What Baking Soda Was Originally Used For – A Lesson in Product Positioning

by Sean Boyce
What Baking Soda Was Originally Used For - A Lesson in Product Positioning

I was really hoping to build up to this punchline, but it’s too obvious to wait – baking soda was originally used for baking.  Shocking I know. Especially coming from me, who loves thematic names. Hard to get more thematic then baking soda being used for baking. 

So why is this age old product the focus of my latest topic?  Well, if you study the history of this product, it serves as an excellent example of how to reposition your product once the market shifts to keep your product not just relevant, but make it even more successful than before.

Baking soda was invented by Arm & Hammer in 1846 and sold as a product to be used in the home for baking.  It was very successful and ultimately became a household name.  

Sales peaked around $16 million in the late 1960s.  They peaked because the market began to shift. Pre-packaged foods rose in popularity.  The market began to favor convenience and speed over the traditional home cooked meal. The demand for the Arm & Hammer deodorizer began to fall.  

Arm & Hammer had a decision to make.  They could sunset their product and go back to the drawing board or see what they could learn from the customers that were happy with their product to determine its future positioning.  Luckily for them, they chose the latter.

Executives at Arm & Hammer already knew customers had found alternative uses for their baking soda product, which was basically a deodorant – it absorbed unpleasant odors.  They began further researching these alternative uses for their baking soda product by studying their customers. What they found was that customers were placing the product inside their refrigerators.  This would solve the problem of removing unpleasant odors from the refrigerator.  

With this newfound knowledge, Arm & Hammer went to work.  They repositioned their product as a deodorant to be placed inside the refrigerator of every household.  They even went as far as repackaging the product to serve this purpose better. It now came in a box instead of the original bag.  Much more convenient for the refrigerator application.  

Their repositioning was a huge success.  People were placing a box of baking soda in their refrigerator and replacing them every 30 days.  Sales of the product far surpassed their original high and skyrocketed to over $300 million by the late 1980s, a nearly 20X increase.  In fact, this exercise was so successful Arm & Hammer updated the positioning of the company itself and they rebranded themselves as the deodorizers.  They ultimately developed many products for similar purposes – eliminating bad odors.  

So what can we learn from Arm & Hammer about successfully repositioning our products?

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Prioritize your customers perception of your product

As the product creator, you’re going to be biased about what your product’s intended use may be.  Realize now, that this is unimportant. It will save you tremendous frustration.  

Your job is to bring a solution to market to solve a problem.  It doesn’t mean that your customers won’t find a bigger problem for which your product is ultimately the solution.

Most importantly – when this trend comes upon your product – don’t fight it!  Embrace it. You’ll be very glad that you did.

Want to know exactly how to reposition your product so that it takes off?  Let’s talk it through, email me at sean@nxtstep.io or visit us on the web at NxtStep.

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