How to Put a New Spin on an Old Product

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The price of cocoa used in making candy products has soared over the past decade. Candy makers have faced two options: charge more for their products or make them smaller while charging the same price. But some chose a third, less obvious option: use less cocoa and add air (or other different ingredients) as a filler to keep the size and price the same. This new version could then be sold to customers as a "lighter, healthier" offering with fewer calories.

These "tastes better, guilt-free chocolate" campaigns have been successful. Many consumers never stopped to think that fewer calories really meant that they were paying more for less. The candy companies have found a way to stay in the black by putting a positive spin on changes to their products. Any business can do the same when faced with sales challenges.

Try a New Spin

If a product is not selling well, there is a reason. You may have overestimated its demand, priced it too high, or tried to sell it to the wrong market. But many great ideas and products fail as a result of poor, inadequate, or misguided marketing efforts that can be easily resolved with a fresh approach. Starting from scratch with a new product takes inspiration, time, and money. Before you go back to square one, think like a marketer and ask yourself "Can I add air to my chocolate idea?"

Another Spin on Skyrocketing Costs

If sales drop because you need to raise your prices, try something the competition probably isn't doing: Be honest about your need to increase the price. It's a strategy that worked for Ben and Jerry's.

The popular premium ice cream brand only comes in small containers for a reason. Due to the cost of its high-quality ingredients, it would be almost impossible to sell a half-gallon for less than $10—a price most consumers would balk at. In 2009, when the cost of ingredients increased, competitors, including Häagen-Dazs, began reducing the amount of product in pints from 16 ounces (a true pint) to 14 ounces, while keeping the price the same.

Competitors made this change—some of them without informing consumers—and Ben and Jerry's took notice. Instead of reducing its own pints, the company seized the moment to publicly protest that you cannot fairly call 14 ounces a pint, emphasizing the brand's commitment to giving its customers "full value." When Ben and Jerry's finally did raise prices, sales did not drop.

Sales With a Spin

Sometimes it takes a creative approach to push a sale or other price drop toward success. During a recession, consumers pay close attention to where their dollars go. Simply running a sale may not be enough to motivate them to pull out their credit cards. You may need to inspire a little more confidence in the product.

Put a higher-quality, higher-priced item on sale next to an inferior product of comparable price. If you run an e-commerce business, you can add sidebars showing "inferior" products with similar price tags. People will consider the sales price as a steal when they compare it to those lesser goods.

Unexpected Spins

Sometimes you can use a strong product to lift another one, as Proctor and Gamble did. Mr. Clean sales were dropping; Gain laundry detergent sales remained strong. In a clever marketing move, instead of revamping the Mr. Clean formula, Proctor and Gamble added Gain scent to a new Mr. Clean product, offering consumers a fresh choice. Perhaps there are some unexpected matchups in your product lineup?

Suggestive Selling—the Last Minute Spin

Savvy Internet marketers know that pairing products is another way to move the needle. Have you ever purchased something online only to face a pop-up suggesting something else you might like? This practice is referred to as "suggestive selling."

Order pizza online and you will be asked if you want a salad, dessert, or soda. Order from Amazon and see what similar products people like. Suggestive selling also occurs at grocery store checkouts when the cashier asks if you want to contribute to a cause, or with items carefully placed near the register to entice you.

As any retailer will tell you, physical placement of any item in a store (right down to shelf height) can make or break a product. And its presentation is also important. If customers are not buying something, show them something new about the product —a new use, a new value, or a new pairing with another item.

New and Improved—a Risky Spin

A "new and improved" label can be a double-edged sword. Consumers often make jokes about why a company would have to improve a product if it was made right the first time. And, many people hate changes or even perceived changes in their favorite products.

On April 23, 1985, the Coca-Cola Company did away with its original Coke product and launched "New Coke." Loyal Coke fans were outraged, hating the "new and improved" taste, and they campaigned for the company to reintroduce the old formula. On July 11, less than three months later, the original product was brought back as "Coca-Cola Classic."

The Coca-Cola Company learned an important lesson. Now, instead of offering "new and improved" versions that do away with an old version of a product, it adds a new spin to existing successful products. Coke now comes in a variety of flavors (with lime, cherry, vanilla, etc., added) and different sweeteners, but it no longer messes with its proven standard.

In a roundabout way, though, the "new and improved" strategy worked. The initial marketing decision to stop production of Coke (Classic) caused such a demand that people began hoarding cases and selling them for inflated prices, like alcohol during Prohibition times. When the company brought back what the people demanded, it became the hero and Coke sales reached an all-time high. That course of events probably wasn't in Coca-Cola's plan, though. When you are considering a "New and Improved" strategy, be sure to do thorough research and product testing first.

Products fail for many reasons. Some are just bad ideas that no amount of marketing can overcome. But if you truly have a great idea, you may just need to find a better advertising campaign or marketing approach to kick sales into high gear.