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June 21, 2022

A business expert at Arizona State University explains the process of reviewing products before they hit the shelves

Companies are constantly exploring new product concepts.

Sometimes, these concepts are left out before the product is mass-produced, for various reasons.

Then there are times when a product hits shelves, irritating consumers.

In a recent example, Walmart recalled the great-value Juneteenth ice cream, meant to celebrate the federal holiday. Commemorating the Emancipation of African American Slaves in the United States. Consumers didn’t have it: literally and figuratively. The company apologized and quickly listened to consumers, withdrawing the product from the shelves.

But this isn’t the first product bug you’ve likely read about, and it probably won’t be the last.

ASU News wanted to understand more about the strategy and review process for products that hit the market by enlisting the help of Charles (Bret) Giles, a professor of practice at Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business, whose areas of expertise include branding and marketing.

Charles (Brett) Giles

Question: Sometimes companies miss the mark on new products. How does this happen when so many eyeballs are on the product from development to marketing to release?

Answer: Most product launches fail. In fact, depending on your source, 70-95% of new products fail to reach viability.

Product management and the marketing process differ between companies, and some of the most important differences stem from when consumer feedback is provided in the process, as well as the type of feedback derived from these consumers.

When you break that down, companies that engage consumers in their processes late or not at all – and there are plenty of products that come out with no feedback whatsoever from the end users of the product – are more likely to encounter a situation where the label is overlooked and the launch is unsuccessful. On the contrary, those firms that engage the consumer early and often in the process are more likely to succeed, particularly when both qualitative and quantitative research are used to reveal product viability.

In other words, if the company interviews those people it intends to serve and becomes educated about what they need and want in their lives, the company can then see if the new product actually fulfills the “job” that the people “hire” you are doing. If so, the company can then use this information to create surveys that quantitatively measure a larger group of people of statistical significance.

Q: With social media, complaints seem to swell even more. How do companies decide when to withdraw a product because it is controversial/offensive? What is the threshold?

a: In general, inflating the message of the product from consumers is welcomed by marketers, as it expands any promotional work that the company itself may do and at the same time is more credible. This means that when a product considered offensive or controversial is released, the same thing can happen in a negative way for the company.

But is it necessarily negative, or is it a way of learning, taking immediate action, and pledging to do better next time? A recall time for a non-sensitive or offensive product does not depend on a formula. It comes from a company that recognizes that the product is incompatible, not only with the values ​​of consumers, but also with the values ​​of the company itself. The decision to withdraw a product should be very easy, but just as people differ in their effectiveness at apologizing for insensitive remarks, so do brands and companies.

If we look at Walmart and their response to the Juneteenth ice cream flavor they provided inappropriately, they were prompt, took full responsibility and offered immediate action. This is really all the people on social media who would reasonably expect from a company, even if these people continue to discuss it negatively in open forums. But usually, if the apology is real and not practical, people respond accordingly and it’s far from a social media conflict quickly.

Continuing with this example, this course of action should have been an easy decision for Walmart because it fits perfectly with who they are as a company. More than 21% of Walmart’s workforce is black and African American, and more than a third of its management are people of color. Years ago, they created the Center for Racial Equality and committed $100 million in donations to address racial disparities in the United States. In 2021, the year before the ice cream slip, they donated $14 million of this money to such organizations.

Basically, if a company knows what it stands for, it’s easy for it to look inward and admit its mistakes when social media influencers and users say they are. The action you would take at this point, if it was quick, genuine, apologetic, and acknowledgment of its own fault will usually go a mile in how the brand is viewed consistently with consumers.

s: What kind of checks and balances are there in companies to test whether a product will be well received or controversial? Is this process different, and is that part of the problem?

a: Most companies complete some type of consumer testing before launching a product or product extension – another product within the same brand or group of products. This research can be qualitative or quantitative, or both, depending on the importance of the product to the company as a whole. In most research, a company may be interested in selecting the right product for the market; That is, how well consumers receive the product and change their current behavior to experience it. If research shows that a product will not be well-received for a number of reasons, the company may reconsider the product before offering it, cancel the product entirely or continue to release the product regardless of the results of the research.

If research doesn’t ask the right questions in the first place or if a company chooses to ignore results they don’t want to hear, the checks and balances that come with consumer research are largely negated. Although I believe most companies do some sort of research before offering products, the quality and quantity of that research varies greatly, which can lead to products going through a process that they shouldn’t be offered in their current form.

I can add that sometimes the company does everything right but the product being offered still has an unexpected result. This is where a quick, genuine and action-oriented response by the company can really pay off.

s: How much would a company’s brand suffer if it released a controversial product and then had to recall it?

a: Brands frequently release products that they don’t make for one reason or another. One of these reasons may be that they are considered insensitive, inappropriate or unbiased to the consuming audience. If the brand then chooses to recall the product, then the fate of the brand really depends on a number of factors. How long did the company take to respond? Did they take action just because they were forced to by consumers? Did they apologize? Did it look like they walked away from the experience after they learned something and would make an effort to improve next time? Did their response sound frank and transparent? Did it come from a senior executive and did the employees support the company and its decision through their social media channels? Has the company taken the time to interact with major clients to learn from them?

There are other things to consider as well, but eventually many companies will make mistakes in their brand and product presentation. The mistake is easy to overlook and forget based on the company’s response. It was once said that “all PR is good PR”, and while I don’t think that’s true, I do believe that it’s human nature to forgive and move on if you feel overheard and if you feel real action is to come. The role of the brand is to listen closely and carefully when adding or launching new products, and then respond very quickly and decisively when your expectations do not match the realities of the market.

Top image courtesy of Pixabay

Jimena Garrison

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