Chorus of the Customers – Product Innovation at Johnson and Johnson

Article by Manas Kulkarni
A tremendous benefit of the QUEST program is the opportunity for its students to interact with people whose jobs revolve around the very ideas taught in class: quality, voice of the customer, and many more. On November 11th, the Bailey Bowtie took a break from its post at the front of the class as Cohort 18 had the privilege of hearing from Linzell Harris, Vice President for Global Strategic Operations at Johnson & Johnson. Mr. Harris’ presentation focused on J&J’s different customers and how the company reacts to the different voices of those customers.
  Mr. Linzell Harris engages 190 students in a refreshing presentation

Before getting into product design, Mr. Harris gave the class a brief description of Johnson and Johnson, specifically how its empire spreads to nearly 180 countries and how it owns 92 consumer brands, including Band-Aid, Neosporin, Bengay, and Tylenol. The difficulty however, lies in the former; thanks to superior manufacturing capabilities, making a large amount of product is relatively simple for J&J. But the diversity in its consumer base forces it to diversify its products as well, which is far more challenging than production.

Mr. Harris introduced the idea of product innovation with a simple point: without the consumer, there is no product. Business major Hayley Brown remarks that “J&J’s strategy is very heavily based off of trend. It introduced ‘Total Care’ mouthwash simply because it identified a growing desire for fluoride in mouthwash.” Mr. Harris would call this “listening to the voice of the customer,” unsurprisingly a core mantra of QUEST. But because every customer is different, Mr. Harris emphasized the importance of listening to the all of the customers of different ethnicities, generations, and backgrounds. In that sense, effectively orchestrating a product’s success relies heavily on the chorus of the customers, rather than just the voice of one. That philosophy, in a nutshell, is the foundation of product innovation for J&J says Mr. Harris.

One product certainly added some flavor to the presentation: Cool Mint and Citrus to be exact. Each student had the opportunity to try one of four flavors of Listerine mouthwash. “At first, I thought it was unnecessary that that Johnson and Johnson made so many different flavors of Listerine” claims engineering major Nathan Elencweig, “but in the end, I was definitely persuaded that each flavor had its purpose in appealing to different customers.” Some students, however, were luckier than others; several unfortunate students were subjected to the much stronger taste of Gold Listerine, and they were far more frazzled than their relatively satisfied classmates. But, as Mr. Harris soon explained, one man’s trash is another’s….favorite mouthwash, and that the other person was likely to be a senior citizen. While younger generations clearly preferred the Cool Mint or Citrus mouthwash, the evident desire for Gold Listerine amongst older consumers convinced J&J to maintain its original brand. “It was interesting to see how the company has had to innovate Listerine to fit the needs of an evolving user base,” recalls engineering major Will Dunham.

And that is exactly what the products are doing: evolving. After concluding that mouthwash users today are looking for a less intense version of that still provides them with the feeling of freshness that they love from Listerine, J&J launched Listerine Zero, and in fact branded it with the slogan “less intense.” And when the students were each given a sample of the new product, the pleased reactions were enough to prove that J&J is indeed listening to its customers. And what is more, students were allowed to take home free bottles of mouthwash after the presentation. So aside from armfuls of mouthwash, Linzel Harris provided the students with a crucial tip of product innovation that day: just listen.

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