August 14, 2018

Research and the Art of Calculated Risk

Tuesdays With Coleman

Most museums are a celebration of art and culture, but not the Museum of Failure.

The Museum of Failure, as it bills itself, is the world’s largest collection of failed products and services from around the world.

Based in Sweden, this eccentric house of gaffes is traveling the globe as a pop-up museum with stops still to come in China, Germany and France.

What can the Museum of Failure teach us about failure and how can research play a role?

Let’s first examine some of the products featured in the museum, which include:

These product failures were the result of incompatibility with the brands themselves.

Colgate stands for toothpaste. Bofors is a Swedish weapons manufacturer (seriously). Harley-Davidson means big, loud motorcycles.

If the product is incompatible with the brand, it has a higher risk of failure.

Other products in the Museum of Failure fizzled because they missed the mark on what consumers wanted, like:


Despite boasting higher quality than VHS, the Betamax was too expensive and didn’t feature long enough recording times (it only held one hour of recording time compared to three for VHS). The Newton MessagePad was the first Personal Digital Assistant, but featured inferior built-in handwriting features. The Twitter Peek, launched in 2009, was a pocket-sized device used only for tweeting. If the minimal usage wasn’t enough, the display itself was minimal, with the ability to show only 25 of the allowed 140 characters on the device’s small screen.

Some of the product failures simply fall in the “why do I need that?” category, like:

Bic made a pen just for women, which would have been fine if anyone felt a gender-centric writing utensil was required. Google didn’t do an adequate job explaining why consumers needed to buy its privacy-cringing eyewear, and consumers really didn’t want Coke that tasted like Pepsi. If they wanted a Pepsi, they’d buy a Pepsi, thank you very much.

Innovation can be a very good and necessary thing. In fact, many of our Plan Developer presentations at the conclusion of a media perceptual study end in a brainstorming session. The key is that the brainstorming is guided by the strategic direction dictated by the research.

Perceptual research can bring into focus very clear perceptions consumers have of your brand. Brand growth comes from improving and strengthening those images.

Lasagna is not going to improve Colgate’s toothpaste image, toothpaste certainly will do nothing for Bofors’ weapons business, and perfume isn’t going to improve Harley’s motorcycle image.

Many of the same lessons apply to the other examples, and these certainly apply to media brands.

If your radio station is known for hard rock (Colgate), you may not want to give your listeners Classic Hits (lasagna).

Is your radio station adding features that enhance your position? Or are you adding features your listeners don’t really care about? Put it through the Twitter Peek test.

Do your listeners understand how to use your radio station? Are you abundantly clear as to why they should use it? Or are you Google Glass – shiny and new but not really necessary in the lives of your consumers?

One of the signs in the Museum of Failure is a quote from Henry Ford that reads, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”

Utilizing research and growing your brand with a strategic vision is one great way to wise up.

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