A TED Talk A Day, Day 65: Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of how Howard Moskowitz revolutionised both the spaghetti sauce industry, and also how we create products for people.

  1. We should look for “the perfect Pepsi”, we should be looking for “the perfect Pepsis”. There isn’t always one single type of thing that satisfies all people; there are often multiple types that satisfy different people.
  2. When analysing data to determine what kind of spaghetti sauce to make, researcher (and psychophysicist) Howard Moskowitz found that people fell into one of three groups. So there wasn’t one spaghetti sauce for everyone, but there were a few types of sauce that might work. The outcome of the research (which was for Prego) was this: they found that there were a group of people who liked their spaghetti sauce extra-chunky. So they launched an extra-chunky sauce, and went on to dominate the spaghetti sauce market.
  3. People don’t know what they want. During the consumer research focus groups conducted before this, no one ever mentioned they liked chunky spaghetti sauce.
  4. People don’t always say what they really want. Most people will say they want a nice, dark coffee, but the truth is that many people want weak, milky coffees — but most people will not say that.
  5. Moskowitz helped to invent the concept of horizontal segmentation. This was a change from prevailing marketing notions at the time which favoured inventing more expensive and higher-end products that people would aspire to. Instead horizontal segmentation was not about better, but about different and more equal choices.
  6. The “platonic dish”: The cooking world used to think that there was always a best way to make any dish. So we also thought that the best spaghetti sauce (that would make people happy and that they would embrace) was to make the most “culturally authentic” sauce, which at the time was what Ragu made — a thin, running sauce similar to Italian spaghetti sauce. But Moskowitz showed that was not the case.
  7. This wasn’t just true of the cooking world, but also in other fields of science, economics, medicine. We have always sought out universals that will apply to everyone, but this is changing. Think, for example, of customised medicine based on genetics.