Knowledge Bank Blog, Range & Portfolio, Shopper Communication

Creativity Within Constraints

Let’s start with a poem…

It was written by Matsuo Basho in 1686. It’s called “The Old Pond.”

“An old silent pond

frog jumps into the pond-

Splash! Silence again.”

That’s it.

It’s a famous example of a Haiku. The short form of Japanese poetry.

Haiku follow a 5/7/5 rule. Five syllables in the first line. Seven in the second. Five in the third.

Haikus are known for their ability to paint a vivid picture in just a few words.

It’s a practice of artistic discipline. Their minimal nature forces writers to pare things down to the essentials.

Making each word and each syllable count.

Why are we talking about this? Well, in our industry we rarely like constraints.

We prefer more to less. More information to less information. More budget to less budget. More range to less range. More space to less space. More… OK, you get the point.

We typically think constraints are a bad thing. That they restrict creativity.

But constraints are often a good thing. They can enhance creativity.

Constraints make everything you do count. Like each word and syllable in a Haiku.

So, how can you be creative within constraints?

Range. Most retailers have too much range. Most brands have too many SKUs in their portfolio. A long tail makes things harder. It makes range reviews harder than they need to be. It makes replenishing shelves harder than it needs to be. It makes shopping harder than it needs to be.

Creativity is not about adding the 40th version of a chilli sauce into the range. Anyone can do that. It is about bringing something different. The new and differentiated sauce that doesn’t exist in the range. That gives shoppers genuine choice.

Aldi have shown that having a restricted range doesn’t restrict growth. It’s a driver of growth. Shoppers shop at Aldi because of the limited range not despite it.

Visibility. Every brand wants the big secondary location in a high traffic part of the store. Every retailer is happy to charge them for it. Every new product launch wants the full visibility package. Every retailer is happy to charge them for it. It is the easiest thing to do but it’s the most costly thing to do.

What if you had some constraints? What could you do? You might double down on the standout of your packaging. A few facings of visually disruptive packs is much better than many facings of recessive packs.

You might do more to leverage your leading products. Put a sticker on the front of your leading SKU telling shoppers about one of your other SKUs. You might make more of a link between your products and other (complementary) products. Alpro have done this brilliantly. With cereal. With porridge. With tea. With coffee.

Brands affected by HFSS see the rules as a constraint. They are. But that can be a good thing. The easy route to visibility is blocked. Time to go on a more creative journey.

Messaging. Regular blog readers know the drill here. We think a lot of brands use too many words. They use long words. They use technical language. When they should be using fewer words. Short words. Everyday language.

Constraints help. They help you focus on what you want to say. Force you to pick one thing. One key benefit. One lead occasion. Constraints help you get clear on how you want to say things. You could be Hellmann’s “make taste not waste.” 4 words. 4 syllables. 17 letters. Or you could be Oatly with the Haiku of the FMCG world “wow, no cow.” 3 words. 3 syllables. 8 letters.

You could even go a step further. No words. Samsonite use a visual of a baby holding a suitcase above their head. You don’t need to say it’s light when you can show how light it is.

Great shopper communication is about taking things away. It should make you feel uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable you feel, the more impactful your message is likely to be.

So, embrace constraints when you face them. Maybe add some constraints when you don’t.

You could be John Milton. 10,000 lines of verse in Paradise Lost.

Or you could be Matsuo Basho. 3 lines about a frog jumping into a pond.

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