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Hanging Out in the Laundry Room

As a self-avowed marketing geek, I got excited about a new Whirlpool commercial touting a feature and benefit for a new line of washing machines.  (You’re thinking:  washing machines, really?)

My excitement stemmed from imagining how this innovation could have emerged from ethnographic research as it addresses an unarticulated need.

The feature allows you to pour and store enough laundry detergent in the machine for 40 loads of wash.  The convenience benefit is obvious and offers some interesting “new news” for an otherwise mature product category.

It is highly doubtful that a consumer directly expressed this feature as a need.  However, skillful application of ethnographic research could have inspired the innovation team to pursue this idea.

A key benefit of ethnography is that it allows you to understand the product ecosystem—that is, what the consumer is doing before, during, and after usage of a product.  Far too often we only focus on the “during.”

The “real gold”, however, is found through keen observation of every detail in the ecosystem—especially those steps that are habitual and consumers rarely think about them.  (Like pouring laundry detergent.)  Consumers find it very difficult to recreate these steps (which they are often asked to do) in conventional qualitative research.

Mapping the usage ecosystem is often an integral input to ideation.  The ideation challenge can then focus on an activity in the “before domain”, for example, and modify the product to make that activity more convenient for the consumer.  In one well-organized ideation session, the team could focus on opportunities in all three domains:  before, during, and after.

Now, I just need Whirlpool to figure out a way to automatically dispense my Tide Pods.

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