Breaking The Selling Rules



Are you following the rules...?


Don’t worry, we’re not about to check whether you’re following the latest lockdown rules. Though we hope you are.


We’re talking about some of the more general rules in life. Rules that have been around for a long time. Some of them are explicit. Like stopping at a red light. But many of them are implicit. Rules that we often follow without realising we are following them.


For instance, you don’t walk into an elevator and face the back. You face forward.


You don’t shake hands with your left hand. You shake with your right. This is as true for elbows as hands. Nobody is trying to bump with their left elbow.


You join a queue at the back. You don’t push in at the front. Though you could. Most British people wouldn’t say anything. They will just quietly simmer with rage behind you.


Implicit rules are important. They bring order. You don’t want to go in for a handshake and say, “left or right?”


But rules can also restrict. They can stop you doing things differently. If Apple had just followed the implicit rules for a phone, you’d only be able to use it to make calls.


Real innovation only comes when you break these rules.


Why are we talking about this? There are lots of implicit rules in our industry. Rules we follow, that we don’t know we are following. But if a lot of innovation comes from breaking the rules, how can we break the rules if we don’t know what they are?


Think about coffee. For years, coffee was something you consumed hot. So, if you were thinking about the next product to bring out, you would automatically be thinking ‘hot’.


It’s only when you step back and ask, “what are the rules in this category…?” that you think, “well, one of the rules is that it’s consumed hot”. This leads you to say, “so, what if coffee was consumed cold?” Which leads you to cold brew, frappuccino etc. A big new part of the market to play in.


It’s easy to see how this works when you are thinking about what to sell. But it is just as important when you are thinking about how to sell.


Here are some examples…


New Product Launches. What are some of the ‘rules’ that new product launches follow? New products tend to be located in their home categories. So, a shopper has to visit about 40 different locations in store (or online) to see all the new products available. What if you put new products in one location in store? Sainsbury’s are doing this with their “Discover” zones in Wellbeing, Beauty, Alcohol. One place for shoppers to go. Good for shoppers. Good for brands.


Another ‘rule’ – brands focus most of their effort (communication, activation) on the 2-3 week launch window. Some shoppers will see your activity. Many won’t. If you are a category that is bought every six weeks, you might be seen by a third of shoppers. Once. What if you extended your launch window? And what if you told shoppers the new product was coming? “New in store next week…” or “Coming soon…”. You prime shoppers to look out for the product next time they are in store. You increase awareness. You increase the chances of trial.


Packaging & Merchandising. What are some of the ‘rules’ that packaging & merchandising follow? Well, in most categories you have to buy a fixed amount. If you want to buy tea bags you have to buy at least 10. Often a lot more. In most categories you have to buy fixed combinations. If you want to buy a multipack of crisps you have to buy six of the same flavour or 2x3 flavours. The combination is predetermined. In most categories the product comes in some form of container – a box, bottle, bag.


What if you changed this? What if more categories moved from selling a fixed amount to a flexible amount? Moved from selling fixed combinations to flexible combinations? Moved from pre packaged to loose? It is happening – Asda launched their sustainability store last week. Lindt have a pick & mix solution in some Sainsbury’s stores. Less packaging is better for the planet. More flexible choices are better for the shopper.


Promotions. What are some of the ‘rules’ that promotions follow? Here are three rules. Firstly, they are focused on this purchase. There is little, or no, consideration of future purchases. Secondly, a price discount is the main incentive to buy. Thirdly, they could be run by any brand. Any brand can run a half price discount. You can run one this week. Your competitor can run one next week.


What if you flipped this? What if you ran promotions that focused on this purchase AND future purchases? Tesco Clubcard Plus is a good example of this. What if you gave shoppers a different (non price) incentive to buy? Cadbury’s Inventor Bars (pick your favourite flavour) was a good example of this. What if you did something that only your brand can do? Innocent Big Knit is a great example of this. A distinct and consistent activity intrinsically linked with the brand.


To break the rules you need to know the rules that can be broken. Do you?


Right, we’re off to jump some queues. People will be fuming. Quietly.


Feel free to forward. Have good weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.

© 2020 by Insight Traction