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The Importance of Repeat

Are you building the habit of buying?

What is your favourite one hit wonder?

‘Macarena’ by Los Del Rio?  ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ by The Baha Men?  ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba?  ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Deep Blue Something?  There are probably two answers to this question (a) none of them (b) depends how many drinks I’ve had.

The standard definition of a one hit wonder is something that achieves mainstream popularity and success for a very short period of time, often for only one piece of work.  The shorter definition is ‘X Factor winner’.

These things, or people, rise quickly.  Then they fall just as quickly.  Only re-emerging as a trivia answer or in the celebrity jungle.  Or at Christmas – a lot of one hit wonders will be attacking your ears over the next couple of weeks.

It is pretty easy to do something once.  The qualifier can beat Federer at Wimbledon.  Leicester City can win the Premier League.  Iceland can beat England.  Well that could happen more than once.

But it is much harder to do things more than once.  To do things again and again.  The greats do this.  Federer has won 19 Grand Slam titles.  Sir Alex Ferguson won 13 Premier League titles.  Madonna had 13 Number 1’s – back when getting to No 1 meant something.

The same applies to our industry.  It is easy to get a shopper to buy a product once.  Slash your price or run a deep promotion and you will attract a lot of buyers.  These buyers will appear in your 52 week penetration figures.  And because everyone has been told brand growth is all about penetration, everything looks rosy.

But is it?  Yes, you want more buyers.  But a large group of shoppers who buy you once on discount are contributing very little to your brand.  The quality of shoppers is what is really important.  You want shoppers who buy you again and again.  Shoppers who buy you at full price, not ones who buy you only on deal.

As you are starting to think about 2018 we’d urge you to think as much about driving repeat as you do about driving penetration.  To do things that can build the habit of buying.

So, what does this mean?

Identify the barriers to repeat.  What is stopping shoppers from buying the product again?  Is it a product performance issue – e.g. taste or efficacy?  In which case, address product performance.  Is it a price issue – shoppers will buy it on deal but don’t think it is worth paying full price for?  In which case, address the value proposition.  Is it a usage issue – not easy to use, not relevant for key usage occasions?  In which case, address product or pack format.

Deliver repeat focused activities.  We’ve talked before about how most promotions reward shoppers for promiscuity (buying a different brand each time) rather than loyalty (buying the same brand each time).  So, think about promotional activities that encourage more active participation from the shopper – e.g. ‘Share a Coke’.  Think about rewarding shoppers who are loyal to you.  This happens in lots of other industries – airlines, coffee shops, fashion – but it happens much less in grocery retail.

Be consistent and patient.  This means consistency of message to shoppers.  It means backing activities for longer.  In our industry we are very quick to move on to the next thing.  This happens a lot with NPD.  Brands have a rolling NPD plan.  This gives them a short window to launch product A because product B is going to be launched in 3 months time.  Then product C is coming 3 months after that.  Resources get spread too thinly.  No individual activity lands as well as it could do.  If something is worth launching, it is worth giving it the support and time to succeed.

Think about the future of repeat.  Invest now to win in the future.  Some of the most interesting business models at the moment are focused on building a buyer base then really driving lock in and repeat.  Think Dollar Shave Club.  Think how Graze started.  Think about all the things Amazon do – Prime, Subscribe & Save, Dash Buttons, 1 Click Ordering, Alexa – to drive repeat.  Over the next few years, innovation will be as much (if not more) about how you sell as what you sell.

Penetration is an important metric.  But penetration doesn’t tell you if your product is any good.  Repeat gives you a much better indication of this.  Repeat gives you a much more sustainable business.

One hit wonders don’t stay in the charts for long.  One hit products don’t stay on the shelf for long.


This is our last blog of 2017.  Have a great Xmas & New Year.  Speak to you in January.

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In a Nutshell

Are you making enough choices?

On November 19th 1863 Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

It took place during the American Civil War, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.  It is one of the most famous speeches in American history.  It is also one of the shortest.

The Gettysburg Address contained 272 words.  204 of those words were one syllable.  The speech lasted 2 minutes.

Four years ago at the 150th anniversary of the Address, Tom Corbett, the Governor of Pennsylvania, observed that “Two speeches were given that day.  The first went on for more than 13,000 words and lasted for more than two hours.  The second contained 272 words and lasted for 150 years”.

Sometimes you don’t need to say a lot to have a big impact.

Why are we talking about this?  Well 150 years after Lincoln showed how it’s done, we all still struggle to keep things concise.  For instance, 3 weeks ago Twitter increased its character limit from 140 to 280.  Twitter said that the extra space allowed users to spend less time editing their tweets so that they can say what they want to say faster than ever before.   Does that sound like a good thing?

It is easy to say “keep things short and simple” – and we often do.  But, keeping things short and simple is really about editing and prioritising.  Making choices about what you include and what you don’t include.  A great film is as much about what is left on the cutting room floor as what makes it into the final edit.

If you don’t make choices you end up with the 100+ slide presentation deck or the strategy with a long shopping list of actions or the POS communication loaded with different messages.  You end up with the speech before Lincoln’s that nobody remembers.

But if you make choices, if you choose your words wisely, you can end up with 272 words that go down in history.

So, where can you make choices about what to say?

Packaging.  If you don’t make choices on packaging, you end up with a pack that is trying to communicate everything.  One current example is ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ cat food.  The pack has 23 (yes 23…) visual elements on the front.  It has 6 different product benefits.  They are trying to say everything.

Contrast that to packs like Nivea Crème for Men, Waitrose own label wine, Camden Brewery beer.  These are packs that could say a lot but choose to say a little.  And deliver great stand out and clarity as a result.

Product Names & Descriptions.  Go online and look at some of the product descriptions for FMCG products.  Many of them are longer than the Gettysburg address.  We aren’t joking.  It is nice, interesting stuff…but no shopper has the time or inclination to read it.  Shoppers are looking for headlines online (& in store).   A headline about why the product is good.  So, if you are the world’s most awarded product in your category, make sure shoppers see it, don’t bury the news halfway down the 400 word description.

Also, think carefully about the words you use in the product name and description.  The key route shoppers take to a product online is via search.  Having the right search key words in your product name and description can be the difference between appearing in search results and being hidden in the far reaches of a website.  So, if you are a malt whiskey, make sure you include the word ‘malt’ in the product name.  If you are a breakfast biscuit make sure you include the word ‘breakfast’ in your product name.

POS & Promotional Communication.  This is where we often see the strongest temptation to over communicate.  We saw an example last week where a brand was trying to say all of the following – the product is new, it’s a new flavour, it has new benefits (not 1 but 3) and it’s on promotion.  These are all important things, but things that you can’t say all at the same time.  You have to make a choice about what you most want to say.  That choice has to be made on what you most want shoppers to see and hear.

A good example of this over the last 12-18 months has been in promotional communication.  Retailers used to tell shoppers the regular price, the discounted price and the price saving.  Now, many retailers have decided that the most important thing is the discounted price.  So, they are leading with that, which makes it much clearer for shoppers.

Great communication is short and simple.  To get there you need to make choices.  What to say and what not to say.

It’s the difference between using words (Donald Trump…“I know words.  I have the best words”) and choosing them wisely (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address).


Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.


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And The Winner is…

Are you different not just better?

Forget Brexit negotiations.  Forget the Budget.  Forget whatever Trump has been up to.  The big news in the last few days was the results of the Which? Mince Pie Christmas Taste Test.

A panel of bakery experts ranked mince pies from 11 retailers.  They rated the pies on appearance, aroma, taste and texture.  Then combined these scores into one overall rating to declare M&S’ Collection Mince Pies the must-buy of 2017.

The experts were particularly impressed with “the fruitiness and citrus notes of the juicy mincemeat filling” of the M&S pies.  Of course – who eats mince pies without the right citrus notes?  Bottom of the league table was the offering from Morrisons.  The experts found “the pastry soft and clogging and the mince under spiced”.  Unforgiveable.

We’ve got to trust that the experts got it right – the M&S pies must be the best.  But, could consumers really tell?  If you asked 100 people in the street to do the mince pie taste test, how many would rank them in a similar order to the experts?  Not many.

Why? Well, firstly, the average consumer isn’t an expert in many categories.  They don’t spend time trying lots of options, ranking them against a set of criteria and making optimum selections.  Secondly, even if they did, it is really hard to be noticeably better.  How many people could correctly guess the £10 wine vs the £5 wine?

Is this an issue?  Not if you are a lower priced product.  If you are a lower priced product, you want shoppers to make a satisficing choice.  A choice that is good enough.  If bottled water A is similar to bottled water B then you buy the cheaper one.  But it is an issue for brand leaders or premium priced products.  You want shoppers to make a maximising choice.  Good enough is not good enough.

It is also an issue for category value.  Satisficing choices limit (and can often reduce) category value.  In contrast, maximising choices drive category value.

Being ‘better’ is a route to a maximising choice.  But, being noticeably better is hard.  So, what is the alternative?  Being different.  Having a clear point of difference that allows you to frame the way a choice is presented to shoppers.

How can you do this?

Establish the choice criteria.  This is about framing a choice on your terms not on competitors’ terms.  Fever Tree is a great example of this.  In a mixed drink the spirit was the hero.  The mixer was an afterthought – if it was thought about at all.  Fever Tree has told shoppers to think differently “if ¾ of your Gin & Tonic is the tonic, make sure you use the best”.  Is Fever Tree noticeably the best?  Most people probably can’t tell.  Are more people going to order or buy Fever Tree as a result of this reframe?  Almost certainly.

Reinforce the choice criteria.  This is about product benefits and claims.  Things that you can say that nobody else can say.  For instance, Aptamil baby milk can say they are “the only brand with immunofortis”.  It can be about how you say things.  Ella’s Kitchen has a very different way of communicating versus more traditional baby foods.

It can just be about body language.  Craft beers are the classic example of this at the moment.  The bottles and cans look very different to mainstream beers.  The names and product descriptions are very different.  They are sold in a different way – typically in singles, often with tasting notes.  Do most craft beers taste that much better that they are worth paying twice, sometimes three times, the price of mainstream beers?  Probably not.  Are they different enough that an increasing number of shoppers will pay that?  Yes.

Protect the choice criteria.  This is about not doing things that weaken the choice criteria.  This means resisting the temptation to promote too often or too deep.  Craft beers rarely promote.  And if they do, they do it infrequently and they give shallow discounts.  Peroni do the same.  If you can’t sell enough at base price then the base price is probably wrong.  It also means not taking things out of the product.  So, not reducing the spec or reducing pack size or quantities.  These things may be tempting in the short term, but they risk eroding your point of difference in the longer term.

Being better is important.  You’d rather be the M&S mince pies at the top of the league table.  But the average shopper isn’t an expert – better isn’t always noticeable.

So, be different.  Be noticeably different.

Right, where are those mince pies with the citrus notes?

On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website… 

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.


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Breaking the Christmas Script

Are you differentiated enough at Christmas?

Picture the scene…

It’s April and people are gathered in a funky meeting room. “OK, here we go then, this years Christmas ad.   Have we all got a copy of the Christmas ad checklist?”

Point No 1 “Must have snow”. “Err, but it never snows at Christmas”. “Doesn’t matter, we’ve got to have snow falling outside”. Check.

Point No 2 “Must show kids”. “Yes, but only about 30% of households have kids at home”. “Doesn’t matter, Christmas is about kids. Get the kids involved”. Check.

Point No 3 “Must make dreams come true”. “But we sell grocery products don’t we?”. “Not at Christmas we don’t. At Christmas we sell dreams”. Check.

Point No 4 “Must have moving music”. What about something a bit up tempo?” “You’re joking. It’s strings all the way. Get the orchestra booked”. Check.

Apparently, over half of us are moved to tears by Christmas ads. So, that means half of us are too busy reaching for the tissues to see who, or what, the ad is actually for. But, what are the ads competing for – tears or sales?

Last week we talked about ‘Breaking the Script’. Doing things in a different way. This is important all year round, but particularly important at Christmas. Why? Well, firstly because it is a key sales period. But secondly, when most companies do the same things at Christmas it becomes even harder to stand out.

We’ve jokingly described it above for advertising. But, it applies to other activities – for instance, packaging. The main decision is whether it is the sprig of holly, snowflakes or cartoon Santa that goes on pack. Or what type of Christmas pun you can come up with. “Berry Christmas”, “Ho, Ho Honey”, “Christmas Treeselets”. The first two were made up.

It is easy to follow a standard Christmas script. But, following it means that you will often do what everyone else is doing. And if you do what everyone else is doing you won’t stand out.

So, how do you break the Christmas script?

Be Relevant. Do you have a strong and relevant link to Christmas? The character on the cereal box with a Santa hat is tenuous. The Kellogg’s 24 variety pack linking to an advent calendar is much more relevant. If you can find a relevant angle, go for it. If you can’t, don’t try to shoehorn something in. Save your resources for something that is relevant.

Be on Brand. Is the activity something that reinforces what your brand stands for? For instance, if your brand is all about new, different, quirky flavours, then the limited edition seasonal flavour could work really well. If you are all about giving shoppers ideas and solutions, then seasonally relevant solutions could work really well. Marmite Christmas packs with different names like “Rudolph” or “Mrs Claus” and a supporting message of “For being nice” are quirky and being positioned as a stocking filler gift. Do something because it is the right thing to do for your brand. Don’t do it just because you can do it.

Be Differentiated.  Are you doing something only you can do? Or doing it in a way that only you can do? This means not just differentiated versus other brands in your category. But, differentiated versus other brands across the store. Be the signal in the Christmas noise. The Coca Cola Christmas truck and supporting activation in store is a great example of this.

Be Repeatable. Doing one off things is hard work. You create this year’s idea. You execute it. Then around April time you have to come up with something new. What if you had one idea you could repeat? We don’t mean exactly the same activity, but the same core theme. This is effectively what John Lewis has done with their advertising. It is what Starbucks did with their red cups. If you have an idea that can be adapted and repeated, you give yourself a head start – with shoppers and versus competitors.

Christmas is, of course, a traditional time of year. Most of us will follow a traditional Christmas script on 25th December.

But, that doesn’t mean our activities should follow the traditional script.

Fewer tears. More sales?


Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.

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Breaking the Script

Are you doing things differently enough?

Think about the last time you experienced really great service. What made it memorable?

It was unlikely that the person was just polite or efficient. They probably were, but that doesn’t make it memorable. Polite and efficient service happens quite a lot.

It was probably because something different or unexpected happened. Something that surprised and delighted you. Great service is about doing what you always do, well. But, it is really about doing unexpected (positive!) things.

Here is an example for you.

A young boy had been on holiday with his family in Florida. He arrived back home and realised he had accidentally left behind Joshie, his beloved stuffed giraffe. There was no sleeping without Joshie. So, his dad, Chris, assessed his options and decided he’d better start lying to his son. He said “Joshie is fine. He’s just taking an extra long holiday at the resort”. His son seemed to buy it and drifted off to sleep.

Later that night a Ritz Carlton employee phoned Chris to say that Joshie had been found. So, Chris asked them to do him a favour. He told them what he’d told his son and asked if someone could take a picture of Joshie on a sun lounger by the pool to show he’d been holidaying.

A few days later Joshie arrived home – along with a binder of pictures. One showed Joshie lounging by the pool. Another showed him driving a golfcart. Another showed him getting a massage in the spa with cucumber over his eyes. And so on. Chris and his son were delighted.

What would typically happen? Joshie would probably have been returned in a parcel through the post (if at all). Instead someone at the Ritz Carlton spent time setting up – “get some cucumber slices for his eyes” – and taking pictures, so they could please guests who had checked out and gone home.

Why are we talking about this? Well, one of the advantages of the FMCG and grocery retail industry is that shoppers visit our stores and buy our categories regularly. Many FMCG products are pretty essential purchases. You don’t want to be too long without toothpaste, bread, or maybe for some of you, chocolate and wine. This is a good thing.

However, this familiarity can often lead to habitual or autopilot behaviour. Shoppers walk down the aisle expecting to see the same things set up in the same way. So, they often buy what they always buy or whichever product is on deal.

Many of the things the industry does, reinforce this behaviour. There are a lot of promotions, most of a similar type. There is a lot of NPD, most launched in a similar way. There is a lot of range in many categories, all sold in a similar way. If the same things are being done in the same way, why should shoppers break out of the autopilot?

To change shopper behaviour you need to do things in a different way. You need to break the script.

So, how can you do this?

Break the promotional script. Think beyond standard price cuts. Anyone can do them. Shoppers will buy you, of course, but you will be one of 10-20 other products being bought on deal in that trip. Incentivise shoppers, but do it in a different, less traditional, way. Waitrose ‘Pick Your Own Offers’ or Walkers ‘Choose Me or Lose Me’ are examples of breaking the promotional script.

Break the communication script. Don’t just be another voice saying similar things in a similar way. Say different things in different ways to your competitors. Things that are true to your brand positioning. A good example is in Tonics and Mixers. See Fever Tree communication as a challenger brand. And how Schweppes are responding as the established brand.

Break the usage script. Think about different ways for consumers to use your products. Move beyond traditional usage occasions. If you are a drink, it could be new and different serves. Think spirits. If you are a food it could be new recipe ideas. Think Sainsbury’s ‘Little Twists’. It could be new occasions. Think breakfast biscuits.

Break the launch script. Too much NPD follows a standard approach built around a short launch window. What if you did things differently? A pre launch to shoppers – Toni & Guy marked out their shelf space in Tesco before launch. What if you had more frequent and shorter bursts of communication – weeks 1 & 2, weeks 5 & 6, weeks 9 & 10? Don’t limit creativity to the new product, build it into the launch plan.

Break the design script. Think about POS design. Walk around the main UK supermarkets and you will see pretty standard signage. Go to Wholefoods and you will see chalkboards and aisle signage with a finger pointing you down the aisle. Think about pack design. Crisps always came in bags, until Pringles put them in tubes. Sauces were designed for pouring until they were designed for squeezing.

The script in many categories is implicit. You might not even realise you are following it. But, by implicitly following it, you often reinforce the shopper behaviour you are trying to change.

So, step back. Identify what the script in your category is. Then think about the ways in which you can break it.

Do what is unexpected. Like pictures of Joshie, lounging by the pool.


Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.


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Rational vs Rationalising Choices

Are you helping shoppers make instinctive decisions?

Last month Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Thaler is famous for ‘Nudge Theory’. This says that small changes to the way choices are framed can have a big impact on the choices we make. The classic example is organ donation. If you make it an opt-in decision most people don’t opt-in. If you make it an opt-out decision most people don’t opt-out. So, you make it an opt-out decision and you have millions more organ donors.

At the heart of Thalers’ work (and behavioural economics as a whole) is a fundamental view of human behaviour – that we are rationalising beings not rational beings.

What this means is that we don’t make many truly rational decisions – where we weigh up the costs and benefits of different options and then make the optimal choice. Instead we make many instinctive (system 1) decisions. We then rationalise these decisions. We make up a reason to tell ourselves, or other people, why we made that decision.

For instance, think about going to view a new house. Within about 10 seconds of entering the house you have made an instinctive decision about whether you like it or not. For the rest of the viewing, the rationalising part of your brain gives you the reasons to justify that decision. Room X is too small = you didn’t like the house. Room X is really nice and cosy = you liked the house. Same room = different rationalisation.

Why are we talking about this? Well, first of all, we really like talking about this stuff. But, secondly and more importantly, we think it matters. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because we in the industry think rationally about things (e.g. brands, pricing, promotions, advertising) then shoppers must do so too.

We often look to research to give us answers, but we are asking shoppers to explain things that they often can’t explain or even remember. And why should they be able to? If one of the biggest purchases we make in life – a house – is driven by instinct, then deciding which brand of biscuits to buy will be even more instinctive, right?

So, our job is to play to instinctive behaviour. Then give shoppers simple ways of rationalising the choices they make.

How can you do this?

Use simple, consistent visual hooks. Have you noticed that after you buy a new car you suddenly see a lot more of them on the road? They were all on the road the previous week, but your brain is now primed to notice them.

No shopper will tell you they bought Brand A simply because they recognised it. But a lot of purchase decisions are based on what shoppers see and recognise first. This means you need to be consistently distinctive. Distinctive – so you look different to the other things around you. Consistent – so you embed that identity in shoppers’ minds. The stronger your visual hook, the more recognition you will have and the more chance you have of priming a shopper. “Look for the Green & Gold packs” may not be the most exciting marketing message but it might be pretty effective.

Use simple, memorable words. What do Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook have in common? Well, one of the things they have in common is a simple name. And data says that companies that have simple names – ones that are easier to pronounce – outperform the stock market. We are not making this up!

So, think about this in the FMCG world. Simple brand names are likely to be better. “What do you want to drink?” “Well, I’d love a Staropramen. But I can’t pronounce it, so I’ll have a Fosters”. Simple variant names are likely to be better – think Ella’s Kitchen “The Red One”. Simple slogans or messages are likely to be better – “Beanz Meanz Heinz”, “Grown Not Made”.

By the way, we aren’t saying simplify your brand name, then sit back and watch the cash roll in. There is a bit more to Apple and Amazon than that. But simple language can’t hurt.

Use simple reasons for behaviour. We’ve written about the photocopier study before – in a test 93% of people at a photocopier let someone who approached them use the copier first when they said “Excuse me I have 5 copies. May I use the copier because I want to make copies?” They let the other person go first because they gave a reason. Even though it was a rubbish reason.

Shoppers pay about as much attention in store as people at photocopiers do. They are quickly moving around the store. They are making a lot of quick choices. They can’t think about the choices in detail. Your No 1 job at shelf is to give shoppers a reason for their behaviour. To make them feel happy about the choice. Something that they can rationalise afterwards – e.g. “0% fat” or “lasts 50% longer”.

We would all love shoppers to think about our brands as much as we do. But, they aren’t going to. They will make instinctive decisions. Then rationalise those decisions.

We need to make it easy for them to do so.


Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.

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Perfect Doesn’t Start Perfect

Are you too reliant on getting things right first time?

In 1957 the young first time novelist Harper Lee submitted a manuscript to an editor named Tay Hohoff.

The editor was receptive but made it clear she thought the book would require significant reworking before being published. In Hohoff’s words, the book was “more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel”.

Over the course of several rewrites that took more than 2 years – essentially a new cast of characters and a new plot – Lee created ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It is recognised as one of the great works of American literature and has been studied in classrooms around the world.

This type of editing and rewriting process is nearly always hidden. You rarely see first manuscripts, song demos or pre edit films. However, To Kill a Mockingbird is different. In 2015 (58 years later) Lee’s original manuscript was published as ‘Go Set a Watchman’. Despite the initial fanfare, it proved that Lee’s editor was right. The book is not very good.

Reviews said that the characters were not fully formed and the book had a muddled message. The new book sold well at first, based on the reputation of Lee and the classic status of Mockingbird. But, soon after its release many bookstores offered refunds to disappointed fans. Go Set a Watchman will not be studied in many classrooms.

So, why are we talking about this? Well, we think in our industry we often give things one main chance of success – e.g. a big innovation launch, or a meeting with the Board, or a strategy session with a retailer. A small group of people are squirreled away working hard to create the perfect document, event or launch. You feel you have one shot at something so you invest a lot in getting things right up front.

But, what if the launch doesn’t go as well as planned? Or the Board don’t like the presentation? Or the retailer doesn’t like your proposal? Something that could be great might get cut off at source. It’s like the editor saying the first draft of Mockingbird wasn’t good enough, so we’ll stop things there.

Much better to get inputs earlier. Test, iterate, refine and learn as you go. Get things right over time, not necessarily first time.

So, how can you do this?

Strategy Documents. There is often a pretty standard process to develop category or channel strategies. Get a lot of data inputs. Get available people in a room for a couple of days. Write the outputs up. Make them look pretty. Present to a senior audience. Hope they give it the thumbs up. This is fine if everyone loves it. It’s not so fine if they disagree with many of the things you are saying and want to do.

Developing strategy should be iterative. You should be looking to get inputs from people up front – understand what they think, what they believe the issues are. Then show work in progress and get builds. Be prepared to take some hits along the way – but much better to take those hits on work-in-progress than on the final output. And it will get you to better final outputs, which has to be the goal.

By the way, this is exactly what comedians do. Michael McIntyre doesn’t rock up to the O2 and hope all his gags work. He does WIP shows in small venues, figures out the jokes that don’t work and refines. By the time he gets to the O2 he is absolutely polished.

Innovation. A lot of work goes into NPD projects. Yet often all this work, and the success of the project itself, comes down to a small launch window. This window can make or break a project. But should it? What if there were more soft launches? What if there were more launches in a lead channel? What if more launches were trialled in a few stores? You could see how it is going. You could see what things you want to tweak before roll out.

Even if you do a standard launch, how quickly do you see data on performance? Do you do any quick research to see how the product is landing? Are enough shoppers aware of it? What do they think about it? What is stopping them from buying it? Getting answers to these types of things quickly can help you to spot potential issues and then take quick corrective action.

Manufacturer & Retailer Collaboration. Many manufacturers have high quality meeting facilities, state of the art kit, virtual reality capability etc. Nothing against this – it is all great stuff. But manufacturers can sometimes get too focused on the wow factor. They work away on the all singing, all dancing solution that everyone internally loves. But, then they show it to retailers and get a dose of reality when the retailer says “this is great, but we can’t implement any of it”.

Much better for a manufacturer to tell a retailer they are working on something (e.g. a category strategy, a ‘perfect store’ execution). Get inputs up front. Show draft thinking and get builds along the way. Then share outputs and co-create an implementation plan.

It is rare that you get anything absolutely right first time. You usually need to iterate. Build and refine things along the way. To get to the best, you need to be prepared for people to see things that are below their best.

Ernest Hemingway said “the first draft of anything is shit”. You should see the state of these blogs when we first sketch them out.


On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website…learning:

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.

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Saying Everything Yet Saying Nothing

Are you dealing in too many motherhood statements?

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the Great Storm in England.  It also marked 30 years since Michael Fish made his infamous prediction that preceded it.

A few hours before the storm broke on 15th October 1987 he said during a forecast “earlier today a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way…well, if you’re watching, don’t worry.  There isn’t”.  That evening the worst storm to hit the south east of England for three centuries arrived.

Mention “Michael Fish” to most people now and they will say “hurricane”.  In fact go to his website – yes, it does exist – and you will immediately see “Greetings from a national treasure, responsible for one of TV’s greatest moments.  This is the official site of Michael (Hurricane!) Fish.  In the top right corner is a helpful link to his pre hurricane forecast on YouTube.  He also tells us how he appeared in the opening ceremony for the London Olympics, which probably tells you something about the British.  A ceremony to celebrate achievement also celebrates failure.

So, apart from a trip down memory lane for some of you, why are we talking about this?  Well, even though things turned out OK for Michael Fish, he said life after his prediction was pretty horrendous.   He gave a straight answer and it came back to haunt him.  This is why many people are afraid to give straight answers.  If you give a straight answer you might be right.  But you also might be wrong.  So, we often hedge our bets.  A vague answer means you are never wrong…right?

We think you can see this in our industry.  The easiest thing to do is sit on the fence.  This is why we see so many motherhood statements in research presentations or strategy documents – like “we need to deliver the right range to meet shopper needs”.  Everyone in the room nods.  Who can disagree with that?  Yet, everyone walks out of the room none the wiser about what the “right range” is.  You are saying everything, but actually saying nothing.

So, how can you move away from motherhood statements and set clearer direction for people?

Know your strategy angle.  We have seen lots of category strategy documents that could be for any category.  If you look at the growth drivers there are things like ‘health’, ‘convenience’, ‘ease of shop’.  These are things that could apply to any category.  So, you need an angle.   For instance, what does health specifically mean for your category?  Is it 5 a day?  Is it less sugar?  Is it functional benefits?  The same applies to ‘convenience’.  Is it about pack size and format?  Is it about ease of use?  Is it about ease of buying?

The angle can set direction for what you do.  It can also give you a different, more specific point of view.  How many times have retailers had to listen to manufacturers come in and say ‘ease of shop’ is important?

Know your proposition angle.  Any product can say “new” or “improved” or “best yet”.  And many do.  But, if anyone can say it, what is different?  How do shoppers make a decision?  Products need to say why they are better or different.  A reason that shoppers can grab onto and say ‘X is why I buy this product’.

This is particularly important for products facing lower priced competitors.  You need to frame the choice on your terms.  If you don’t the choice will be framed on someone else’s terms – often price.   Fairy washing up liquid “lasts 50% longer”, Heinz “Grown not Made”, Happy Eggs “Happy hens lay happy eggs” are all about framing a choice away from price.

Know your execution angle(s).  This is often where motherhood statements are most used and where they can be most useless.  For example, it is easy to say “keep the pack design simple”.  Everybody nods.  But, that can be interpreted in a variety of different ways.  Much better to say “have no more than 5 visual elements on front of pack”.  It sets much clearer direction up front and allows you to assess whether new design options meet that criteria.  A pack either has 5 or less visual elements or it doesn’t.  The same goes for other activities – don’t say “we need to make this NPD easy to find”, say “we need to tell shoppers to find it in aisle X”.

It is safe to deal in motherhood statements.  People can’t disagree with them.  But that is a sign.  If nobody disagrees, you are probably not being clear enough.

After all, it all worked out fine for Michael “Hurricane” Fish.  Well…in the end.


Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.

Artboard 1

Picking Your Lane

Are you making and then backing your choices?

Imagine this as a pitch for a Broadway musical…

“So, what is it all about?”  “It’s about the life of one of the US founding fathers”.  “Right…,very contemporary…so George Washington, Benjamin Franklin?”  “Well, no, it’s actually Alexander James Hamilton”.  “OK, not one of the big hitters then.  What type of music?”  “Hip hop and R&B mainly”.  “Err…well, thanks for coming in, we’ll be in touch”.

The musical ‘Hamilton’ about the life of the US founding father Alexander James Hamilton sounds like it shouldn’t work.  But it does work – really well.  Since opening in 2015 it has sold out every night of its run.  It is already one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever.  In 2016 it received a record 16 Tony nominations, winning 11.  It has set a Broadway box office record for most money grossed in a single week – $3.3m.  It was the first show to break $3m in a week.

Hamilton was created by Lin Manuel Miranda.  He wrote the music, lyrics and played the lead role.  He was already pretty successful, but Hamilton took things to a completely new level.  How did Miranda get here?  When asked by the famous US interviewer Charlie Rose, what set him apart from some of the smarter, more talented kids that he had gone to school with, Miranda answered “Because I picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else. I was like “all right, this is what I’ll do”

He picked his lane, started running and at the finishing line (although he is probably far from finished) he had one of the most successful Broadway shows ever.

So, why do we think this is interesting?  Well, we think in our industry we are often worried about ‘picking a lane’.  We often want to appeal to a broad range of shoppers.  We often want products to appeal to a broad range of usage occasions.  We often create broad propositions and messaging.  If you keep things broad, you maximise your appeal, right?

But, what this actually means is a lot of products looking like a lot of other products, all trying to appeal to everyone.  Broadening your audience rarely gives you twice the audience.  In fact, it may actually give you half the audience.  By trying to cover all bases you don’t cover any particular base.

So, how can you make sure you pick your lane?

Pick Your Target User(s).  Who are the core shoppers this store is for?  Who are the core shoppers this brand is for?  Who are the core shoppers this piece of innovation is for?  This is not about saying it is for 20-55 year old females – too broad.  It is not about saying it is for the ‘Time Pressed Tina’ segment – too abstract.  You need to paint a clear picture.

Take Charlie Bighams ready meals as an example.  They are clearly positioned for couples.  These people are pretty middle class.  These people are sitting at a table talking to each other, not sitting in front of the TV.  Bighams are saying ‘if this is you, then we have a great solution for you’.  They are also implying ‘if this is not you, then this might not be the thing for you’.  Having this kind of clarity can often make you feel a bit uncomfortable.  But, if you are feeling too comfortable, you are probably being too safe.

Pick Your Lead Occasion(s).  When is this product for?  When do you want people to be using it?  Often brands are worried about doing this.  If we only talk about a specific occasion, will we limit the product to that occasion?  The reality is that by signposting an occasion you can give a product a clear role.  Shoppers know what to buy the product for and when to use it.  It directs the behaviour, but it doesn’t limit the behaviour.

The classic example of this is the ‘sharing’ occasion.  Lots of snacking products target this occasion.  It gives products a clear role.  This is great for shoppers who are looking for a product when people are coming round or to share in front of the TV.  It is also fine for people who aren’t and just want to buy them anyway.  Shoppers don’t think “they say these are for sharing, it’s just me, so I can’t buy them”.  We all know that many ‘sharing’ products are eaten by 1 person in 1 sitting.

Pick Your Message.  A lot of brands do the previous two steps.  They have a pretty clear view of who they are targeting and the occasion they are targeting.  It is written into brand and innovation plans.  But then it stays there.  The communication that the shopper eventually sees is often not as clear as it needs to be.  This can be the point where brands hedge their bets.

There were probably a lot of nervous laughs when someone on the Marmite brand said “how about love it or hate it”?  But years later if you describe something as a “bit Marmite” everyone knows what you are talking about.  If your product is “perfect for 2” like Bighams, tell shoppers.  If it is perfect for the evening sofa moment, tell shoppers.  If it is the perfect breakfast solution… You get the point.

Picking your lane is not an easy thing to do.  The temptation is to stay broad.  But, as the experts on creating and maintaining habits say “something that can be done at any time, often happens at no time”.

By the way, Hamilton opens in London on 21st December.  Good luck getting tickets.


Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.

Jeff B

Focus on What Doesn’t Change

Are you addressing the things that have always mattered?

How often do you get asked about trends?  What are the big things that will change over the next few years?  We get asked it a lot.

How often do you get asked about the big things that won’t change?  We never get asked it.

But that is exactly the question Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recommends asking.  And he’s built a pretty successful business answering it.

Bezos says that you should build a business strategy around the things that you know are stable over time – for instance, shoppers will always prefer low prices – and then invest heavily in ensuring you are providing those things and improving your delivery of them all the time.

He describes it well: “It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says “Jeff, I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher” or “I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly”.  Impossible.  We know the energy we put into those things today will still be paying dividends for our customers 10 years from now.  When you have something that you know is true, you can afford to put a lot of energy behind it”.

So, Amazon continually lower prices.  They have Prime to speed up delivery.  They have 1 click or Alexa to make ordering more convenient.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, we think much more focus in our industry is placed on the things that will change.  But, much less on the things that won’t change.  For example, lots of new research gets commissioned.  Then people get disappointed when the research comes back and confirms that the things that were most important 3 years ago are still the things that are most important now.

But, imagine if Jeff Bezos was shown some research for Amazon saying that they had cracked price, convenience and delivery, it’s now all about a super premium, experiential, website.  There is a fair chance he’d give a two word answer and it’s unlikely to be “great insight”.

We often want to find new problems.  Because a new problem or need means that we can come up with a completely new solution.  It feels easier.  But, the more important task is to come up with better solutions to the same problem or need.  It is harder, but much more likely to make a difference.  It is what Amazon do.

So, how can you focus on what doesn’t change?

Properly understand drivers of choice.  The key things that drive store choice or drive brand choice in a category.  Then focus your resource on continually delivering.  Measure your performance.  Then improve your delivery even more.

For instance, last week Aldi announced strong sales growth (up 14%) alongside a drop in profits (down 17%).  Matthew Barnes, Aldi Chief Executive, said that they would do “everything and anything” to keep its prices lower than rivals, even suggesting profits may fall again next year.  “We will never take our eye off the ball on price.  We see that as our contract with our customers”.  Aldi know low prices are important.  They want to have an advantage.  To maintain that advantage they will continually invest in price.

Properly understand barriers to usage.  This could be barriers to using a category or sub category.  It could be barriers to using a brand.  It could be barriers to buying or using a product for a particular occasion.  These are things that rarely just go away, so you have to do something about them.

For example, we’d imagine one of the key barriers to drinking bottled water has been taste – particularly compared to what else you could drink.  So, if you are a bottled water brand you add flavour to it.  Hence the massive increase in flavoured waters over the last 5 years.  If you are in ready meals, one of the key barriers could be a perception that they are processed.  So, you remove the processed cues and dial up the freshness cues – e.g. led by City Kitchen, Bighams and now being followed by many other players.

Properly understand key success factors for activities.  The things that were true 10 years ago, are true now, and will be true in 10 years’ time.  For example, premiumisation.  All the evidence says that there are 3 things that shoppers will pay more for (1) something that is better quality or delivers better performance (2) something that is more convenient (3) something that is healthier.  So, if you are trying to drive trade up, a product will need to deliver at least one of these things.

Or take another example – NPD performance in market.  There is a massive focus on trial in our industry.  Lots of new products get good trial.  But trial rarely predicts success.  It is repeat that predicts success.  This hasn’t changed and won’t change in the future.  Most companies know this, but still put most of their effort into getting bought the first time.  Not the next time or the time after that.

Focusing on what doesn’t change doesn’t mean standing still.  It means coming up with new and better solutions to the things that matter.  Always have mattered.  Always will matter.

Let’s end with Bezos – talking about Amazon Prime.  “We want Prime to be such good value, you’d be irresponsible not to be a member”.

Are you as clear and confident about the delivery of your proposition?


Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.