Channel Execution, Knowledge Bank Blog, Range & Portfolio

The Lost Art of Decision Making

Are you making decisions and then backing them?

Elliot was a model father and husband.  He had an important management role in a large company.  He was smart – testing in the top 3% for IQ.  Then one day Elliot had an operation.  A small tumour was cut out of his cortex near the frontal lobe of the brain.

The operation changed everything.

After the surgery Elliot was incapable of making a decision.  Normal life became impossible.  He endlessly deliberated over small details.  For instance, when thinking about lunch, he carefully considered each restaurant’s menu, seating and lighting.  Then drove to each place to see how busy it was.  And even then he couldn’t decide where to eat.

Elliot was soon sacked.  His wife divorced him.  He moved back in with his parents.

But, why was he incapable of making good decisions?  The simple answer…he had lost all emotion.

This surprised scientists.  The conventional wisdom said human emotions were irrational.  Therefore a person without emotion would make better decisions.  However, the opposite is true.  If you take a purely rational approach to decision making it can become impossible to make a decision.

Emotions don’t get in the way of making decisions.  They help us.  A brain that can’t feel can’t make up its mind.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, we all have access to more information than ever before – so called Big Data.  All this data is supposed to help us.  But, we wonder if it more often hinders us?  The more access to data we have, the more reliant on it we become.  And the more reliant on it we become, the harder it can be to make a decision.

Why?  Because it is rare that data, or a piece of data, is the silver bullet – the thing that tells you exactly what to do.  Sometimes, you have contradictory data that makes it even harder to figure out what to do.  And when you can’t decide what to do, what happens?  You end up trying to do everything.  Or you do nothing at all.

Data can’t tell us what to do.  Consumers and shoppers can’t tell us what to do.  They can give us clues, but we have to interpret that and then decide on the best course of action.  Then make sure that the decision we have made is crystal clear to a shopper in store.

So, how can we do this?

What to Sell.  Shoppers can’t tell us what products to create.  As Henry Ford famously said “if I had asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse”.   But shopping and consumption habits give us clues.  For instance, people are spending less time preparing meals, more products are being bought and used on the go, more people are saying they are time poor.  So, easy, more convenient, products are likely to be winning products.

Shoppers can’t tell you exactly what type of convenient product to create.  Your knowledge of your category and brand does that.  Then once you have the right products, you need to lead shopper behaviour.  Tell the shopper why they should use the product.  Get them to build the habit of buying and using.  Help them make the decisions you want them to make.

Where to Sell.  No shopper will be able to tell you the perfect place to sell.  For instance, did a whole bunch of shoppers tell Costa to put hundreds of coffee machines in petrol stations?  Unlikely.  But did Costa know that more people were buying drinks on the go and know that a lot of petrol stations had a weak or non existent coffee offer?  Yes.  So, they developed and rolled out Costa Express and made it very visible for shoppers in those outlets.

The same is true for locations in store.  We are increasingly seeing new products take properties from more than one category.  Where should they be located?  It is rare that you get a clear answer from shoppers.  It is our job to say where it makes most sense for the product to be located – from a shopper perspective and a business perspective.  Where it is most likely to deliver category and brand growth.  Once we’ve decided, lead the shopper.  Tell them exactly where to find it.

How to Sell.  No shopper can tell us how to layout and merchandise a shelf.  They are not merchandising experts.  But they probably can tell us how they broadly think about product categories and what they would buy if their preferred product was unavailable.  It is our job to interpret that information and develop simple and intuitive layouts.  Then use that layout to direct shoppers to the products we most want them to buy.  The clearer we make this, the more likely they are to behave in the way we want them to.

Life is about making choices.  Some are big.  Most are small.  But, if we didn’t make them, we wouldn’t be able to do anything.

Just like Elliot.

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