The history of Kleenex tissue offers an important lesson. Here's the story. Kimberly Clark launched its Kleenex tissue products in 1924. At the time, the company targeted adult females and marketed the product as a means of removing make-up. The first magazine ad ran in the Ladies Home Journal with the tag line: "the new secret of keeping a pretty skin as used by famous movie stars."
Several years after the launch, Kimberly-Clark's head researcher began using the tissues to blow his nose due to hay fever. He wanted the marketing folks to advertise the product for this use as well. They resisted at first. Around this same time, many customers also were using the Kleenex tissue in place of their handkerchiefs. Kimberly Clark learned about this unexpected customer behavior. Finally, in 1930, Kimberly Clark ran two ads at the same time. One focused on blowing your nose, while the other emphasized make-up removal. They evaluated customer response. More readers responded that they used the tissue to blow their nose. Ad campaigns changed, sales took off, and the rest is history.
What's the lesson of the story? Companies need to be mindful that customers may use their products in unexpected ways. Perhaps most importantly, firms must resist the temptation to dismiss this unanticipated customer behavior. The customers may, in fact, be telling you something incredibly important, if only you keep an open mind. Give Kimberly Clark credit for coming around in time, and investigating this unexpected behavior. As a result, they created one of the most successful brands of the 20th century.