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Making the second-best solution shine

June 10, 2015

“So Jim, what’s the household chore you hate the most?” I queried my office mate. “Cleaning toilets” was his prompt reply.

“And what would make it better?” He thought a moment, then, laughing, he said, “Having someone else do it!”

Boom – he nailed it. In fact, cleaning bathrooms is Americans’ most disliked household chore, according to a recent GfK US study, and paying someone else to do it is the top-ranked solution that would improve the experience – if it were affordable.

This points to an obvious opportunity for cleaning services and the like. But given that most of us can’t afford it or feel there’s something lazy about having someone else do our dirty work, it’s probably best to turn to people’s second-choice solutions for marketing opportunities.

For most chores, this means offering products and services that make tasks easier and faster. A recent GfK global study indicates that “an easier way of doing something” is consumers’ top definition of innovation worldwide.

This is not as simple as it sounds. So-called labor-saving devices have a dubious history and may actually increase the time spent on tasks. This is because they can raise the bar on standards. If you have a washing machine and dryer in your home, for example, you might wash your towels every time you use them. If you have to trudge elsewhere to do laundry, on the other hand, you might re-use towels a number of times and do fewer loads altogether.

Likewise, any number of kitchen utensils and appliances encourage people to make their own bread/hummus/you name it. There’s nothing wrong with this. DIY produces a sense of accomplishment and control and enhances quality of life. It might even be healthier and cheaper — possibly. Gadgets make the task easier than it would be otherwise. But it’s still more time and effort than buying a jar of pesto in the store, a point that often escapes people in the excitement of a new acquisition.

It’s perfectly valid to tout the “fast and easy” aspects of a product regardless of whether this involves people doing things they wouldn’t have done otherwise. But why not offer products that truly save time and effort on tasks that people can’t avoid?

Better yet, why not find ways to make the task unnecessary at all? Clothing that doesn’t wrinkle is a good example. Self-cleaning appliances is another. In fact, when we used these two examples in our survey, “a product that makes it unnecessary to do at all” shot to the top of the list of solutions for people who hate ironing and cleaning appliances. In other words, when you bring it to people’s attention that a product might negate the need for a detested task, they jump at it. This suggests all kinds of innovation in household and personal products.

Personally, I’d like a house that doesn’t collect dust. I hate dusting.

For more information please contact Diane Crispell at diane.crispell@gfk.com.

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