The Case of the Flummoxed, New Product Manager

Emma is at a loss. Her group’s innovative product is attracting interest in Europe but, not in US. Why?

Emma’s Problem

She joined XYZ-Corp 4 months ago. Her predecessor launched the innovative product. Emma’s experience is in business-to-consumer market research. She believes the answer to her ‘Why?’ question lies in b-to-b market research.

Emma’s Solution

Emma’s mentor at XYZ-Corp suggested she hire an expert in b-to-b market research. The mentor recommended me as a candidate for the job. Emma agreed and she, her group, and I met to outline an outside-in research project.

Project Outline

Project addresses the following issues:

  1. Why is Europe interested in our innovative polymer powder for thinset mortars? And, the US is not?
  2. Why do problems occur when installers apply thinset mortars directly on plywood subfloors?
  3. What features of our innovative powder do customers value?

Executive Summary: Thinset Mortars1 on Plywood Subfloors

All respondents heard this description of the client’s innovative product

“I’m on assignment now from a client working on an innovative organic additive for thinset mortars. In lab tests, at load levels of 1.2%, it enhances flexibility and adhesion to plywood subfloors.”

Thirty-seven respondents entered into deep understanding, interviews with me.2 

  • Thirty-six respondents showed no interest in the client’s additive.
    Consensus: “We’re conservative.”

“Most tile setters are craft people. They need at least 5 years to learn their craft. They are quite conservative and tend to do what they know works. Their attitude is: ‘Get the job and slap it in.”
     CEO … Acworth

  • One European respondent showed moderate interest in the low load level.

    “Polymer powder is the most expensive component in thinset mortars. If your client can produce the 1.2% load level in a commercial test, I am interested. Your client must assume the cost of meeting ANSI and ISO standards.”
         R&D Director … Laticrete

  • Plywood subflooring problems hold sway in North Europe and, US Northeast and Northwest residential housing.
    • In these areas, it’s common for both ground floor and upper floors to have plywood subflooring. In warmer areas, concrete ground floors dominate.

    “Problem is not the plywood. It’s the way it is put down. Joists, too far apart. Nail heads not flushed. Result, a subflooring where the tile does not float. Europe has more regulation than the US on sound isolation in apartments. They use uncoupling membrane to put down tile on plywood with thinset all the time.
    First, the membrane is put down on the plywood with thinset. Then thinset is put on top of the membrane and the tile is set in the mortar. Result is a tile floor that floats above strains from above or within the plywood..”
         Chair, Ceramic Engineering Dept. … Alfred University.


Emma explored the long term option of working with Laticrete to commercialize the 1.2% load level polymer powder. Her R&D people gave her a 30% probability they could scale up their process. She judged the probability too low to invest in scaling.

Her decision freed up development resources for short term options which had quick cash flow returns for her firm.


  1. Thinset mortar is a blend of cement, very finely graded sand, and a water retention compound that allows the cement to properly hydrate. Tile set by the thinset method is adhered to the substrate with a thin layer of “thinset” cement. This type of cement is designed to adhere well in a thin layer – typically not greater than 3/16th thick.
    Tile Council of North America referenced 06-20-2020
  2. My key skills for this scouting project.
    Recognizing Early Adopters
    Drawing Out Latent Needs