Knowledge Bank Blog, Range & Portfolio

And The Winner is…

Are you different not just better?

Forget Brexit negotiations.  Forget the Budget.  Forget whatever Trump has been up to.  The big news in the last few days was the results of the Which? Mince Pie Christmas Taste Test.

A panel of bakery experts ranked mince pies from 11 retailers.  They rated the pies on appearance, aroma, taste and texture.  Then combined these scores into one overall rating to declare M&S’ Collection Mince Pies the must-buy of 2017.

The experts were particularly impressed with “the fruitiness and citrus notes of the juicy mincemeat filling” of the M&S pies.  Of course – who eats mince pies without the right citrus notes?  Bottom of the league table was the offering from Morrisons.  The experts found “the pastry soft and clogging and the mince under spiced”.  Unforgiveable.

We’ve got to trust that the experts got it right – the M&S pies must be the best.  But, could consumers really tell?  If you asked 100 people in the street to do the mince pie taste test, how many would rank them in a similar order to the experts?  Not many.

Why? Well, firstly, the average consumer isn’t an expert in many categories.  They don’t spend time trying lots of options, ranking them against a set of criteria and making optimum selections.  Secondly, even if they did, it is really hard to be noticeably better.  How many people could correctly guess the £10 wine vs the £5 wine?

Is this an issue?  Not if you are a lower priced product.  If you are a lower priced product, you want shoppers to make a satisficing choice.  A choice that is good enough.  If bottled water A is similar to bottled water B then you buy the cheaper one.  But it is an issue for brand leaders or premium priced products.  You want shoppers to make a maximising choice.  Good enough is not good enough.

It is also an issue for category value.  Satisficing choices limit (and can often reduce) category value.  In contrast, maximising choices drive category value.

Being ‘better’ is a route to a maximising choice.  But, being noticeably better is hard.  So, what is the alternative?  Being different.  Having a clear point of difference that allows you to frame the way a choice is presented to shoppers.

How can you do this?

Establish the choice criteria.  This is about framing a choice on your terms not on competitors’ terms.  Fever Tree is a great example of this.  In a mixed drink the spirit was the hero.  The mixer was an afterthought – if it was thought about at all.  Fever Tree has told shoppers to think differently “if ¾ of your Gin & Tonic is the tonic, make sure you use the best”.  Is Fever Tree noticeably the best?  Most people probably can’t tell.  Are more people going to order or buy Fever Tree as a result of this reframe?  Almost certainly.

Reinforce the choice criteria.  This is about product benefits and claims.  Things that you can say that nobody else can say.  For instance, Aptamil baby milk can say they are “the only brand with immunofortis”.  It can be about how you say things.  Ella’s Kitchen has a very different way of communicating versus more traditional baby foods.

It can just be about body language.  Craft beers are the classic example of this at the moment.  The bottles and cans look very different to mainstream beers.  The names and product descriptions are very different.  They are sold in a different way – typically in singles, often with tasting notes.  Do most craft beers taste that much better that they are worth paying twice, sometimes three times, the price of mainstream beers?  Probably not.  Are they different enough that an increasing number of shoppers will pay that?  Yes.

Protect the choice criteria.  This is about not doing things that weaken the choice criteria.  This means resisting the temptation to promote too often or too deep.  Craft beers rarely promote.  And if they do, they do it infrequently and they give shallow discounts.  Peroni do the same.  If you can’t sell enough at base price then the base price is probably wrong.  It also means not taking things out of the product.  So, not reducing the spec or reducing pack size or quantities.  These things may be tempting in the short term, but they risk eroding your point of difference in the longer term.

Being better is important.  You’d rather be the M&S mince pies at the top of the league table.  But the average shopper isn’t an expert – better isn’t always noticeable.

So, be different.  Be noticeably different.

Right, where are those mince pies with the citrus notes?

On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website…

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.