Business Monday

What I learned in the diaper aisle

‘I learned that the market for disposable diapers is a fiercely competitive battlefield waged with razor-sharp pricing, targeted product differentiation, proliferation of product features and an all-out assault on emotional heartstrings.’
‘I learned that the market for disposable diapers is a fiercely competitive battlefield waged with razor-sharp pricing, targeted product differentiation, proliferation of product features and an all-out assault on emotional heartstrings.’

I like when friends invite me to sponsor them in charity events.

I admire their devotion. I respect their commitment to preparing for a long walk or a race. Or steeling themselves for a night sleeping on the street in solidarity with the homeless. I’m proud to be part of Team-Gayle or Team-Jeff or Team-Brenda.

I’m a joiner when it comes to “A-thons,” because I get the easy part. All I have to do is click a few buttons, and I get to support both a friend and a worthy cause.

I recently got a solicitation from the Miami Diaper Bank, which is the brainchild of an industrious 16-year-old named Jonah Schaechter and his sister Arielle. They invited me to participate in a diaper drive benefiting the Lotus House and the Chapman Project.

So I went to click … but Jonah’s email stopped me. “Unable to drop off diapers?” it asked, “Then make a donation.”

“Why not,” I thought, I can drop off diapers. So I updated my shopping list and headed to the grocery store.

There, I learned that the market for disposable diapers is a fiercely competitive battlefield waged with razor-sharp pricing, targeted product differentiation, a proliferation of product features, and an all-out assault on emotional heartstrings. In other words: a crash course in marketing and revenue optimization.

Huggies and Pampers dominated the battlefield, with 60 percent of shelf space. These diaper behemoths were flanked by the store brand, which captured the most strategic position: front, center, eye-level. With Luvs lurking at the lower left and the environmentally friendly Seventh Generation brand occupying a predictably small footprint.

Huggies and Pampers are locked in mortal combat, relentlessly sparring for competitive advantage. While Pampers’ smallest diapers are adorably dubbed “Swaddlers,” Huggies counters with “Little Snugglers.”

But neither brand is willing to concede any ground. While trademark laws protect Huggies “Snugglers,” Pampers counters with a mother and her baby — you guessed it — snuggling. And while the same laws protect Pamper’s “Swaddlers, Huggies counters with a “GentleAbsorb” liner with tiny pillows as soft as a swaddling blanket.

Both brands engineer their products with NASA-like precision. They offer a dozen discrete sizes, from newborns to kindergarteners who need extra protection at night. There’s a special notch for umbilical cords, color-coded alerts when diapers need changing, daytime versions engineered for mobility, night-time versions designed to maintain dryness, and gender-specific options that put extra absorbency exactly where it’s needed.

And then they bring the heavy artillery. If you’re not sufficiently moved by adorable smiling babies cuddling with their moms (and sometimes dads), who can resist smiling Elmo waving from a Pampers’ box? Or, Winnie the Pooh tickling his toes from a Huggies’ box?

Frankly, the store brand didn’t stand a chance, even at a penny and a half less per diaper. Sure, their boxes showed cute kids; but there were no sweet licensing deals with Disney or Sesame Street. And their “accordion stretch panels” and “enhanced leakage protection” didn’t have the warmth of Pampers “Stretchy Sides” or Huggies’ “Snug and Dry.”

On the merits of the product features and positioning, Pampers and Huggies easily beat the other brands, but had fought to a stalemate among themselves.

But then, Huggies lobbed another strategy: an in-store coupon. Buy two boxes, and save $7, lowering the price per diaper below every other competitor in the field.

So Huggies won that battle by offering it all: every imaginable high-tech feature, emotionally compelling photos of babies and loving parents, Winnie the Pooh, and a winning price. An unbeatable combination for Huggies and — by extrapolation — for any product you may be trying to sell.

Adam Snitzer is a revenue strategy expert and president of Peak Revenue Performance, a consulting firm that specializes in designing and executing innovative pricing strategies. He can be reached at adam@peakrevenueperformance.com, or via the company’s website at PeakRevenuePerformance.com.

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