In one of his chapters, Gladwell uses the age-old marketing story of the birth of New Coke back in the mid-80s. In summary, Pepsi was gaining market share, they were running taste tests showing how Pepsi was preferred over Coke, and Coke knew they had to do something fast. In fact, they even ran their own taste tests only to discover the same results.
So New Coke was born. I think it lasted something like 87 days before Coca-Cola Classic was born/reborn. It also soon became a marketing classic of almost limitless reference for just about anything you want to illustrate. But I digress . . . .
Gladwell points out that, in the midst of wondering what in the world went wrong with New Coke, marketers and researchers overlooked one simple fact: when you drink a soft drink, you don’t sip it out of a Dixie cup like you do in a taste test. You gulp it, slam it, enjoy it with a meal . . . you get the picture.
If you just sip something, most of us favor the sweeter taste (which in this case was Pepsi). But if you drink a glass of something, most of us think the sweetness becomes overbearing, and the less sweet drink becomes favorable in “real life situations.”
And that became a glaring idea behind why New Coke soon became Old Coke – it never really was an issue with taste, just with taste tests.
The point here is a specific one: if you do taste tests, do a full test, not a sample. In my days at AdvoCare, I feel like I made this mistake on two very specific occasions. Over a year’s span, the company launched two drink mixes that packed more vitamins and minerals in them than you could find at a farmer’s market on a Saturday morning. They were nutrient-rich, convenient and great for people who don’t like pills. (By the way, it appears they’ve already discontinued one of them – SORRY!)
And, according to our taste tests from little Dixie cups, they tasted pretty good.
However, my taste buds told me another story the first time I had a complete serving of the products. It was great that they had so many minerals in them, but minerals are hard to make taste good. And the distinct flavor of them overpowered the rest of the drink to where it was a real chore for me to get them down. I found myself opting for the pills over the drink.
So did a lot of people, and sales never really took off for either product. It’s been a regret of mine for some time now to be so nonchalant about the testing.
Learn from on this one – sample at a real size, or over a normal time frame, or in a realistic situation. Bite-size feedback ends up biting back.
p.s. You’ve gotta read Sergio Zyman’s The End of Marketing as We Know It for the full scoop on the New Coke story (and for a great marketing read)