Writing Concepts As If Guided by Voices

There was a great article a few months back from the Associated Press regarding the steps that P&G went through to introduce Tide Pods, liquid detergent-filled pods designed to take the messiness out of doing laundry.  According to the article, to develop and launch Tide Pods required:

  • Eight years
  • 450 product sketches
  • 6,000 consumer tests
  • Hundreds of millions of dollars of investment from P&G

To be clear, I have no first-hand knowledge of the development work that was done, nor do I know if Tide Pods will be successful (though I’m betting with a $150 million dollar marketing campaign it will be).  Heck, I barely know how to do laundry.  But what I do know is what differentiates Tide Pods from most of the new product ideas that cross my desk.

Early Concept Success Indicators

In predicting concept success, we often talk with clients about the RED measures – Relevance, Expensiveness and Differentiation.  We know from our research on research that they correlate highly with in-market sales.  The RED measures form the backbone of our validated forecasting model. However, there’s an acronym that I believe is almost as indicative of in-market success – TLC, Tender Loving Care.

Let me describe a typical Thursday within Ipsos InnoQuest, Ipsos’ specialization devoted to innovation and forecasting research (I know, a shameless plug for the division in which I work).

Our client service teams come into the office and open up their e-mails expecting to see the concepts that are set to go into field on Friday.  But not only has the postman not rung twice, he hasn’t even rung once.

The client service people quickly put out an APB on the missing concepts, and after a flurry of e-mail activity, maybe a couple of phone calls, the concepts arrive just under the 3 PM deadline for getting them to our scripting department. We quickly dash them off to our operations group, so they can complete online programming.

After the mad scramble, when we finally have the luxury of reviewing the concepts and beginning to think about reporting, what we often see is a maddening sense of what might have been.  We see concepts that could have been great, but didn’t quite make it there in the rush to hit deadlines.  It’s in stark contrast to the more measured approach described in the article as it relates to Tide Pods.

The RED measures are extremely predictive, but sometimes I wonder if the number of hours spent developing a concept by a client wouldn’t be the single greatest predictor of in-market success.

I Don’t Count ‘Em, I Just Crank ‘Em Out

If you’re still with me at this point, it’s probably because you’re wondering what in the world “Concept Writing As If Guided by Voices” means, and how this is all going to miraculously come together.

For those of you who maybe made more productive use of the 1980s and 1990s than I did, Guided by Voices is an Ohio-based indie rock band that Mojo (humbly sub-titled “The Music Magazine”) calls “cult, low-fi heroes.”  The band is fronted by Robert Pollard, who according to The Agit Reader has released over 1,000 songs (Wikipedia says it’s over 1,500 songs, but it offends my sensibilities to cite Wikipedia).

Said Mr. Pollard in an interview, “I don’t count ’em, I just crank ’em out…”  And he can absolutely be a brilliant songwriter, as anyone who’s had the pleasure of listening to Hardcore UFOs or Glad Girls at ear-splitting volume will attest.  But with that many songs, written that quickly (depending on which number you believe, you’re talking upwards of 40+ songs per year), invariably there are a whole lot of stinkers in the bunch, too.

Mr. Pollard’s approach to writing songs in many ways parallels the approach we often take to writing concepts.  Good, bad or indifferent, our goal becomes not to achieve, but to finish.  Maybe we should heed the words of music critic Jim DeRogatis, when he says on the syndicated music show Sound Opinions in reviewing the latest Guided by Voices album, “[Robert Pollard] always wanted to make…one perfect album with 21 songs.  Why don’t you just do it, Bob?”

We have the ability to craft wonderful, appealing concepts.  Why don’t we just do it?

A Six Pack of Concepts

In fairness to Guided by Voices, I will say that some people (myself included) don’t mind our music, or our art, or our movies a little rough around the edges.  That unpredictability verging on sloppiness can absolutely provide an appealing aesthetic.

But with most other things in my house and in my life, I think I prefer a more fully developed solution.  Very seldom does my washer stop working, and I justify it by saying “Oh, that’s what the designer intended.”  Nor am I all that happy to open a pack of cookies and find three or four good ones and the others just filler, to reference another criticism of Guided by Voices from Mr. DeRogatis.

No, consumers have come to expect better in the products they purchase.  It’s one thing to say I cranked out a six pack of songs, one for each beer I drank.  I’m not sure a six pack of concepts is scruffy and endearing in quite the same way.

Which finally brings me back around to the Tide Pods example.  If a successful company like P&G – with a claimed 50% success rate for new products, versus an industry average of 15-20%, from the article cited previously – spends eight years developing a new laundry detergent, don’t our good ideas deserve just a bit more nurturing than we are giving them?

A good idea, poorly executed, will fail – same as a poor idea, well executed.  A successful concept requires both a good idea and proper execution.  Success of this nature can absolutely happen on a deadline, but it’s less likely to happen if you procrastinate right up until the deadline.