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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?


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