Tips from a POMQueen: The success of POM Wonderful ~ Brand Mix

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tips from a POMQueen: The success of POM Wonderful

Photo: Pomegranate Seed 3x: saltyseadog (Flickr CC)

What's are the seeds of marketing success? How do you launch a product made with a fruit that few people have even heard of? What lessons can we learn from the success of POM Wonderful?

Lynda Resnick (aka the POMQueen) was a keynote speaker at the UCLA Anderson Alumni Weekend this past week. She has an amazing track record. In addition to POM Wonderful, she's also had hits with Fiji Water, Teleflora and The Franklin Mint. But of all these hits, POM Wonderful may have been the highest level of difficulty. Before it was launched in 2003, only 12% of the population even knew what a pomegranate was. It's expensive ($3.00+ for a 16oz bottle) and it's a strong, acquired taste.

As I listened to the presentation, I was struck by the mixture of insight, pragmatism, ambition, inspiration, determination, bloody-mindedness, patience and luck that factored into the success. Here are six things she talked about:

1) Own the land: The Resnicks (that's Lynda and her husband, Stuart) discovered pomegranates accidentally. They bought farmland that happened to include some pomegranate trees. For the first few years, they just sold the pomegranates as fruit. But then they noticed that they produced at a healthy yield/acre. The opportunity sensors were activated.

2) Trace the lineage: The next trigger was an Italian friend of theirs. She waxed lyrical about pomegranates and talked about their mythology. In ancient times, pomegranates were symbols of everything from fertility and royalty to hope and abundance. Was there some truth to the legend of the pomegranate? Could any health benefits be scientifically validated?

3) Dip into the royal purse: The company then spent $25 million in scientific research to find out whether there were health benefits that could be turned into product claims. These studies have shown positive results in a whole slew of conditions including heart disease, prostate cancer, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. There certainly is substance to the health angle.

4) Off with their heads: The marketing team started experimenting with various pomegranate concoctions that would have broad appeal and could be competitively priced. Nonsense, said Ms. Resnick. This has to be the real thing, not some watered down juice. One of her key principles is intrinsic value. 100% juice has it. A touch of pomegranate in a grape juice wash doesn't.

5) Two orbs in the veggies: Other than the pomegranates themselves, the two most distinctive things about POM are is its double orb shape and the fact that it's sold in the produce aisle. While the distinctive bottle shape is a great example of using packaging structure for distinctive effect, the more interesting story is about the placement. Having decided to go the 100% route, the product then had to be sold refrigerated. Rather than fight for placement with hundreds of other juice products, they chose to put it in the produce aisle where they already had other products and existing relationships with the buyers.

5) Sentence first -- verdict afterwards: Although POM has spent large sums on scientific research, it didn't spend anything on consumer research to test demand. Instead it chose to go straight to an in-market test. The plan was to field the test in California and the expectation was that the product would be popular with older people looking for healthy products. But a grocery strike forced a change of plan and they ended up launching in New York. Turned out it wasn't older, health-seeking consumers who drove demand. It was 28-year olds who bought it because it was chic.

6) Believe impossible things: Could one of the large CPG companies have succeeded with a product like this? I think it's doubtful. In my experience, the financial and risk management culture of most of these companies would either have killed the product before launch or starved it soon after. I'm pretty sure that, when I was a brand manager, I would not have been able to get the money for the scientific study, I would not have been able to launch without strong research results, I would not have been able to develop a product without mass appeal, I would not have been able to launch with such expensive packaging and I would not have been able to switch test markets from one coast to the other. In short, unlike Ms. Resnick, I would not have been able to recognize the true value in what I had.

Note: A more complete account of POM Wonderful's successful launch can be found in Lynda Resnick's book: Rubies in the Orchard. I haven't read the book myself but the Amazon reviews suggest that it gives insight not just on the marketing activities that made POM Wonderful a success but also on the personality and drivers of the POMQueen herself.

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