P&G’s Unique Competitive Advantage in Innovation

March 16, 2016 Patricia West Doyle



Long ago, Procter & Gamble created a unique capability that is considered by many to be a key source of competitive advantage in innovation. This capability is called Products Research. But what exactly is this capability, especially at higher strategic levels?

Products Research integrates knowledge about  (and translates between):

1) Shopper/End user insights

2) Business models, brand identity & business needs

3) Product/package technologies and design

The intersection between the three is what is key. Consumer needs, business needs, and what is technically possible – all combined in one, innovative thinking process. 

Blending the three is a “secret sauce” that recognizes that the end product is a holistic integration of the formula or technology, the 3D package, 2D graphics and package (color, material, finishes), the name/ claim/benefit visualization, and the market message track.

These three elements are integrated to create a holistic focus on solving the business or product problem.

What Is Included in a Multi-disciplinary Products Research Strategy?

  • Fluency in “the Who” - Who is the (target) consumer or shopper?  Identifying shopper or user needs (emotional and physical, unarticulated at times), delights and trial barriers. How are they unique; how do these differences translate into unique product promises? 
  • Fluency in “the What” – What is the consumer desired experience and the product design/technology to meet that? What is the holistic understanding of the shelf/shopping environment (what signals are critical) and usage environment (during use and post use) to best “communicate” (design in the verbal, visual, tactical, olfactory, kinesthetic, written, etc. cues) the product benefits. What is the product doing to make it work (the science/technology)? What are the technical mechanisms of action and measures that can help us communicate how the product works and delivers the consumer desired benefit?  Strong fluency in the science/technology helps to communicate breakthrough technology to agencies, third-party influencers and to customers as well.
  • Fluency in “the How” - How big can this product, brand, business idea be (the size of prize, cost structure, pricing model)? How do we make it bigger (drive bigger turns, dollar spend,  etc.)? How do we drive trial, linking together the consumer, product design and technology insights? How might we create a different business model? How are we creating category/market growth?

What Are the Critical Outputs of Products Research?

Core consumer and brand building insights: And using insights (market, consumer or technology) to help to set brand purpose, vision and strategy. This can include Points of Difference, Strategic Target insights, reframing a category as well as innovation principles around timing of upgrades, etc.

End-to-end translations: From Upstream Technology to Package/Product Development & Design to Go to-market Business & Brand Building. And, you can start at the Business-end or the Technology-end for end-to-end translation. This often involves creating a common, consumer-based language for the business/brand and serving as the consumer advocate and champion in business decisions.

Consumer to product requirement translation: User/shopper needs (motivations, behaviors, insights, and desired experience) translated into product/package design requirements and identification of product/technology portfolio gaps. 

Product story creation: From internal idea communication to advertising concept to claims & visualizations. 

Future scenario strategy: What would obsolete our business? What might we do?  Using multi-disciplinary approach to help run competitive analysis and simulations.

P&G pioneered this unique capability and it gave them a distinct competitive edge. How could this capability help you business challenges?

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Patricia (Pat) West Doyle is an expert in insight discovery and technical brand building. During her 32 years with P&G, she specialized in Franchise Products Research and achieved the level of Research Fellow. Since retiring in 2014, Pat consults through YourEncore, has vigorously explored retirement transition success, and has become a Certified Retirement Coach.

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