The Heinz Ketchup Case Study

heinz-largeMy midterm exam in Marketing Management at Harvard B-School was the Heinz Ketchup Case.

You, the student, had just been appointed brand manager (we called it product manager back then) for the iconic red condiment. The case included the demographics of buyers, the geographic spread of the market, and all manner of information about packaging options. Sales were steady and growing. The case asked the classic question, “What would you do?”

The school solution was: Do nothing. Don’t mess with a winner. Leave things as they are. If you suggested changing anything, you failed the test. You don’t walk into an established company with no experience or credibility and suggest they mess with the cash cow.

The brand managers and UI designers at Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and other consumer web services need to learn this lesson. No change for change’s sake. Don’t confuse the customer. We don’t want New Coke.

I’ve been on the web since the beginning, when you had to log in to Sir Tim’s NeXT machine at CERN to access the World Wide Web. I have blogged for more than a dozen years. I’ve shown thousands of people how to join the collective consciousness that is today’s net. I once knew how to get things done expeditiously.

Now I’m confused about some basic functions. While I was on the road for the last 24 days, Google+ donned a new skin. I lost a long post (by pushing the wrong button?). Ironically, I find G+’s search function confusing. WIIFM? I haven’t found anything in the changed appearance for me.

Then there’s Yahoo’s Flickr. I have been unable to upload portrait-mode photographs since the new look came in. Sometimes I can only upload two or three photos at a time. The uploader apparently can’t recognize some of my photos–they show as black and won’t upload. I’m on the lookout for something that will work for my 30,000 photos.

Facebook locked me out because someone in Wilmington, North Carolina, tried to access my account. I didn’t bother setting up a new password until just now. The garish new timeline page that greeted me was cluttered with marketing crap, boxes trying to get me to divulge my taste in movies, books, and television shows. I’m cutting off every option I can.

Whenever I visit Facebook, which is rare, I tiptoe around, fearful that I’ll fail to click one innocuous-looking little box and give Zuckerberg & Co. the email addresses of real friends or the right to repeat anything I write or say. I treat Facebook like quicksand and it’s troubling when the hazards have all moved to new locations.

Worst of all, changes like these are needlessly disruptive. We all have too many balls in the air right now to waste time rewiring our brains and fingers to punch buttons that have moved.

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