Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

The Power of Thinking Less

Are you over thinking things?

How many of you have heard of Mickey Sasser?

Sasser played Major League Baseball for the New York Mets.  He was a catcher.  The guy wearing a face mask who stands behind the batter.  Sasser was a great catcher.  Until he lost a pretty fundamental skill – the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher.

He developed a habit where he couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher without pumping his fist into his glove a few times first.  This gave all the runners the time to steal bases.  Giving up runs to the other team.  Not something you want to happen in baseball.

Sasser went from a top class catcher to giving up the game.

This is a classic case of the ‘yips’.  The loss of fine motor skills in sports people.  It happens suddenly and without explanation, usually to people with lots of experience.  Stephen Hendry, seven times World Snooker Champion, suffered it.  Eric Bristow, five times World Darts champion, suffered it.  It usually involves things like twitches, jitters or jerks.

Put simply, it is a result of overthinking.  Starting to think about something that you used to do automatically.  Which means that you can’t do it automatically.  And because you can’t do it automatically, you think about it even more.  Which makes it even harder to do.  Until you can’t do it at all.

Why are we talking about this?  There is a big difference between how we think about categories and brands, and how shoppers think about them.  We are really close to our brands.  We see all the small details.  We discuss the small details at length.  We make decisions on the small details.  We think a lot.

But shoppers are not as close to our brands.  They don’t see all the small details.  They don’t discuss all the small details with other shoppers.  They don’t make buying decisions on the small details.  They think much less.

To do our jobs well, it can seem like we need access to more information.  We need to have lots of in-depth workshops and meetings.  We need to have detailed strategies.  We need to think about it more.  No.  Often we actually need to think less.  Think more like shoppers think.

So, how can we think less?

Purpose & Vision Statements.  It is really easy to over-think these.  To try to develop a deep and meaningful statement about how the company or brand makes someone’s life better.  Of course, there is nothing wrong about trying to make someone’s life better.  If you can say something compelling – like the Lifebuoy Soap hand washing programme that really is saving lives – by all means do so.  But if you are selling something like mayonnaise, you probably want to be all about delivering a really great mayonnaise.  That tastes great and makes food a bit more interesting.  That is what shoppers are looking for.  It’s mayonnaise after all.  They are buying your product at shelf not your purpose or vision.  Don’t think more.  Think less.

Strategies.  It is easy to get lost in the small details of strategy.  To try to cover all the bases, because you are worried about leaving something out or missing the opinion of a stakeholder.  But, the whole point of strategy is about making choices.  Setting clear direction.

The manifestation of the strategy should be visible in store.  For instance, in rice the category strategy must be to trade people up to microwaveable rice.  Now, no shopper is going to look at the rice category and say… “Well, they are obviously going for a trade up strategy.  They are asking me to prioritise convenience over cost per serve.  I think I will reward them for that strategy”.  The shopper sees a big display of microwaveable pouches that cook in 2 minutes and thinks… “great, I’ll buy that”.  Don’t think more.  Think less.

Category & Sub Category Definitions.  It is really easy to get blinded by this.  What should be pretty straightforward can be massively over-complicated.  We often want to come up with clever category definitions and even cleverer sub category splits.  It shows how much we know about the category, right?

But the reality is that the simplest definitions are usually the best ones.  Simple works for a conversation between manufacturer and retailer.  Simple works for a shopper trying to find a product (in store and online).  As we’ve said before, no shopper goes through a decision tree in their head.  If they are in the crisps aisle they are thinking… “where is the healthier stuff?” or “where are the multipacks?” or “where are the big, sharing packs?” or “where are the posh crisps?”.  Don’t think more.  Think less.

We are not saying don’t think at all.  The world would be a pretty dangerous place if we didn’t think at all.  But, we are saying don’t over-think.

You don’t want a case of the FMCG yips.

On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website…

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.