NyQuil aside, product misuse can benefit companies

Anyone who has seen the recent headlines about social media users supposedly cooking chicken in NyQuil will not be surprised to learn that consumers sometimes use products in ill-advised ways.

But if you’re an entrepreneur who is looking to expand into new product lines, it’s definitely worth paying close attention to all the, er, creative ways that customers use your products. Even if it seems like they have no clue what they’re doing, they may actually be on to something.

From left: Lydia Dishman, Senior Editor, Growth and Engagement, Fast Company; Jason Bornstein, Principal, Forerunner Ventures; Benjamin Nazarian, CEO, Therabody; Jessica Rolph, Cofounder and CEO, Lovevery; and Katerina Schneider, CEO, Ritual. [Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

That’s according to Benjamin Nazarian, CEO of the wellness brand Therabody, who explained at the Fast Company Innovation Festival on Thursday how the consistent misuse of one of the company’s core products led to the development of its now-TikTok-famous skincare tool, TheraFace.

“We came up with TheraFace—our custom therapy device, which has eight modalities in one—because we started seeing our customers using our Mini, which is a little bit softer than a full-size Theragun, on their face,” Nazarian said. “We tell all of our customers: Do not use Theragun above your shoulders. It’s way too powerful. It’s actually jarring. But people were doing it.”

Rather than chastise his customers for not following directions, Nazarian said he seized upon the opportunity to learn more about their curious reasons for using the product this way. “We asked them why,” he said. “And they were doing it for lymphatic drainage . . . they were doing it for TMJ (a joint condition). And so we designed a product specifically for that need.”

Nazarian told this story during a panel discussion about the future of direct-to-consumer, or DTC, a commerce model popularized in the aughts and 2010s with brands like Bonobos, Warby Parker, and Away. Nazarian was joined on stage by Jason Bornstein, principal at Forerunner Ventures; Jessica Rolph, cofounder and CEO of Lovevery; and Katerina Schneider, the founder and CEO of Ritual.

[Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

As a category, DTC had been growing for years in the mobile era, but it especially thrived during the early part of the pandemic, when stay-at-home orders and a general anxiety of being around other people made consumers much more eager to embrace online shopping. According to one analysis from McKinsey, e-commerce saw 10 years’ worth of growth in three months during the first quarter of 2020.

The space has obviously cooled off a bit as the world reopened and inflation has made consumers more price conscious, but it’s still growing at an impressive rate. An Insider Intelligence report from earlier this year projected that digitally native brands in the United States alone would generate $44.6 billion in 2023, up 16% from 2022. Each of the panelists echoed the belief that DTC as a category is only just getting started, particularly for adaptable companies that adopt a smart data-driven strategy without sacrificing the human connection they’ve made with their most loyal customers.

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