True Innovation or Marketing Gimmick: A Deeper Look at Pink Gin

Every so often I get asked how I can tell whether something will be a trend or a fad. The short answer is that trends emerge as individuals find new ways to solve important (yet currently under-satisfied) Jobs to be Done. Fads, on the other hand, provide short-lived euphoria. We get excited about a piece of tech that does something cool, even though we have no real use for it. Or we flock to a promise of something desirable, but reality tells us that it doesn’t actually get the job done well.

As with any year, 2017 brought us a number of new food and beverage fads. The Whole30 diet saw both a surge in popularity and a fall from grace. It followed the typical pattern of a fad in promising a favorable result — easy health — yet it failed to deliver. In fact, it ranked as one of the worst diets tested by a panel of experts. We also saw lots of cool new colors appearing in food. Rainbow and unicorn varieties were quickly followed by foods being turned black by activated charcoal.

A few months into 2018 pink gin appears to be the next big thing, though it is not yet as popular in the U.S. as it is in Europe. Just recently, Beefeater Pink was launched in the U.K. as a way to increase gin consumption among millennials. Gaining loyal share of wallet from notoriously hard-to-reach millennials would be quite a feat. And in Spain, pink gin is reportedly responsible for 40% of all value growth in the total gin category. Another impressive accomplishment.

So is pink gin truly an innovative product — the kind that will set a trend and produce lasting success — or is it just another passing fad? To answer that question, we need to look at pink gin through the eyes of consumers. While that proposition shouldn’t seem novel, much of the industry commentary we have seen to date takes the opposite perspective: the business lens. Pink gin will succeed — the argument goes — because millennials love to share photos of unique foods on social media. Pink gin’s color makes it eminently “Instagramable.”

Yet “being Instagramable” is a characteristic of the product itself. It’s not a job that the customer is trying to get done. Customers choose a product — whether it’s pink gin, silver tequila, or an amber ale — to help them accomplish a North Star Job. In our example, that job could be something like unwinding after a stressful day. Below that North Star Job, customers will also have secondary jobs that they would like to get done. Maybe it’s important that they discover something new or cultivate new friendships. Customers will choose the products that best help them achieve their hierarchy of jobs.

While that may seem simple enough, customer decision-making is a bit more complex. Jobs are important, but they’re only piece of the puzzle.

The Jobs Atlas is a tool for understanding the elements that go into a customer’s decision about what to buy

Customers will seek out products that help them overcome pain points they have with existing offerings. Maybe beer is a bit too bitter. And standard gin tastes too much like a pine tree. For customers who feel that way, pink gin’s fruity and floral notes may well be a desirable change of pace.

And it would be unfair to say that being photo-worthy plays no role in a customer’s choice of beverage. I myself sought out a modern speakeasy in DC a few months ago with hopes of scoring some photogenic bathtub gin.

I enjoyed the experience, but I found other cocktails to be more to my liking. And that brings us to another important element of customer decision-making: success criteria. Knowing what jobs a customer is trying to get done is only the first step. Understanding how a customer will decide that a job has been successfully completed is an essential follow-up. So while being photo-worthy may be a single success criterion on which a spirit is judged, many other factors will also come into play.

So what does this all mean for pink gin? Without more research or a customer survey, it’s hard to say for sure. Experience tells me that there will be a segment of consumers for whom pink gin is an ideal solution; it will satisfy important jobs and success criteria better than anything else currently on the shelves. Whether that translates into a sustainable product line depends on how large that segment is and what its shopping patterns look like. And that’s a question that can only be answered with primary research or time.

Dave Farber is a strategy and innovation consultant at New Markets Advisors. He helps companies understand customer needs, build innovation capabilities, and develop plans for growth. He is a co-author of the award-winning book Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation.

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