Soap and Glory: A Peek Behind Method's Methods

Makower: You're not afraid that some of your great innovations -- the 8x concentrated detergent, for example -- that someone's going to come along and create their version of it? In other words, that you will have created the new standard but won't profit from it?

Ryan: You have to operate from a point of view that if you're successful there will be copycats. That's just the reality of the game.

Lowry: This is a place where we are holding the legacy assets of our competitors against them. I've talked with you in the past about laundry detergent, that the way it's normally used [by consumers] in the U.S. creates a lot of waste, and that creates a lot of extra business for our competitors. So for competitors to put a pump-dispensing technology on the laundry detergent, even if they first have to figure out how to make the formula the way we do, would mean their giving up a lot of the business that comes from that overuse. So, here's a legacy that we're able to hold against our competitors to say, "Listen we're going to do something that's more innovative, but it's also aligning the interests of the consumer with the interests of the environment."

Makower: Let's talk about consumers. What have you learned about consumers' willingness to change, particularly when it comes to environmental aspect of products. Are motivated by the "green"? Are they motivated by design, convenience or something else?

Ryan: It really depends on the categories. There are a lot of very trend-forward categories where you have a built-in consumer base that is always looking for the next thing; cosmetics is a great example. Method is in very slow-moving categories and they're slow-moving for a reason: there's not a lot of people walking around wishing they could find a better dish soap. So, creating change of behaviors is a very, very difficult task.

Makower: So what motivates them? What have you learned about how to change consumer behavior?

Ryan: I think design is a huge part of that. I mean when you put something out there that is aesthetic, you don't have to educate. It's instant and it creates an immediate emotional connection and reaction. So leveraging design has been a really powerful tool for us to create change in the category. You may not understand right away what our laundry detergent is about from the environmental perspective, but what you do notice right away is a beautiful little form sitting there on shelf.

Lowry: We don't really think about the green consumer as a single type of consumer. There's a little bit of green consumer, or a lot of green consumer, in everyone. In our book we use this phrase, "Making it selfish." It's kind of tongue-in-cheek but what it means is if you can make sustainability part of the product that you're selling, and then make the product better for all of the other reasons that they buy it -- convenience, price, value -- then you're creating a layer of reasons why that consumer would want to buy that product. You're creating multiple entry points into that product.

I think combining that with the design that Eric talked about, it creates that immediate, visceral, desire for the product. You can get people to just pick it up and give it a try. If you do that and you delight them with the performance of the product, they might turn the package around and read a little bit about the ingredients or that the package is made from recycled plastic. And that's the type of thing that leads to loyalty.