Are you thinking small, in order to go big?
How many of you have ever read ‘Green Eggs & Ham’?
Probably, quite a lot of you. It has sold over 200 million copies and is one of the best selling children’s books in history. But it started out as a bet.
A $50 dollar bet between Bennett Cerf, the founder of the publisher Random House, and Theo Geisel, who you probably know as Dr Seuss. Cerf bet that Dr Seuss would not be able to write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words. So, Dr Seuss took the bet and won. He created his most popular book and one of the most popular children’s books of all time.
Cerf thought that limiting the number of different words that could be used would make the task much harder. But Dr Seuss found that the 50 words constraint actually made it easier. Using fewer words delivered a much better result. So much so, that he deployed constraints in other books. For example, ‘The Cat in the Hat’ uses only a first grade vocabulary list.
So, why are we talking about Dr Seuss? In our industry, we often find that it is the companies, brands or markets that have the least resource, that do the most impactful or creative things.
For instance, the small company that has no advertising budget that does something innovative to drive awareness. Or the small brand in a big company that does the most creative things – think Marmite or Pot Noodle within Unilever. Or it could be a market – we were in Latin America a few weeks ago and the most impactful POS communication we saw was from Uruguay. A team of two people.
Why do we see this? Well, if you have more resource you can do more things. You can afford to spread that resource more thinly. You can afford to waste some (often a lot) of it. But if you have less resource, you can’t afford to waste any of it. Everything you do matters. A lot. Like Dr Seuss – if you’ve only got 50 different words, you’d better use them wisely.
So, how can you adopt a low resource mindset for some of your key activities?
NPD. If you had no advertising budget what would you do? You’d probably place smaller bets. Test and learn. Then roll out what works. A small brand wouldn’t bet its entire existence on a 3 week burst of activity. And they wouldn’t have spent the previous 18 months fine tuning (or de-risking…) the concept.
A small brand would launch where it had the best chance of success – right shoppers, right type of stores. They would see how it went. Learn, then reapply, then move on. Graze, Innocent, Bighams must all have made some mistakes early on, but made them in a way that helped them learn. Not in a way that killed the project.
Range. If you had a limit on assortment what would you do? As a retailer, you’d probably be much more selective about what went into that assortment. You’d avoid duplication. You’d significantly cut back on “nice to have” flavours or variants. As a brand, you’d be a lot more focused on which SKU’s you prioritised. You’d really focus on winning the battle with the key SKU’s – the cheese & onion in crisps, the vanilla in ice cream.
Promotions. If you could only run one promotion what would you do? Probably not a standard money off. The more funds there are to invest in promotions, the more it seems to get invested in the same type of promotions – another price cut, another 2 for X. If you could only do one promotional activity, you’d do something creative. Something that is different to what everyone else is doing. Something that really engages shoppers and creates a buzz in the market. Your Golden Ticket.
Brand Proposition. If you could only ever communicate one thing about your brand what would it be? More resource allows you to say lots of things in lots of ways in lots of places. It might be interesting for the brand manager, but much less impactful for shoppers. If you could only say one thing, you would really focus on making that the most important thing. The thing that is likely to drive shopper choice. The thing that you can say, that your competitors can’t say. You’d only use around 5 words, but you’d use them very wisely.
Like a lot of things in life, less is often more. Less forces you to prioritise. Less forces you to focus. Less forces you to take the right kind of risks.
Green Eggs & Ham. 50 different words. Over 200 million copies sold. That is an impressive word to copy ratio.
Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.