Whenever I stop at a 7-11 with my kids in tow, they start instantly clambering for me to allow them to get a soda. On those occasions that they have worn me down enough that I’ll do almost anything to get them to shut-up, I’ll give in and let them. What they proceed to do next would take the breath away from any sane adult.
They start by grabbing one of those big 32oz cups and then they proceed to dance down the aisle in front of each of the soda fountains pausing only long enough to dump some of that flavor into their cup before hurrying on to the next one. By the time they reach the end, their cups are filled with some sort of monstrous blackish goop that they endearingly refer to as a “suicide drink“. Yes, I have actually sampled this concoction and words can not begin to describe just how bad it tastes…
However, is there a possibility that this approach to building the ultimate soft drink might be showing product mangers the way to create the ultimate product?
Coke’s Freestyle Approach To Creating Suicide Drinks
Coke currently sells 3,000 different flavors of soda, tea, juice, and flavored waters globally but they want to sell even more. The product managers at Coke – the same people who tried to bring us New Coke – have a problem on their hands: not all of their customers have the same tastes. Does this sound at all familiar to you?
Every so often, Coke decides that it wants to try to capture even more of our spending on drinks and so they role out a new flavor and keep their fingers crossed. Sometimes the new products work (Cherry Coke), and sometimes they don’t (Vanilla Coke). Clearly they’ve got a problem on their hands…
It sure seems as though now that we live in the 21st Century, we all should be able to pick whatever flavor of drink that we want and not have to hope that another million people also like the same thing as us. Coke is making that possible with a new style of vending machine: the Freestyle.
A single Freestyle self-serve drink dispenser will pour more than 100 varieties of soda, tea, juice, and flavored waters. Each Freestyle unit will contain 30 cartridges of flavorings that can be used to mix up to 100 different drink combinations – can anyone say “ultimate suicide drink“?
What Does Total Choice Mean To Coke Product Mangers?
I personally can not imagine anything worse than standing in line behind someone who has to decide from among 100 different drink combinations. However, I do see the genius in Coke’s product manager’s plans.
Each Freestyle unit has a wireless connection that will allow it to report what people are buying and when they are buying it. This is going to allow Coke to test out a whole bunch of new flavors simply by making them available in the machine. If they start to see a trend appear where people are buying a flavor, then they’ll be able to determine in which region the flavor would be popular and so on.
What Would Total Choice Mean To Your Customers?
They probably never covered this in your product management training but just imagine what you could do if you had the same ability to customize your product? Although you probably aren’t selling drinks, you can probably imagine your customers walking up to a dispenser and having the ability to choose 100 different variations of your product.
Remember, we’re not necessarily talking about different product features here. We could be talking about different configurations of support programs, product appearance, or even payment plans.
If such a machine for your product existed, then what would happen to your sales? Would they go through the roof? If you go back and take a look at the past 12 months of sales for your product (well, the past 12 months have probably sucked, so take a look at the past 24 months) I’m betting that you’ve actually sold a whole lot of different configurations of your product. Maybe you didn’t set out to do that, but I’ll bet that you ended up doing it.
In the product manager job description there is a requirement that we all memorize the phrase “Your customer is always right“. It turns out that your customers love to have choices. Or at least they love the option of having choices.
No matter how many product models you think that you sell today, I suspect that the reality is that you are actually selling a lot more than that.
If you sit down and take the time to lay out all of the different choices that you are already offering to your customers, you’ll have a fantastic story to present to your potential customers about your product marketing mix. Even if your product is not the best one out there, just providing your customers with more choices will make your product more attractive and will drive more sales.
How many different variations of your product do you think that you sell today?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Since we’re bright, smart product managers it sure seems as though when we spot an opportunity to change something about our product that will benefit everyone we should just go ahead and do it and not have to wait for our customers to ask us to make the change, right? Well that’s what the product managers over at T-Mobile thought before the lawsuit…