Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

Good Strategy Part 3 : Making Things Stick

How ‘sticky’ is your category strategy?

In August 2001 the US airline industry achieved a record number of monthly passengers – 65 million.   A few days later, passenger numbers dropped dramatically and took years to recover.  9/11 took place.  People became afraid to fly.  They started to do a lot more driving.  That was the logical thing to do, right? Flying was risky.

Except that it wasn’t.  Not as risky as driving.  In fact more Americans lost their lives as a result of the increase in driving after 9/11, than lost their lives in 9/11 itself.  Flying is much safer than driving and 9/11 didn’t change that fact.  People put themselves at more risk in an attempt to put themselves at less risk.

Psychologists call this the ‘availability heuristic’.  This is a mental shortcut meaning that, when faced with a choice, we form a judgement based on what immediately comes to mind.  9/11 was very significant, everyone heard about it.  We can all easily access a memory of it.  The hundreds of car crashes that occur each week are not reported as widely.  Unless we have been unlucky enough to have been involved in one, we won’t so easily access a memory about car crashes.  The memory is less ‘available’ to us.

So why are we talking about this?  Well, over the last 2 weeks we have talked about category strategies.  How they often try to say too much.  And how this can get in the way of action.  If the right people are not lined up behind a common understanding of what needs to be done to grow a category, and how it can be done, your chances of success are limited.

The right people are usually busy, exposed to lots of information – different strategies, plans and initiatives.  So, to develop this common understanding your strategy needs to be ‘sticky’ – available and front of mind for these people.

So, how do you make it sticky?

Have a simple, compelling vision statement.  It is often focused on the behaviour change you are trying to drive.  And, importantly, is often driven by a compelling ‘why’ – the reason why selling more of a category is a good thing.

For instance, take personal hygiene in developing markets such as India.  The deeper ‘why’ is about saving lives.  You can save lives by preventing disease.  You help prevent disease by getting people to wash their hands regularly.  When they wash their hands more regularly they will use more soap.  When they use more soap, you sell more soap.  So, the ambition of selling more soap is closely linked to preventing disease and saving lives.

Your ‘why’ may not be as deep as that, but it should be something that resonates with people.  And if it resonates, it will stick.

Consistency.  We have a tendency to assume that because we have shared something once, and people have seen it, then they will remember it.  This rarely happens.  What is familiar to us, is not familiar to people less close to something.  For any communication to stick, you need consistency.  You need an element of repetition.

This means that every time you talk about your category internally or externally, you are always talking about the key drivers of growth for the category.  It also means that you are aligning activities against those drivers of growth.  It is no use saying that a key driver of growth for the category is ‘range simplification’, then a few weeks later the brand team wants to launch 3 new flavours. Consistency means doing what we say we are going to do.  That means everyone knowing what we say we are going to do and sticking to it.

Language Hooks.  With many things in life it is not what you say, but how you say it.  Many of you will have a vague memory of the OJ Simpson trial in 1995.  The trial lasted for more than 8 months.  Yet many people think it ultimately boiled down to one phrase.  Johnnie Cochran – Simpson’s defence lawyer – referring to a glove found at the crime scene said ‘if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit’. A sticky sentence that cut through all the legalese.  And the jury did acquit.

Now, we are not advocating spending lots of time coming up with neat little rhymes, but we do think that time spent crafting your messages is time really well spent. Saying we will ‘make it quicker’ is probably right, but vague.  Saying ‘we will deliver ‘2 minute solutions’ is specific and tangible.  It is much more likely to be remembered and acted upon.

Over the last 3 weeks we’ve said 3 things about Good Strategy.  Firstly, that less is more – fewer, more targeted activities are always better.  Secondly, that behaviour change is crucial – motivating and making it easy for shoppers to behave in the way you want them to behave.  Thirdly, that it needs to be sticky – it cuts through and sticks with people long after they have left the meeting room.

Is your category strategy ticking those 3 boxes?

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