A Critic of Marketing Repents

During the late 1980s, I was attending university and living on the beach in San Diego.  My studies required me to spend a considerable amount of time on the beach (ahem!) and I started using a sunscreen product from Neutrogena.  The sunscreen had the requisite SPF 30, but I liked it because 

it had a great texture and felt good for my skin.  To me, it seemed more like a skincare product than the typical sunscreen lotions and oils I used to use.  It sold for around USD7.00 for a 30ml tube.

I remember once going to buy more but was unable to find it in the sunscreen section.  However, I noticed a very similar-looking product in the cosmetic section.  The similar product was being sold as a face cream, which also had SPF 30.  The price was comparable to the other face creams around it, which was about three times as much as the price of the sunscreen product.

I bought the product, took it home and used it.  I was pretty sure that it was the same product I had been using all along.  But as a face cream, Neutrogena was able to sell it for a much higher price.

I thought it clever of Neutrogena to reposition essentially the same product into a niche where it could be sold for thrice the price.  The lesson stayed with me.

Presently, I’m advising a product company starting up an entirely new business unit, developing a product line which includes a monthly recurring service. The market the company had planned to enter is a very crowded, competitive place. The minimum required feature set is firmly established and products are often forced to compete on price.

Recalling my experience with the Neutrogena sunscreen, I imagined repositioning our product into a higher value niche.  A less crowded, less competitive niche, with a much more compelling value proposition.  Some changes are required of the device but we’d sell essentially the same product.  Many of the challenges with which we were struggling in the other niche have simply disappeared.

It’s a stunning realization of the power of Marketing.  It’s like the difference between climbing a mountain versus walking down a hill, yet still reaching the summit.  I confess sometimes in my career I failed to appreciate the value of marketing.  But I was wrong!  I owe apologies to Rene, Haden, Joy, Alana, Marcel, Alisha, Marty, and all the other Marketeers I failed to understand.

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