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Johnson & Johnson executive talks to QUEST students about business and bad breath

By Melissa Moore
On November 15, 2010

When QUEST students walked into their classroom and saw dozens of Listerine Zero bottles lined on the front table, some were confused, others intrigued, but all wondered what class had in store for them that day.

Linzell Harris, vice president of the global strategic operations for Johnson & Johnson, came to speak to QUEST students Thursday about innovation and new product development.

"I love this topic because innovation is…doing something different and in a way that it hasn't been done before," Harris said. "It's pretty simplistic."

He started off by relating innovation to something familiar to the college crowd: fashion, but stated that the process for innovation differs among continental lines, taking into account the market and the consumers. 

"That is why you have to have the diversity of thought within your company to be able to create products that you can utilize across the globe," said Harris.

Although Johnson & Johnson is known for its baby products, Harris presented the class with a case study that honed in on the bad breath killer Listerine, a move that students said kept them interested.

"Seeing the bottles on the table, it made the whole thing seem more exciting and that this was going to be something interactive and interesting and not just a boring guest speaker," said sophomore computer science major Jessica O'Keefe.

Students were given different versions of Listerine, from the original Listerine Gold to one of the newer products, Listerine Total Care, and asked to taste and recount their experience. While those in the Listerine Gold group detested the taste, those working with more recent products had a much better experience.  Harris said that even though products go through changes as the market does, it is important to always keep and remember what you started with.

"As you are innovating and changing products, don't ever forget that the consumer may still want the old product," Harris said. "That is an important lesson that you have to make sure you understand and realize."

Students were then asked to all try the newest Listerine Zero, which represents the company's biggest shift away from the intense and strong feeling commonly associated with using Listerine products, while still being as effective.

"You don't want to lose the essence of the base products and the essence of our equity for Listerine," said Harris.

"You can say it's less intense but it's still powerful and still a full, whole-mouth clean," he said.

Harris then took the students through their new development process from the idea's inception to exactly how they plan to market new products to old customers, including their commercialization approach and advertising.

 "What resonated with me was the idea that people use Listerine less frequently if it is under the counter," said sophomore marketing major Ethan Shapir. "[Harris] approached the problem like ‘how do I get people to move it onto the counter and get people to use it more?'"

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