Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change, Pricing & Promotions, Shopper Communication

“It’s not about…”

What is the secret to saying something profound?

Head off to a remote cabin… Put on a long flowing robe… Gaze wistfully into the distance… Slowly stroke your chin… Wait for the magic to happen.

Emerge from your cabin… Share your wisdom with the world… Secure your place as one of the great thinkers of our time.

You could do all that. But it’s a lot of effort, right?

Instead you could take a shortcut. You could just follow the simple profound quote formula.

“It’s not about X, it’s about Y.”

Say something in that structure and people will listen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson told us, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Though he’s probably never driven to Cornwall with two screaming kids in the back of the car.

Pierre de Courbertin (Father of the Modern Olympics) told us, “it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part.” Though he’s probably never taken part in the parents’ race at school sports day.

Mark Twain (it’s always Mark Twain…) told us, “it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog.” Though he’s probably never seen a Rottweiler scrap a Chihuahua.

So, we thought, if it’s good enough for Mark Twain, it’s good enough for us.

Let’s take the “it’s not about X, it’s about Y” formula and apply it to our world.

Say some of the things that Mark Twain would say if he’d been in the FMCG game.

Here are a few…

“It’s not about the lowest price, it’s about the best value. Most shoppers don’t buy the cheapest product in the category. They buy the product that they think delivers the best value. What you get for what you pay.

Aldi and Lidl haven’t been winning because they are cheap. They have been winning because of value. Because the quality of their products over deliver for the prices they are asking shoppers to pay.

Too many brands and retailers get drawn into playing the price game. When they should be playing the value game.

“It’s not about trial, it’s about repeat. A lot of products get bought once. Great (initially…) for your trial numbers on a new product. Great (initially…) for your brand penetration figure. But most of these products are never bought again.

Repeat is the key to success for any new product. For any existing product. Getting shoppers to buy you again and again. Building the habit of buying.

Real penetration is the key to success. Real buyers are not the shoppers who buy you once a year. When you’re on deal. Real buyers are the ones who buy you once a month. When you’re not on deal.

“It’s not about what a product is, it’s about what it’s for. Shoppers buy products. But what they are really looking for are solutions. The products are just a means to the end.

A stir fry is the solution. Chicken is a means to the end. Softer skin is the solution. Skin cream is the means to the end. Something for the kids’ lunchbox is the solution. A cereal bar is the means to the end.

Brands often spend too much time telling shoppers what a product is and not enough time telling them what it’s for.

“It’s not about reflecting shopper behaviour, it’s about directing shopper behaviour.” Way too much time is spent trying to understand purchase decision hierarchies. When a shopper is in front of shelf (or online) do they think brand first? Or format? What about size? What about price?

The answer… they don’t think about any of this. They made those decisions years ago. Now they just want to find what they’re looking for and move on.

The job of a good shelf (or page) layout is to (a) make it as simple and intuitive as possible; and (b) direct shoppers to the products you want them to buy.

You don’t direct traffic by asking each driver which way they want to go.

“It’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what shoppers need to hear. Many brands are engaged in a benefits arms race. Who can offer the most benefits…? If the competition has 3, we need 4. If they add a 4th, we need a 5th.

Who can have the boldest claims…? Deodorant used to offer 12hr protection. Then 24hr. Then 48hr. Now it’s 72hrs. The only time you’ll need that length of protection is if you get lost in the jungle. And if you are, that will be the least of your worries.

Shoppers only need to hear the most important reason to buy you. Say less to sell more.

These are just a few examples. Feel free to play your own game of “It’s not about X, it’s about Y.”

When you do just be realistic.

As HL Mencken, the American social critic said…

“When someone says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

One final thing… We recently launched The Recession Sessions. Covering 5 topics to help companies tackle the challenge of giving shoppers value whilst maintaining category and brand value. If you’d like to know more, please email

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