Malcolm Gladwell often talks about Howard Moskowitz and his work in creating the best Pepsi (or the best Pepsis plural – see http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/20 for a 20-min video overview). Howard’s research found the concept of a universal product – a “best” product that caters to every customer’s needs – was amorphous in nature and often difficult for customers to articulate. Enter the concept of variability. A series of product categories that polarise customers in an attempt to more accurately meet their needs. This style of thinking is largely responsibly for the 14 types of mustard, 36 types of spaghetti sauce and 71 types of olive oil we now see on the supermarket shelf.
However, the book “YES! 50 secrets from the Science of Persuasion” – which is incredibly incisive IMHO – talks about research conducted by Sheena Iyengar and her findings on reducing the number of product choices available to consumers (the example used is one I expect many would identify with). Basically, when faced the decision on how to allocate your Superannuation across various funds on the basis of risk and return, do you make the allocation across the 40-something categories or do you fail to bother allocating it at all? The research showed that having only 2 fund choices increased participation by roughly 15 per cent compared with 59 fund choices.
Reducing availability of customer choice also worked extremely well for the US frozen yoghurt company Pinkberry (very catchy jingle at http://www.pinkberry.com). They’ve got a total of 2 fro-yo flavours. Very different thinking to the traditional Gelato/ice-cream shop with a myriad of flavours to suit everyone.
So uh.. how many products to sell?