The Law of Subtraction

Should you be doing less?

Which is better – more or less?  In most areas of life we’ve been conditioned to associate more with better.  The more we have, the better things are.  But is this really true?

If you take wealth, lots of studies say that once you hit a certain level of income, there is little difference in happiness as you go beyond that level.  Or entertainment, are we any happier now that we have 500 TV channels to choose from, than when we only had 4 or 5?  Well, apart from sky sports for some of us, probably not.

As technology has rapidly developed, we have seen an explosion of choice.  We have also seen an explosion of product features and benefits.  Walk around any store and you will be bombarded with them.  For instance, take a ‘simple’ product like toothpaste.  Colgate Total describes itself as an ‘anticavity fluoride and antigingivitus toothpaste’.  It ‘helps prevent cavities, gingivitis and plaque’.  It ‘fights tartar, freshens breath’, oh and also, ‘gently cleans’.

Why is this happening? Firstly, because we can.  If your product can do 10 different things, why wouldn’t you tell everyone?  Secondly, because it is it easier.  It is easier to add things than subtract things.

However, rather than adding things, what if we took more things away?  Would things be better as a result?  Would our products cut through more at shelf, or on the tablet or smartphone?

So, how might we do this?

Packaging.  The temptation is always to flood packs with information.  Say more than the competitor next to you on shelf and you will be more compelling, right?  This is why so many brands end up with packs that have 12+ visual elements all competing with each other.  But the first job of any pack is to stand out on shelf and get seen.  If you don’t do that, the shopper will never even get to all the other messages on there.

We talk about the front of pack being for the shopper and the back of pack being for the consumer.  Keep only the most necessary and important information on the front of pack and put everything else on the back.  Look at Nivea Crème (male & female versions) for a great example of this.

Point Of Sale Communication.  Shoppers spend more time in store navigating than shopping.  They are typically on the move when they see POS and may only see it with a quick sideways glance.  Yet is still amazes us that so much POS communication is really complicated.  The shopper would have to stop what they are doing and start reading for 10-20 seconds to take everything in.  That rarely happens.

Anyone can come up with the 30 word message on a piece of POS.  Much harder is to get that message down to around 5 words.  To do so, you have to be really clear on what you are trying to say.  And say it in the simplest way possible.  It isn’t easy, but it is effective.

Proposition.  The more benefits you talk about, the more you lose control over what the shopper sees and takes in.  Identifying the lead benefit is crucial.  The one thing you most want the shopper to see – the key reason to buy the product.  If you can’t decide what it is, then the proposition is not clear, or compelling enough, in the first place.

And if you do want to talk about more than one benefit, then make sure it is clear what the lead benefit is and what the support ones are.  Make sure there is a hierarchy to the communication.

The Law of Subtraction can be applied to most things we do.  From the number of actions we load into category strategies, to the number of new products we bring to market.  More is easy.  Less is hard.  But less is often what is required to win.

To leave you with something profound from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu – ‘To attain knowledge, add things every day.  To attain wisdom, subtract things every day’.

What are the things you could subtract?

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.

© 2020 by Insight Traction