Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication

In a Nutshell

Are you making enough choices?

On November 19th 1863 Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

It took place during the American Civil War, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.  It is one of the most famous speeches in American history.  It is also one of the shortest.

The Gettysburg Address contained 272 words.  204 of those words were one syllable.  The speech lasted 2 minutes.

Four years ago at the 150th anniversary of the Address, Tom Corbett, the Governor of Pennsylvania, observed that “Two speeches were given that day.  The first went on for more than 13,000 words and lasted for more than two hours.  The second contained 272 words and lasted for 150 years”.

Sometimes you don’t need to say a lot to have a big impact.

Why are we talking about this?  Well 150 years after Lincoln showed how it’s done, we all still struggle to keep things concise.  For instance, 3 weeks ago Twitter increased its character limit from 140 to 280.  Twitter said that the extra space allowed users to spend less time editing their tweets so that they can say what they want to say faster than ever before.   Does that sound like a good thing?

It is easy to say “keep things short and simple” – and we often do.  But, keeping things short and simple is really about editing and prioritising.  Making choices about what you include and what you don’t include.  A great film is as much about what is left on the cutting room floor as what makes it into the final edit.

If you don’t make choices you end up with the 100+ slide presentation deck or the strategy with a long shopping list of actions or the POS communication loaded with different messages.  You end up with the speech before Lincoln’s that nobody remembers.

But if you make choices, if you choose your words wisely, you can end up with 272 words that go down in history.

So, where can you make choices about what to say?

Packaging.  If you don’t make choices on packaging, you end up with a pack that is trying to communicate everything.  One current example is ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ cat food.  The pack has 23 (yes 23…) visual elements on the front.  It has 6 different product benefits.  They are trying to say everything.

Contrast that to packs like Nivea Crème for Men, Waitrose own label wine, Camden Brewery beer.  These are packs that could say a lot but choose to say a little.  And deliver great stand out and clarity as a result.

Product Names & Descriptions.  Go online and look at some of the product descriptions for FMCG products.  Many of them are longer than the Gettysburg address.  We aren’t joking.  It is nice, interesting stuff…but no shopper has the time or inclination to read it.  Shoppers are looking for headlines online (& in store).   A headline about why the product is good.  So, if you are the world’s most awarded product in your category, make sure shoppers see it, don’t bury the news halfway down the 400 word description.

Also, think carefully about the words you use in the product name and description.  The key route shoppers take to a product online is via search.  Having the right search key words in your product name and description can be the difference between appearing in search results and being hidden in the far reaches of a website.  So, if you are a malt whiskey, make sure you include the word ‘malt’ in the product name.  If you are a breakfast biscuit make sure you include the word ‘breakfast’ in your product name.

POS & Promotional Communication.  This is where we often see the strongest temptation to over communicate.  We saw an example last week where a brand was trying to say all of the following – the product is new, it’s a new flavour, it has new benefits (not 1 but 3) and it’s on promotion.  These are all important things, but things that you can’t say all at the same time.  You have to make a choice about what you most want to say.  That choice has to be made on what you most want shoppers to see and hear.

A good example of this over the last 12-18 months has been in promotional communication.  Retailers used to tell shoppers the regular price, the discounted price and the price saving.  Now, many retailers have decided that the most important thing is the discounted price.  So, they are leading with that, which makes it much clearer for shoppers.

Great communication is short and simple.  To get there you need to make choices.  What to say and what not to say.

It’s the difference between using words (Donald Trump…“I know words.  I have the best words”) and choosing them wisely (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address).

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