“What’s in your tampon?” wasn’t a common question, even for us, to ask or be asked before 2 years ago. Since then, we’ve each asked it over 1,000 times.
It’s funny, we’d talked about everything with our friends. Men. Food. Our other friends. Travel. Sex. Family. Bosses. Crushes on our bosses. And we had dug deep into our single person, home alone behavior – no holds barred (you with the graham crackers/cool whip dipping habit: we know who you are). But we had never really gotten around to talking about each others’ vaginas. That, for some reason, seemed too crude for general banter.
We knew that to start and scale a tampon business — whose premise was based on ingredients transparency — we’d have to talk to hundreds, if not thousands, of women, to see whether they too cared what was in this product. We would have to have frank conversations and rip the lid off embarrassing topics fast. Our immediate friends and family were supportive, but we wanted to build something meaningful at a much larger scale. Outside of our circle of friends, we weren’t sure that our vision would actually resonate.
Outside of our circle of friends, we weren’t sure that our vision would actually resonate.
So road trip it was! We decided 15 focus groups was the perfect number; this would allow us to go to 4 cities (LA, SF, Chicago, and NY), meet a diverse group of women, and collect feedback on what mattered to them in this product category, how they thought and talked about periods, and whether our business idea was viable. These focus groups enabled us to spend 40 hours in active dialogue with 200 women who were brutally honest about their experiences, their questions, and their desire for a more natural tampon brand.
Here’s what we learned and why it mattered:
1. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to wad up TP in our underwear. We’ve all been pressured into using a tampon for that pool party after seventh grade. We’ve all felt anxious that, after putting a tampon in, we forgot to take the old one out. We’ve all bled in a nice pair of underwear. We’ve all had a tampon in our sleeve, pocket, jeans, shoe, or bra (because God forbid anyone knows what we are about to do in the bathroom!).
We’ve all had to wad up TP in our underwear. We’ve all been pressured into using a tampon for that pool party after seventh grade. We’ve all felt anxious that, after putting a tampon in, we forgot to take the old one out.
2. We’re blindly loyal to whatever we were handed. We run to the drugstore, grab the exact same box of tampons each month, and beeline to the register without a second thought. But why? For the most part, our mothers handed us a box and we stuck with that same brand forever. We are generally apathetic about this category given we like to stick with what works, our brands are mom-approved, and the topic isn’t sexy or interesting. But even given these tendencies, most women are completely open to changing purchasing behavior as long as there is a compelling reason to do so. And even more interestingly, most women feel no positive emotional connection to their brands, even after 20 years of using them.
3. We all love talking about periods. Every focus group ran over, ending after hours of hilarity, bonding, and fun. Also, after the first 5 minutes of ice breaker conversation, no one was awkward. Everyone felt comfortable and people were talking over each other, trying to share more about their never-before-shared personal experiences. We met 5 women who had inserted their first tampon, left the applicator in, walked around all day, and didn’t mention it until a decade later!
4. We all care what other people buy/do. In other product categories (home, baby, food), women were asking questions and sharing tricks. Why weren’t we already talking about our periods or other menstrual/reproductive products and sharing those tips?
5. Women had no idea what was in their tampon – but once the question was asked, they wanted answers. Halfway through every focus group, we would ask the group – so, have you ever wondered what’s in your tampon? And it was like the world stopped. A few women said cotton. A few women said chemicals. But mostly they stared blankly at us, demanding that we tell them an answer. When they realized that they didn’t know what was in a tampon, they were enraged… and when they found out we couldn’t find out (because mainstream tampon brands don’t disclose a complete list of ingredients), they were even more enraged… just like us.
These focus groups gave us the confidence and data we needed to launch this business and build the brand right. We had surmised who we were building LOLA for from the very beginning, but meeting our potential customers face-to-face, and hearing them speak so passionately about a topic to which they had never given much thought, was more than validating.
There’s nothing like talking to people about what they want, knowing your customer in and out, and hearing it straight from the source. We’re almost a year in and we try to remember these focus groups with everything we do. Every day, we ask ourselves: what does she need? What are her problems? How can we solve them? We’re building this brand for those women and the women who have since joined our community.