Herbal Essences was loosing market share in 2005, four years after the acquisition from P&G.
The Business Unit Head put together a team of 10 people to be sent to Clay Street, the theater of innovation at P&G.
The goal was to have the brand attracting a new generation of consumers: young women in their late teens and early twenties.
Particularly, they were struggling with how to reposition the brand’s “natural ingredients” into something that would excite young women. The first idea came when the team decided to go shopping for general “natural/organic products”. One group was made of women in their thirties and forties, another in their teens and twenties.
The first group came back with things like lentils and nuts. The younger one with smoothies, flowers and fructose-sweetened dry fruit.
The insight was that younger women had fundamentally different beliefs and attitudes to just about everything. So, the team started to immerse themselves into everything those young women do and think, imaging a new full total consumer experience.
Eureka moment number two came as the team was trying to find a way to renovate the brand’s packaging.
The team was inspired by mithology, as the original Herbal Essences packaging had a goddess figure rising from a shell. They at first tried to exploit the original packaging bringing in the team an artist who sculpt bottle shapes and informed about the idea of feminine sensuality.
However, the team struggled to find shapes that worked for their consumers, so they immersed themselves again in the life of the target young women. This immersion made the team realize that packaging needed to be very subtle versus the sexuality of very young women. In other words, just a suggestion of sex and youth. Out of this insight came the idea of the shampoo’s and conditioner’s bottles fitting into each other.
At the end of the twelve weeks, the herbal essences team had recommended that P&G change every single thing about the brand, from the formula, to the packaging and tone of communication.
The team made a presentation typical of a start-up, no slides but just showing the finished product and packaging and discussing about the process and all the lessons and mistakes
The Top Managers bought into their story, but the issue was that changing everything would have required years of work. Market share was declining and time was very short.
So, the Business Unit Head told the team to draft an acceleration plan to have the changes in the market within 12 months, between two to three years less than an average brand project at P&G. She reassured the nervous team that she would have taken all the risk of failure personally. She was just asking the team to outline what was required to succeed, to size the overall risk and to work very hard.
About 18 months later, the new Herbal Essence was in the market back on track to become another billion-dollar brand.
Total immersion involves every member of the team listening, often simultaneously, to different viewpoints outside the expertise of any individual. It requires connecting and integrating these viewpoints to push forward creativity and imagination, always having the consumer as the ultimate test.