Moving away from testing to learning can help product development

Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex brand is shifting from testing to learning research, which is steering its product development. The brand’s marketing director, Sophie Woodford, describes this as a move away from ‘cupcake research’.

Mindi Chahal

This doesn’t mean research about cupcakes, although that would be a tasty project to work on, it refers to a testing approach rather than learning from any brand insight.

For example, if marketers were using this approach they would provide cupcakes to a focus group and ask them what they like about it.

The group might say the icing and Woodford believes that this could lead to producing a cupcake that was 90 per cent icing because that is the result of the test group.

In reality, it’s about getting a balance and hearing what is being said about the product and taking it forward to learn and develop rather than going by what testing says works or doesn’t work.

Woodford says: “Insight isn’t a linear process, you have to gather from many different sources and build them together.”

The brand used this approach to launch a £2 million redesign of its range and to launch a new variant, Kleenex Sensitive.

A similar approach is being taken by Virgin Trains to launch a major advertising campaign, backed by a projected £28 million marketing spend over three years.

The brand undertook an ‘ideal customer experience project’ to identify the areas that need work, which involved intense analysis and research, including following people on journeys to learn about pain points.

The brand is introducing a new strapline, ‘Arrive Awesome’, which, I would argue, might have bombed in focus groups if Virgin Trains had tested its new campaign because it’s such a bold claim for a travel brand.

Research should be about learning and interpreting insight to better understand what the consumer need is and use that to develop products and services. Rather than to prove or disprove whether marketing campaigns resonate or if people like or dislike products to provide a reason to spend money on one aspect or another.


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