A Harvard Business Review Market Research Case: The Sure Thing That Flopped

All the market research said that TF’s NextStage stores couldn’t miss. What went wrong?


HBR Executive Summary
Tibal Fisher made a fortune selling trendy, inexpensive home furnishings to baby boomers. With that generation beginning to enter its sixties, he sees a huge opportunity in products for aging consumers. Focus groups and surveys confirm strong market demand for such items, and the media love the idea. So why is TF’s NextStage, his new line of stores for older consumers, a disaster?

Donna J. Sturgess, global head of innovation for GlaxoSmithKline, thinks Tibal’s research missed the subconscious associations in customers’ minds—the deep metaphors that reveal people’s true feelings about products. The solution: Find ways to generate positive emotional associations, as GSK has done with its weight-loss product.

Alex Lee, president of household-products maker OXO International, says consumers are attracted by brands they associate with the type of people they’d like to be—not the type they are. TF’s NextStage must avoid trying to get customers to “act their age” and using labels and positioning that call attention to their senior status.

Yoshinori Fujikawa, a professor at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, says certain businesses—those led by executives with a talent for sensing what their customers want—can forgo deep research into customers’ feelings, at least in the short term. But over the long term, firms need to have an organizational capability to create a systematic method for discovering what’s going on in customers’ minds.

Lewis Carbone, CEO of market research firm Experience Engineering, points out that customers often are unable to articulate their deepest feelings. That’s why companies need to go to the trouble to work with them one-on-one to find out what’s driving them toward—or away from—a brand.
To read the full case, click here.

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