What Job Is Your Customer Hiring Your Product For? SunChips Bags Recall

Second time in as past two years Pepsico had to withdraw its much advertised package redesign. While the Tropicana package design rollback last year was due to aesthetic reasons, the recent SunChips package rollback was due to misalignment in what is relevant to the customer and what the brand managers thought was relevant.

The SunChips packaging was a great innovation and fit very well with its Brand essence – being Green and Eco-Friendly.  The chips are cooked with steam from solar energy. It was only a natural progression to take the Green to the bag itself. Instead of the regular and universal plastic bag, the new bags are made out of biodegradable plant material.

For the segment they are targeting, it is very relevant and I believe their customer research must have found a clear preference for the new bag and an improvement in brand perception of SunChips. Except in the market place it led to big outcry and big drop in sales, ultimately leading to Pepsi’s decision to rollback.

Chip eaters are griping about the loud crackling sounds the new bag makes. Some have compared it to a “revving motorcycle” and “glass breaking.” It is louder than “the cockpit of my jet,” said J. Scot Heathman, an Air Force pilot, in a video probing the issue that he posted on his blog under the headline “Potato Chip Technology That Destroys Your Hearing.”

Focus groups and carefully constructed surveys help identify stated preferences of customers. Test markets and in-store studies help identify revealed preferences on purchase decisions. While they meticulously measured customers’ stated and revealed preferences, they most likely did not follow the customer in their natural habitat where they ate their bag of chips. Only observing them in real world using the product will help identify “What job the customer is hiring the product for?”

Green credentials are great and the desire to snack eco-responsibly is there, but when they had to pick between snacking discretely vs. being Green, the former turned out to be more important. While PepsiCo tried to position the new bag as more Green, customers were hiring the product as a snack that they don’t have to be embarrassed about.

This is also a caution for those looking at studies that find customers are willing to pay price premium for Green. Those studies are based on stated preference and not based on actual customer behavior.

What is relevant to your customers? What job are they hiring your product for?

See also:

  1. Positioning Your Product
  2. 8 Steps to Product Positioning
  3. Pepsi in India Positioned Right
  4. Pepsi’s Tropicana Creative Packaging for Price Realization (this did not lead to recall)
  5. Price Premium for Green

What Job Will Your Customers Hire Your Products For?

When marketers narrowly define their product(service) and its end use it is very easy to declare that the product is unique with no competition whatsoever. True, there may not be a competition that offers a product that is similar to yours but the customers may have many alternatives that render your product useless. Customers could be more than happy to live by without your product.

Instead of looking for similar products and how to position your product features you need to ask the question, “What job will your customers hire your brands for?” (Clayton Christensen). Answering this question helps you see what you are truly competing against, be it competing brand, other unrelated alternatives or simple customer apathy. Your messaging and positioning should be defined to address this final job. This is true whether you are a startup with the next social media application or a giant like Pepsi with billion dollar global market.

Let us take Pepsi’s case. Pepsi’s messaging for the US and European market reads, “Refresh Everything”. The messaging is not really about thirst, or encouraging use. It is more at an emotional level and less at utilitarian level. Even their previous messages were all defined at the emotional level (Drink Pepsi Feel Young, The Joy of Pepsi etc). They are positioning their brand to serve the job of making the customer “feel cool/young/hip”. The job the US/EU customers hiring Pepsi for is not quenching thirst. For this job Pepsi is not competing with water or milk but with Coke. The competition is clear and everything Pepsi does in these markets is aligned to gain advantage over this competitor.

But take the case of Pepsi in India – a marker with billion people that promises so much yet where most global brands are struggling. What is Pepsi’s competition in India? Coke? Local brands? Coke is struggling and many of the local brands were bought out or do not have the resource wherewithal of Pepsi. So can Pepsi declare it has no competition in India?

Their current messaging is less emotional and more utilitarian. Plastered across billboards and all newspapers are promotional Ads from local eateries. All these Ads offer “Free 200ml Pepsi” with a meal. All these Ads have the tag line, “Food tastes best with Pepsi”. What is Pepsi competing against? It is competing against tradition and a really powerful alternative – Water.

Customers in India prefer just plain water during their meals over any other beverage. Pepsi is not trying to get the customers to hire its brand over Coke but replace water. It wants the customers to fire water and hire Pepsi because,  “food tastes best with Pepsi” (let us ignore the veracity of this claim for the scope of this discussion).

Pepsi did not get this right the first time, its initial messaging in India was just a slight adaptation of the emotional messaging that worked in developed markets. However, in India , its fiercest competitor Coke turned out to be not its competition but plain old water. As Pepsi realized this its messaging and promotions are aligned to fight this competition.

Do you know your competitors?

Do you know what job your customers will your hire your products for?