What Brexit Teaches Us About Clarity


What was your TV moment of 2018?

For many people it came in a one off evening edition of Good Morning Britain in June when Danny Dyer summed up his view on Brexit.

Dyer was being interviewed by Piers Morgan.  Also there were Jeremy Corbyn and…er, Pamela Anderson.  Dyer had the following to say:

“Who knows about Brexit?  Nobody has got a f****** clue what Brexit is.  You watch Question Time.  Nobody knows what it is.  It’s like this mad riddle.  What’s happened to that t*** Cameron who brought it in?  He called this on.  Where is he?  He’s in Europe, in Nice with his trotters up”.

Nearly 7 months later and, to quote Teresa May, “nothing has changed”.  David Cameron still has his trotters up (somewhere in Oxfordshire) and nobody has a clue what Brexit is.  Indeed a pollster on Sky News last week said that 0% of people in the UK really understood what was in May’s deal that got defeated last week.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn has been pursuing a policy of “constructive ambiguity”.  Hoping that the Tories will tear themselves apart before Labour has to make a decision.

Of course, solving the mad Brexit riddle is hard.  But, being vague is not a solution.

If you try to please everybody you typically end up pleasing nobody.

Why are we talking about this?  In our industry we can spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep everyone happy.  It could be the strategy document that everyone buys into.  It could be trying to develop your sales in retailer A, whilst not damaging your sales in retailer B.  It could be about trying to appeal to the broadest group of shoppers.

But, any strategy or activity is about making choices.  A choice about who you target.  A choice about what opportunities you do and don’t go after.  A choice about what you say and what you don’t say.

The end result is that some people will be happier with the outcome than others.  That is OK.  By making a choice, people will have clarity.  They will know what your strategy or activity is really about.  Just like Danny Dyer wanted to know what Brexit was all about.

So, how can you make things clear?

Strategy.  We see a lot of strategy documents that are loaded with motherhood statements.  Things like “right range” or “right promotional strategy” or “explore new channels”.  These are things that nobody can disagree with.  Who is going to say “well, I don’t agree that we need the right promotional strategy”?  But, these things don’t give you any direction.

What type of products should you prioritise in the right range?  What promotional mechanics are in the right promotional strategy?  What are the new channels that you will prioritise?  If a strategy doesn’t get implemented it is often because people don’t know what to do.  The more vague you are, the more nods of agreement you get.  The more specific you are, the more action you will get.

Category Definitions.  We often find that one of the most seemingly simple questions you can ask about a category is actually one of the most challenging.  The question is “what is in our category?”  It is getting more challenging as we see blurring between categories – new products that take properties from more than one category or brands that are established in one category moving into another.

In any category definition there are grey areas – products that could sit inside or outside the category.  Our experience is that people can often get caught up in this.  They worry about the 5% of products in the grey area and not about the 95% of products that fit the definition.  A good category definition has a simple, easily understandable description of what the category is.  Then it has some simple criteria that make it clear which products sit in the category now (& in the future).  Does the product meet criteria A, B, C?  Yes.  OK, it sits in the category.

A good (accurate) solution that everyone understands (including shoppers, if you ever shared it with them) is much better than a perfect solution (if you ever got there) that nobody understands.

Targeting.  We see a lot of “constructive ambiguity” when companies think about targeting.  It happens when thinking about which shopper missions to target.  Because there are a variety of different missions in a store, you think you need to serve them all.  But, why not identify the lead mission in the store and then serve that mission brilliantly?  Serve one well rather than a few badly.

Something similar happens with usage occasions.  For instance, you look at when your snack pack is consumed and see a variety of different occasions – some in the morning, some at lunch, some in the evening.  So, you worry that if you start communicating that the product is “perfect for lunchboxes” you might stop people eating it at other times of the day.

We believe you don’t need to worry – current users will use when they want.  The key thing is getting new users.  These new users need a reason to buy the product.  Signalling it is “perfect for lunchboxes” gives them that reason.  And if some of them want to eat it in the evening as well, that’s great.

Being vague is easy.  Being clear is hard.  But, being clear moves things forward.

We know what Danny Dyer thinks of Brexit.  What would he think of your strategy or activities?

A quick heads up.  We are moving from a weekly blog to a fortnightly one.  For some of you that is one less email to delete every 2 weeks.  For those of you who excitedly anticipate the blog each Friday, think how excited you will be after 2 weeks!

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

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