The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself – Peter Drucker

Gillette is known all over the world for its shaving products for men with a strong brand following in many countries. It’s continued to innovate in this space with bringing the best technology to the fore in helping men shave better.

In 2011, Gillette was bought by P&G. As Roger Martin recounts the story in Playing to Win, the focus of one executive, Chip Bergh, was “to stimulate consumption by expanding into emerging markets in general and to India in particular”.

P&G has had a long history of design innovation and using deep ethnographic research to understand what customers do and why they do it so as to innovate and solve a problem that they value. I found it fascinating that this kind of work was new to Gillette, which relied mostly on quantitative research.

Bergh wanted the team to go and spend time in India (which was their target market) and spend some time living with the customers. He said “I want you to go into their homes. You need to understand how they shave and how shaving fits into their lives”.

One scientist from UK who participated in this discussion asked ‘Chip, why do we have to go to India? We have a lot of Indian men who live right outside of our door in Reading. Why can’t we just recruit them?’. This is the core of understanding the difference between learning from people in their context vs focus groups or other types of research.

When you want to really understand people you need to go where they are and understand them in that context.

More from Martin:

Only in India did the scientist really begin to understand the needs of the Indian consumer. He learned what he could not learn inside his lab or from consumer testing outside London. Typically, razors are designed and tested with the assumption that everyone shaves as people do in the West, with reliable access to a large sink and running hot water.

In India, the team members saw that this simply wasn’t true. Many of the men they met shaved with only a small cup of cold water. Without hot running water to clean the razor, small hairs tend to clog the blade, making shaving far more difficult. Gillette’s new product would take that unique challenge into account. It would be a new kind of razor, custom-built to meet the needs of consumers in India.

Gillette Guard


The Gillette Guard razor, as it came to be called (and which bore a close resemblance to the one first sketched on that napkin), has a single-blade system with a safety comb designed to prevent nicks and an easy-rinse cartridge.

And the new shaving system was different and successful.

The razor costs 15 rupees, or $0.34, and uses blades that cost 5 rupees, or $0.11, to replace.6 By contrast, the top-end Gil- lette Fusion Pro-Glide is sold for $10.99 in the United States, with replacement blade cartridges at about $3 each. Within three months, the Guard was the best-selling razor in India, winning

through a set of capabilities in innovation and consumer under- standing that had to be cultivated, rather than left to chance. By engaging directly with the Indian consumer, by treating that con- sumer as the boss, the Gillette team was able to understand what he values and what he experiences.

What do we learn from this?

  • Even if you have been successful for a long time new ways of understanding customers is key to creating value.
  • It becomes more important if you are looking into a new context
  • Customer research can be a key component of strategy innovation and not just product innovation