On-brand products: What Colgate can learn from Disney

One of America’s best-known brands, with a flagship product that already flies off the supermarket shelves, decides to launch a new product that customers will surely love. Homework done, customers’ needs assessed, an exciting niche in the market identified. The value proposition reads like this:

- Core customers? American householders.
- Customers need? To prepare meals.
- Customers current pains? Lack of time to prepare meals.
- Customers desired gains? Tasty meals that are quick and easy to prepare.
- Opportunities to alleviate the pains & increase the gains? By creating delicious microwaveable meals, which customers can buy in the supermarket.

The idea gets green-lit and the wheels spin into motion. The meals are made, packaged. All that remains is to add the brand name. Colgate.

If you’ve never heard of this story, that’s because Colgate’s lasagnes were a failure. Launched in the 1980s, poor sales meant that they were withdrawn within just two months. So what went wrong? Why did something as simple and ubiquitous as a microwaveable pasta dish leave such a sour taste in consumers’ mouths?

The answer, of course, lies in the brand.

While Colgate had worked hard to find out what their customers wanted from a new product, they had failed to understand the power of their own brand.

Brand’s role is to tell the world what to expect from a business, including its products and services. It’s also an internal tool that guides key decisions such as choosing which products to launch or what markets to prioritise. Brand ensures coherence in everything a business does, and as a result the world’s best brands evoke immediate connotations and assumptions, wherever they appear.

As an example, look at Disney. The Disney brand makes customers confident that any new product the company announces will share certain core characteristics such as magic, wonder and family-friendliness. This is not only because Disney know what their customer wants, but also because they know what ‘fits’ to them as a brand. Their guiding promise shapes every decision they make, whether that’s opening a cruise line or designing a new range of t-shirts. Disney is unlikely to launch a casino – even if the occasional frazzled parent might appreciate the addition – because it does not align with their brand.

This is where brand must influence value proposition thinking; bringing value to your desired audiences (ensuring relevancy) while remaining true to yourself and your principles (maintaining authenticity). Colgate’s lasagnes failed because they failed to strike this balance. Customers did want easy meals, but not from a brand like Colgate. The enormous success of Colgate’s toothpaste meant that consumers perceived the company to be about hygiene, science, medicine and minty freshness – not the comfort of home-cooking. The extent to which a brand can stretch in terms of its product offering is known as brand elasticity, and it's another core consideration in brand-led value propositions.

Through careful management, the Disney brand has grown over time from cartoons into being a byword for anything that brings magic and enjoyment into children’s everyday lives. This allows them to attach their brand to products that are in some cases quite removed from their initial theme parks and film focus, but that are very well-received by their customer base. Two popular examples? Disney toothpaste and character pasta shapes.

All too often customer insights are the sole factor in value proposition design, leading to disappointing results. Our work with brands has repeatedly proven to us and our clients that value proposition design must use brand as a key source of inspiration and measurement in order to produce a significant return on investment.

By Claire Huxley, Strategist

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