Giving Things Time to Succeed

On January 7th 1990 Manchester United played Nottingham Forest away in the FA Cup 3rd round.

Alex Ferguson had been United’s manager for 3 years.  Things hadn’t been going well.

United had yet to win a trophy in that time.  They were on a winless run of 7 games.  Just a couple of weeks before the Forest game a big banner was unfurled at Old Trafford that read “3 years of excuses and it’s still crap.  Ta ra Fergie”.

It was widely assumed that if United lost to Forest then Ferguson would get the sack.

They didn’t lose.  A header by Mark Robins, a 20 year old from the United youth system, secured a 1-0 win.  It became known as the goal that saved Fergie’s job.

United went on to win the FA Cup that year. They then won a few more trophies after that.

By the time Sir Alex (as he was called by then) had retired he had led them to 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 1 European Cup Winners’ Cup and 2 Champions Leagues.  He won 11 Manager of the Year awards.  He is the most successful manager in English football history.

Sometimes you have to give things time to succeed.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, it is hard to be patient in our industry.  There is a lot of pressure to make things succeed and to make them succeed quickly.

It could be the NPD that gets launched and then is under an immediate threat of de-listing.  It could be entering a new channel and not seeing an immediate spike in sales.  It could be the new brand positioning campaign that doesn’t have an immediate impact on brand perception scores.

When you don’t see immediate results it is easy to jump to a quick conclusion – that what you are doing isn’t working.  So, you stop doing it.  But you might stop it before it has had a chance to work.  It is like sacking Fergie a few months before he wins the first of 25 major trophies.

Not seeing immediate results doesn’t necessarily mean that something has failed.  It often means that you haven’t given it time to succeed.

So, how can you give things more time to succeed?

NPD.  Most new products are launched in a very short window.  The window is often just 3-4 weeks.  You do everything you can to line up distribution, ATL marketing, POS in store.  Yet a lot of categories have a purchase frequency that is less than once per month.  Many shoppers won’t even go down the aisle in the launch window.  Even in a high frequency category most shoppers may only have one or two opportunities to see the activity.

What should you do?  Well, you need to extend the launch window.  This means doing things like priming shoppers in advance of the launch.  Tell shoppers the product is coming.  It can be as easy as putting a sticker on a current product telling them about the new product.  Priming helps you before launch, but you also need to consider post launch.  How to get shoppers to build the habit of buying.  Most NPD launches put all their effort into trial but very little into repeat.  But it is repeat that is the key to long term success.  Don’t just give shoppers a discount on their first purchase or a free sample.  Give them an incentive to buy the next time.  And the time after that.

Brand Communication.  The best communication works through simplicity and consistency over time.  For it to work you need to be patient.  But this often doesn’t happen.  There are a lot of reasons.  You might have short term sales pressure.  Or a challenge from a competitor.  Or the annual planning process prompts you to go down a different path.  Or boredom – it is much more interesting to work on a new campaign than continue with the existing one.

So, your communication chops and changes.  This rarely makes the issue better.  It usually makes it worse.  It is no coincidence that when a new Marketing Director comes in to lead a struggling brand, they nearly always say “we need to get back to what we were all about”. Be clear about what your brand is about.  Then have the patience to communicate it consistently and simply.

Shopper Marketing.  Most shopper marketing activities are seen as short term, more tactical activities.  Do one activity this time.  Do a different one next time.  Because of this, a lot of activities are disconnected from each other and disconnected from wider brand activities.  But shopper marketing can play a more strategic role.  The activities can have a stronger connection to brand activity.  They can be more repeatable over time.

Walkers is a great example of this.  They have a flavour platform that they consistently activate against.  The individual activity “Do us a flavour” or “Choose me or lose me” or (current campaign) “Best ever flavour” are all different, but they are all based on the same platform.  Each individual activity works better because it is part of the longer term platform.

The best activities often take time to work.  But then they work for a long time.

Just be careful not to overdo it.

Your boss… “What’s going on.  You’ve been sitting around doing nothing for the last few weeks”.

You…”Don’t worry.  I’m just giving things time to succeed…”

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