Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication, Channel Execution

Turning Weaknesses Into Strengths

Is your weakness also your strength?

Last month, Lee Ridley won Britain’s Got Talent.

Ridley is a comedian – the first comedian to win the show.  He calls himself the ‘Lost Voice Guy’.  He calls himself that because he has cerebral palsy, which affects his ability to speak.  He uses a voice synthesiser for his act.

His act is based around his disability.  He wears T-shirts that say things like “I’m only in it for the parking”.  He got his biggest laugh in the final when he said, “I started off in a disabled Steps tribute band.  We were called Ramps”.

When he was interviewed for the final he said, “When I am performing, it’s as if I have finally found my voice.  It’s a great feeling, making people laugh”.

Ridley has a major potential weakness – it’s pretty challenging being a (joke telling) comedian without a voice.  But he turned that into a strength.  He based an entire act around it and, as a result, won Britain’s Got Talent.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, in our industry we are often afraid to openly acknowledge weaknesses.  We think a weakness can harm us.  They can give competitors an angle for attack.  They can put a limit on growth – maybe a group of shoppers won’t go to your store or buy your brand.  So we often try to hide weaknesses.  Or ignore them, hoping they will magically go away.

But what if the weakness could be turned into a strength?  What if, by acknowledging, perhaps even highlighting, a weakness it could actually reinforce your strength?  Yes, you might have a number of shoppers who say that your store or brand is not for them.  But you might have even more shoppers who say it is for them.  Even better, your competitors will find it very difficult to attack you on your weaknesses if you are acknowledging them yourself.

So, how can you turn a potential weakness into a strength?

Make shoppers aware of how you do things.  Think about Aldi.  Shoppers know they will find a limited range.  They know they won’t find many well known brands.  They know they won’t find fancy merchandising.  They know they will have to queue a bit longer than elsewhere.  But they also know that these potential weaknesses allow Aldi to deliver their biggest strengths – low prices and product quality that over delivers versus expectations. Shoppers understand the Aldi model and know that model works for them.

Happy Eggs is another good example.  They charge a higher price than standard free-range eggs.  But they ask shoppers to think about eggs in a different way.  Their headline is “happy hens lay happy eggs”.  They support this by saying “all our girls enjoy wide open spaces where they are free to roam with trees and hedgerows, ideal for pecking pleasure”.  Happy Eggs are essentially saying to shoppers “we treat our hens really well, this leads to better tasting eggs, you’re OK with paying a bit more for that, right?” A lot of shoppers have said “yes”.

Openly acknowledge a weakness.  Then highlight your strength.  There is a great advert on the radio at the moment from TK Maxx.  In it, they say things like “Sure it may feel a bit haphazard in there, but where else will you stumble on a designer dress?” or “Is it unpredictable?  Maybe.  Is it boring?  Never”.  Then they say “these are some of the small prices you pay, to pay the small prices you pay, for the big labels in TK Maxx”.

There are 2 things that really work in this ad.  Firstly, it is different.  They are communicating in a way that others aren’t.  Secondly, it shows they really understand their shoppers.  They know what shoppers don’t like that much about the store and what shoppers really like about it and have played to both of them in the ad.  Is it a bit risky?  Probably.  Do we think it works?  Definitely.

Turn your weakness into your core strength.  A great example of this has been Guinness.  A weakness = I have to wait a long time for my drink.  Turned into a strength = “Good things come to those who wait”.  Implicit meaning – you get a better drink and you have made a more considered choice because you are prepared to wait.   Those of you old enough, will remember the Cream Cakes advertising tagline “naughty but nice”.  Much more powerful to say they are also ‘naughty’ rather than just say they taste great.

A lot of food and drinks brands face a challenge trying to balance health and taste.  There is a fear that if you go too big on taste you signal unhealthy.  Or if you go too big on healthy you signal less taste.  So you end up with things like ‘light’ ice cream – which isn’t very healthy and doesn’t taste very good.  We are still waiting for a brand bold enough to say “look we know we don’t taste that great, but we are really, really healthy”. We might be waiting a while.

The safe thing to do is to try to hide or ignore weaknesses.  The brave thing to do is acknowledge them.  Then turn them into a real strength.

Though not as brave as going on live TV with an 8.5m audience and doing a comedy act when you can’t speak.

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