There are many ways a product can fail. In this article, I describe three case studies of failed commercial performance. The first is a classic case from the United States, the second is a story that is still developing, and the third is a Dutch example. What do they have in common, and what can we learn from them?

A marketing manager at an important entertainment company once told me an anecdote I have never forgotten. He sent out a mailing, and the response was overwhelming. But that overwhelming response was the problem. He had not hired enough call center agents to speak to the customers.

The lesson of this story is “the chain is no stronger than the weakest link,” so you have to take care of every part of the process. In the case studies I will describe below, some creative people had great ideas, and they knew how to market them. But every time there was a missing link which resulted in complete failure.

So, let’s begin with the telling of the all-time classic, the mistake that “almost destroyed Coca-Cola.”

Coca-Cola: the Confusing Saga of New Coke

In 1985, Coca-Cola changed its formula and released the so-called “New Coke.” The background was the following: Coca-Cola was losing market share to diet soft drinks and non-cola beverages for years. Consumers of cola seemed to prefer the sweeter taste of Pepsi-Cola.

With much fanfare, the sweeter New Coke was brought to market, but the American public’s reaction to the change was negative. It was crystal clear that Coke’s original formula had to be brought back. It was and was rebranded “Coca-Cola Classic.”

So, in the end, there were 2 negative results: a failed product launch and brand confusion that would continue for years.

Snapchat Pitted Against Its Own Users

Snapchat recently changed its design. This redesign focused on separating “media content” from that of “friends.” The change led to a storm of protest among users who loved Snapchat just the way they were accustomed to it.

Angry users found out the new “Friends” section has no chronological order. Furthermore, it was now harder to find friends on Snapchat. More than a million people signed an online petition calling for Snapchat to revert its update back to the original design.

The mother company, Snap, reacted to the outcry by announcing a new feature. Snapchat will introduce tabs in the “Friends” page and in the “Discover” function which it says will make it easier for users to find the stories they want.

It will be exciting to see if this will satisfy the user base’s wishes. If not, the ultimate consequence may be that Snapchat will lose a big piece of its market share to its main competitor, Instagram.

Hema's Smoked Sausage Sweater

For decades, Dutch Hema was a sound but not too thrilling of a convenience store for people with a tight wallet. But Hema is hip nowadays; it is collaborating with online influencers and fashion collectives.

For example, the designers of MOAM made a sweater with a smoked sausage on it for Hema, a wink to the famous sausages that Hema has sold as long as anybody can remember. This garment had the potential to draw crowds to Hema stores with would hopefully result in many impulse buys.

But, the jumper was too successful to fulfill its goal. It was sold out within a day indicating too small of an initial stock.

Lessons to Learn

Successful people are not afraid to fail. But it is even better to learn from others’ mistakes. So, what lessons are there to learn from these cases? Let’s see:

  • Listen to Your Customer!

The American public didn’t need New Coke, and the Snapchat user base didn’t need a new design. Change your products only if your customer wants it. To gain more insight into what the consumer really wants, data, especially user data, offers many insights. Analytics software helps you to analyze it.

  • Be Careful with Your Brand

The biggest mistake Coca-Cola made was taking a risk with a strong brand that was some 90 years old at the time. Never undermine your brand by implementing new, and uncertain, initiatives.

  • Coordinate the Value Chain

The marketing manager in the opening paragraph and Hema made the same mistake. They created a demand that could not be met. All parts of the value chain, from marketing to inventory management, must be coordinated.

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