Promoting alternate uses


The way customers use a product may sometimes come as a complete surprise to the people who designed it. Similarly, customers may figure out alternate uses that are fairly obvious, but just not within the radar of the people responsible for marketing the product in the first place. This latter group of small customer-driven innovations can be crucial for finding new markets or expanding existing ones.

Here’s a mundane example. Earlier this year, my wife realized that we could stop lugging home gallon jugs of milk every week or so, and instead replace them with powdered nonfat milk that we buy online. The cost per gallon is nearly identical, and there’s no more problems with the milk expiring and having to be thrown away. On this basis alone, the powdered milk is a smart purchase, and saves a few dollars a month.

But here’s where it gets interesting. After a few weeks of using the powdered stuff, we realized that we could also use the same product to make coffee creamer. Just add more of the powder for each unit of water, and you’ve got a perfect replacement for those pricey little containers of coffee creamer. Suddenly, we were saving a substantial amount of money, since the powdered milk had replaced all of our purchases of regular milk and creamer too.

If the makers of the powdered milk knew about this, they could position their product as a replacement for both regular milk and coffee creamer. This additional use of the same product might entice a lot more people to give it a try — especially coffee drinkers who go through a lot of creamer. In fact, if we had known about this convenient and money-saving application of such a seemingly boring product, I bet we would have tried it years ago. And for marketers, alternate uses of a product are certainly a revenue stream that’s worth investigating.