Knowledge Bank Blog, Range & Portfolio

Lead & Follower Products

Are you leading with the leaders?

The golf fans amongst you will remember the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ – the 2012 Ryder Cup.   Europe were 10-5 down with one match left on course on the Saturday afternoon.  In this match Ian Poulter birdied the last 5 holes to win a point for Europe.  It gave Europe a glimmer of hope.  But nobody realistically expected them to win.  They were still 10-6 down to a strong US team, backed by a huge home support, only needing 4 points out of 12 on the final day to win.

Jose Maria Olazabal, the European captain, figured that the only way of winning was to frontload his line up for the singles matches.  Put his big players first, get early points on the board and hope the momentum could carry Europe over the finishing line.  What happened?  The clue is in the word ‘Miracle’.  Europe won the first 5 singles matches and never looked back.  They ended up winning 14½-13½, one of the great sporting turnarounds.

So, what is the point of that little story?  Well, the key to success on the final day was leading with the leaders.  It gave Europe the best chance of winning.  And they won.  In the FMCG industry you have leading products.  These products are often central to success for a category or a brand.  They are the products that account for a high % of sales.  They are the ones that draw a shopper into a category or brand.  They are the ones that help drive behaviour change amongst shoppers.

Yet, at best, they are often given equal time, resource and attention to everything else in the range.  Or, at worst, are given much less attention.  They sell well, so why support them when there are other products in the range that are not selling as well?  Support the weaker lines, right?

We think this is a mistake.  Supporting the lead product helps you sell more of that lead product, but also increases your chances of selling other products in the range.

So, how can you lead with the leaders?

Use them to signpost the fixture.  This could be visual signposting.  For instance, in Ready Meals Sainsbury’s use visuals of lead products to signpost each sub category.  Sausage & Mash for British, Chicken Tikka Masala for Indian, Lasagne for Italian.  This helps shoppers navigate in aisle, but also increases the relevance of the sub category.  More people eat lasagne than any other Italian ready meal.

It could also be the physical presence of lead products at shelf, something to draw the shopper in and orientate them.  Lead brands typically play this role in packaged goods – Coke signposts soft drinks.  In fresh categories it is more likely to be product type – mince signposts beef, ham signposts cooked meats.  Categories or sub categories that have these lead products have an advantage over those that don’t.

Use them to drive trial.  There is always a risk associated with trying something new.  One of the biggest is that you simply won’t like it.  This is a particular challenge for companies trying to get shoppers to try new tastes or flavours. Lead products can act as the safe entry point to a category, sub category or brand.  It is no coincidence that Innocent led with Strawberry & Banana before moving onto more exotic flavours.

If you are trying to get shoppers to try new things then get them to try the one that they are most likely to like, first.  Not many people make Vindaloo the first curry they try.  Start people on the soft stuff before you move them onto the hard stuff.

Prioritise distribution for your best sellers and build a range from there.  When you have leading SKUs, you want them to be in as many outlets as possible.  And you want to make sure that if you only have 1 or 2 SKUs in an outlet that, at the least, you have your best sellers there.  We know of a big snacking brand whose leading flavour is only in 75% distribution in convenience stores.  A winning product that is not in 25% of outlets – that is a big opportunity.  To address this doesn’t just mean you prioritising your leading SKUs.  It means making sure other people – wholesalers and distributors – are as well.  Make sure the end seller knows which product they are likely to sell most of.

It is natural to want to focus on your whole range and communicate the breadth of the offer.  However, you often need lead products to act as the entry point – the products that shoppers are most likely to recognise, most likely to trial and most likely to enjoy.  Then they can move onto the rest of the range.

Are you leading with the leaders?

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