Let’s start with the fable of the Tortoise and Hare.
Once there was a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing the hare boast, the tortoise challenged him to a race. All the animals gathered to watch.
The hare ran down the road for a while, then paused to rest. He looked back at the tortoise and cried out “how do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow place?”
The hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep thinking “there is plenty of time to relax”.
The tortoise walked and walked. He didn’t stop until he reached the finish line.
The animals that were watching cheered so loudly for the tortoise, they woke up the hare. The hare stretched and yawned and began to run again. But it was too late. The Tortoise was over the line.
After that, the hare always reminded himself “don’t brag about your lightening pace, for the Tortoise won the race”.
Why are we talking about this? Well “speed” seems to be a buzzword at the moment – particularly in bigger companies. They look at smaller competitors doing things quickly and think they need to do the same. So, they set up “sprints” or “scrums” or “squads” or any other funky name beginning with ‘s’. The goal is to move fast. But a hare is fast.
‘Agility’ is another buzzword. Again, bigger companies look at smaller competitors and think they are more agile. They can adapt and change direction more easily. So big companies use the “squads” & “scrums” to help them be more agile. But a hare is agile – it can change direction quickly.
We don’t think smaller companies are successful because they are quicker (though they often are). We don’t think they are successful because they are more agile (though they often are). We think they are successful because they focus. They do less and focus more.
You can be as fast as you want. You can be as agile as you want. But if you are doing too many things you won’t get the benefit.
So, how can you do less and focus more?
Subtract don’t add. Bigger companies are more likely to add. Smaller companies are more likely to subtract. Big companies have lots of information. They keep adding to that information. Run some more analysis. Do another research study. We find that most of the answers companies need are there already. They are just lost in the sea of information. To distil you need to subtract. Identify what is important. Then focus on the things that are important.
Big companies are good at adding to strategies. They want all bases to be covered. You see category strategies that have too many drivers. Why? Because you want to align your portfolio against the drivers. Which driver does Brand X sit under? None really. OK, add a driver. The same can happen with brand strategy. Where does activity Y sit? It doesn’t really. OK, add a new job to be done. The tail wags the dog. To prioritise you need to subtract. If an activity doesn’t fit against your strategy, you don’t change the strategy, you change or stop the activity.
Be process light not process heavy. Bigger companies are typically process heavy. Smaller companies are typically process light. Bigger companies have annual planning. The “annual” is used to describe something you do every year. Though it is probably better described as something that seems to take a year to do. The process can be a very effective enabler – to help you get to better strategies and activities. But too often it ends up becoming an outcome – something companies just need to get through and complete. Smaller companies spend time on the activities not the process.
Big companies have lots of templates. Want to write a (research, packaging, communications) brief? Fill in boxes 1-10. However, is what is in boxes 2-10 important or does it get in the way of what is in box 1? When Coca Cola were a smaller company in 1915 this was their design brief – “a bottle so distinct that it could be recognised by touch in the dark or lying broken on the ground”. The end.
Have a low resource mindset. Bigger companies do lots of things because they can. Smaller companies don’t do lots of things because they can’t. If you have the ability to launch ten new products a year, then you probably will. Launch one. Move onto the next one. Then the next one.
If you can only launch one product a year you will spend a lot of time getting it right.
We often find it is the smaller brands that have the most disruptive communication. The packaging with the strongest stand out. The clearest, most compelling messaging. It is because they have fewer resources. Like a lot of things in life, less is often more. Less forces you to prioritise. Less forces you to focus. Less forces you to take the right kind of risks.
The old normal = everyone wanted to act big. The new normal = everyone wants to act small.
Speed is good. Agility is good. Focus is even better.
Don’t set too many hares racing.
Feel free to forward. We’re following our own advice and focusing on what’s important – taking a break from the blog so we can make a last minute attempt to get onto Father Christmas’s Good List. We’ll be back in the New Year, but until then, have a very Merry Christmas.
We are an FMCG strategy consultancy. We help companies win with shoppers & retailers – Category Strategy, Channel Strategy, Shopper Marketing Strategy and Retailer Engagement.