Are you asking the right questions?
We live in a world where answers are freely available. Pretty much anything we want to know about is available to us within a few seconds. On one hand, all this information at our fingertips is brilliant – a wonder of the internet age. On the other hand, it makes us lazy. Simply pick up your smart phone and you get an answer. You no longer have to think about the actual question.
This is fine when you are trying to find out all the clubs footballer X played for in his career, but not so good when you are thinking about something more complex. As Einstein said ‘if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes’.
Most progress in our world has come from asking the right questions and developing the right hypotheses to test. For instance, the first seeds of the mobile phone were sown by a junior engineer at Motorola asking ‘why is it that when we want to call and talk to a person, we have to call a place?’ As soon as you ask a question like that, you challenge the conventional wisdom. And that opens up a world of new opportunities.
It is no different in the FMCG world. Many of the things that we do are driven more by the fact that we have always done them, than because they are the right things to do. This is understandable. We are under time and sales pressure. It is hard to pause and ask yourself some searching questions. But in the long run it will be even harder if we don’t ask those questions and carry on doing the things we’ve always done.
So, what are a few of the questions we could ask ourselves that challenge conventional wisdom?
What is the true competitive set for your products? Many brands are in big fights for market share within a category. They spend a lot of money trading blows with each other. All the time they are doing that, they may be missing the opportunity to take share from other categories – the wider competitive set. Are you trying to win share within crisps, yoghurts, biscuits or win share across snacking? You may do very different things depending on the answer.
What about NPD? Do you focus all your resource trying to drive trial? Most brands do. There is a big burst of activity for 3 or 4 weeks, then all goes quiet. Yes, trial is important, but repeat is the key to the long term success of a new product. The NPD graveyard is full of products that were bought once. What if we focused more resource on driving repeat? Would more new products succeed?
What about Range & Choice? More choice was deemed to be good for the shopper, until Discounters came along and demonstrated that it isn’t always so. It is tempting to think that the more products (flavours & variants) that we have, the more shelf space we can secure and the more sales we can get. Yet most categories and brands have a long tail of products that sell little and get in the way of selling more of the bestselling lines.
So, to return to Einstein, he said the definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. We are not saying our industry is insane! But we are saying there are a number of things that we do, because we have always done them. What if we challenged some of these conventional wisdoms? What if we asked ourselves the right questions? Would we do different, perhaps better, things?
We’d love to know what you think some of the conventional wisdoms or myths in our industry are. Reply to this blog and let us know. We might write about a couple of them in the coming weeks.
Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.