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Toast is up

When I was younger, large corporations were the, ‘Be All and End All’ for success stories. They could do no wrong and were very innovative when it came to new products. I remember being shocked when the Admirals, Simpson’s and Eaton’s of the world went out of business. How could that possibly have happened?

I remember studying one company in particular, during my school days, and how they believed to be infallible in anything they did. One day, however, they were jolted into reality when a massive marketing campaign failed, and it took them a long time to establish the reasons. The company was Westinghouse, and for those of you who are not familiar with them, they were, among other things, a very dominant player in the appliance industry. One of their most successful products was the everyday toaster.

One day, the company decided they would branch into the European market and put a toaster on every counter in Western Europe, similar to North America. The ‘C-suite’ turned to the marketing department. After a few weeks of brainstorming, a fantastic campaign was set to be launched, in conjunction with the production of a toaster, operating at 220 volts (the European standard).

The products were built in North America and shipped to Europe. The intention was to open manufacturing plants overseas once sales reached a certain level. The marketing department had done its job, stores had inventory, and the US giant was off to conquer another marketplace.

Well, guess what? Sales flopped. No one bought toasters, and worse than that, no one at Westinghouse, knew the reason. Marketing tweaked their campaigns, but nothing succeeded. Finally, the C-suite looked beyond the US borders for help and turned to a German marketing firm. The one and only meeting was brief, and the Americans were stunned. The Germans simply explained that toasters were invented because, in North America, people went grocery shopping once a week, and by mid-week, bread was stale. Toasting it brought it back to life in a very successful yet unique manner.

“In Europe,” the Germans explained, “we go to the bakery every day, so our bread is always fresh. We do not need a toaster!”

Westinghouse executives were dumbstruck. They ceased production, pulled out of Europe, and continued in familiar markets. A few years ago, I remember thinking why companies like Target failed when they left their home markets. They simply assumed everyone wanted to be like them, and that is just not the case,

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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