George S. Day and Christine Moorman

Soul in a Bowl

Friday Dec 10, 2010

Customer insight builds on data and information to generate a novel understanding of the customer. In our book we discuss several questions that customer insight might address: who may be a good customer (i.e., what segments to target); what customers think, feel, prefer, or do; where and when customers use products and services; how customers engage in these internal activities (e.g., draw inferences about quality) or external actions (e.g., how customers search on the Internet); and why customers have these needs.

To think about these ideas, take the experience of Campbell’s Soup entering the Russian soup market in 2007.1 What he discovered was that soup played a deep and complex role in the hearts and stomachs of Russian men. Campbell’s researchers found that it was very common for a pot of meat bones to be boiling on the kitchen stove in a typical Russian home. Russian wives would spend several days nurturing the rich broth and recovering large chunks of meat and savory fats. This process puts the dousha (soul) into the soup. Given this context, bringing ready-made soup into this market was not going to be easy. Campbell’s duly noted that competitors had tried to enter with Western European bagged and premixed soups. Russian women scoffed, and Russian men considered the use of such products sacrilegious. These ready-to-serve soups “had no soul.”

As the purveyors of this dousha, however, Russian women were in a bind. Since they worked full-time, they could not tend to the soup that had such importance in the Russian household. This was the customer’s problem and Campbell’s opportunity. Through a process of ethnographic work involving deep interactions with Russian families, Campbell’s developed a product that could offer Russian women a way to solve the problem of preparing homemade soup with packaged ingredients. The Domashnaya Klassika (“Home Classics”) line of soups contains chunks of real meat and visible fat medallions, both of which build consumer confidence that the soup has been prepared with care. Brand images reinforced the message. All ads feature either the domovoi, an elflike “protector” spirit that “lives” in the kitchen cabinets of all Russian homes, or the family gathered around the table. These customer insights paid off, and Campbell’s expects the line of soups to be profitable in Russia by 2013. In 2009, Campbell’s entered a distribution arrangement to bring its products to 100 cities in 12 regions of Russia.

Campbell’s insight work delivered the key ideas that drove all of the firm’s subsequent strategies. First, it uncovered an unmet need for “soup with soul” among Russian families that were too busy to follow old-fashioned recipes. Second, it exposed what product features Russian consumers were using to judge that “soulful status” (e.g., visible fat medallions and chunks of meat). Third, it revealed what consumer behaviors could not be sacrificed. In this case, the soup pot needed to be on the stove for more than a few hours. This meant that Campbell’s could play a role as a soup starter, not as a soup substitute. Fourth, key symbols such as the domovoi and the family gathered around the table were established for use in packaging, in ads, and on the Web site.

1 Case based on a presentation made by Bob Woodard at the Marketing Science Institute Board of Trustees Meeting and Conference on Sustainable Marketing Strategy, San Francisco: Marketing Science Institute, November 14-15, 2008.

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