by: Geoff Ficke

Making a Minor Product Usage Change Can Propel Major Sales Advances

In the middle of the 20th century pre-packaged foods and mixes were not as ubiquitous as they are today. Typically, a middle class home had a housewife present and preparing her families meals from scratch. The advent of mass-market consumerism would rapidly change this tradition.

General Mills was a pioneer in developing and selling prepared food products. The Company Marketed first offered a line of dried cake mixes in the 1940’s and the convenience that these products provided was thought to be a sure fire winner. Sales were initially acceptable but not sensational. General Mills Marketing Managers could not understand what the missing element was that would make sales sizzle.

The great Marketing Guru, the Austrian Ernest Dichter was hired by General Mills to analyze the prepared cake mix business. Mr. Dichter is credited with creating such Marketing breakthroughs as the Focus Group and Behavioral Science as applied to Consumerism. He began his analysis of the products and housewives reaction to them in his normal analytical fashion.

Immediately he noticed that though the cakes baked utilizing the mixes were acceptable, they were dismissed by many housewives as not being as tasty, or velvety as cakes baked from scratch using natural ingredients. General Mills was very aggressive in promoting that the cake mix powder contained dried eggs. Mr. Dichter saw an opportunity.

His advice was for General Mills to remove the dried, powdered eggs from the mixes and tout this fact in a new Advertising Campaign. Eggs are an “alpha” foodstuff and are elemental in fine cooking and baking. Ernest Dichter advised the marketers of the cake mixes to have fresh eggs added at the time the batter was being prepared.

This advice worked swimmingly. The cakes were smoother, tastier and separated from the baking pan perfectly when the fresh eggs were added to the powdered mixes. The simple pro-active suggestion of adding eggs logically informed housewives that they were baking better cakes that their families would appreciate and better enjoy.

Another example of driving Sales by changing usage directives is supplied by one of the most famous and commonly used O-T-C drugs in the world, Alka-Seltzer.
Founded in Elkhart, Indiana in 1931 by the Dr. Miles Medicine Company, the tablet was a modest success almost from the date of launch to the public. Dr. Miles Medicine Company Marketed the Alka-Seltzer product as an analgesic remedy for minor aches, pains, upset stomach and headache.

Initially the tablets were prescribed for use one tablet per dose. It was only when the Company began to package the tabs in tin foils, two per packet that Sales boomed. Consumers have a natural inclination that if one tablet works, two will work better. This is basic human nature and the marketing team at Dr. Miles played this emotion like a simple snare drum. “Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz, Oh What a Relief it Is”, was born.

Recently our Branding-Marketing Consulting and Product Development firm was tasked with launching a new Anti-Aging Skin Care Cosmetic brand. This is a very vibrant category but brutally competitive. Products must have a special Unique Selling Proposition to drive sales and cut through Beauty Market clutter. For this product we accomplished this by employing a pro-active product feature, in this case an Activator feature. The Activator usage step cements in the consumers mind that the product is enhanced, pristine and is supported with added technology and clinical advances.

Marketing and Sales are first cousins that need to be tightly coordinated in order insure success. Marketing a unique usage or performance benefit can separate your consumer product from the competition and drive Sales growth. This strategy is simple, easily understood by consumers and it works.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.