Doing What Only You Can Do


On Saturday 15th August 2009, 8 men lined up for the Men’s 100 metres final at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin.


The starting gun fired.


9.58 seconds later Usain Bolt glided across the finishing line to win the race. He had run the fastest 100m of all time.


Bolt took more than a tenth of a second off his previous record. It was the largest ever margin of improvement in the 100m world record since electronic timing began. It is still a record.


Five days later Bolt went on to set a new 200m world record of 19.19 seconds. Another record he still holds.


Between 2008-2016 Bolt won 8 Olympic Golds and 11 World Championship Golds.


That’s pretty good for someone who didn’t even plan to be a sprinter. When he was young Bolt spent all his time playing cricket and football in the street with his brother. When Bolt went to high school he continued to focus on these sports.


But his cricket coach noticed his speed on the pitch and urged him to try athletics. Pablo McNeil, a former Olympic athlete, became his coach and encouraged him to focus all his energy on improving his athletic abilities. So, Bolt did.


From there, he was on the journey to becoming the greatest sprinter of all time.


Why are we talking about this? There is more competition than ever before in our industry.


More competition between channels – supermarkets vs discounters vs convenience vs specialists vs online. More competition between retailers – Tesco vs Sainsbury’s vs Aldi vs Amazon.


More competition between categories – think of how many categories are competing for the same meal or snacking or drink occasions. More competition between brands – just go down the condiments & dressings aisle for an example.


There are lots of retailers and brands all competing for the same shoppers. Trying to serve similar needs. Trying to serve similar occasions. To win you need to have an edge. You need to offer something that your competitors can’t offer. Something that will make shoppers choose you.


You need to do what only you can do.


So, how can you do this?


Thinking CHANNEL. What gives the channel you are operating in an edge? If you’re a Discounter, it might be value. If you’re a Specialist, it might be range and expertise. If you’re a delivery service (e.g. Deliveroo) it might be speed and reliability. Your edge is the reason shoppers to choose to shop in your channel. Lose that edge and you will lose shoppers.


Having an edge also helps you identify new channels you should enter. For instance, lots of manufacturers have established Direct to Consumer services. Some have an edge. Some don’t. If all you’re doing is selling the stuff that shoppers can buy in a retailer, why would they make a specific purchase from you and pay for the delivery? Think Heinz at Home. Whereas if you are offering exclusive products, exclusive pack sizes, exclusive promotions there is a clear reason to buy from you. Think BrewDog.


Don’t do what everyone else can do. Do what only you can do.


Thinking RETAILER. The retailers with an edge are crystal clear on what their edge is, and they protect it at all costs. Think Aldi on price. The retailers with an edge focus on the things that don’t change. Think Amazon and the famous Jeff Bezos quote:


“It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says “Jeff, I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher” or “I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver more slowly”. Impossible. We know the energy we put into these things today will still be paying dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, you can afford to put a lot of energy behind it”.


Don’t do what everyone else can do. Do what only you can do.


Thinking CATEGORY. The categories with an edge are the ones that offer shoppers something other categories can’t offer them. If you are chicken, your edge might be health and versatility. If you are ice cream, your edge might be the moments of joy that ice cream brings. Too often in our industry we think of a category’s role in a very traditional way. The old, 4-quadrant grid with traffic builder, destination etc. But that tells you nothing about the role your category plays for shoppers. What it brings that other categories can’t bring.


Don’t do what everyone else can do. Do what only you can do.


Thinking BRAND. The brands with an edge are distinct. That could be communication. Think of the instantly recognisable communication of Red Bull. It could be tone of voice. Think of the way innocent speaks. It could be proposition. Think of Marmite and “Love It or Hate It”. It could be product benefits. Think Head & Shoulders. The more ruthlessly consistent these brands are, the more they own what they stand for. The harder it is for new competitors to come in and park their tanks on their lawn.


Don’t do what everyone else can do. Do what only you can do.


There are lots of cricketers. There are lots of footballers. There is only one greatest sprinter of all time.


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