Profile: Landis Strategy & Innovation
Filling in the Blanks
Many high-profile companies turn to a little-known south Florida firm when trying to create new products.
Audi asked, " 'Where's the white space?'" says Steve Landis, the firm's co-chair and son of its founder. "White space," he explains, is the industry term for the spot on the marketplace map where no product exists. "We figured out that it was somewhere between a Mazda and a Porsche" -- in other words, a sports car that would convey status without a prohibitive sticker price.
Chuck ColesonPosition: President
Education: B.A. in accounting and finance from the University of West Florida
Career: 30 years in business consulting, finance and corporate management. Vice president for the Florida division of Days Inn of America; CFO for Florida Leisure Holdings in Ocala. Joined Landis as consulting CFO in 2000. Promoted to president in August 2004.Bob PostenPosition: Co-chair
Education: B.S. in chemistry, Upsala University
Career: 30 years in growth consulting, marketing and product development. Created household products for the makers of Lysol and Airwick; launched a $60-million division for the R.T. French Co. Joined Landis in the early 1980s and purchased the firm with partner Steve Landis in 1994.Steve LandisPosition: Co-chair
Education: B.S. in marine biology, University of Miami
Career: 25 years in market research and analytical process development. Joined Landis in 1979. Purchased firm (with Posten) from his father, Jack Landis, in 1994 and was instrumental in developing the firm's proprietary tools, services and models.
After determining that "there were buyers out there for a car that didn't exist," Landis Strategy -- then merged with a German partner called icon -- "suggested design elements and helped Audi create a car that fit into the company's line." The result was the successful Audi TT, unveiled in the late '90s.
The TT belongs to a roster of products that Landis has helped develop by figuring out what Americans don't see in auto showrooms or on supermarket shelves but would buy given the chance. Big companies have their own creative staffs but increasingly use firms like Landis Strategy to find "sparks of innovation," explains company co-chair Bob Posten. "We don't replace (the creative resources) of a company; we complement them."
Landis Innovations/ClientsAudi TT
Armour Steakhouse Tenders
Kodak Single Use Camera
Work for Band-Aid involving "different ways to put the Band-Aid name" on wound care
The Trends According to LandisMore "self-directed healthcare" - consumers taking more ownership of their healthcare needs, nutrition, etc., including expanded use of the internet to link health professionals and patients.
People eating healthier foods, blending natural things to achieve a therapeutic result.
A growing demand for sensory experiences -- the smell and feel of things. "There are only so many shampoos you can create, but you can create a new experience of using a product," says Bob Posten.
Convenience, convenience, convenience: "Look for kiosks and self-directed check-out aisles in supermarkets and stores to keep multiplying."
A few years ago, for example, SC Johnson -- maker of Ziploc storage bags and Saran Wrap -- wanted to raise its profile in the home storage aisle of supermarkets. "All that stuff -- aluminum foil, plastic bags -- pretty much looks the same," says Posten, "but we discovered there were a bunch of storage needs that weren't being met. People liked clear plastic wraps but complained that they stuck to the bowls; other products let in air."
Landis' work led to the introduction of Saran Quick Covers -- "those things that look like shower caps and fit over bowls." The product had an impact on more than SC Johnson's bottom line. "That supermarket aisle is now twice as large as it was four or five years ago," says Posten. "A whole new generation of products was created."
Getting into people's heads
Landis was founded in 1972, by Steve's father, Jack, who began his career with the J. Walter Thompson Advertising. "That was back in the 1950s, when they were experimenting with subliminal advertising," says the younger Landis. "You know, flashing 'popcorn' on the movie screen over and over" to move people to the concession stand. Jack Landis went on to launch Marketing Evaluations, the company that, among other things, pioneered the TVQ service, which measures viewers' response to particular shows -- not just whether they watch a show but whether they have a positive emotional response. "My father was always trying to get into people's heads, figure out what they wanted," says Landis.
A marine biologist by training, the younger Landis went to work for his father in 1979 (buying the business in 1994 with Posten). When Steve Landis arrived, the firm was a "paper-and-pencil" operation, he says. Procter & Gamble, a client at the time, pushed the company to create its first computer model predicting consumer tastes in 1980.
Starting with that model, the company has developed an art-and-science approach to product development. The first step is information-gathering: One-on-one and group interviews, questionnaires via both e-mail and regular mail, and, in some cases, telephone surveys. Initial questions range from the general to the very specific: "When do you drink light beer? Why? Does this change when you're having a meal?"
The company uses that data only as a starting point, however. "It's the kiss of death to use focus groups to answer questions," Posten says. "They are ideal, though, for developing questions" that can be taken to a more representative sample of consumers.
Landis Strategy then plugs data from the larger consumer samples into a computerized database model dubbed Matrix. The program crunches the survey data with information about how consumers are likely to behave. "We take that data and visualize how people choose between brands. People don't buy things because they're between the ages of 18 and 24; they buy things because they have (practical and emotional) needs," explains Landis, who says the technology and analysis gives the company what he calls its "unfair information advantage."
Many companies go wrong, Landis adds, because they try to develop new products based on what sold yesterday rather than what will sell tomorrow. "When we look at what people have bought in the past, it's like looking through the rearview mirror. We like to look through the windshield, at where the market is going, because getting there first is crucial."
Landis' ApproachFOCUS. You can't be all things to all people. The companies that do the best job of focusing on their "sweet spot" make the most money.
PLAN your actions - think ahead - to create your future. Ad hoc only gets you in hock.
STRATEGY comes before tactics. Think who, then what: Find an ownable need first, then align your product, not the other way around.
THE BENEFIT of a product is more important than its features and functions. Communicate benefit via sensory signal (i.e., picture, sound, smell, etc.).
TEST, test, test. Never assume people will grasp what is clear to you.
Most, but not all, of Landis Strategy's clients get on board with its ideas: "Bite-size cookies -- our clients thought we were crazy," recalls Posten. But the mini-cookies worked, as have a host of other innovations: "Fusions of spicy flavors, snacks targeted at women, such as baked potato chips -- things that today you don't even give a second thought to."
With that track record, Landis Strategy is able to close 85% of its proposals, Posten says, working successfully with big-name clients as varied as the Coca-Cola Co., Canadian Tire, Kodak, Doubletree, Florida Power & Light and the Miami Herald Publishing Co. This month will see the launch of a major beer that Landis helped develop. "Again, it was a case of customers who were out there looking for a product that didn't exist," says Posten. "We were involved in nearly every aspect: In the creation of the name, the bottle design, the label."
For all the company's high-profile clients and collaborations, Landis Strategy has chosen to operate under the radar, says Posten. "We help our clients win awards." Many of its agreements preclude Landis from disclosing its involvement with particular companies. The arrangement hasn't hurt business: Landis has doubled its accounts in the past four years to the "lower eight figures," Posten says, and its monthly revenue is equal to its annual revenue in the mid-1980s.
Given such dramatic growth, even Posten admits that a coming-out of sorts soon may be in order. "Instead of that quiet little company in Florida, we'd like to be known as somebody who can change the (product development) industry."