Building Muscle Memory


Let’s start with a quiz question…


22.95 seconds. The winning time in the first World Championship of this event in 1982.


3.47 seconds. The current world record.


14.67 seconds. The world record for doing this blindfolded.


Any idea what we’re talking about?


Maybe it will help if we tell you it’s a puzzle. Over 450 million have been sold making it the best-selling toy in history. Oh… and it was invented by a Hungarian called Erno Rubik.


Yes, we’re talking about solving a Rubik’s Cube. You must have had one as a kid. You probably remember the initial pain. Then the satisfaction of completing one side. Then the next. Then (hours later) you had the euphoria of finally solving it.


Then next time you did it a bit quicker. Then quicker again. And again. Building your muscle memory each time. Until… you got bored and moved onto the next new thing.


But some people didn’t get bored. They built their muscle memory so well that they became “speed cubers” in a sport called “speed cubing”.


So well that they can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less time than it took you to read this sentence.


Why are we talking about this? Building muscle memory is key to a lot of what we do in life.

Driving a car – muscle memory. Brushing your teeth – muscle memory. Cooking your signature dish – muscle memory. It means we get better at things. You must be a black belt in brushing your teeth by now, right?


Importantly, it makes our lives easier. It’s much easier to cook the dish you’ve cooked 50 times than the one you’ve never cooked before, right?


Yet a lot of the things we do in the retail world makes things harder for shoppers. Move things around in store – makes things harder. Add lots of products to the range – makes things harder. Change your packaging – makes things harder.


A lot of what we do works against the muscle memory of shoppers. When what it should be doing is building their muscle memory.


So, how can you do this?


Prioritise CONSISTENCY. A lot of companies prioritise change. They are set up to launch new products. They develop the new flavour. Then launch it. Then move straight onto the next new flavour. A new brand manager comes in. They want to change the packaging. By the time the new packs get to store the brand manager is off to work on another brand. A new one comes in. Guess what they want to change? This is before you get into brand positioning. You think you need to be more relevant to Gen Z – reposition. Need to be more sustainable – reposition. Need to be more purposeful – reposition.


Instead, brands should prioritise consistency. Consistency in design so their communication is instantly recognisable to shoppers. Consistency in messaging to reinforce the reason new shoppers should buy you and existing shoppers should continue to buy you. Consistency across touchpoints. Consistency over time. How do you know when you’re being consistent enough? When you’re bored. Because when you’re bored, it’s just starting to work with shoppers.


Be the DEFAULT. Often the competitive battle is fought at the shelf (or online page). You might win this purchase occasion. But your competitor wins the next one. Then another competitor wins the next one. The winner is probably whichever brand is on deal. You’re building the wrong type of muscle memory with shoppers – buy the deal.


Instead, you could try to move the battle away from the shelf (or online page). To increase your chances of shoppers buying you automatically. This could mean subscriptions. Think a regular Nespresso order. Think Hello Fresh. Think Tails.com. It could mean having hardware and software. Think razors and blades. Think PepsiCo and Soda Stream. Think Cif and eco refills. It could mean owning an occasion. Think Nutella and Pancake Day. Think Guinness and Rugby. How do you know when you’re the default? When shoppers buy you without thinking.


Hardwire HABITS. The biggest growth opportunity for most categories (and the brands within them) is to close the gap between what shoppers could (or should) be doing and what they actually do. For instance, how many people have 5 portions of fruit & veg every day?


So, you need to tell shoppers what to do. Think Lifebuoy 5x a day handwashing campaign. Think Activia Gut Health Challenge. Think Colgate “replace your toothbrush every 3 months” messaging. Then you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Think Day Nurse & Night Nurse solution. Think Soreen portioned lunchbox loaves. Think Yakult in 7 packs. The more you can align the usage occasion with the purchase occasion the more likely you are to be bought. Then used. Then bought again. Then used again. Then… you get the picture.


So, ask yourself. How do you want shoppers to behave?


Then look at whether you are making it easier or harder for them to do so.


How quickly can you help them solve your Rubik’s cube?


Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you after Easter.