You know Gerber.

It has built a strong brand with parents from all around the world over the last 90+ years.

Parents know that when they choose Gerber, they are getting quality food for their babies.

Like all companies, however, Gerber needs to innovate and grow.

Since Gerber had already built such a strong brand with parents, they had a hunch that the best place to expand was by providing more products to parents.

Since parents were already buying food for their kids, why not buy some Gerber branded food for themselves?

The Gerber adult single was born.

It came in many tantalizing flavors such as beef burgandy, cream beef, even blueberry delight for dessert.

They invested millions of dollars into this product creating thousands of these jars, buying shelf space, and putting these into stores.

And what happened? It flopped horribly.

 

How to Avoid a Flop

In hindsight, this flop seems inevitable.

Who would actually eat this?!

via GIPHY

But, like all companies, Gerber needed to grow. It made sense to sell a new product to the market who was already buying their baby food.

The failure was not the idea, per se, the failure was investing millions of dollars on a huge roll out.

It is easy to look at this type of failure with hindsight and believe that we would never have such a stupid idea.

But there is a reason why 90% of all new companies fail.

Most ideas fail – even ideas that are obviously better than Gerber adult singles. Because most people who try to create new products follow the same process that Gerber did.

1. Identify a market
2. Come up with a product that market might purchase
3. Invest precious time and money bringing that product to the market

Then they pray that the product they came up with is something that the market actually wants.

Most of those prayers go unanswered.

To avoid that fate, let us look at what Gerber could have done differently.

 

Interview Their Customers

Rather than wait until the shelves were stocked to see if parents would buy their adult singles, Gerber could’ve got out of the building and started talking to those customers.

Was their brand strong enough with parents that they would actually want to buy Gerber food themselves?

Were parents secretly jealous that their babies got to eat Gerber’s style of food?

This would’ve given the Gerber team a lot better information on whether or not their products would sell once they hit the shelves.

However, there is a limitation to customer interviews – talk is cheap.

Even if some people said they would buy the adult singles once they were on the shelf, you never really know until someone forks over their hard earned cash.

That is why interviews are a great first step, but they do not tell you the whole story. To find the answers to whether or not people will buy your products, design an experiment.

 

Design an Experiment

Instead of doing a massive rollout of Gerber adult singles, Gerber could have just experimented with one or two stores to see if their adult singles would sell at the rate they assumed.

This would have helped them learn:

1. How much will customers buy?
2. Is that enough to justify expansion?
3. If not, why aren’t people buying?

This is where customer interviews are far more valuable. Rather than invest their money in expansion, the Gerber team could have sent several of their people to the grocery store.

When they saw parents buy baby food and skip right past the adult singles, they could have started a conversation to learn why.

Perhaps there was an opportunity to create something customers wanted with a few changes. But because they invested in expansion rather than learning, we will never know.

In your own product development, find ways to answer the question:

What is the fastest, cheapest thing I can do to learn if this will work?

To help you answer this question, use this simple Madlib:

We believe [this hunch].
If we [do this single thing],
I bet [success criteria]
will [do this specific behavior].

If we were to apply this to our Gerber example:

We believe parents will enjoy Gerber food just as much as their babies.
If we offer them a variety of adult singles in one grocery store location,
I bet 25% of people who check out with Gerber baby food
will also purchase an adult single.

This simple experiment would have saved Gerber millions of dollars and precious time that could have been spent creating something that customers actually wanted.

 

Conclusion

In hindsight, Gerber’s idea of adult singles seems absurd.

But, under pressure to innovate and grow, Gerber believed parents were the right target market.

Their mistake was not in coming up with the adult single – it was in waiting until they had invested millions in the idea to see if it would work.

Before their massive rollout, they could have talked with parents to see if they actually wanted to eat Gerber food.

If those interviews proved that parents wanted Gerber food, the Gerber team could then design an experiment.

That experiment could have been as simple as testing with one store before going with a massive rollout.

Before you invest your precious time and money in new products you believe will revolutionize your industry, design your own experiments.

Recognize that your ideas are just hunches.

Those hunches need to be tested through experimentation so that you can learn what customers really want – and how you can solve their problems.

To get started, use the experimentation Madlib below:

We believe [this hunch].
If we [do this single thing],
I bet [success criteria]
will [do this specific behavior].