Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy, Shopper Communication

How Categories Grow #4

This is the final blog in our series on How Categories Grow.

If you want help developing a category strategy based on the principles we are talking about please get in touch.

Right, onto the blog…

Scalable Solutions

In 1968, Spencer Silver, a chemist who worked for 3M, was given a task. The task was to develop a bigger, stronger, tougher adhesive.

He failed.

What he came up with were microspheres. They retained their stickiness and had a ‘removability characteristic’. This allowed attached surfaces to be peeled apart easily.

Silver liked what he created. But for 6 years he struggled to find a use for his invention. Then in 1974 he was approached by a colleague, Art Fry, who had heard him talk about microspheres at a company meeting.

Fry sung in a choir. During his Wednesday night choir practice he would bookmark his hymnbook with pieces of paper. But by Sunday morning they would have fallen out.

He said, “I thought what I needed was a bookmark that would stick to the paper without falling off but not damage the sheets.”

So, Silver made some small sticky notes.

When the team started writing messages on the notes to communicate around the office they started to realise the full potential of the idea.

They had invented the Post-it note.

3M now sell 50 billion of them every year.

Why are we talking about this? In the previous “How Categories Grow” blogs, we’ve talked about WHY. Why your category matters. The differentiated role it plays. We’ve talked about WHAT. Driving genuine shopper behaviour change. That delivers growth year after year.

This time we want to talk about HOW. How you drive that shopper behaviour change.

Often when people think about this, they look for the silver bullet. The breakthrough innovation. The revolutionary communication campaign. The fixture of the future.

Things that sound great in a workshop. That look great in a visualisation. That will scoop up awards when they are rolled out.


They are never rolled out. The fixture of the future doesn’t go beyond a pretty visual. Or if it does, it goes into one store (conveniently located so everyone can go to take pictures). Then goes no further. It’s too difficult and costly to scale.

The best execution ideas are often the simple ideas. Ones that can be scaled. Like 50 billion Post-its.

So, how can you create more scalable solutions in your category?

There are 3 rules that underpin a scalable solution…

Rule #1. They need to have IMPACT. They need to stand out to shoppers in a crowded environment. They need to cut through with shoppers. Clear messages not clever messages. They need to be relevant to shoppers. Helping them make a purchase decision. Not getting in the way of them doing so.

Rule #2. They need to be EASY. This means that you have the ability to execute. Not something that is just a great idea on paper. Something that can be delivered in store (or online). It means it is cost effective enough to execute. Across a LOT of stores not a few stores.

Rule #3. They need to be CONSISTENT. Yes, you might need to tailor execution for different channels or retailers. But this needs to be done from a core base. It means consistency over time. A scalable solution isn’t something you deliver once. It’s something you keep delivering. It’s not something you only do in one retailer. It’s something you do across multiple retailers.

Think scalable solutions like…

Wrigley’s “Got Gum?” units. Why don’t more impulse categories have things like this?

Lunchtime and Dine In Meal Deals. Why isn’t there a consistent breakfast deal? Snack + drink deals? Spirits + mixers deal?

Colgate’s “replace your toothbrush every 3 months” communication. Why aren’t there simple behaviour change messages in more categories?

Personal Care ‘travel’ minis. Why don’t more categories use small sizes to drive trial?

Just a few examples. There are lots more.

These ideas are often not the most exciting. But they are often the most effective.

Simple solutions that can be scaled.

What are your category’s Post-its?

If you would like a copy of the “How Categories Grow” package of blogs, please reply to this email and we’ll send you a pdf.