Knowledge Bank Blog, Range & Portfolio

Protecting Your Biggest Strength

Don’t let an asset become a liability

What is your biggest weakness?

It’s one of the favourite interview questions.  How do you answer it?  If you say a genuine weakness, does that make you look good because you are prepared to be honest?  Or make you look bad because you’ve admitted to a proper weakness?

Or do you use the classic ‘strength in disguise’ weakness?  “Because I’m so driven, I find it hard to settle for anything less than perfection”, “Because I’m such a people person, I can spend too much time making sure my team is feeling positive”.  Does that make you look good because you’ve put a positive spin on a negative?  Or does the interviewer see straight through the pre prepared b******t?

The reality is that for many of us, our biggest strength is also our biggest weakness.  For instance, in football, the goalkeeper or centre half who is great with the ball at their feet is also the one who is most likely to concede possession in dangerous areas and give away a goal.  Err…Claudio Bravo, John Stones.

As Carlo Ancelotti said about his time as manager of Chelsea “They appointed me because I was calm.  Then they sacked me because I was too calm”.

So, why are we talking about this?  Well, we have talked recently about having a clear point of difference – the importance of communicating it clearly and then consistently delivering against it.  The better you do this, the more you drive your strength. Great.  But, the more you do this, the more you also, potentially, highlight your key weakness.  Not so great.  It can open up a gap for the competition to exploit.  Or it can make it harder for you to do some of the things that you want to do in the marketplace.

So, how can you drive your biggest strength, but protect if from becoming your biggest weakness?

Range.  The more range you have the better, right?  There is more choice for the shopper. But, often the more choice there is for the shopper, the harder it can be for them to choose.  All that choice can act as a barrier.  How do you address this?

Well, if you are trying to get new shoppers to buy you need to narrow the range.  Not by taking products off the shelf, but by directing shoppers to the most relevant ones – highlighting them at shelf.  Don’t know which coffee pod or green tea to try?  Well, try X first.  Narrowing the range makes it much easier for the shopper.  It reinforces a strength – you’ve got the right products.  But doesn’t highlight a weakness – the shopper doesn’t know where to start.

Then once a shopper gets into the category or sub category, the breadth of range allows them to explore and widen their repertoire.  Good for existing shoppers.  Good for you.

Proposition.  The classic tension here is typically between quality and price.  The better quality, or more premium, you are, the more expensive you are perceived to be.  The beer category is quite an interesting case study.  For instance, Stella used to have the tagline ‘reassuringly expensive’.  It worked for a number of years – good quality, worth paying a bit more for.  Until Stella got worried about the deep discounting competitors were doing and started doing it as well.  The more they discounted the more it worked against their core proposition.  They became like everyone else.  Worse, if their nickname was anything to go by.

Compare that to Peroni.  A core proposition ‘Italian Style’ communicated consistently.  They still promote, but give much smaller discounts than the competition – rarely, if ever, going below 10-15%.  This reinforces the fact that you buy it because it is Peroni, not because it is on deal.  Craft beers are taking it further.  They are often selling at twice the price of Peroni.  But the price point says it is a quality beer.  If it was sold in 12 packs, on deal at £10, the point of difference would be completely lost.

The key thing – protect your proposition.  And if you want to have your share of promotional attention, keep the discounts small.

Entering new categories or sub categories.  There has been a big trend in recent years for brands to launch into new categories.  This is fine.  However, success means finding the sweet spot of what the brand stands for and what is important in the new category.  So, a strength can migrate effectively.  Innocent have successfully done this from smoothies to fruit juice to veg pots.  The proposition travels well.

In contrast, Bounty, Galaxy, M&M’s have developed trail mixes (fruit, nuts and seeds).  It taps into the healthy snacking opportunity.  But does it fit with what Galaxy or M&M’s stand for?  The strength they have in chocolate is unlikely to transfer well to healthy snacking.  And could actually weaken what the core brand stands for.  Go after new opportunities, but do so in a way that plays to your strengths.

Having a big strength is important.  It is a reason for shoppers to come to your store, or buy your brand, instead of a competitor.  But, make sure that your biggest strength doesn’t become your biggest weakness.

It doesn’t end well.  Just ask Carlo Ancelotti.

On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website……nt-of-purchase/