Reflections on soup and market segmentation.

When my mother makes soup, she delivers it in the pot she cooked it in. The pot was my grandmother’s, and it has been in our family for roughly 65 years. It’s a big, sturdy pot. If cookware were a vehicle this thing would be a work truck.

The other day after a drop off, I was heating the soup in the pot. Staring at it, I noticed the years on that thing. One handle is a little wobbly. The lid is a touch warped. The copper bottom certainly has some miles.

I kept thinking, “how many?”

How many meals has this pot prepared? How many dinners? Batches of soup? Casseroles?

How many times have the contents of that pot been brought to a neighbor? How many celebratory suppers? How many “it will be all right” meals? How many “I have extra and thought of you” offerings?

Nobody has the tally.

As an advertising person, I would love to know how my grandmother acquired this particular pot. Was it a gift? Did she see it in a catalog? A magazine ad? Did she save up for it? Did she really want another pot and have to settle for this one?

Nobody knows.

Then I wonder: what were the discussions like between the product development people and product marketing people about this pot? How did they want to position it? Was it an innovation play? Did the agency strategist working with the “pot team” make a bold proclamation that the company isn’t really selling cookware, but “joyful family gatherings,” “food as love,” “shared experiences?” Where did my grandmother fall in their segmentation study? Was the funnel fully activated with her? What was the cost for acquisition?

Nobody knows and I probably sound ridiculous.

My guess is the company used all of the tools to market that pot that were available to them in the 1950’s, just like we use all of the tools available to us today. I’m also guessing no one at the company or agency was thinking what that pot would represent to my family 65 years later.

Nobody could have possibly known, just like we can’t know what a brand or product will represent to someone 65 years from now. As an industry, we bring great precision and insight to everything we do. Intellectually we can predict and understand behavior, but we can’t feel it. As a result, we don’t really know what a product, brand, or experience will mean to people.

It’s a limitation that I find inspiring. It pushes us to learn and find ways to surprise and engage the people we market to.

So how do we know when we get it right? I’m not exactly certain, but I think an enduring bond with a big, old pot full of chicken noodle soup has something to do with it.