Shopper Communication, Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

Be Specific

On July 20th 1969 Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was the final step of a process that began eight years earlier with one bold idea that lit the collective imagination of an organisation – NASA.

NASA was founded in 1958. It had three goals. To improve space technology to meet national interests in space. To achieve pre-eminence in space for the USA. To advance science by exploring the solar system. These three goals were ambitious but they were open ended.

In 1961 John F Kennedy became US President. Kennedy looked at the goals and narrowed them to a single focus.

On 25th May 1961 Kennedy told Congress “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

Suddenly the goal was very specific. A man on the moon. Returning him safely. By the end of the decade.

Everyone in NASA knew what they were aiming for. So much so, that during a tour of NASA headquarters later in 1961, JFK encountered a janitor mopping the floor.

“Why are you working so late?” Kennedy asked.

“Me, President?” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Eight years later, Neil Armstrong took his famous step.

Why are we talking about this? It is easy to be generic. Anyone can say “we need the right range” or “we need to make the category easier to shop.” Most people will agree. They aren’t going to say “no, I think we need the wrong range” or “no, I think we need to make the category harder to shop.”

It’s much harder to be specific. To go from saying “right range” to setting out what the right range specifically is. To go from saying “easier to shop” to setting out how to make the category easier to shop.

It is also much safer to be generic. It is pretty safe to say, “we will be more sustainable.” That is hard to judge. In three years’ time you can claim you are more sustainable even if you haven’t moved the needle much. Being specific is risky. It is easier to judge. You say, “we will make all our packaging 100% recyclable.” Then in three 3 years’ time you have either done it or you haven’t.

Being generic is easy. It is safer. Being specific is harder. It is riskier. But being specific is more effective.

So, how can you be more specific?

Visions. Take a look at your company vision. If you showed it to someone outside the company would they know it was yours? Is it specific to you or could it equally apply to another company? What about your category vision? Is it specific to your category or is it interchangeable with another category? What about your brand vision? Is it ownable by your brand or could it just as easily apply to a competitor?

A good vision is specific to you. Only your company could have it. Only your category could have it. Only your brand could have it. It’s great to “do good.” It’s great to “make the world a better place.” It’s great to “unleash the category’s potential.” But it’s much better to say what you are specifically going to do to deliver this.

Growth Opportunities. There are lots of opportunities for category growth. There is health. There is hygiene. There is convenience. There is premiumisation. There is sustainability. Most of these are opportunities for most categories. They are generic. To turn these into opportunities for your category you have to get specific. Set out what convenience or health or sustainability means for your category.

We call this the ‘angle’. It is what differentiates opportunities between categories. Take sustainability as an example. Sustainability might mean a move to refills in household cleaning. It might mean a move to bamboo toothbrushes in oral care. It might mean a move to biodegradable in tea. The angle sets direction for the growth opportunity and what you need to do, to deliver it. Ask yourself, have you identified an opportunity or the angle on the opportunity? If you only have the former then you need the latter.

Messaging. To drive growth you need to drive shopper behaviour change. To drive behaviour change you need shoppers to know what you are asking them to do. For instance, how many shoppers in the UK know how often they should change their toothbrush? A few %? So why not tell them, like Colgate. “Replace your toothbrush every 3 months to prevent bacteria build up.” One message that tells shoppers what to do and why they should do it.

You could tell shoppers when to use your product – e.g. Nutella B-ready “perfect for an elevenses break.” You could tell shoppers how to use your product – e.g. Hendrick’s cucumber serve. You could tell shoppers where to find your product – e.g. Charlie Bigham’s Puddings “find us in the puddings aisle.” Tell shoppers what to do and they are much more likely to do it.

All this boils down to one simple question you can ask yourself (and can ask of others).

“Are we being specific enough?”

Are you exploring the solar system or are you putting a man on the moon?

Feel free to forward. Have good weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.