with positioning,  may be appealing to greener motives is the new higher order job, and that explanation is for another day.