Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change, Shopper Communication

Picking Your Lane

Are you making and then backing your choices?

Imagine this as a pitch for a Broadway musical…

“So, what is it all about?”  “It’s about the life of one of the US founding fathers”.  “Right…,very contemporary…so George Washington, Benjamin Franklin?”  “Well, no, it’s actually Alexander James Hamilton”.  “OK, not one of the big hitters then.  What type of music?”  “Hip hop and R&B mainly”.  “Err…well, thanks for coming in, we’ll be in touch”.

The musical ‘Hamilton’ about the life of the US founding father Alexander James Hamilton sounds like it shouldn’t work.  But it does work – really well.  Since opening in 2015 it has sold out every night of its run.  It is already one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever.  In 2016 it received a record 16 Tony nominations, winning 11.  It has set a Broadway box office record for most money grossed in a single week – $3.3m.  It was the first show to break $3m in a week.

Hamilton was created by Lin Manuel Miranda.  He wrote the music, lyrics and played the lead role.  He was already pretty successful, but Hamilton took things to a completely new level.  How did Miranda get here?  When asked by the famous US interviewer Charlie Rose, what set him apart from some of the smarter, more talented kids that he had gone to school with, Miranda answered “Because I picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else. I was like “all right, this is what I’ll do”

He picked his lane, started running and at the finishing line (although he is probably far from finished) he had one of the most successful Broadway shows ever.

So, why do we think this is interesting?  Well, we think in our industry we are often worried about ‘picking a lane’.  We often want to appeal to a broad range of shoppers.  We often want products to appeal to a broad range of usage occasions.  We often create broad propositions and messaging.  If you keep things broad, you maximise your appeal, right?

But, what this actually means is a lot of products looking like a lot of other products, all trying to appeal to everyone.  Broadening your audience rarely gives you twice the audience.  In fact, it may actually give you half the audience.  By trying to cover all bases you don’t cover any particular base.

So, how can you make sure you pick your lane?

Pick Your Target User(s).  Who are the core shoppers this store is for?  Who are the core shoppers this brand is for?  Who are the core shoppers this piece of innovation is for?  This is not about saying it is for 20-55 year old females – too broad.  It is not about saying it is for the ‘Time Pressed Tina’ segment – too abstract.  You need to paint a clear picture.

Take Charlie Bighams ready meals as an example.  They are clearly positioned for couples.  These people are pretty middle class.  These people are sitting at a table talking to each other, not sitting in front of the TV.  Bighams are saying ‘if this is you, then we have a great solution for you’.  They are also implying ‘if this is not you, then this might not be the thing for you’.  Having this kind of clarity can often make you feel a bit uncomfortable.  But, if you are feeling too comfortable, you are probably being too safe.

Pick Your Lead Occasion(s).  When is this product for?  When do you want people to be using it?  Often brands are worried about doing this.  If we only talk about a specific occasion, will we limit the product to that occasion?  The reality is that by signposting an occasion you can give a product a clear role.  Shoppers know what to buy the product for and when to use it.  It directs the behaviour, but it doesn’t limit the behaviour.

The classic example of this is the ‘sharing’ occasion.  Lots of snacking products target this occasion.  It gives products a clear role.  This is great for shoppers who are looking for a product when people are coming round or to share in front of the TV.  It is also fine for people who aren’t and just want to buy them anyway.  Shoppers don’t think “they say these are for sharing, it’s just me, so I can’t buy them”.  We all know that many ‘sharing’ products are eaten by 1 person in 1 sitting.

Pick Your Message.  A lot of brands do the previous two steps.  They have a pretty clear view of who they are targeting and the occasion they are targeting.  It is written into brand and innovation plans.  But then it stays there.  The communication that the shopper eventually sees is often not as clear as it needs to be.  This can be the point where brands hedge their bets.

There were probably a lot of nervous laughs when someone on the Marmite brand said “how about love it or hate it”?  But years later if you describe something as a “bit Marmite” everyone knows what you are talking about.  If your product is “perfect for 2” like Bighams, tell shoppers.  If it is perfect for the evening sofa moment, tell shoppers.  If it is the perfect breakfast solution… You get the point.

Picking your lane is not an easy thing to do.  The temptation is to stay broad.  But, as the experts on creating and maintaining habits say “something that can be done at any time, often happens at no time”.

By the way, Hamilton opens in London on 21st December.  Good luck getting tickets.

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