In case you missed past installments of this marketing allegory, Charlie Hatchet is the busy-beaver owner of Moosepicks, a company that makes toothpicks for moose. Back when Charlie’s new company was almost going under, marketing consultant Fred Squirrel helped him turn things around. With Fred’s help, Charlie found a target audience, created a company name and brand, and developed a unique product. Manufacturing is no sweat for Charlie, but he continues learning the ropes of marketing.
Charlie Hatchet stopped in his tracks and watched the sight with amusement. A moose was leaning against a large oak tree, working himself back and forth along the rough bark. Charlie chuckled. That must be an itchy moose.
Charlie continued on his way. He had a long way to go before nightfall. He was headed home from a meeting with a potential Moosepicks distributor on the other side of the mountain. If he decided to go ahead with the deal, it would be the first distributor in his network. He and Hannah were considering this expansion because they felt they were ready for a new challenge.
I’m glad I’m not as big as a moose, Charlie said to himself. Sure would make it hard to scratch an itch. Maybe I should start making back scratchers to sell to moose. The thought made him grin.
When Charlie arrived home that evening, he set his satchel down in the corner of the lodge. “Look what I brought you,” he said, reaching inside and a pulling out a small birch twig.
He handed it to Hannah. “There were a lot of birch trees over on the other side of the mountain. They smelled so good that I broke off a twig and started chewing. Isn’t it good?”
An odd expression crossed Hannah’s face as she chewed on the birch twig. “Maybe this is our answer for what we should focus on next!” she exclaimed. “Could we expand our Moosepicks product line to include these birch twigs?
Charlie caught the vision immediately. “That has much more potential than the crazy idea I had earlier today,” he said. “We could call them Moosemints!”
Fred gives Charlie a question to chew on.
Over the next few weeks Charlie worked on a plan to begin selling breath-freshening birch twigs. There were not many of the right kind of birch trees in his part of the forest, so he would need birch branches brought over from the other side of the mountain.
Storage would be no problem—he could use the Moosepicks warehouse. And he could hire some of his kits’ friends to cut the branches into shorter twigs that would become the final product.
Charlie scheduled a meeting with Fred Squirrel. Fred had helped him launch Moosepicks a couple years back. In fact, Fred’s expertise had saved Charlie’s hide, so to speak, several times when it seemed his business might flop.
Fred sipped from his can of Skrite soda as Charlie enthusiastically outlined his new venture. When Charlie finished, and picked up his own Skrite, Fred asked, “Do you have any evidence that the market wants breath fresheners?”
Disconcerted, Charlie set his Skrite down so hard that drops of soda splashed out over the top. “Who wouldn’t enjoy chewing on a yummy birch twig?” he asked.
“Well, let’s find out,” Fred replied. “I think your next step should be market research, not marketing your new product. Market research can confirm that your existing customers would be willing to pay for a breath freshener. If fresh breath is not a pain point or a pleasure that moose are willing to pay for, wouldn’t it be good to know that now?
Fred Squirrel went on, “Seems like I remember a certain beaver who once had a product that the market didn’t need.” He winked at Charlie.
Charlie grinned sheepishly, remembering his first days of business when he had tried to sell sharpened logs that no one wanted. “Seems like I remember that, too,” he said. “You’re right. Market research, here we come. I don’t want to go back to those days of frustration.”
Charlie’s market research raises doubts.
Fred and Charlie decided to find out the answers to three questions.
- Would the market be willing to buy breath-freshening birch twigs?
- If so, how much would the market be willing to pay?
- Would moose primarily be interested in the product to solve the problem of bad breath, or would they be most interested in chewing birch twigs for pleasure?
The first two questions had been obvious ones to ask. Fred suggested adding the third question to help them know how to position the product in their marketing. If we ever get to that point, Fred said under his breath. He was a little dubious.
“I’ll start asking my Moosepicks customers tomorrow,” Charlie said. Since Charlie’s customers were largely moose, Fred decided that he himself would focus on other forest folk—deer and elk in particular.
At one time, asking a customer about a new product would have been a little intimidating to Charlie, but he found himself actually looking forward to his first customer encounter the next morning.
After the moose completed the purchase of a new set of Moosepicks for her entire family, Charlie asked, “Would you care to answer a few questions about a new product I might offer in the future?”
The moose agreed, so Charlie explained his Moosemints idea. He mentioned the satisfaction and confidence of having fresh breath.
The moose listened politely, and then asked, “Do you have a sample I could try?”
Charlie was caught off guard. “Um, no. I’m sorry, I don’t have any on hand,” he stammered.
The moose had not meant to embarrass Charlie. “That’s alright,” she said. “I think it would be neat to try, but I doubt I would be willing to pay for it. I eat a lot of twigs and bark, and then we moose actually re-chew that stuff again throughout the day. So I don’t think I need anything else to chew on.”
Hurt and stunned, Charlie watched his customer walk down the trail. He felt like slapping himself across the face with his tail. Why hadn’t he remembered that moose chewed their cud? And why had he not realized that his customers would want to try a sample? In retrospect, it seemed obvious. To do market research right, he would have to get a supply of birch twigs.
In spite of this setback, Charlie persevered with his research project. Not every moose asked for a sample. If they did, he simply replied that he would have some on hand the next time they stopped in. He found that a few moose—particularly young ones, would be willing to pay a reasonable amount for Moosemints.
Charlie discovers a missing question.
“I wonder how Fred Squirrel is getting along,” Charlie said to Hannah that evening after he told her about his day. “I wonder if his day was as discouraging as mine.”
Hannah tried to cheer Charlie up. “Look on the bright side,” she said. “After all, you are finding out what you wanted to know. If Moosemints would be a disaster, wouldn’t you want to find out now rather than later?” Charlie had to agree she was right.
Charlie was just drifting off to sleep that night when he thought of something. He poked Hannah. “Hmmpff,” she grunted.
“I’ve got it!” Charlie whispered. “Tomorrow I’ll start asking customers what they do want. I’ll ask them what problem I could solve for them with a new product.”
Maybe it was just that she was drowsy, but Hannah didn’t seem to like Charlie’s idea. “What if they tell you something you don’t like?” she mumbled grumpily, and toppled into a deep sleep.
Market research reveals potential for a new product.
Two weeks later found Charlie and Fred comparing notes. “What did you discover?” Fred asked Charlie. He noticed that Charlie seemed to be in a fine mood.
“Well,” said Charlie, “I don’t think my Moosemints plan is going to work. Hannah is really disappointed, but most of my moose customers don’t seem to be interested in chewing birch twigs for fresh breath, at least not at the price I would have to charge to cover my expense in getting the raw material over the mountain.”
Fred was relieved to see that Charlie was accepting the reality that their research revealed. “I agree with that,” he said. “Based on my conversations with other forest folk, I don’t think a breath freshener is going to catch on.”
Charlie was eager to tell Fred the rest of his findings. “But I’m not as disappointed as Hannah is,” he said, “because I discovered something else that I think is going to be a winner.” His front teeth showed as he grinned broadly.
Fred sat up straighter, listening intently. “What is it?”
“Don’t you think I should do more market research before I tell you?” Charlie asked. It wasn’t often that he could put Fred in suspense, and it felt good.
“I have started asking customers what product they wish I would offer,” Charlie began, “and I discovered they need a tool to brush their teeth. Moosepicks works great for cleaning between their teeth, but several moose mentioned they would buy a toothbrush to clean the rest of their teeth.”
“Moosebrushes!” shouted Fred Squirrel. “And that fits perfectly with your vision, mission, and core values. Do you think you’ll go for it?”
“I’m not sure,” Charlie said. “I want to do a little more market research yet.”
Moral of the story
Instinct or gut feelings have their place, but you’ll be wise to do some market research before you make big decisions. Real-life data and reliable feedback from the frontlines are crucial in giving you a clear picture of reality.
Market research involves more than giving customers (or potential customers) a questionnaire. It can include collecting information on the competition, understanding overall market trends, and consulting industry experts. Market research takes extra work, but the insights you will gain will be worth the time and expense.
Can you relate to Charlie Hatchet’s challenges? Rosewood Marketing is your Fred Squirrel for the real world. Would you like someone to walk alongside you to help solve your marketing challenges? Call 717-866-5000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.