Lesson 2: The Only Way to Fight the Tyranny of Kings is with Creativity

Carl had exposed an interesting point to consider. If indeed this situation had occurred before, there probably would be some lessons to be learned in how these challenges were met in the past.

The solution, he explained, lies in creating a consumer franchise, a brand that is powerful enough to necessitate that the retailers seek your product out and put you in a position where negotiation is from strength. In consumer franchising, the goal is to communicate distinctive brand attributes, develop and reinforce brand identity that is consistent with the image of the brand, build long-term brand preference, encourage repeat purchase and long-term patronage, and engage active consumer involvement.

Put simply, if you are operating in a commodity category, you must bring something unique to the party.

There is, however, significant complexity in our particular challenge. In the housewares industry, there is a low frequency of purchasing items, that is, unlike other items, people do not purchase them again and again or very often. This attribute does not allow for the investment of heavy marketing dollars to create the brand.

Given that constraint, how can a housewares company develop their brand?

According to Carl, one of the most important elements is communication at the point of purchase. There are many factors, including packaging and color that can make the difference in getting consumers to try a product. He referred to this as the “sell-in” effort. (More definitively speaking, sell-in typically means how well one has been able to get the product into stores. Sell-through refers to how well the stores have been able to get the product into the hands of consumers.)

To be successful here, one must apply the greatest levels of creativity. He then offered a few insightful examples.

To sell a purse mirror for women, his company developed an end of aisle spinner that had mirrors placed on all sides. It proved effective because his target market, women who wanted to have a mirror available at all times to see how they were presenting themselves, would catch their reflection as they passed the display. They would stop, pause, and then notice the purse mirrors. Getting them to notice the product was the key first step in making the sale.

With corn brooms, his company took the unusual step of displaying it upside down, which was not how brooms were usually displayed, and again, would catch the attention of the consumer. By adding a distinctive angle to the handle, the product was further distinguished.

To achieve these distinctions and to create a unique selling proposition, one must look at each item separately and develop the element that makes it unique and impactful.  Should the design be simple? Can you “dress it in a tuxedo” and make it feel more upscale? What would make the difference to the consumer?

This means that inventing the product is only the beginning of the effort. The next step is to dissect the use of the product.

  • Visit stores and analyze how comparable products are displayed.
  • Who buys them?
  • Which displays and packages made the person stop?
  • Define the profile of the person who stopped at the display.
  • Ask them what caused them to stop.
  • Find out the process that they went through in making the buying decision.
  • Once the product has been bought, ask them why.
  • Be curious and creative in discovering why your products are worth buying.

Carl closed our discussion with a very interesting story.

A long time ago, Carl’s team was tasked with the responsibility of selling toothbrushes. The division had been losing significant money. To learn more about his targeted consumers’ motivations, Carl arranged for a focus group with a local dental clinic. The focus group members were asked why they were choosing certain toothbrushes and the answers he received were about the size of the brush head (husbands had larger mouths than wives and children required smaller toothbrush surfaces) and that some brushes were harder than others.

Valuable information…

The participants were then led into a room and on the wall of the room was a display of every possible toothbrush on the market at that time. The participants were then told that as a reward, they could select toothbrushes for their families.

After selecting their toothbrush reward, the participants were then led into another room and asked why they had selected these particular toothbrushes.

Their answer most often…color!

It seems that at this particular time there were only four colors available in the toothbrush industry. Carl and his team learned that even though it was never mentioned as a factor in the focus groups, color was deemed to be the most important attribute. Armed with this information, his team began to produce toothbrushes in 24 colors! The net result the product, which was a losing venture a year earlier, became a source of substantial profitable revenue within a year.

Carl had illustrated his point – creativity and research on an item by item basis was critical in establishing a brand and challenging leverage.

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