What It Takes to Get Consumers to Try Something New : Planet Money : The Indicator from Planet Money You may have the best product in the world, but that doesn't mean people will try it. What does it take to get consumers to try something new?
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What Does It Take To Get Us To Try Something New?

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What Does It Take To Get Us To Try Something New?

What Does It Take To Get Us To Try Something New?

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SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

SALLY HERSHIPS, HOST:

Darian Woods.

DARIAN WOODS, HOST:

Sally Herships.

HERSHIPS: I have one word for you - tablets.

WOODS: (Whispering) Tablets.

HERSHIPS: (Laughter) I'm not talking about a digital tablet. I'm not talking about biblical tablets from Mount Sinai. I'm talking about toothpaste. Instead of buying a plastic tube of toothpaste, then throwing it away or recycling it - maybe - you can now buy toothpaste tablets that come in this little compostable paper package. They're like these little mints that you chew on. You add water on your toothbrush. And they're part of this massive push of eco-conscious products that don't have plastic.

WOODS: All right, but not every consumer gets as excited about new products as we know you do, Sally Herships.

HERSHIPS: (Laughter) True.

WOODS: So we decided to send you out to do some informal market research - get to the people. And we decided specifically those people would be children because children are notoriously difficult when it comes to dental hygiene.

LARIE CLEMMER: I don't usually like brushing my teeth because it's just - it's not that I don't like the flavor. Sometimes, I just, like - I don't feel like doing it.

HERSHIPS: That's Larie Clemmer (ph), and I managed to finagle an invitation to her 12th birthday party last Saturday in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

WOODS: Coveted.

HERSHIPS: She is the daughter of some friends of mine, and she was there with her friends, Maya (ph), Noah (ph) and Diora (ph). And they were painting these wooden jewelry boxes and decorating them with stick-on rhinestones. They were all super-happy to try the toothpaste tablets, but they were tough customers.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Oh, wow.

LARIE: Really minty (laughter). One more thing is that it's kind of weird, like, taking the water and brushing as well.

HERSHIPS: Yeah.

LARIE: It's kind of weird.

HERSHIPS: Would that stop you from using it?

LARIE: It might.

HERSHIPS: And how about you? What'd you think?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: I would, like, use it all the time if it - if there was a vayarity (ph) of flavors.

HERSHIPS: A what of flavors?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: A vayarity (ph) of flavors.

HERSHIPS: A variety of flavors.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Yeah.

HERSHIPS: What if this toothpaste was really cheap and really good for the environment? Would you consider switching?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: I love to take care of the environment, and I love that it's cheap. But it would really depend on if I like it or not.

HERSHIPS: So if it was good for the environment and it was cheaper, but there was only this one flavor, you still wouldn't switch.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: I would consider switching.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WOODS: Welcome to THE INDICATOR. I'm Darian Woods. Stacey Vanek Smith is on vacation.

HERSHIPS: And I'm Sally Herships. You can have the best product in the world, but that doesn't mean consumers will try it. Today on the show - what it takes to get consumers to try something new.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERSHIPS: First, you have to understand that we are creatures of habit.

JEFF GALAK: We get dressed the way we always get dressed. We brush our teeth whenever we happen to brush our teeth in our routine.

WOODS: Jeff Galak teaches marketing at Carnegie Mellon, and he says that our routines and habits, how we shop and decide what to buy - that's critical for marketers. If companies and brands want us to try their new product, then they have to try to force us to break our routines. And that can be really hard to do. Jeff says imagine you're shopping for toothpaste. You go into the store. You're used to the display. You're used to reaching for the same box of toothpaste.

GALAK: You might not even look to the side to see this weird other packaging of tablets in a glass bottle because that's just not part of your shopping routine.

HERSHIPS: Jeff says for marketers or brands to try to persuade us to try a new product, that product has to do three things.

GALAK: Can it do it better? Can it do it easier? And is it cheaper?

HERSHIPS: Better plus easier plus cheaper equals value - a new product has to change the way we behave in such a positive way that it's worth us changing our habits and routines. And even then, it could be hard to win over consumers. Case in point - the dishwasher.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Dishes, dishes, dishes three times a day, and breathes there a housewife with soul so dead who sometimes to herself has not said...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Why can't something be done to relieve the monotony of this everyday kitchen chore?

WOODS: Luckily, the dishwasher had actually been around this entire time. The dishwasher was invented in the late 1880s. And while you might think that that kind of labor-saving device would have been an immediate hit, Jeff says no.

GALAK: People were highly skeptical at the time of adoption. I mean, it took from invention to mass adoption probably 60 or 70 years to get there.

WOODS: I mean, to be fair, at first, the dishwasher didn't do all three of Jeff's things. It might have been better and maybe easier than doing the dishes by hand, but it really wasn't cheaper. You'd have to redo your entire plumbing to make room for this thing.

HERSHIPS: But the skepticism was there in large part because the dishwasher was so different, especially if you go back in time. By and large, dishes were traditionally done by housewives. And a large part of their identity at the time was how much effort they were exerting into providing for the home. And if washing dishes became this easy, trivial thing that you could just outsource to a machine, in some ways, it could diminish the value that a woman was seen as providing. At least, that was one of the perceptions at the time because things have changed.

GALAK: So you have a situation where here's this invention that makes life way better, especially for women, again, because by and large, that's who was doing the household chores at the time and, quite frankly, today as well. And you have to convince them that not only is this going to be as effective as their manual sitting there and scrubbing the dishes clean, but it won't undermine their value. So yeah, it was a huge hurdle to make this work.

WOODS: But sometimes, it's not just us as individual shoppers that can be reluctant to change our habits. Companies can also not see the writing on the wall, even when a product is ultimately better, easier and cheaper. Way back in the year 2000, not too long after Netflix had first begun offering movies on DVD via mail, Blockbuster passed up the opportunity to buy the company for $50 million. It wanted to stick with what it knew - people coming into real retail stores, renting movies in person. Later, Blockbuster did try to finally get into the streaming business, but it was a little too late.

HERSHIPS: And I'll just leave this little factoid here. A decade later, the company filed for bankruptcy with $1 billion in debt.

WOODS: I think it's fair to say that was a business mistake.

HERSHIPS: (Laughter) Yes, if only Blockbuster was able to break its routines and get with the online streaming program.

GALAK: That's a wonderful example in my mind of a product that changed fundamentally the way we consume media experiences. Like, that's not a small change. That's a humongous change.

WOODS: And even when brands and companies have better, easier and cheaper, they still have one more item on their to-do list to shake off - marketing. Remember Google Glass.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: OK, Glass. Hang out with the flying club.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Google photos of tiger heads.

WOODS: That was a marketing failure.

HERSHIPS: Yeah, Google sank millions into the product. We were all going to walk around scanning the world with our eyes, seeing price tags on everything.

WOODS: But Jeff says for marketers, the biggest, most epic marketing failure story in the history of humanity is the Segway.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: And you lean forward, and you go forward. You lean back, and you go back.

GALAK: So when it came out or when it was about to come out, there was this humongous campaign to say, this thing is coming out. It's going to be amazing. We're not even going to tell you what it is, but it's going to change the way the world works.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: What Henry Ford did in the last century for rural America is what this device will do in the next century for city dwellers all over this country and all over the planet.

GALAK: So there were months and months of this, you know, release date coming from this brilliant inventor, and it's going to be amazing. And everyone was anticipating it. I mean, the hype was off the charts.

WOODS: And I think we kind of all know what happened next with that campaign. The Segway did not change the world, but it did become a great way to get around town for tourists and a lesson in what not to do in marketing textbooks.

HERSHIPS: But let's get back to today and toothpaste. Marketing aside, do the toothpaste tablets pass the better, easier and cheaper test? OK, so when it comes to better, the American Dental Association didn't take a position. But on the environmental side, the Plastic Pollution Coalition says the paper packaging on the toothpaste tablets is definitely a win for the planet.

WOODS: And as for the cost, well, the last time I went to my local pharmacy just to buy normal toothpaste, it was about 4- or $5 here in New York. So how much are the tablets?

HERSHIPS: They're 12.75 for two months - so maybe a little bit more expensive. But, Darian, what is the cost of saving the planet?

WOODS: It's priceless.

HERSHIPS: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Sam Cai and edited by Kate Concannon. The engineer was Gilly Moon. THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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