Making 1 + 1 = 3

You should all be familiar with the cartoon strip Dilbert.

The cartoon is known for its satirical humour about a white collar, micromanaged office featuring engineer Dilbert as the title character.

The strip has been running for 30 years.  It appears online and in over 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries and 25 languages.

Dilbert was created by Scott Adams.  This is how he describes how he ended up creating funny business cartoons for a living…

“Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort.  In my case, I’m not an artist, but I can draw better than most people.  I’m not a stand-up comedian, but I’m funnier than most people.  The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes.  It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare.  And when you add in my business background, I had a topic few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it”.

If Adams had tried to be a stand-up comedian he’d probably have failed.  If he’d tried to be an artist, he’d probably have failed.

He succeeded by combining these two strengths.  That combination allowed him to do something that most people couldn’t do.

He made 1+1 = 3.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, the environment we are operating in is very competitive.

If you are a retailer, you are in an environment with Discounters, convenience stores, food service outlets, eCommerce players.  There is more competition within channels.  There is more competition across channels.

If you are a manufacturer, you are in an environment with premium brands, brand leaders, challenger brands, start-ups, private label and tertiary brands.  There is more competition within categories.  There is more competition across categories.

The greater the competition, the harder it is to be the best.  It’s hard to be the best tasting option.  Or the healthiest option.  Or the cheapest option.  If you just focus on one thing, there is usually someone better than you.

However, if you combine things – if you taste great AND are healthy or if you are convenient AND great value – you start stacking the odds in your favour.  Just like Scott Adams when he combined drawings AND humour.

1+1 can = 3.

So, how can you do this?

Find the right 1s.  There are two key things to do here.  Firstly, identify what is important to shoppers.  What are the key things that drive their choice about where to shop or what to buy?  There is no point being brilliant on something that doesn’t matter to shoppers.  Secondly, identify what you can deliver that is different to the competition.  If low prices are important, but that is something you can’t (or don’t want to) deliver, then trying to win on price doesn’t make sense.

You should be able to get to a short list of elements (1) what is important to shoppers (2) what are the key product or brand attributes you can deliver.  You then find a ‘1’ by picking an element that appears on both lists.  For instance, if taste is really important and you can differentiate on taste then taste is one of your 1s.

Combine your strengths (Add 1+1).  Pick the 2 elements that are important and you can differentiate on.  Then combine them.  So, if you are Graze you might say ‘healthier’ is a 1.  Then you might say ‘new & interesting’ is a 1.  Then you end up with a proposition of “we make good exciting”.  Something that most brands can’t say.  If you are Aldi you might say lowest price is a 1.  Then you might say ‘great product quality’ is a 1.  You combine them to deliver unexpectedly good products at really low prices.

Importantly, by combining your strengths you can make something that is not important enough to drive purchase on its own, into something that can drive purchase.  Sustainability is a good example of this.  In most categories there are not enough shoppers who would buy a product just because it is (more) sustainable.  But when you combine sustainability with another element (it cleans brilliantly) then the combination gives you an advantage over the product that just cleans brilliantly.

Dramatise your strengths (Make 1+1 =3).  How you say and bring to life your strengths can make a big difference – even when you are competing on the same strengths.  For instance, Coke Zero says “Great Coke taste. Zero Sugar”.  Pepsi Max says “Too much taste to call ourselves a zero”.  Aldi use head to head comparisons with brand leaders to dramatise their positioning “Like brands but cheaper”.

How do you know if you are succeeding?  Well, sales for a start.  But also through what shoppers can play back to you.  What is their answer to the question “why do you shop at retailer X?” or “why do you buy brand Y?” If they can’t play it back then you are either not delivering well enough or not communicating it well enough.  Or both!

When you have one strength you will face a lot of competition.  There will be people who are better than you.  But when you combine two strengths you narrow the field.  You can be better than them.

Is this the best blog in the world? No.

Is this the best blog that goes out fortnightly on a Friday at 4pm?  It might well be…

Feel free to forward.  We’re taking a short break over the summer – we wouldn’t want to compete for your attention with the latest Amazon bestseller on your holiday reading list.  We’ll be back in September. Until then, have a great summer.