HOWARD MOSKOWITZ'S THEORY OF CHOICES

 

Social networking and diverse needs
Facebook was the first truly global social networking platform and even now, it defines in many ways social networking platforms should be built and developed. However, we see a growing trend where niche social networking sites like LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter, are gaining huge popularity while inactive users are rising on Facebook.

So, what's really happening here?

A "one-size-fits-all" attitude towards social networking does not work anymore. People interact socially for a host of different reasons. Some may want to just watch videos, some are trying to find better jobs, few want to share photos while others are voicing their opinions. All of these are distinct needs of the users, which drove them to look for tailored options that catered to a very specific need. And when they found one, it was instantly adopted and admired.

This phenomenon was first identified and put into use by Howard Moskowitz, a psychophysicist who reinvented spaghetti sauce! Interesting to know is that just like Facebook, Howard also started with a target to find the elusive perfect product.

Search for a 'perfect' Pepsi
In the early '70s, Pepsi wanted to introduce Diet Pepsi into the market. They used an artificial sweetener, aspartame, instead of sugar. They came to Moskowitz to find out the exact amount of aspartame to make the perfect Diet Pepsi.

Howard was told that the perfect Pepsi has an aspartame range of 8-12. He began his testing by preparing samples of Pepsi with differing amounts of aspartame. He then gave these Pepsis to people to determine which Pepsi they liked the most.

He collected all the responses and plotted it on a graph to find out what people thought was the perfect Pepsi. The results left him shocked. The data was not uniform on the graph as expected but rather scattered all over. This confused and amazed Howard at the same time.

He was adamant to find the reason behind this and after months of going through the data over and over again, Howard finally concluded that the data was not wrong. He went to Pepsi and told them, "There is no perfect Pepsi but only perfect Pepsis." don’t want their Pepsi with a fixed amount of sweetness but rather a whole range of it! This revelation was a groundbreaking one in the food industry but unfortunately, wasn’t fully understood at the time. Pepsi didn’t believe him and discredited his results.

This did not discourage Howard, who immediately hit the road and started telling the world about his discovery. He went to conferences around the country and said "You have been looking for the perfect Pepsi. You’re wrong. You should be looking for the perfect Pepsis." However, people dismissed him saying that his so-called "revelation" has turned into an obsession and that he should move on. No one paid attention to what he was saying. Nobody believed him.

Spaghetti sauces and choices
Prego was an American brand that specialized in making spaghetti sauce. In the early '80s, the company was struggling to compete with Ragu, which dominated the markets. Prego came to Howard as they wanted to make the "perfect" spaghetti sauce. Howard repeated the same thing he had told Pepsi: There is no perfect spaghetti sauce, only many perfect spaghetti sauces.

At the time, Prego made spaghetti sauce that was superior to that of Ragu. But the numbers were still down. So when they approached him, Howard visited their kitchen and cooked up 45 different varieties of spaghetti sauces. Next, he started classifying these 45 varieties, in terms of their sweetness, the amount of garlic, the number of tomatoes, tartness, sourness, visible solids, etc. Finally, conducted a survey in which random people were given samples for tasting and their opinion was recorded.

After months of data collection from various groups of people, Howard applied his learnings from the Pepsi incident on the data. Instead of ranking the different sauces based on the number of people who liked it, he tried to group the individuals according to the data obtained. This did the trick. He discovered that all Americans fell in one of three distinct groups; those that liked their spaghetti sauce plain, those that liked it spicy, and yet those that liked it extra chunky.

The first two facts were generally known but the third fact was a revelation. Until then there was no extra-chunky spaghetti sauce. It was then that Prego realized that though one-third of Americans liked extra chunky spaghetti sauce, no one was serving their needs. They made a note of this and completely reformulated their spaghetti sauce. They introduced a line of extra chunky spaghetti sauce that completely revolutionized the business. Over the next 10 years, Prego made over US$600 million from its line of extra-chunky spaghetti sauce alone.

After seeing how Howard helped Prego turn their fortunes around, everyone else in the industry realized what they were doing wrong. And thus, today if you go to any supermarket you will find 7 types of vinegar, 14 different kinds of mustard, and 71 types of olive oil!

The need of the rural Indian user
The Theory of Choices is not limited to the food industry and can be applied to social networking applications as well.

Initially, there was only Facebook, an app meant for people of all ages, genders, classes, and societies. But it was too broad-based in its approach, as it did not consider the various cultural and social needs. Soon, people started to associate their diverse needs with niche platforms - LinkedIn serving working professionals, Twitter meant for following celebrities, Instagram for posting pictures. Regional preferences also cropped up like Neighbourly in the US, Sina Weibo in China, and Taringa! in Argentina.

Likewise, when we consider India, a culturally diverse nation of 1.3 billion people, the concept of a need-based product becomes more relevant. It makes even more sense in the context of rural India, as more than 60% of Indians reside in villages. However, there is NO SUCH APP as of now.

People in villages of India face challenges when it comes to participating in local administration, increasing mechanization in agriculture, and availing benefits of government schemes. They do not have online solutions for some of these problems, while for others they have to search online which is a task in itself given information is scattered.

Having said that, villagers in India are well-versed with popular social networking applications, thanks to the penetration of 4G data and the availability of inexpensive smartphone handsets. Thus, instead of going through the painstaking process of making them proficient in online searching, social networking can be used to address their problems. The learning curve will not be steep as they are familiar with other social media apps.

Introducing Knitter, a first-of-its-kind social networking platform that promotes rural development through people's participation. Be it networking with others or finding reliable information, the app will be the one-stop solution for rural Indians.