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Published: September 1, 2011

 
 

Bottling Customer Experience

Let’s start with the toilet. Toilet bowl cleaner is a great example of the importance of ensuring that every experience has a strong functional side. This was one of the first products we wanted to do back in 2001, but Method didn’t enter the category until 2008. The tale of how Lil’ Bowl Blu made it to market after seven years of trial and error is a testament to our unflagging devotion to winning on product experience.

Purifiers of porcelain, sanitizers of stool — toilet bowl cleaners (TBCs) were on Method’s hit list from the very beginning. Sure, they aren’t glamorous, but they represent everything we wanted to change about the industry. First off, they are ugly — the black sheep of the home-care family. Everyone has them but would rather forget about them. Worse, they are among the most toxic products in the home, literally covered in warnings and instructions for contacting the nearest poison control center if you accidentally ingest even the tiniest amount. Most odious of all, they suck to use. Consumers either have to lift off the heavy lid to get into the grimy tank every few weeks or get down on their knees and scrub away, their face just inches from the smelly bowl.

Ugly, toxic, unpleasant to use — toilet cleaners were right in Method’s sweet spot. Soon after setting up our first lab, we began experimenting with nontoxic cleaning agents for the toilet. Problem was, toilet cleaners were toxic for a reason; phosphates and strong acids were the only things strong enough to wipe out the formidable brew of mineral deposits, rust, and bacteria that toilet bowls are famous for. There were organic cleaners on the market, but they were nowhere near as effective — and the toilet bowl was the last place people wanted to cut corners on effectiveness. Even the most environmentally conscious home owner was generally willing to overlook the skull and crossbones on the back of the bottle if the front of the bottle promised to kill every last germ.

Our team of green chefs tried liquids, creams, and gels. They sent prototypes home with employees, complete with powders, scrubbers, and sponges. Nothing worked. There was constant temptation to do something substandard because we just couldn’t make organic acids work as well as inorganic, toxic crap. But we didn’t.

Years passed as we chased the formula like a white whale. No matter how desperate the company was for revenues, no matter how much advocates wailed about how the company was “missing a huge opportunity” (and a toilet cleaner was by far the most requested new product), Method still refused to put out a product that didn’t work as well as or better than its mainstream, toxic rivals. Then in early 2008, one of our engineers cracked the code that had stymied every Method green chef. Employing lactic acid in combination with some novel renewable surfactants, he finessed a liquid formula strong enough to clean as well as the big brands (without any scrubbing) and safe enough that consumers could rub it on their hands without poisoning themselves. Having waited the better part of a decade for a TBC that satisfied the brand’s uncompromising obsession with product experience, Method didn’t wait a minute more. Debuting in a bladder-shaped bottle and eucalyptus mint scent, Lil’ Bowl Blu went straight to national distribution.

Delivering on emotional experiences means engaging the senses, for the senses are the fast track to human emotion. But how many brands actually make full use of them? When people talk about “clean,” they usually describe it as the “feeling of clean.” Yet there was nothing that felt clean about most cleaners. The sensory experience of using cleaners requires you to hold your breath when using them, leave the room afterward, and then hide the package under the counter because it’s so ugly. Somewhere in the history of clean, consumers had been made to believe that if it doesn’t make you cry, it must not be working. What’s clean about that? We created a new sensory experience with a clean design that appeals to our aesthetic sense, formulas that let us actually feel clean, and fragrances that make a room smell beautiful — not like bleach. We also work to add touch experiences with packaging that is organic in shape and includes interesting materials that invite touch. The result is a superior sensory experience that elevates the mundane task of cleaning. All great brands have rational, emotional, and sensory values, so we work hard to ensure that Method delivers on all three.

 
 
 
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This Reviewer

  1. Theodore Kinni is a senior editor for strategy+business. He has written, ghostwritten, or edited 20 books, including Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service (revised and updated edition, Disney Editions, 2011) and The Four Pillars of Profit-Driven Marketing: How to Maximize Creativity, Accountability, and ROI (McGraw-Hill, 2009), with Leslie H. Moeller and Edward C. Landry.

This Excerpt

  1. The Method Method: 7 Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-Up Turn an Industry Upside Down (Portfolio/Penguin, 2011), by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, with Lucas Conley
  2. Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry are the cofounders of Method Products Inc. Ryan is Method’s chief brand architect and a former advertising planner. Lowry is Method’s chief greenskeeper. He is a chemical engineer and previously worked as a climatologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. They are also the authors of Squeaky Green: The Method Guide to Detoxing Your Home (Chronicle Books, 2008).
  3. Lucas Conley is an author and freelance journalist who previously served as a staff writer at Fast Company. His book, OBD: Obsessive Branding Disorder: The Illusion of Business and the Business of Illusion (Public Affairs, 2008), was selected as a strategy+business Best Business Book in the marketing category in 2008.

 

 
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