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    How to Dominate a Market – The Oral-B Story

    Discover how Oral-B's embrace of design thinking revolutionized their children's toothbrushes.

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      Picture of Vaughan Broderick

      Vaughan Broderick

      Hi friends, 👋

      Today we’re exploring oral hygiene. 😁

      Wait, don’t go! 😳

      More to the point, we’re talking about how Oral-B uses design thinking to dominate markets.

      Let’s dive in!

      In about the year 2000, Oral-B wanted to make a new children’s toothbrush to differentiate itself in the market.

      As you can imagine, the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector is highly competitive and requires businesses to innovate to maintain a competitive advantage constantly.

      Oral-B approached IDEO (the global design thinking firm) to help them develop the product.

      In typical design-thinking fashion, IDEO wanted to do some field research.

      Oral-B initially pushed back, viewing the activity as unnecessary and a waste of time and resources.

      ‘It’s not rocket science. How hard can it be to design a kid’s toothbrush?

      IDEO persisted and started observations out in the field. Here’s what they discovered:

      • Every manufacturer assumes that children have small hands and adults have big hands. So to make a toothbrush for children, make it like an adult toothbrush but smaller (logical but wrong).
      • Children don’t have the same dexterity as full-grown humans. So they often hold a toothbrush by grabbing it and making a fist.
      • Children often hold the toothbrush too far towards the head of the toothbrush and whack themselves in the face.

      🧠 Insight - Children don't need little toothbrushes; they need big squishy ones.

      It’s a brilliant example of ‘solving the right problem before solving it right.’

      What happened from this one tiny insight is astounding.

      🚀 Oral-B dominated the children’s toothbrush category for the next eighteen months (until every other company followed suit).

      In FMCG terms, that’s huge.

      video preview

      Hear how Tom Kelley describes the case study to the ​Stanford Ventures Programme​.

      Fast forward to today. Oral-B has jumped to the next s-curve and now dominates the electric toothbrush category with a whopping 51% ​market share​.

      To put that into perspective, the ​global electric toothbrush market​ was valued at USD 3.16 billion in 2022 (and growing).

      By my guesstimation, that equates to over USD 1.5 billion for Oral-B. 🤓

      How did they do it? They ​enlisted design thinking​ to uncover insights and inform product design and market penetration.

      I’m not suggesting that translating innovation into a market-dominating product or service isn’t much more complex.

      But, whoever understands their customer the best gets a head start in the race to build products and services people want.

      MUST READ ISSUE: The Psychology of Buying: Unmasking How to Find Product / Market Fit (aka using jobs to be done to understand what customers need)​

      The thing is, though. You don’t need to be a massive corporate like Nordstrom, Starbucks, Bank of America, Nike, Oral-B or GE Healthcare to benefit from design thinking.

      You can start today, no matter the size of your organisation.

      The first time we used the DUCTRI Model, we created an innovation for ​vulnerable young people​.

      🧠 Here’s the four-step beginner’s playbook to get you going fast:

      Step One: Follow the DUCTRI Model. The ​DUCTRI Model​ is the most comprehensive (yet easy to learn) and practical design thinking process to anchor yourself.

      Step Two: Take the FREE course. Based on the DUCTRI Model, we’ll step you through the innovation process over 7-days in less than 10 minutes daily.

      Step Three: Read a few of these books. I recommend starting with Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley.

      Step Four: Learn by doing. Design thinking is design doing, So getting started is better than waiting for the perfect time. Trust me; you’ll find your way. Feel free to connect with me on ​LinkedIn​, share stories and ask questions.

      Bonus. A ​tutorial​ from yours truly shows how easy it is to start deriving insights using the jobs-to-be-done concept after you have completed field research.

      ⚡️ The Short of It

      Creating breakthrough innovations isn’t (usually) by accident.

      It is the intentional act of design.

      Design thinking provides the opportunity to get close to your customers and win.

      🎁 Vaughan’s Recommendations:


      • 👍 My friend Gabe Marusca writes an excellent newsletter with years of insights from his life as a Nomad Solopreneur. Each Tuesday you get 1 actionable tip, 1 resource, and 1 challenge for you to improve your life and business. It’s on my weekly must-read list.
      • 🚀 The Stanford d.school provides some world-class training and resources for any aspiring design thinker.
      • 💥 If you’re a solo creator then, think about accessing the Solo Creator Summit. There’ll be lots of insights and inspiration. Catch you there.

      That’s all for today friends! 👋

      If you learned something useful, would you share the newsletter with a friend?

      And if you have an idea for a future issue, send ’em my way.

      Thanks for reading and I’ll catch you next week.

      Keep future-state thinking,