Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy, Range & Portfolio, Channel Execution

Asking the Obvious Questions

Are you having too many ‘zebra’ conversations?

Look at the picture above.  What do you see?  Just a herd of zebras?

Don’t worry.  You haven’t missed a small elf or dancing monkey.  There is nothing else there.  It’s just a herd of zebras.

We are no zebra experts, but we are reliably informed that each zebra has an individual stripe pattern.  No two zebras are the same.  Apparently, zebras can recognise one another by their stripe pattern.   To us, they all look the same.

Now, If you are a zebra, being able to recognise other zebras is probably an important thing.  However, for humans it isn’t.  It is unlikely that any of us will ever be in a situation where we need to recognise a specific zebra.  And if you ever are, you’ve probably got yourself into some crazy s**t.

So, why are we talking about zebras?  Well, we all see and know everything there is to know about the category and brands we work on.  Rightly so – it is what we are employed to do.  We see every ‘stripe pattern’ of our brands and of our competitors.  However, often shoppers just see a bunch of zebras on shelf.  Things that look very similar, often saying very similar things, in very similar ways.

This is no surprise.  We think about our categories and brands multiple times per day.  In contrast, shoppers might think about them every few weeks.  Shoppers don’t see what we see.  They don’t care as much as we care.  So, what is obvious to us is often not obvious to them.

This means that we often don’t ask the obvious questions.  Or do the obvious things.  Because they are, well, …too obvious.

So, how can you change this?  What are the (seemingly) obvious questions to ask yourself?

What are the key barriers to buying your category?  If you don’t know, then you need to know.  If you do know, then you need to act accordingly.  Your key activities (activation or NPD) need to address the key barriers, not play around with things that are interesting to us, but don’t matter to shoppers.  A good example of this recently has been the Coke Zero re-launch.  Two key barriers (1) Taste (2) Awareness that it was zero sugar.  So, they reformulated the product to improve taste and went from calling it ‘Coke Zero’ to ‘Coke Zero Sugar’.   Just because it seems obvious, doesn’t make it less important.

What are the key barriers to buying your category in a channel?  Take e-commerce – the shopping experience is very different.  You can’t pick the product up.  You can’t visually compare products.  You select A product not THE product like you do in store.  This is why Hero Images are so important in e-commerce.  Images that make key information (e.g. size, format, type, variant) crystal clear for the shopper.  Or images that trigger appetite appeal – key for more impulsive purchases.  Look at Ben & Jerry’s for a great example of this.  Just because it seems obvious, doesn’t make it less important.

What are the drivers of brand choice in a category?  Again, these are things we should all know – brand trackers should tell us.  However, it is still surprising how little many brands focus on this.  A lot of NPD is focused on the peripheral stuff – e.g. a new flavour or fragrance – but not on the most important stuff.  For instance, if cleaning performance is the most important driver of brand choice, tell shoppers about it.  Consistently.  If a specific health benefit is really important, tell shoppers about it.  Consistently.  This is essential if you are trying to get shoppers to make a decision based on value for money not lowest price.   Just because it seems obvious, doesn’t make it less important.

Is it clear what the product is?  This is one of the most obvious questions and if you read this blog regularly you will have heard us prompt this many times before.   Categories are blurring.  Many new products take properties from more than one category.  It is not always obvious what a product is and where to find it in store.   So, you need to spell it out.  For instance, Cauli Rice – it is a lower calorie rice alternative, made from cauliflower grains.  You will find it in the rice section in store (or online).

This isn’t true just for new and different products.  The same principle holds for more established products and categories.  We still see brand communication that if you took the small brand logo off could be communication for any number of categories.  Just because it seems obvious doesn’t make it less important.

Of course, there are times where the small details are important.  However, it is very easy to get lost in the detail – to see the individual stripe pattern on the zebra.  And forget that the shopper might just be seeing another zebra.

So, next time you are in a meeting and start seeing the conversation heading in that direction, just say “I think this is turning into a zebra conversation”.

Just prepare yourself for the strange looks you get the first time you say it.

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