Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication, Channel Execution

Controlling What You Can Control

Are you focusing on what you can control?

Let’s start by getting deep and talking about philosophy.  Stay with us…there is an important life and business lesson to come.  We promise…

The philosophy is Stoicism.  It flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world.  Of course you will all have heard of the Stoic greats, like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, right?

Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics underpinned by a system of logic.  There is one core idea at the heart of Stoicism that is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago.  The idea is being able to differentiate between what we can change and what we can’t change.

Here is a practical example.  Your flight is delayed.  You can’t change that.  You might temporarily feel better by shouting at someone from the airline.  But that isn’t going to make the plane leave on time.  And if you do shout at someone from the airline, you will probably get even angrier about the delay than if you hadn’t.

This idea is probably best summed up in the Serenity Prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.

Right, that’s the philosophy lesson over.  So, why are we talking about this?  Well, in our industry there are a lot of things that can impact your business, that you have little control over.  It could be channel trends – for instance, the rise of Discounters or growth in eCommerce.  It could be government policy – for instance, the sugar tax.  It could be legal constraints – for instance, what you can and can’t claim about your product.

We often feel that companies invest too much time and resource working on things that are outside their control and not enough time and resource working on things that are in their control.

Why not follow the Stoic philosophy and prioritise the things that you can control?

So, how can you do this?

What you can’t control = the speed of channel development.  What you can control = if & how you go after channel opportunities.  Discounters have grown significantly and will continue to grow.  Other retailers can have an influence on this growth.  But most manufacturers can’t.  So, as a manufacturer you have two choices.  Firstly, do you play in Discounters?  Perhaps an easier choice when they were 5% of the UK market.  Not so easy now they are 12%.  Secondly, how do you play in Discounters?  What products, pack sizes, price points do you sell?  A similar challenge is emerging with Amazon.  You can’t control the growth of Amazon.  But you can control what you do with them.

What you can’t control = what your competitors are doing.  What you can control = how you support your brands.  There are always going to be competitive pressures.  Competitors will often do things that you don’t like.  Perhaps they are running deeper or more frequent promotions.  Perhaps they are doing comparative advertising.  Perhaps they are developing copycat products.  It is easy to get distracted by this.  To focus too much on what they are doing.  To change what you do because of what they are doing.

But if you do this, you are following not leading.  Leading means setting your own agenda.  It means doing what you want to do.  It means not getting into a promotional war but giving shoppers value in alternative ways.  It means focusing on your own brand proposition and staying true to that proposition.  What makes you different and worth paying more for?  Heinz Ketchup is a really good example of this.  They have focused on their proposition and heritage in the face of a lot of competition from cheaper brands.  You can’t control what competitors do.  But you can control what you do in response.

What you can’t control = what you can do in store.  What you can control = what you do with your own assets.  We talked last week about manufacturers working on funky fixture solutions that never see the light of day.  The same thing often happens with POS materials – even when manufacturers know that retailers are trying to operate a clean store policy.  So why not focus on the assets that are in your control?

Your primary packaging is in your control.  Your secondary packaging is in your control.  What you communicate on these assets is in your control.  Yes, it would be great if you could implement signage to improve category navigation.  But why not use your shelf ready packaging to help with this job?  Yes, you would love to have more space and a big brand block.  But why not use your packaging to drive stand-out however the category is merchandised?  Far better to focus on the things you can control.

We are not saying don’t try to influence things that are out of your control – of course, soft drinks companies lobbied against the sugar tax.  What we are saying is don’t let that distract you from what is in your control.  Once there is a sugar tax, you control how you respond to it.

Think about that the next time your plane is delayed.

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.