Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication

Saying Everything Yet Saying Nothing

Are you dealing in too many motherhood statements?

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the Great Storm in England.  It also marked 30 years since Michael Fish made his infamous prediction that preceded it.

A few hours before the storm broke on 15th October 1987 he said during a forecast “earlier today a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way…well, if you’re watching, don’t worry.  There isn’t”.  That evening the worst storm to hit the south east of England for three centuries arrived.

Mention “Michael Fish” to most people now and they will say “hurricane”.  In fact go to his website – yes, it does exist – and you will immediately see “Greetings from a national treasure, responsible for one of TV’s greatest moments.  This is the official site of Michael (Hurricane!) Fish.  In the top right corner is a helpful link to his pre hurricane forecast on YouTube.  He also tells us how he appeared in the opening ceremony for the London Olympics, which probably tells you something about the British.  A ceremony to celebrate achievement also celebrates failure.

So, apart from a trip down memory lane for some of you, why are we talking about this?  Well, even though things turned out OK for Michael Fish, he said life after his prediction was pretty horrendous.   He gave a straight answer and it came back to haunt him.  This is why many people are afraid to give straight answers.  If you give a straight answer you might be right.  But you also might be wrong.  So, we often hedge our bets.  A vague answer means you are never wrong…right?

We think you can see this in our industry.  The easiest thing to do is sit on the fence.  This is why we see so many motherhood statements in research presentations or strategy documents – like “we need to deliver the right range to meet shopper needs”.  Everyone in the room nods.  Who can disagree with that?  Yet, everyone walks out of the room none the wiser about what the “right range” is.  You are saying everything, but actually saying nothing.

So, how can you move away from motherhood statements and set clearer direction for people?

Know your strategy angle.  We have seen lots of category strategy documents that could be for any category.  If you look at the growth drivers there are things like ‘health’, ‘convenience’, ‘ease of shop’.  These are things that could apply to any category.  So, you need an angle.   For instance, what does health specifically mean for your category?  Is it 5 a day?  Is it less sugar?  Is it functional benefits?  The same applies to ‘convenience’.  Is it about pack size and format?  Is it about ease of use?  Is it about ease of buying?

The angle can set direction for what you do.  It can also give you a different, more specific point of view.  How many times have retailers had to listen to manufacturers come in and say ‘ease of shop’ is important?

Know your proposition angle.  Any product can say “new” or “improved” or “best yet”.  And many do.  But, if anyone can say it, what is different?  How do shoppers make a decision?  Products need to say why they are better or different.  A reason that shoppers can grab onto and say ‘X is why I buy this product’.

This is particularly important for products facing lower priced competitors.  You need to frame the choice on your terms.  If you don’t the choice will be framed on someone else’s terms – often price.   Fairy washing up liquid “lasts 50% longer”, Heinz “Grown not Made”, Happy Eggs “Happy hens lay happy eggs” are all about framing a choice away from price.

Know your execution angle(s).  This is often where motherhood statements are most used and where they can be most useless.  For example, it is easy to say “keep the pack design simple”.  Everybody nods.  But, that can be interpreted in a variety of different ways.  Much better to say “have no more than 5 visual elements on front of pack”.  It sets much clearer direction up front and allows you to assess whether new design options meet that criteria.  A pack either has 5 or less visual elements or it doesn’t.  The same goes for other activities – don’t say “we need to make this NPD easy to find”, say “we need to tell shoppers to find it in aisle X”.

It is safe to deal in motherhood statements.  People can’t disagree with them.  But that is a sign.  If nobody disagrees, you are probably not being clear enough.

After all, it all worked out fine for Michael “Hurricane” Fish.  Well…in the end.

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