In the early hours of 8th August 1963, a Royal Mail train was heading from Glasgow to London on the West Coast Mainline.
The train was brought to a halt by a red signal at Bridego railway bridge. The signal had been tampered with. A gang of men boarded the train and attacked the ‘high value packages’ carriage of the train. The gang escaped with £2.6m (equivalent to around £35m today). The majority of the stolen money was never recovered.
It became known as The Great Train Robbery.
You will probably have heard of some of the robbers – Bruce Reynolds, Buster Edwards, Ronnie Biggs. The names are familiar because they eventually got caught.
As you will all know…there are three simple rules for a successful robbery. They are (1) keep it small (2) keep it simple (3) keep it quiet. Small because the fewer people involved the better. Simple because the more complicated it gets the more chance of it going wrong. Quiet because you don’t tell anyone outside the people involved.
The Great Train Robbers didn’t follow these rules. They needed an expert in stopping trains. So, they contacted Tommy Wisbey. He brought 4 men with him. The place they chose to stop the train was too far from the road. They needed a driver to move the train. So, Ronnie Biggs became involved because he knew a driver. The gang grew – from the original five to sixteen people.
They didn’t keep it small. They didn’t keep it simple. They didn’t keep it quiet.
Which is why they got caught.
Why are we talking about this? Competition in the FMCG and Retail industry is fierce. Between retailers. Between manufacturers. This brings pressure. Pressure for the strategy to deliver. Pressure for the innovation to deliver. Pressure for the marketing campaign to deliver.
Pressure means we think more about things. It means we get more into the detail. It means we complicate. It means we get too clever. It means we often forget about the simple rules.
Successful companies don’t forget about them. Think about Aldi – probably the most successful grocery retailer in the UK in the last ten years. They follow simple rules. Don’t be beaten on price. Have a limited range. Keep operating costs to a minimum.
These rules direct their strategy. They direct their decisions. Shall we do X? Well, it increases our operating costs - no. Shall we do Y? Well, it will help us maintain our advantage on price - yes.
Simple rules help you do more of the right things and less of the wrong things.
So, how can you get to simple rules to direct your activities?
Company (or Brand) Purpose. It is really easy to get lost in purpose. To go so far up the purpose ladder that you have lost sight of what you are actually selling in the first place. So, how about simple rules for a company or brand purpose…? ( 1) Be meaningful – focus on something that people care about (2) Be relevant – something that directly relates to your category and brand (3) Be memorable – something that people can remember and play back. Follow these rules and you are likely to have a purpose that resonates. Don’t and you could have a purpose that could be applied to anything.
New Channel Opportunities. The channel landscape is developing quickly. There are lots of new opportunities out there. Which ones to go after? There is lots of detailed analysis that you can do. But how about 3 simple rules to guide you…? (1) Go into growth channels – ideally big and growing (2) Go into channels with a good fit – with your category and brand (3) Go into channels that you have the right products and solutions for – the things shoppers would look for in that channel. This might help you filter all the exciting opportunities and focus on the exciting and realistic ones. Deliveroo isn’t for every FMCG product.
Proposition & Messaging. Brands often start with a simple product. With a simple proposition. Led by a single benefit. Then agencies get involved. They start to get clever. Too clever. They start to get creative. Too creative. They start to get targeted. Too targeted. So what about 3 simple rules to guide any proposition…? (1) Be clear what the product is – it’s not always obvious to a shopper (2) Be clear what the product does – what is the benefit (3) Be clear why it’s good – better than the rest. You don’t need to say any more.
Communication – Design. In a world of decreasing shelf space for many brands. A world of virtual shelves. A world of smartphones…the standout of your communication has never been more important. Being present is not the same as being seen. So how about (you’ve guessed it) 3 simple rules for design…? (1) Be recognisable – so a shopper would immediately recognise you (2) Be distinctive – look different from the other things around you (3) Be consistent – visually consistent over time and across touchpoints. Red Bull are a great example of this.
These are just a few examples. They are many more.
Simple rules can direct what you do. They can direct where you do things. They can direct how you do them.
They are ‘simple’ because everyone should understand them. They are ‘rules’ because they should be followed.
Remember them the next time you are planning a robbery.
Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.