Wednesday, May 14, 2008

selling soap for a living.

i often describe my job (dumbed down) to "selling soap."
before i moved far, far away, my pseudo-marketing job in the US had me selling shampoo (to soccer moms). as you can imagine, when distilled down to something as simple as that, one begins to wonder the value they're realy bringing to the world (beyond the company motto of "Touching Lives, Improving Life"). that all changed when i moved to Asia.

while there, i found myself working on (mostly) developing markets (Philippines, India, etc) in "Fabric Care"...selling soap (contrary to popular belief, there are not a lot of "soccer moms" there, but she does send just as many SMS's as an American teen girl). one of the products i got to work on was the launch of Downy Single Rinse (DSR, seen left). what's the big deal here? well read an excerpt from a recent Fortune article on P&G (which highlights the very first launch of DSR in Mexico) to see if you can figure it out:

"In the early 2000s the Mexican market share for Downy fabric softener was low and stagnant. P&G wasn't sure what could be done about it, since the assumption was that people who didn't have modern washing machines didn't use softener. Not wanting to compromise the Downy brand by dropping the price too much, P&G decided to try to come up with something specific to the needs of the lower-income consumer.

One of the things P&G people notice - often to their shock - by Living It and similar experiences was the problem of water. Before the Europeans arrived in the 16th century, Mexico City was surrounded by a lake; now the metropolis is parched. Suspicion of drinking water is high. Carlos and Marta buy bottled water, as do a large proportion of families who make much less than they do. Millions of rural women still lug buckets back from wells or communal pumps. In the cities, many have running water for only a few hours a day. Most homes do not have fully automatic washing machines; even fewer have dryers. All this makes doing the laundry a seriously draining chore.

At the same time, lower-income Mexican women take laundry very, very seriously. They cannot afford to buy many new clothes, but they take great pride in ensuring that their family is turned out well. Sending your children to school in clean, ironed clothing is a visible sign of being a good mother. On Marta's wooden shelves and hangers, every single item, from jeans and T-shirts to Carlos's suits, is tautly ironed - and she is the rule, not the exception.
P&G found that Mexican women spend more time on laundry than on the rest of their housework combined. More than 90% use softener, even women who do some or all of their laundry by hand.

'By spending time with women, we learned that the softening process is really demanding,' recalls Antonio Hidalgo, P&G brand manager for Downy Single Rinse at the time of its debut in March 2004. A typical load of laundry went through the following six-step process: wash; rinse; rinse; add softener; rinse; rinse. No problem if all this is just a matter of pressing a button every once in a while. But it's no joke if you are doing the wash by hand or have to walk half a mile to get water. Even semiautomatic machines require that water be added and extracted manually. And if you get the timing wrong, the water supply might run out in the middle. 'The big aha!' says Paz Soldán, was discovering how valuable water was to lower-income Mexicans. 'And we only got that by experiencing how they live their life.'

Putting it all together, P&G knew that Mexican women liked to use softener; they had high standards for performance; and doing the laundry was arduous and time consuming, and required large amounts of water. These ideas were put through the wringer, as P&G launched the kind of large-scale quantitative research it is known for. They stood up to the scrutiny.

Having identified a problem (making laundry easier and less water-intensive), P&G turned to the labs for an answer. Their solution: Downy Single Rinse. Instead of a six-step process, DSR reduced it to three - wash, add softener, rinse saving enormous time, effort, and water.

Launched in 2004, DSR was a hit from the start. Hidalgo recalls when he told one mother he had worked on DSR, her face lit up. 'She thanked me,' he says, with satisfaction, 'and asked me to please bring more of these kinds of products to her life.' Hidalgo is, of course, trying to do just that. "
so that's it in a nutshell. replace "Mexico" with "the Philippines" and you can understand the product launch i was working on. we were gearing up to sell a product that would HALVE the amount of water that a woman in the Philippines was using. when you consider the income of an above average family in the Philippines (2 adults, and 4 kids, with likely just the husband working) makes 6500 pesos/month (~$150 USD), and recognize that our consumer base is well below average, halving the amount of water makes a significant difference in her life (for more perspective, see previous entry from the Philippines in Sept'07, where i actually had some consumer visits in the lower income areas).

so in the case of selling soap in Asia (this wasn't a matter of selling her on using a Fabric Softener, she already was to make her clothes last longer), i was selling her a product that could save her, time, water, and ultimately money, thus making her life better. and THAT's what counts.

but now that i'm back in the US, i'm back to soccer moms.


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:15 AM

    Great post man - it is a struggle sometimes to justify one's life in a corporate world... but there are moments right? For me it was helping out on Katrina when my suppliers took a dive - my old company just let me stay out there & got me a helicopter to go out & help ppl. Which is what we all want to do, right?

    Cheers mate,


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