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Is it a double-sided toothbrush, or a coconut-flavoured paste?

It’s a premolar on the right side of my mouth, and somewhere along the way, it developed this rough texture. No matter what I do, it just never seems to feel as clean as the rest of my teeth.

For the last few years, I’ve had this one tooth that has been driving me crazy.

It’s a premolar on the right side of my mouth, and somewhere along the way, it developed this rough texture. No matter what I do, it just never seems to feel as clean as the rest of my teeth.

I’ve tried every different type of toothbrush. I’ve bought toothpicks and a plethora of different flossing aids, including a water flosser. I even tried to brush the tooth with baking soda (it helped, by the way, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy drinking saline).

In case you’re wondering, I’ve been to the dentist and they confirmed there’s nothing wrong with it — it’s just a weird texture that creates more build-up.

I think about this godforsaken tooth morning, noon, and night, because the sensation is just that distracting.

So when I came across an ad for this product called the Balene toothbrush, I practically screeched “Shut up and take my money!” at my phone screen (I probably would have, had I not been on the train at the time).

It’s a double-sided toothbrush that cleans the internal and external surfaces of your tooth at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever ‘added to cart’ faster in my life. It was only $15 but to be honest, I would have happily paid over $150 for it.

And, happily, it worked. The texture isn’t gone, but I can brush my teeth with it and still have it feel clean for the whole day/night.

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s not because I want the whole world to know about my dental issues, nor because I’m sponsored by Balene — although, if they’re reading this… I’m open 😉

It’s because it got me thinking about human-centered product innovation.

Humans buy products that solve the problems that keep them up at night. The first thing they think about when they wake up in the morning. The things they whine and moan to their friends about.

That’s exactly what that tooth was to me, and I would have paid nearly any amount of money to solve it.

If we were going through the design thinking process for the Balene toothbrush, it would probably look something like this.

  1. Empathize: Consumers feel irritated, frustrated, and quite frankly, Shrek-like, when their teeth aren’t clean enough.
  2. Define: Balene’s website states the problem they address is: Why does the conventional toothbrush not facilitate the cleaning of the inner surface of the teeth if it is the area where the most plaque builds up?
  3. Ideate: Not sure what else they considered, but they went through 5 years of research and development and landed on a manual brush with Tyflex bristles.
  4. Prototype and test: Balene seems to have started with direct-to-consumer in Europe, but now supplies to pharmacies and e-commerce partners all over the world
  5. Iterate: They started with just the manual brush, but it seems they’ve recently branched out with an electric brush. So, I guess they discovered that people are lazy and still don’t brush thoroughly enough, even with the right tool

It’s a good reminder that your product or service doesn’t have to address this huge, life-altering problem for humanity. It can be just as effective is to create something that addresses the annoying bugbears we face in day-to-day life.

But, here’s the thing. Immediate, urgent needs aren’t the only reason people buy.

Another thing I recently purchased is a coconut-flavored, natural toothpaste from another consumer brand. All of their products are beautifully designed, and I’m a sucker for the aesthetic.

I didn’t need a bougie, blush-coloured toothpaste. My Colgate mint cheapie does the trick at cleaning my teeth.

So, why did I buy it? It was because of another common sales motivator: it made me feel like the version of myself that I want to be. Someone with a cute and aesthetic bathroom, that is.

There’s nothing wrong with having a coconut toothpaste product: something that addresses a want, not an immediate need.

But here’s the thing: if that’s the direction you want to go in, you’d better be willing to invest a lot of time, money, and energy to get your brand and marketing on point.

When you solve an urgent need, these things become less important.

Balene’s website didn’t necessarily appeal to me, and their messaging didn’t specifically call out the exact problem I was having. But that didn’t matter, because I was so gung-ho about finding a solution that I connected the dots myself.

But, if you have a product or service that solves a more abstract problem? Then you really need to put in the work to articulate the transformation you facilitate— so that your prospective buyer can imagine it vividly.

So, if you’re like me and have too many ideas for products and services and don’t know which one to pursue… ask yourself this as a litmus test:

Is this idea a double-sided toothbrush or a coconut toothpaste?

And if it’s the latter, how much work are you prepared to put in to sell the dream?

Hopefully, this food for thought gets stuck in your teeth, and you’ll remember it next time you’re struggling to make a business decision.

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By  The Progress Company

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