Think adapting to life with a new baby, with all the accompanying physical changes and financial pressures, is the most stressful thing that a new parent can face? Think again: almost half of those in the UK and US cite sleep deprivation as having the biggest impact. No surprise then, that anything that helps them, or their new baby, get more or better sleep has great potential.

When a great product is not enough

The maker of Ollie the Owl sleep aid faced a puzzling dilemma. Ollie had won best in category reviews, yet the market leader in the UK outperformed it. Why?

Why only qual could show the way

Ollie's maker needed help to focus its efforts and investment on activities that would have a real impact. It had already undertaken commercial and consumer reviews, but these didn't answer the bigger questions, like what is the role of the character?

As a result, Hush believed it needed to triangulate methodologies, including consumer in-depth interviews, in-home observation, and semiotics, to understand why Ollie was not winning and what to change without relying on direct feedback from parents (which we knew would be positive).

Holistic experience mapping

Given the risk to the business of making unnecessary or ineffective changes, we knew we had to look at the challenge from all angles, with sufficient stages to learn, validate and gain client buy-in. This resulted in an approach that incorporated six stages and five unique methodologies.

"The biggest difference about this research," says Rob Hunter, global product marketing manager, Mayborn Group, "was that it took a full holistic approach. It went above and beyond just the right product solution but evaluated everything from brand recognition through to naming and awareness. This allowed me to get full business buy-in to the project and understand its role in making this a success. We are often very guilty of thinking the product is a stand-alone thing but, in reality, we need everything to come together."

An integrated and iterative approach

By combining different methodologies in an iterative manner, we were able to resolve long-held tensions, find original solutions and above all inspire whole organisations to invest and act. Before this project, the business was divided on whether any change was required. In contrast, because of this study, a successful relaunch of the sleep aids range has been undertaken.

This level of impact could not have been achieved by a single methodology as while each one provided unique insight; individual approaches were incomplete. Only by viewing them together could we truly understand the conflicts in what parents were saying vs doing before working with parents and the client to know what to do about it. There was not a single stage that didn't add value as we had "aha moments" in each step which evolved the way we approached the following stage:

Stage 1: By interviewing client stakeholders, we captured key beliefs before conducting in-depth interviews with new parents to map their journey.

Stage 2: Using psychology ai, we saw that users' emotional connection to the client's product was significantly less than to the competitors'. In subsequent stages, we focused on learning which part of the experience was driving this discrepancy.

Stage 3: By testing our "work-in-progress experience map" for the category, we realised that awareness was overstated, but only for the client's brand. From here we went on to unpick what was driving this confusion and how to resolve it.

Stage 4: We not only validated our hypotheses to date, but through the deprivation/replacement exercise saw that over 90% of parents preferred the client's product, yet they acknowledged they would never have bought it.

Stage 5: Finally, we were able to close the loop on how to resolve the tensions that we had identified using semiotics, answering some of the most challenging and debated questions around the role of the character. These had been unanswerable through direct questioning and were highly emotive changes internally for the client.

"This approach really helped us prioritise what would make the new products succeed," says Rob. "Yes, new features and a new look are good but UNLESS we do the front-end awareness then it's not going to be successful. This was such a simple, yet important, insight that it fundamentally reframed our thinking about the project prior to doing the research."

Two years on, a new Ollie

Several of the commercial and comms recommendations took place quickly after the end of the project. The biggest challenge, though, was to reinvent Ollie without losing what makes him special.

As Stuart White, global head of product, Mayborn Group, says: "This was a unique and challenging project. Ollie was always a great product, but we knew he could be even better. We just didn't know where to spend our time or money. The thoroughness of this approach not only gave the business the precise answers we needed, but innovative solutions and the confidence to act."

Reflecting on the study, I believe the key to success was anticipating the needs and potential objections of stakeholders to guide the business to a cross functional action plan. This was only possible by leveraging a range of experts and methodologies through partnerships including Symanto, MumsViews and an independent semiotician.

Each methodology looked at the same problem in different ways which, when put together, enabled the whole business to make sense of previous contradictions. They could then choose to support the actions that would have the greatest impact irrespective of function. Without this agility and ability to use the right resource at the right level at the right time, I believe this project would have been incomplete. It wouldn't have got off the ground nor would it have had such an impact on the client and category.