How P&G Quickly Launched a Disruptive Innovation
The Edison Best New Products Awards recently bestowed a Gold medal in the Consumer Packaged Goods, Consumer Drug Segment to “Align Probiotic Food Supplement” from Procter & Gamble. This gives me the opportunity repeat a story that has important lessons for innovators everywhere.
I first met the Align team in 2004. The team was developing a probiotic pill whose daily use could alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. More than 30 million people in the United States alone are reported to have this condition. The best that most can do is to modify their lives to account for the condition.
The idea was brimming with disruptive potential. A pressing problem with no adequate solutions. A potentially category-creating way to get the job done. The product had unique intellectual property, and consumers who tried it reported that their lives were changed.
And, of course, it was about to get shut down.
Why the disconnect? The original market forecast said that the opportunity would be relatively small. Launching a new brand is expensive, and the team hadn’t yet worked out all the technological kinks. Big investment, high risk, small return is not a recipe for corporate approval.
Yet, the team, under the guidance of Nancy McCarthy, persevered. We helped the team conduct scenario analysis to identify the assumptions that would have to prove true to justify a full-scale launch. Management agreed to provide a small amount of money to learn more about these assumptions. The team quietly launched the product over the Internet. It didn’t spend tens of millions in advertising; rather it used its existing pharmaceutical sales force to push the product in a few cities.
P&G then moved to sell the product online through websites like Walgreens.com. Finally, the product launched nationally early last year.
Scott D. Anthony is managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific.