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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

What Happened to Hershey's Chocolate Syrup?
Six Questions To Ask Before Changing a Popular Product or Service

A friend recently complained that Hershey's Chocolate Syrup now comes in a squishy plastic pouch that won't stand up and that is hard to pour, not in the familiar chocolate-brown can with the bright yellow lid. Product changes are disruptive, and they often upset or inconvenience customers. Carefully consider the consequences of making changes to your products and services before making them.

To retain customers, ask the following questions before changing your offerings:

Will the changes repel customers with strong emotional attachments to your existing product? Car aficionados have criticized a new design for the Corvette that moves the engine to the middle of the vehicle, doesn't have manual transmission, and has a small trunk. Robert Hively, who has owned six Corvettes, told the Wall Street Journal, "I am totally, completely and unequivocally not interested in a mid-engine, European-copycat GM sports car....I refuse to call it a Corvette."


Will customers have to change the way they use the product? Baker's Premium Baking Bars are widely used in chocolate desserts. For decades the chocolate bars have consisted of eight one-ounce squares. Now, a package contains eight half-ounce squares. Many recipes specify how many squares to use, not how many ounces. This packaging change, which is probably a disguised price increase, could result in many batches of ruined brownies.


Will the changes affect quality or convenience? Walgreen's recently announced that it was opening an hour later and that the pharmacy is closing at lunchtime, which is when many workers are free to drop off and pick up prescriptions.


Does the change make a related component obsolete? The book or report you once saved on a CD is unreadable by newer computers.


Will the changes cause customers to reject upgrades? You no longer get proficient at using software, such as Microsoft Word, when they upgrade and remove or alter your favorite features. It then takes you hours to relearn a familiar function, such as using mail merge. Because of these changes, some cling to older unsupported software versions.


Will price increases cause customers to consider the competition or stop using the product altogether? iPhones have gotten so expensive some are buying other brands of phones or buying much cheaper rebuilt iPhones. Huge increases in the prices of some drugs, such as insulin, have prevented some people from using this life-saving drug.


Are you making changes for the sake of change, or do you have sound reasons for making the change? Some changes in products and services make sense, for instance packaging foods in plastic pouches, rather than heavier cans, which cost more to produce and to ship. However, many changes inconvenience and even anger customers. That is why you should talk with your customers about proposed changes to your offerings before making the changes. Price changes are particularly problematic.


Winett Associates helps companies understand their customers and markets.


Copyright © 8/19 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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