Playing Offence AND Defence


On 1st February 2016 Pep Guardiola signed a contract to become the next manager of Manchester City.


He arrived with a big reputation. He’d won everything there was to win at Barcelona. Then he went to Bayern Munich and won the league in each of his three seasons there.


But could he do it in England?


In his first season the answer appeared to be “no”. City finished third in the Premier League – 15 points behind the champions Chelsea.


However, in his second season things got better. They got a LOT better…


City became the first (and still only) team to record 100 points in a 38 game Premier League season.


They won 32 of their 38 matches. Losing just once. They went on a 15-match winning streak.

A record for the top division.


They had the best offence. Setting a record for the most goals scored in a season – 106. They had the best defence. Conceding just 27 goals. They achieved a record +79 goal difference, +33 more than the next best team.


They won the Premier League by 19 points.


Then the following season they won it again.


Asked to sum up his style of play Guardiola said “What we want is so simple. When the opponent has the ball, take it back as quick as possible. When we have the ball, try to move as quick as possible. That’s all.”


Why are we talking about this? The latest UK inflation figure is 7%. It’s the highest rate it has been for 30 years. Predictions suggest it could reach 8.7% in the last quarter of 2022. Food prices are expected to rise higher. Much higher in some categories.


This is making things tough for manufacturers. Who need to go to retailers with price increases. Tough for retailers. Who face a lot of price competition. Tough for shoppers. Who are having to make choices about what they can afford to buy.


In recent years many categories have focused on offence. Aiming to grow category value.


Right now, the temptation is to switch to defence. Aiming to protect category value.


But the best strategies do both. They help protect AND grow category value.


Here are some examples…


If you’re an ESSENTIAL category… think a category like Toilet Roll. It’s tempting for shoppers to think they can save money on categories like this. To think good enough is good enough. Meaning they can end up making a choice based on lowest price rather on best value.


The job here is to reframe that choice. To get shoppers to think that good enough is NOT good enough. To get them thinking that the products they use the most are the ones where the choice of what to buy is most important.


Waitrose used to run a communication campaign on their Essentials range “why compromise on the food you eat most often?” This works as an offensive move. Getting more shoppers to buy core products at Waitrose. It works as a defensive move. Getting existing shoppers to keep buying. The same principle applies to any core categories. Think bread. Think toothpaste. Think tea.


If you’re a SUBSTITUTABLE category. Think a category like cereal. There are many options (cereal, yoghurt, fruit, toast, eggs etc) of what to eat for breakfast. You could even skip breakfast entirely.


The job is to reinforce the importance of breakfast and to show why you are the best breakfast choice. You’re healthy. You’re filling. You’re affordable. If you do this well it can work as a defensive move. Getting regular cereal buyers to keep buying. It can work as an offensive move. Getting lighter cereal buyers to buy more often. The same principle applies to any categories which have a wide competitive set. Think many snacking categories. Think many drinks categories.


If you’re a DISCRETIONARY category. Think a category like fruit juice. Most shoppers don’t need to buy you. They choose to buy you. And if they choose to buy you, they could choose not to buy you. The job here is to give shoppers a clear reason to buy. This is likely to be about dialling up taste and the functional health benefits of drinking juice every day.


Or you could a discretionary category like ice cream. Here the job is to dial up the emotional benefits ice cream brings. The moments of joy you have when eating it. Its role as an affordable treat. It can work as defensive move. Protecting existing volume. It can work as an offensive move. Driving additional volume.


The same principle applies to any categories that are discretionary. Think yoghurt. Think chocolate. Think alcohol. OK, maybe some of these are essential rather than discretionary…


So, don’t think defence OR offence. Think defence AND offence.


The best categories are like the best teams. They do both.


Just ask Pep.


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