By David Huffman published March 25, 2011

A Content Marketing Lesson From the Study of Spaghetti Sauce

Sometime in the 1970s, Howard Moskowitz was commissioned to experiment and find THE perfect level of sweetness for Diet Pepsi.  That is, what would the perfect Diet Pepsi taste be that appealed to the largest audience?

When the data came back it was scattered beyond belief. No bell curve or anything that would indicate what the perfect level of sweetness would be.

According to the TED talk given by Malcolm Gladwell, after much thinking, the answer to the lack of perfect Pepsi sweetness hit Moskowitz in the face like a ton of bricks one day over lunch.

The answer was that there was no one perfect level.

Only perfect levels.

Fast forward to Moskowitz’s work with Prego.  He takes his revelation and applies it to Prego, which had only one flavor of spaghetti sauce at the time. Recognizing that there was no one perfect sauce, he developed 45 different types of spaghetti sauce for testing.  Gladwell states that Moskowitz,“varied each one by every way you could possibly vary tomato sauce, from level of sweetness, garlic, etc.”

He discovered Americans fell into three groups:

  • Those who like plain spaghetti sauce
  • Those who like chunky spaghetti sauce
  • Those who like spicy spaghetti sauce

Until this research, no one had even thought of developing a chunky variety of spaghetti sauce, yet one-third of Americans highly preferred it.

The result was $600 million dollars in 10 years from the chunky sauce line alone.

So what can content marketers take away from this?

You May Have More Customer Profiles Than You Realize

Do not simply stop once you have identified your one ideal target customer or audience.  Instead, search for and develop target customer(s), then develop content that appeals to each segment.

How many segments should you focus on developing?  I say give it the ol’ Prego and go for three. However, in my experience, you will not really know who or what to segment until you start your research using the methods outlined below.


Here’s one example from the educational institute I work for. We believed “sports broadcasting” was our most popular area of interest due to a small sample taken from the “student interest” field on school applications, so we were marketing specifically to that group.  However, last year our blog data showed  that “General Broadcasting Careers” were more popular, overall.  In light of that, we developed a 41 Careers in Broadcasting ebook that has been ten times more popular in generating traffic and leads than the sports one we developed, essentially giving us a new segment.

So how do you find other target customer groups? Here are some suggestions:

Identify your top keywords

Use Google Analytics or a program like Hubspot to see which keywords folks are using to find you.

How many keywords should you analyze?  Start with your top 20 per cent.  Look for themes like brand terms (i.e., the name of your business and variations) or industry terms (e.g., broadcasting careers).  Don’t forget about the long-tail phrases either.  In another example, we found that a few variations of “types of radio careers” added up to significant traffic for us – effectively giving us an “Interested in Radio DJ” segment.

Track your most popular posts

If you have a blog, what topics draw the most interest?  Compare and contrast with your keyword data and the other methods discussed in this post.

Poll your audience

Every time I survey my customers, I learn something new.  You can use surveys to explore new content themes, questions or even learn what folks would think about additions/changes to a particular product or service.  Post surveys on your site, your blog, social media sites and through email.  If you haven’t done so previously, start by asking questions based on your potential and existing customers’ biggest challenges

Connect with your sales department

If you haven’t already, bridge that sales and marketing gap.  Your sales folk are in the trenches talking to customers every day.  They’ll be able to tell you customers’ top questions and then help you identify themes.  Start by showing sales some of your data and see if it aligns with what they hear.

Keep an open mind

This is the most important advice I can suggest. While looking at data, keep an open mind to topics that you may not have figured your potential customers would care about. As business owners and marketers, we’re prone to what Chip and Dan Heath call “the curse of knowledge.”  In other words, we may know too much about our product or service to see it through the eyes of our potential customer.  To bring it back to the Prego example, what could be your “chunky” sauce?

What did you take away from the Prego story?  Do you have any other specific ways for identifying your different types of customers or their varying interests?


Take a second and add in the comments below.

Author: David Huffman

Dave Huffman is the Content Webmaster for Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Indiana. He is also the author of a blog about all things small business, from content marketing to creative strategies. You can follow him at Twitter @davemhuffman.

Other posts by David Huffman

  • Lisa Rich

    Dave Huffman delivers again! Thanks for enriching my sales life, partner!

    • Dave Huffman

      Hey jeez…really couldn’t do it without ya 😉 Seriously…

  • Jody Urquhart

    I’m with hubspot. They suggest you do exactly what you suggest. I blog using long tail keywords for awhile to different customer segments. Than I take an overall look at traffic to what keywords hit my site…
    I’m not at this stage yet but I will create target pages to the keywords that drive traffic. From this post I see I could also poll my customers to see what they actually want too

    Thanks for the advice

  • clinique coupons

    great tips i never realized before

  • clinique coupons

    great tips i never realized before

  • chrisbaggott

    Excellent post.   I wasn’t familiar with the Prego idea.   They now have 20 different sauces…7 in the heart smart category alone.

    What has to happen for all of us in marketing is to expand beyond the idea of personas to get to the Peppers & Rodgers promise of “one to one”.  We have to get everyone involved in Content Creation.  Prego can hire a team to write in the persona of what they think each of their 20 sauces buyers want, or they can run continual content generation campaigns FROM their audience.   “Why did you buy this?”  “Take a photo of your spagetti”  etc….

    Think in terms of hundreds or thousands of personas…a story for everyone.  

    Do that and two amazing things happen:

    1: You expand your ability to attract long tail search beyond what any organization could ever do alone

    2: (I like this one even better)  People share their own stories.   The odds that my wife will ever share Prego content is pretty slim.   The odds that my wife will share her own story featured in a Prego blog is almost guaranteed…and it’s a pretty good guess that many of her friends and family will share her story too.  

    We have come a long way from “one size fits all”….but we need to move from the idea of segmentation to the reality of everyone.  🙂

    Looking up I guess I should have used my own blog as a platform for this but I think you have kicked off a very interesting conversation here.  Nice work.