Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy, Finding New Ideas, Range & Portfolio

Internal vs. External Mindset

How many of you have heard of a guy called Eli Pariser?

Don’t worry, most people haven’t. But every day you will experience an aspect of modern life that he has highlighted and campaigned against. Something he calls “Filter Bubbles”.

Pariser uses the example of an experiment he did with two friends. Both friends were similar – educated, white, left-leaning women living in New York. It was Spring 2010. The time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

He asked them to carry out identical google searches for ‘BP’. One friend was given links to investment news for BP with no mention of the oil spill. The other friend was given links to news stories focusing on the oil spill.

Exactly the same search. Very different search results.

A filter bubble is when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information it has about the user. Sometimes filter bubbles can be good – e.g. better recommendations on Netflix. But often they can be bad. Facebook decides what news you see. Twitter can amplify existing preferences and prejudices.

In his farewell speech President Obama said “we retreat into our own bubbles…especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us, share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. We become so secure in our bubble that we start accepting information, whether it’s true or not, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there”.

The Brexit debate was a classic example of this.

Why are we talking about this? In the FMCG industry we all have our own filter bubbles. Your world is influenced by the company you work for. The categories you operate in. The brands you have. This is how it should be – your job is to help your company succeed.

However, what this often means is that your starting point is internal. You look inside out. It means that most of the things you see are through a through a brand lens. If an opportunity is relevant to your brands, it is interesting. If not, it isn’t. Indeed, you might not see the opportunity in the first place.

But what if your starting point was external? If you looked outside in. It means that you might see things you wouldn’t normally see. You might identify new and different opportunities. Ones that take your brands to where they could be, not where they are now.

When you look inside you see less. When you look outside you see more.

So, how can you develop an external mindset?

Have a category (not brand) first mindset. We do a lot of category strategy work. We’ve seen projects that start with the right objectives – all about category growth. But then you get further into the project and the category view starts shrinking. Whilst the brand view starts growing. Potential opportunities can be downplayed. They don’t fit with the brand portfolio. New opportunities can be created. You need a new growth driver to map part of your brand portfolio against. Outside in becomes inside out.

If you have a real category first mindset, you look at the wider competitive landscape. Which other categories are we competing with? You identify the real drivers of category growth. Then you decide the role your brands can play against them. Or whether you need new products to play and win. Category first doesn’t mean brand is not important. It just means you take the broader view first. Then drill down from there. A small change in mindset. Potentially a large change in opportunities.

Be outcome led (not process led). Process is an important means to an end. It is a way of helping you get to the right outcomes. The compelling customer plan. The sharp brand plan. The innovation that is set up for success. But there can often be a tipping point in process. When it stops becoming a means to an end and starts becoming the end itself.

The main objective of the process becomes…to complete the process. Get it over with. Then take the plan to stakeholders. Get the plan through stakeholders. Breathe a big sigh of relief. You’ve cleared the internal hurdle but have you cleared the external hurdle? With retailers who have to buy into the plan? With shoppers whose behaviour you are trying to change? Retailers buy into your plan. Shoppers buy your brand. They don’t buy your process.

Focus on where you need to be (not where you are). If you have an internal focus you look at what you currently do. You think about what you currently make and sell. You think about where (channels, retailers) you currently sell. You think about how you currently sell. But if you have an external focus you think about what you should be making and selling. You think about where you should be selling. You think about how you should be selling.

It means having a future fit portfolio – product types, formats, sizes. It means growing in the growing channels – eCommerce, Discounters, Convenience, Specialist. It means new selling models (Direct to Consumer?) or new ways of selling (pick and mix solution?). “What do we do ?” limits your options. “What should we do?” expands them.

We are not saying think external instead of internal. We are just saying think external first. It will make your internal thinking better.

Right. Blog done. We’re off to delete our search histories…

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