Success (could have been) in the details

I recently parted ways (graciously, of course) with a client that I had been working with for several months to develop and launch a subscription-based, non-prescription anti-anxiety supplement.

Although I was reticent to lose the income, there was really no point in my moving forward as an advisor since the company’s founders weren’t all that interested in following any of the advice I was giving them. I was particularly disappointed because I do think there’s a significant opportunity to create a strong brand targeted at working Millennial moms. As I tried to repeatedly explain, the success of such a product, and ultimately the business, was not about minimizing cost. Rather, success would be entirely dependent on getting a raft of small details right.

At the outset of the project, I had conducted a number of focus groups with Millennial-aged working mothers to ascertain what kind of interest there might be for a daily anxiety supplement and what kinds of concerns potential buyers might have. Not surprisingly, nearly every one of the participants reported that they–and most of their friends/peers–regularly experie anxiety. That wasn’t entirely surprising considering recent studies (e.g., here and here) that have consistently found high levels of anxiety-related mental health issues among Millennials.

Based on data from those focus groups and an investigation of existing supplement brands/products, I developed a fairly extensive report. Here a re a handful of my favorite recommendations:

  1. I recommended that the supplement should be formulated into one or two gummies if possible. If the ingredient quantities necessitated the use of a pill or capsule, I noted that small size should take priority over low quantity; That is, it would be preferential to have two relatively small capsules instead one larger one since focus group participants indicated a very strong dislike of large pills. Further, if a capsule was used, it should be vegetable-based and that aspect of production should be mentioned as a product benefit in marketing communication. (As an aside, I’m convinced that the proliferation of THC-based gummies has substantially contributed to very broad preference for gummies versus tablets or caplets.)
  2. Based on the human tendency to fear the unfamiliar, I recommended that the supplement be formulated with two or three common ingredients (e.g., vitamin C, garlic, calcium, etc.) that would appear at the beginning of the ingredients list to signal familiarity, and, ultimately, safety. Further–and based on the larger consumer trend toward organic, all natural, and plant-based diets–I recommended that product marketing communicate the sources of the non-familiar active ingredients whenever advantageous (e.g., active ingredient L-theanine extracted from green tea).
  3. I conveyed it was imperative that the user be greeted with a pleasant smell when opening the supplement bottle. I recommended blending and testing three variations: mint, fruit, and lavender in order to establish a preference among the target.
  4. I recommended that packaging be created with an eye toward establishing legitimacy through ostensible luxury by enclosing the supplement bottle in a branded box with a folded product card. Both the box and the card would have been printed on coated matte stock, which is especially effective at providing a visual and tactile sense of calm, softness, elegance, and exclusivity. After the initial order was fulfilled, subscribers would have been encouraged to opt out of the fancier packaging for environmental reasons, which would have also saved packaging costs for the company.
  5. I recommended naming the supplement Pacific, a word that means peaceful, calm, and tranquil. More importantly, it’s a word that has a strong neural connection to the concepts of water, the ocean, and relaxation. My designer would have made easy work of brand colors and a logo if we’d moved ahead. I recommended a clear blue pill bottle with a white top–analogous to an ocean wave with a whitecap.

Despite my ultimate decision to walk away from this one, it was still a lot of fun to research and think through. It made me recall this article that I read years ago about the ways that engineers create product sounds (e.g., the soft, but solid sound of a BMW door closing) to elicit positive emotional responses from consumers. Well-executed holistic design that considers the smallest details of product interaction–from the feel of a package, to the smell and pliability of a gummy, to the pop and snap of a bottle cap opening and closing–is, ultimately, one of the most reliable ways to create brand loyalists from first-time customers. And at some point, I’m going to convince a client to spend the money so I can prove I’m right.

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