Gillette, which is based in Boston, wanted to test the product among Indian consumers before launching it, but instead of making the costly trip abroad, they had Indian students at nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) test the razor.
“They all came back and said: ‘Wow that’s a big improvement,’” Carvalho recalled.
However, when Gillette launched the razor in India, the reaction was different. Executives were baffled about why the razor flopped until they traveled to India and observed men using a cup of water to shave. All the MIT students had running water. Without that, the razor stayed clogged.
“That’s another ‘a-ha’ moment,” Carvalho said. “That taught us the importance that you really need to go where your consumers are, not just to talk to them, but observe and spend time with them to gather the key insight.”
P&G acquired Gillette in 2005 and the next several years were spent integrating the companies. In 2008, the focus on India returned when Carvalho decided to bring 20 people, ranging from engineers to developers, from Gillette’s US headquarters to India for three weeks.
They spent 3,000 hours with more than 1,000 consumers at their homes, in stores and in small group discussions. They observed people’s routines throughout the day, sometimes staying late into the evening. They also hosted small group discussions.
“We asked them what their aspirations were and why they wanted to shave, and how often,” Carvahlo said.
They learned that families often live in huts without electricity and share a bathroom with other huts. So men shave sitting on their floors with a bowl of water, often without a mirror, in the dark morning hours. As a result, shaving could take up to half an hour, compared with the five to seven minutes it takes to shave in US households. And Indian men strain to not cut themselves.
The takeaway: In the US, razor makers spent decades on marketing centered on a close shave, adding blade after blade to achieve a smoother cheek, but men in India are more concerned about not cutting themselves.
“I worked in this category for 23 years and I never realized with those insights that’s how they think about the product,” said Eric Liu, Gillette’s director of research and development, global shave care.
With that knowledge, the Gillette team started making a new razor for the Indian market. In nine months, P&G developed five prototypes.
The company declined to give specifics on each prototype for competitive reasons, but it tested things like handle designs, how well the blade cuts hair and how easy the razor is to rinse.
The resulting Guard razor has one blade, to put the emphasis on safety rather than closeness, compared with two to five blades found on US razors.
One insight from filming shavers was that Indians grip the razors in many different ways, so the handle is textured to allow for easy gripping. There is also a hole at the handle’s base to make it easier to hang up, and a small comb by the blade since Indians hair growth tends to be thicker.
Next, the company had to figure out how to produce the razor at the right price.
“We had to say: ‘How do we do this at ruthless cost?’” Carvalho said.