Data isn’t all just numbers.
A few weeks ago I enjoyed listening to some outstanding young marketers make presentations at a Mansmith gathering. One of the excellent young people, Lester Estrada of Procter and Gamble Philippines, talked about building brands with or without much product innovation.
One of the brands he discussed was Downy which, at one time a few years back, seemed to lose some growth momentum. P&G being P&G, there was of course always the option, given enough time, of product innovation. But they also looked at what else was available and delved deeply into the habits and attitudes of people doing their laundry.
It became helpful for them to divide their growth possibilities into basically four approaches, namely convincing more people to start using fabric softeners, or convincing users of other fabric softeners to convert to Downy, or getting people already using Downy to consume more for the same purposes, or finally, getting Downy users to use it in more ways. But Downy already had been pushing hard to build the category and was already the leader so the first two approaches were spoken for.
They then looked into the ways Downy users used the product, including what they used it on, how exactly they applied the product, when in the laundry process they applied it, and on what items of laundry, whether they did it uniformly on all pieces and so on. To do all this, they did not rely only on research agencies but went out and observed some of their users actually live during the process.
Along the way, they noticed that a lot of people did not actually apply softener to all their clothes and were selective in order to save money. Among all the kinds of clothes thrown into the laundry, jeans were often what were left out of the softening cycle and this was highlighted when people were asked to arrange their laundry in front of the researcher. Jeans again looked like the least important, maybe because they are the most rugged, can take the most abuse and are actually subjected to the harshest treatment. So maybe expectations were lower for jeans.
P&G then did their numbers. Given the fact that the fabric conditioner category is still in its early stages of development in the Philippines and allowing for their cost structure, they concluded that increasing the size of the standard Downy sachet without a commensurate increase in price, when accompanied by higher consumption and more users, could pay out eventually.
That is exactly what has happened. And it was all helped along by getting people to watch people do their laundry – a great example of data-driven marketing.
Since then, Downy has done a few product innovations including the addition of antibacterial action to their formula. That was a case of taking a benefit already offered for a long time by bath soaps like Safeguard and recognizing that people will never feel that they always smell perfect every moment of a long day, and so will be interested in more ways to ensure that they will in fact smell good.
To be sure, this is hardly an original innovation. Other manufacturers have been putting in more exotic materials into clothes, at the time of manufacture, to help ensure no bad odors. Silver, for example, has been impregnated in minute amounts into some brands of socks and sports clothing for years now to allow their manufacturers to claim odor control benefits.
But in actual fact, innovations are rarely original. And it does not really matter very much, as long as you are the first in category to do it well and your business grows faster than before.
Benedicto “Poch” Cid is the chief brand adviser of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. (, the leading marketing and sales training company in the Philippines. For inquiries, please email call (+63-2) 584-5858 /412-0034 or text (63) 918-81-168-88. Please also send your marketing, sales and strategy questions to