The commercial world is a choppy sea of complexity, where the clarity and momentum behind new product launches can be easily lost in a fog of doubt, data and process.
Too often, companies allow the essence of a new idea to be swamped by the sheer volume of research it’s generated and the internal structure formed around it. Many companies, big and small, become preoccupied by what it is they’ve made, the technology that made it all possible, what they should charge for it to hit their targets.
One of the most valuable roles a good agency can play is to encourage companies to take a step back from the detail and repeatedly return to the most important question of all: why.
Why does the new product matter? Why should people bother buying it? Why are you targeting this group of consumers over that one? Why do they care?
When you switch from what to why, things can change fundamentally. Suddenly the new product’s purpose is at the front of the client’s mind; it’s focused on the consumer rather than itself.
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it can take an impartial outsider to see through all the chatter. A shampoo company spends 99 per cent of its time thinking about shampoo; its consumer spends one per cent of their time thinking about it – if that. The way the brand interacts with them should respect that.
A good example of the potential benefits of this sort of approach is Spoon Sleep, who came to Spicefire rightfully excited about the amazing new technology it used to make its mattresses. The Spoon team wanted us to help them engage potential new consumers by telling this technology story. But we advised them to take a step back and think about why it mattered. No one outside the industry cares much about mattress technology – and it was already a very crowded market, full of competitors with their own clever innovations to shout about.
Instead, we started a conversation about why mattresses matter and why people’s beds are important to them. That conversation gave us a clearer idea of what a bed represents: it’s something to sleep on, to play on, to work on, to watch TV on. For studio apartment dwellers it might be the most significant piece of furniture they own. It’s so much more than a better mattress.
We settled on the idea of the bed as a Life Hub. We helped Spoon build a strategy around that concept, which ultimately informed the name of the product, its identity, photography style, patterns and color, the way it was packaged and marketed, its website…everything. And they’re now taking on ‘big mattress’ with a unique and friendly story that’s resonating with people.
People want to hear stories that are relevant, authentic and convincing. They don’t want to feel as though you’re just out to sell them something. By adopting this new approach, Spoon became something more than just another brand promoting itself. It became something more genuine.
Why: the pitfalls
Once the why-focused conversation is underway, people quickly see its value. But we all tend to wander back to what we know when we’re outside our comfort zones. So we find ourselves gently guiding clients back to the broader conversation.
And that conversation is never over. The fundamental questions must be revisited constantly – you can’t relax just because you’ve launched. On day one, what’s your new product’s first social media post going to be? And is your answer to that question going to be informed by a why or a what?
Another great example of a product with a strong ‘why’ story behind it is Peloton: a smart exercise bike that enables people to take part in virtual spin classes. It’s brimming with smart technology, but the company did a brilliant job of steering clear of that in favor of a beautifully told story about how this bike fits today’s lifestyles. Even beyond that, it understood and reflected the insight of the unique community that fuels the spin and cycling culture. It’s a story that people can instantly relate to and be inspired by and it helped to create what’s been described as a ‘cult’ of uber-devoted Peloton users.
Into the real world
Of course, it’s not solely about asking why. Brands should be encouraged to be agile and even to take the occasional well-judged risk. We’re prepared to make assumptions based on our decades of experience and to trust our instincts – both as marketers and as consumers (or better yet, as people!)
By being more inclined to lean into hypotheses and not get bogged down in theory, the business of creating starts sooner. It helps to leave behind the dry academic space more quickly and move into the real world. This approach appeals to entrepreneurial and start-up clients because it mirrors what they do. But it also appeals to bigger companies because they’re trying to navigate the new landscape while also facing ever-increasing pressure to deliver more with less. Taking a step back from all that helps them approach their projects at a more human level.
The world is getting increasingly complex; mindsets are shifting quicker than ever. You can’t rely so much on data to deepen your human understanding – it’s more important than ever to observe the real world. To think of your consumer as a human with real wants and needs that reach beyond your product. To succeed, you must be brave, you must be agile, and you must be open to listening – to tap into deeper universal insights about people and trust your instincts about them.