Going Upstream



Let’s start with a short story...


You and a friend are having a picnic by the side of a river. Suddenly you hear a shout from the water. A child is drowning. Without thinking, you both dive in. You grab the child and swim to the shore.


Before you can recover, you hear another child cry for help. You and your friend jump back into the river to rescue her as well.


Then another struggling child drifts into sight. Then another. Then another. The two of you can barely keep up.


Suddenly, you see your friend wading out of the water. “Where are you going?” you demand.


Your friend answers, “I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who is throwing all these kids in the water”.


This story is a public health parable. Yes, it’s great to save each child from drowning. But it’s even better to stop them from being in the water in the first place.


Prevention is better than cure.


Why are we talking about this? There are thousands of new products launched in the UK each year. A huge amount of resource is invested in developing and launching these products.


Many companies are set up to keep turning the new product wheel. You launch a product. Then move on to the next one. Then the next one. There are lots of new products thrown into the water. Then twelve months later (often sooner…) you are diving into the water trying to save them.


You are in the range review trying to protect them from getting de-listed. You are promoting them more often to drive demand. You are in another conversation with a retailer who is saying that your price is too high or your margin is not good enough.


You might save a couple of these products from drowning. But sooner or later you are going to have to tackle the guy throwing them all in the water.


To do this you need to spend less time downstream addressing symptoms. You need to spend more time upstream addressing the cause.


So how can you do this?


Think CATEGORY not just brand. Most new products do think category. But they often do so too late. It’s when they need to go and talk to a retailer. It’s when they need to wrap a category story around a brand initiative. So, you end up downstream trying to cobble together a category rationale for the trade story. But it is often wafer thin. The retailer sees though it. They weren’t born yesterday. They can see the launch is brand first, category second. They give you a bit of support but not the level you would have got if they could see the category opportunity.


To change this you need to think category upstream. You need to think about the fundamentals. How can the launch get new shoppers into the category (think cold brew in tea & coffee). Or drive frequency (think low & no alcohol). Or trade shoppers up (think premium mixers). How the launch is going to grow the category not just move money between brands. Do this earlier and the trade story is much easier to construct. Do this earlier and you can change things in the product mix. Category thinking needs to happen upstream (early) not downstream.


Think SHOPPER not just consumer. Most new products go through concept tests. You show consumers a brilliantly clear visual of the product and pack. A beautifully crafted description of the product. You allow them to have a good read through. You ask them if they like it? Yep, they say they do. You ask them if they would buy it? Yep, they say they probably will. Even at the price you are suggesting? Yep, apparently so. You use the numbers to predict volumes. But six months later you are downstream trying to figure out why the product has sold a fraction of the predicted volumes.


To change this you need to think shopper upstream. A shopper doesn’t have 2 minutes to read your concept. They might look at it for 2 seconds. They don’t look at the price in isolation. They look at it in the context of other prices at shelf. They don’t have to say whether they would buy the product. They have to actually buy the product instead of the product they normally buy. They are behaving in the real world not the concept test world. Shopper thinking needs to happen upstream not downstream.


Think REPEAT not just trial. A lot of new products are good at getting trial. Most of the launch budget is spent on driving awareness and trial. Track the trial numbers and they look good. A lot of shoppers have bought you. Then a few weeks or months later (depending on the purchase cycle) you realise that most of the shoppers who bought you only bought you once. So, you are downstream trying to figure out how to get them to repeat.


To change this you need to think repeat upstream. You need to think beyond the 2-3 week launch window to the second and third wave of activity. You need to give shoppers an incentive to trial AND repeat. Think as much about the second and third purchase as the first one. Repeat thinking needs to happen upstream not downstream.


When you are downstream you are on the back foot. You are curing. When you are upstream you are on the front foot. You are preventing.


You don’t need to keep jumping in the water.


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