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The Surprising Way Heinz Built Their World-Famous Brand

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You see it so often you probably don’t even notice it anymore.

Heinz 57 Varieties.

You see it on bottles of ketchup, jars of pickles, cans of baked beans.

Heinz 57 Varieties.

Which begs two questions: Are there really 57 varieties? And, if so, 57 varieties of what?

The answers, respectively, are: no; and, it doesn’t matter.

That brilliant slogan, which made Heinz a world-famous brand, was created when a person connected two dots that nobody else ever had before.

It happened in 1896 when Henry John Heinz, the company’s founder, was riding on a New York City elevated train and happened to see a sign above a local store that said “21 Styles of Shoes.”

Let’s step back for a moment and consider what most of us would do upon seeing that sign. I think we would do one of three things:

  1. Not even notice it.
  2. Notice it, and then just as quickly forget about it.
  3. Notice it, think, “That’s a lot of shoes,” and then forget about it.

Why would we do one of these three things? Because, unless we’re in the shoe business (or actively in the market for new shoes), that sign has nothing whatsoever to do with our world. And so this “dot” enters our consciousness and then just as quickly leaves. And we miss an opportunity for a connection.

But what did Henry John (H.J.) do? He saw this sign and thought (either consciously or sub-consciously), “How can I apply this to my world?” In other words, “How can I connect this ‘shoe dot’ to my ‘food dot’?”

He looked for the connection, the common denominator. And, because he was looking for it, he found it. What was that common denominator?

Numbers of products.

That shoe store had 21 styles of shoes. Heinz’s company sold a wide variety of food items: ketchup, pickles, horseradish, chili sauce, and so on. All told, the H.J. Heinz company sold over 60 varieties of food items. But H.J. fudged the number a bit, because 57 is so memorably specific. It got people asking, “What does the 57 stand for?” which, of course, was exactly what H.J. wanted.

But let’s go back a couple of paragraphs. Heinz found a connection because he looked for a connection. That’s where the breakthrough ideas come from.

Connecting two or more things (“dots”) that nobody has ever connected before.

And you can do it too. All you have to do is look for the connections.

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About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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