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When “Innovation” Runs Amok

Fast Company posted an interesting infographic from the folks at Help Remedies documenting the insanity that is the pharmacy, specifically the headache medication aisle. The article explains:

Each of the myriad offerings laid out, whether its gel-caps or something else, was intended to produce a slight edge on a tightly packed, insanely competitive store shelf where virtually identical products can be found just an inch away. As drug makers compete for more and more differentiation, what you get is simply overwhelming. An innovation process that started with the original intention of offering better products leads to anoverall product experience that’s horrible.

Which immediately reminded me of a quote I found when I was working on that innovation presentation. It’s from a very good Harvard Business Review article from 1980 titled “Managing Our Way to Economic Decline”:

Inventors, scientists, engineers, and academics, in the normal pursuit of scientific knowledge, gave the world in recent times the laser, xerography, instant photography, and the transistor. In contrast, worshippers of the marketing concept have bestowed upon mankind such products as new- fangled potato chips, feminine hygiene deodorant, and the pet rock….

I don’t think it’s quite this simple, but the ebb and flow of markets like this is really interesting. Help’s take is that you need less choice, not more, and they seek to simplify the conversation. But clearly at some point the conversation was simple (it had to start somewhere). I wonder where the turning point is in a category: When does the variety of products for different use-cases start to hurt overall sales? Or maybe it doesn’t, maybe all the specialized products only serve to strengthen the leading brand when confused consumers turn to what they know. (I’m sure someone with experience in this sort of CPG knows the answer to it.)

November 3, 2011 // This post is about: , , ,


  • harris says:

    A few thoughts:
    Everyone is unique. They have their requirements and need them met. A brand having so many products enables the consumer to have their one “custom” product and to feel understood. That feeling will bring loyalty.
    Once the consumer knows *their* product, it doesn’t matter how crowded the shelf, as long as they can get theirs.
    The problem is at the beginning, when the consumer doesn’t know *their* product. The consumer needs a matchmaker. In the past, store employees would fill that need, but that level of service doesn’t seem to exist anymore. It can easily be done with a phone app or a kiosk. A “personal” service, while collecting data, of course.
    Last comment: The difference between Excedrine Extra Strength, Excedrine Migraine and Excedrine Menstrual Complete is the colour of the packaging.

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