How Product Managers Can Make Something Old New Again

Even existing products can be made to seem to be hip
Even existing products can be made to seem to be hip
Image Credit: Mike Mozart

So here’s a classic problem that product managers are faced with all the time: you are responsible for an established product. Time has passed. Your product is no longer “hot” or “new” and in fact there are a lot of other hot / new products out there. What are you going to do to get customers interested in your older product? It’s time to make changes to your product development definition. What can a product manager do to breathe life back into an existing product?

The Problem With Old Products

So just imagine if you were a product manager over at General Mills. We all know General Mills – they make the cereals that we all grew up with: Lucky Charms, Fiber One, oh, and those Pillsbury products also. However, the problem that these product managers are facing is that in a world where consumer tastes and habits are changing many customers now prefer food they perceive to be fresher and healthier. Clearly Lucky Charms does not fit this description. The big food companies are now under pressure as private-label products eat into their sales. Let’s face it – these product managers have their work cut out for them. What can they do? In order to get their brands to resonate with a new generation of shoppers, they are forging collaborations with gaming companies along with Hollywood and social-media influencers. The goal is to create a new marketing structure that puts an emphasis on big ideas.

Product managers realize that the past six to seven years have been difficult for companies in the packaged-goods industry, specifically food companies, to find ways to grow. What has happened is that there has been a massive disruption with how customers get information and make decisions. It would be shortsighted not to look out and see what’s happening in the world, as tastes and the way consumers engage with brands are changing. If the product managers are not careful, it can be easy for brands to become irrelevant today. In order to make old brands relevant at a time when consumer tastes are changing the product managers are going to have to make some big changes. An example of this is when Rapper Travis Scott designed custom Reese’s Puffs cereal boxes and apparel. The product managers launched it during Men’s Fashion Week and sold 5,000 boxes in 30 seconds at $50 a box. What is amazing is that it’s a box of cereal people are selling on eBay. This is the kind of stuff that you can put on your product manager resume.

That’s not all that the product managers are doing. They are also doing some exploration into Hollywood. Examples of other companies that have done this are Hasbro and Lego. Food product managers are looking at doing something similar. The product managers want to think about their intellectual property in a similar way. It turns out that Lucky the Leprechaun who is the mascot of Lucky Charms cereal has amazing equity. Just to take it a step further, the product managers went out to Hollywood with billboards on Sunset Boulevard, and had their “monsters” characters – cereal characters like Count Chocula and Franken Berry – show up at Chateau Marmont with the message that, hey Hollywood, we want to work with you guys. This allowed them to start conversations with writers, producers, actors about entertainment in a way that isn’t interruptive.

Next Steps For Restarting Old Products

Product managers realize that their consumers are spending much of their time online; movies are popular; there’s no advertising on Netflix. How can their brands come to life in different formats in ways that are additive to the consumer experience? The product managers realize that gaming and esports is another area that’s growing fast. The decision that they are going to have to make is if they are willing to make a big bet in that space. The product managers have hired gaming experts. In order to reach out into this market they have created pizza-roll tongs for Totino’s so gamers don’t get pizza on their controller, and sweatsuits that when you spill it slides right off.

Product managers realize that their marketing mix has to change as they encourage brands to do more experimental, nontraditional marketing. In the past, TV was a dominant part of the pie. Going forward, half of their spending will be in digital mediums, and half traditional. Their push with brands is, don’t think about the media mix first. First think about the idea, and let it go where it needs to go in order to be effective. The product managers do realize that some products aren’t geared toward a younger, hipper crowd. They understand that some brands are more relevant to someone in their 50s and 60s looking for dietary benefits. However, they still have to modernize them and keep them relevant. An example of this is when for Fiber One, they did a partnership with the Real Housewives and launched a music video. This was a totally different, more modern and relevant way to reach that audience.

The product manager’s marketing organization has had to change. They’ve evolved their central marketing group dramatically to create safety around experimentation and different ways of working. The organization may provide a brand with production support, different head designers, ideas about more aggressive PR and different partnerships. What this means is that they are distributing resources to some brands that used to have to justify them in a big way. The resources are going to follow the big ideas. The product managers understand that each brand assignment may be different, with one that’s heavily PR, social, experiential and local, versus something more national and broad-reaching that should include big media, and teams that include shopper and e-commerce and media experts.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the biggest challenges that any product manager faces is keeping their product relevant. Products that used to be hot stuff even just a few years ago can quickly go cold as consumers tastes change. What this means for product managers is that we need to take a look at our product manager job description and find the time to find ways to make our established products interesting to our customers once again.

The product managers at General Mills are facing this very problem. Changes in customer tastes have reduced the sales of their traditional cereal and pastry products. These product managers are trying out new ideas such as partnering with rappers to make older products seem new. These product managers are also reaching out to Hollywood to see if they can generate some interest. Movies and esports are new areas that the product managers are just starting to explore. Where the product managers advertise their products is also changing with TV starting to take a smaller role. The role of the marketing organization is also changing in order to help support each brand better.

The key to a product’s survival is its ability to change. The General Mills product managers realize that in order to make their products continue to be a part of people’s lives, they are going to have to find new ways to stay relevant. The secret is that what has worked in the past won’t work in the future. Product managers with products that need a refresh need to get creative and find new ways to talk to their customers about their products.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Can an old product share the spotlight with a hot new product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Customers have become used to going online and placing orders for items that then magically show up at their door. Nowhere has this been more transforming than in the ordering of grocery items. Each consumer can pick out a wide range of different items that all have to be collected and placed into the correct order. When humans do this, it can be time consuming and expensive to do. However, product managers think that they may have found a solution to their problem. Maybe they should change their product development definition and start to use robots to do the collecting and packaging. Is this what will transform a money losing operation into a money making one?