In 1968, Bangladesh was hit by a big cholera outbreak.
It was killing tens of thousands of people.
The main symptom of cholera is diarrhoea. The main cause of death from diarrhoea is dehydration.
The only known treatment for dehydration was an intraveneous drip to replace lost fluids. But most people were dying in rural villages. They didn’t have access to intravenous drips.
A young American doctor, David Nalin, was working in Bangladesh. He wondered if there was another way.
The body needed to retain fluid. He knew salt could retain fluid.
The body wouldn’t absorb salt. But he knew sugar would help the body absorb salt.
He had the basis of a formula. Sugar helps absorb salt. Salt helps absorb water.
Through trial and error his team worked out the proportions needed. They got to half a teaspoon of salt, to six teaspoons of sugar, to a litre of clean water.
But they had a problem. A teaspoon didn’t mean much in the villages. They needed a language everyone could understand.
So they made it simple. A pinch of salt to a fistful of sugar to a jug of boiled water. Even if villagers didn’t know a teaspoon, they knew a pinch and a fistful.
The formula began saving lots of lives in remote villages.
It’s now called Oral Rehydration Therapy.
Unicef said that, “no other medical breakthrough in the 20th century has prevented so many deaths over such a short period of time at so little cost.”
Why are we talking about this? In our industry we are dependent on getting other people to understand things.
It might be internal. Marketing teams communicating to Sales teams (or vice versa). It might be external. Manufacturers communicating to Retailers. Most importantly, it is with the end buyer: brands and retailers communicating to shoppers.
But this communication can run into problems. Too often we assume that what we know is what shoppers know. Too often we use technical language. Too often we overexplain.
We are talking about teaspoons when we need to be talking about pinches and fistfuls.
So, how can you communicate in a way that everyone can easily understand?
Naming. Are the names you use really easy to understand? It could be your category name. Don’t call something ‘eating enhancers’ when you could call it ‘condiments & sauces’. A category name is not about being exciting. It’s about being understood.
It could be segment names. In Pet Care, premium and specialist food is called “Advanced Nutrition.” Advanced signals ‘better.’ Nutrition signals ‘health.’ Something that can act as a simple shortcut for shoppers looking to give their pets the best food possible.
It could be product names. There used to be lots of ways of saying no alcohol. Now you just need to say 0.0. Another simple shortcut. Whether that is for shoppers buying for themselves or for someone else.
Descriptions. Are you giving shoppers simple descriptions of what your product is? This is particularly relevant for new segments and products. For instance, how many shoppers know what a hard seltzer is? So, Topo Chico told them “Alcohol, meet sparkling water.” Now they know. When Strings & Things launched Yollies they told shoppers it was “yoghurt on a stick.” What about Frollies? “Smoothie on a stick.”
This can be just as important for well established products. How many shoppers know the difference between anti-perspirants and body sprays? Between different types of tea? Between different cuts of meat?
Remember that your product is really important to you. But it’s much less important to shoppers. One of thousands they are exposed to, on a shopping trip.
Usage. Are you giving shoppers simple and relevant direction on product usage? It could be WHEN to use your product. Quaker Porridge Bars are called “Porridge to Go.” Eat them when you’re on the move. Batiste Dry Shampoo says “use between washes.”
It could be WHERE to use your product. Nivea Men Crème just says “face, body, hands.” It could be HOW to use your product. Ariel and Persi are both communicating a clear “wash colder” message in laundry.
It could be WHAT to use your product with. Alpro are a great example of linking to complementary categories. Ones that have high traffic and high relevance like cereal and tea.
So, ask yourself… is your communication really easy to understand?
As Ronald Reagan said “if you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you in fortnight.