A Tale of Two Studies

The Set-Up

In a previous post, we introduced the concept of The ROI Triangle.  The 3 steps every insight needs to complete before it delivers an ROI:

  • - UNDERSTOOD
  • - ACCEPTED
  • - USED to drive action

We also talked about how insights get stuck inside The ROI Triangle, never to be used.  Haven’t read it yet?  Check it out here.

In this post, we’re taking that conversation one step further with a comparison of 2 complex studies from my days at Kimberly-Clark.  One from a Kleenex project where the insight got stuck in The ROI Triangle and the other from a U by Kotex project where the insight made it to market! 

Let’s go….

The Do-Over

This project was a new packaging graphics approach for the Kleenex brand.  The results of exploratory research early in the project were surprising, in a good way.  They provided groundbreaking inspiration for the graphics on the outside of the facial tissue box. I'm willing to bet you have some of those boxes in your house….the graphics haven’t changed a lot in the last few decades. 

The working team closest to the study was curious and had the opportunity to ask questions of the research supplier.  They got clarity on the new method used to uncover the insights and the new data itself.  This helped build their understanding and acceptance.  They were inspired and excited to use the insights to develop a new graphics strategy.   

So, how did it go off course? 

In a complex organization, there are a lot of stakeholders.  The next group to convince was the leadership team responsible for the business.  They had seen the initial presentation by the supplier and were willing to lean into the new insights. 

But, they were also nervous to move away from the “tried and true” approach that had been used for decades.  So, they asked for more traditional testing later in the process.

More Stakeholders….

The next hurdle was senior leadership responsible for the division.  You see, many brands have a history of screwing up packaging graphics.  Even though this change had nothing to do with the branding or product naming, a lot of people wanted to weigh in.

Branding Changes Gone Wrong

Original Tropicana package, arrow pointing to revised/disaster Tropicana packacing, arrow pointing to revised/returned Tropicana packaging

Read more about Tropicana here

By this time, the more traditional testing was complete.  It confirmed the new direction was good for the business with upside sales potential.  But, time with the senior leader was limited and the team didn’t have the opportunity to take him through the full insights story.  The further up the chain, the less detailed the information.  This leader asked for another round of follow-up research to confirm the new direction.

And a few more stakeholders….

Was that the last of the stakeholders?  Nope!  In the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry, sometimes the retailer gets to weigh in.  So, while the next round of research was being planned, presentations started with buyers at Costco, Walmart, and other retail chains.  Again, these presentations didn’t have the time or expertise in the room to go deep into the research. The new approach to graphics was called into question given the fear of change. 

Since everyone has experience with facial tissue boxes, everyone has an opinion about the graphics. Regardless of what the testing results indicated. 

How it ended

In this case, the sheer number of stakeholders who needed to get on board was too much to overcome. Each stakeholder came to the table with an existing hypothesis that differed from what the data showed. And the insights were never summarized into a succinct package that could be quickly and easily understood, then accepted by the extended universe of stakeholders.

The insight got stuck inside The ROI Triangle, never impacting consumers or driving sales. The new approach was shelved in favor of a more traditional approach that was less likely to disrupt the market.

The Success Story

Now let’s cover one that was equally complex, but DID make it to market.  This project was advertising for a new line of feminine care products to be launched under the U by Kotex brand.  Again, a surprising result came from the research and multiple stakeholders were involved in the decisions. 

In this project, five print ad concepts were shared with consumers in a qualitative research study.  The method used patented techniques to get beyond surface-level reactions and deeply understand how the ads were affecting people. Given the depth of the method, sample sizes were small.

The surprising finding from this study was that of the five concepts, only one was resonating with consumers.  And it was resonating very strongly.  Interestingly, it was a “flyer” concept that wasn't expected to stand out the way it did.  Here’s the ad inspired by that initial concept:

Yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley in Warrior 2 Pose with the headline, My Period Doesn't Stop Me

This research took place in 2016, right as Gen Z consumers were starting to be the focus of the feminine care category.  The ad hit on the insight we now understand clearly about Gen Z – that authenticity and being real matters.  A lot.  It’s table stakes for them.  And they reject the curated perfection made so popular by their Millennial predecessors. You can read more about that here.

There’s no better proof today than Tik Tok vs Instagram.  But this was 2016 and this result was shocking to the organization.

How did we complete The ROI Triangle and get this creative to market?

Again, the working team closest to the research was the first group to understand, accept and desire to use the research.  This team was all about breaking boundaries and was ready to jump in. 

The first hurdle was the leadership team for the business.  They had been close to the research and were leading a brand with a history of breaking boundaries and being “different”.  They agreed to pursue the concept further.

The next hurdle was the senior leader of the division.  He was concerned about the risk being taken, especially for the launch of a line of products for fitness.  Two things helped get him to understand, accept and ultimately support using the insights to drive the consumer-facing work.

1 - The research findings were summarized in a concise and compelling way, putting the focus on the attitudes and opinions of the 18 – 22-year-old female consumer.  They were easy to share, quickly. No one making the decision was a 20-year-old female, which helped there be a more objective acceptance of the research insights. This was a stark contrast to the Kleenex example above.  For a brand like Kleenex, everyone feels they know the consumer regardless of what the research says. Because they are the consumer.

2 - The approved launch plan leveraged the insight AND mitigated the risk of leaning all the way into the novel approach.  The risk was mitigated by including more women in digital and retail advertising.  Given the consumer’s desire for inclusivity and authenticity, this compromise aligned with the insights and was a win-win.

How it ended

This was a great experience of an unexpected insight making it all the way to marketJessamyn Stanley, an amazing yoga instructor, was hired as the lead.  Check out the 0:30 launch ad here and a summary of the entire campaign here

Final bonus, here’s a photo from the launch event….that’s me on the left!

3 women on directors chairs

Summing It Up 

Did the complex network of stakeholders in the Kleenex example surprise you?  It’s not uncommon for a new insight to be challenged by people long after the research report is delivered.

Brand owners and innovators, spend time tightening up your story so it’s easier for stakeholders who aren’t close to the research to quickly understand and accept the insights.  And help your market research suppliers understand your stakeholders.

Market researchers, you can help your clients influence stakeholders with new insights in complex organizations.  The more you know about the stakeholders, the more you can tailor the message.  Recognizing that many stakeholders will never see the full report and building in easy ways to share the key takeaways can make you a trusted partner that just “gets it”. 

Get more tips and tangible ideas in our guide: 3 Genius Moves to Increase Market Research ROI.  Get your free copy today.

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Headshot of Melissa Jacobs, Founder of Crow and Pitcher LLC

About the Author

Melissa Jacobs is the founder of Crow and Pitcher LLC, a Brand Strategy and Innovation Consulting firm. She reduces swirl at the intersection of Marketing Strategy and Insights to accelerate growth for her clients, including innovative brands, products, and market researchers.

She draws on her experience in both client-side marketing and engineering/research roles to "speak the language" of many, build Strategically Sound, customer-focused growth plans, and get innovation to market faster.

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