Distraction vs. Traction


How many of you have read ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer?


Well done if you have. But, even if you haven’t, you might have heard of one of the stories in it.


Odysseus, a respected warrior, is returning home to Ithaca from the Trojan War. On the journey home his ship has to pass the Island of the Sirens.


The sirens are beautiful but deadly. They sit beside the ocean combing their long golden hair and singing to passing sailors. Anyone who hears their song is entranced. Sailors end up sailing into the dangerous waters surrounding the island, hit rocks and drown.


Odysseus knows that this will happen to him and his crew. So he orders his men to seal their ears with beeswax to protect them from the sirens’ song.


Odysseus wants to hear the sirens’ song but knows that when he does, he won’t be able to resists the deadly call. So he gets his men to tie him to the mast of the ship.


When he hears the sirens, Odysseus strains against the bonds holding him to the mast. He shouts at his men to free him. But expecting this reaction, his men row harder until the song of the sirens is just a distant echo. Only then does the crew untie the grateful Odysseus.


He has resisted the distraction of the sirens’ song.


Why are we talking about this? Well, if you are trying to drive sales there are lots of things you could be doing. You could change your pricing strategy. You could develop a new promotional strategy. You could launch more innovation. You could develop a new brand positioning. You could redesign your packs. There are any number of things you could do.


But that doesn’t mean that you should do all those things. Instead you need to focus on doing the right things. To do the right things you need to differentiate between two types of actions.


First, are actions (things you currently do or things you could do) that move you away from what you are trying to achieve. These actions lead to distraction. Second, are actions that move you towards what you are trying to achieve. These actions lead to traction.


To succeed you need to do fewer things that lead to distraction and more things that lead to traction.


So how can you do this?


Category Strategy. A category strategy that leads to distraction has too much information in it. It tells you everything you need to know about the category not what you really need to know. It identifies too many growth opportunities. You end up with 8-10 different drivers instead of the 3-5 that matter. It ends up with a shopping list of actions setting out everything you could possibly do, not the key things that you really need to do.


A category strategy that leads to traction focuses on the most important information. It prioritises on the biggest growth opportunities. It sets out the actions that can make the most difference. Take a look at your category strategy (or any other strategy you have). Is it set up to drive traction? Or is it more likely to lead to distraction?


Portfolio. A product portfolio that leads to distraction is one that is spread too thinly. It tries to cover all shopper needs. All flavours or variants or formats. It keeps getting supplemented by new products. But these are often just line extensions. Products that lead to more range but don’t give the shopper more choice.


A portfolio that leads to traction is one that is focused. It prioritises the best sellers – the things shoppers want to buy and retailers want to sell. It covers the most important shopper needs, not every possible need. It gets supplemented by innovation that moves the needle and deliver additional choice for shopper. Take a look at your portfolio. Is it set up to drive traction? Or is it more likely to lead to distraction?


Innovation Selling Stories. A selling story that leads to distraction is one that focuses on show. It has the tear-jerking mood video. It has all the detailed science and technology behind the new product. It has the beautifully crafted portrait of the target consumer. It has loads of interesting stuff. But the audience walks out of the room (sorry, logs off the virtual meeting…) having enjoyed the show but forgotten most of what they’ve heard about the product.


A selling story that leads to traction is based around a core spine. A simple flow that takes people from opportunity to solution to benefit to action plan. Unsurprisingly, it tells a “story”. Take a look at your selling stories. Are they set up to drive traction? Or are they more likely to lead to distraction?


Look at your strategies. Look at your activities. Look at your communication. Then ask yourself…


Is this something that moves you towards your goal? Traction. Or is it something that moves you away from your goal? Distraction.


The sirens are singing. You need to strap yourself to the mast.


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