My current case is working on high-level strategy work with a tech company, the goal being to help guide their strategic thinking as they attempt to map a strategy for future growth. The case, while very challenging because of its breadth, has been very interesting, not only because of the interesting strategic questions that we are trying to answer, but also because the tech geek in me is literally being paid to learn more about future gadgets and software products.
Oddly enough, though, despite the vast amount of work I’ve done on the case on studying technology markets and technology companies, the work that earns me the highest praise from the partners and stands the greatest chance of being presented by the client’s senior management deals with, of all things, women’s deodorant.
About two weeks ago, I receive a completely unexpected email in the morning from my CTL. Instead of giving me some guidance on my workstream from the previous day concerning profit margins in different technology markets, I was being asked to do research on Procter & Gamble, the large consumer products company. It turns out that the partners on the case are trying to present the client with examples of companies who are able to be more profitable than their peers and explain how they are able to sustain that advantage — and Procter & Gamble was one example of such a company. Our working hypothesis was that P&G was able to be more profitable by effectively becoming the “premium product” in many of the product niches they attempt to play in.
The tricky part was how do we prove this? After a little discussion, my CTL and I decided that the simplest way to do this was for me to drive to the nearest Safeway and go up and down the aisles comparing the prices of P&G goods (e.g. Tide, Pampers, Crest) to their competitors.
Sure enough, I got a lot of weird looks from the store people and from the other shoppers as I canvassed the aisles looking for P&G products and their relevant comparisons. In the hour that I was there searching for products, I learned more about the product diversity of toothpaste, deodorant, detergent, dishwashing soap, than I had ever known (or wanted to know).
Worse was coming back to the office and presenting my preliminary price data to my CTL and manager, both of whom grilled me (although I could see the smirk on my manager’s face and the chuckle in my CTL’s voice as they did so) on whether or not I made the right product comparisons (is Infusium 23 comparable to Finesse? Or Pantene? Are Huggies comparable to Pampers? What’s similar to Tide? Or Secret?)
After begging for help from wiser friends (read: female friends — big shout out to J. Sasaki and K. Teng and V. Liu for all their help!), I prepared a slide showing P&G’s price premium across a number of product categories, and sent the slide out to my CTL and manager, never expecting it to go anywhere or amount to anything.
A few days later, one of the more senior partners in the firm walks by my desk and tells me that the client was very excited about the slide I had prepared and that it stands a decent chance of making it into the CEO’s presentation. Not the other volumes of analysis I’ve done on tech markets, on tech products, on tech companies, on financial forecasts — but the slide I make on women’s de-odorant, women’s shampoo, diapers, and laundry detergent, researched from a couple conversations with friends and a hasty trip to Safeway.
Welcome to management consulting, people.