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Reinventing tried and tested merchandising methods can be more effective than creating something new

As a consultant working in this industry, I often find myself caught between offering advice to clients that is new and exciting, and offering the best advice even if it sounds a bit mundane. Understandably, bright, ambitious clients are looking for new ideas, perhaps even things that have never been done before. But the truth is that normally the most important things to be done to grow a product, brand or category, are fairly pragmatic and already appreciated, at least in outline.

So do I offer the interesting advice that excites clients, but which is higher risk? Or the boring advice that is likely to lead to growth, but feels underwhelming?

For example, if you want to sell more crisps, you’ll probably need to accentuate the healthier alternatives and maximise impulse purchase via merchandising and shopper marketing. We’ve all heard this stuff a hundred times, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right answer.

So as you think about growth for your brand or category, how can you keep people focused on the big ideas, without looking boring and uninspiring?

The first way is to advocate the same things but do it in a more interesting way. Anyone whose work touches on evening meals at home will know that “assembly cooking” is a crucial part of success with consumers. So getting a few simple ingredients that can be put together with ease – perhaps diced meat, a sauce and some garlic bread – isn’t a new idea, but it is the right idea.

‘Assembly cooking’ might sound old hat, so perhaps call it ‘drag and drop’ instead? ‘Drag and drop’ is an analogy, an expression that catches the ear and may get people thinking.

The second way is to focus less effort on reinventing the basic concept and more on how to actually deliver it to shoppers. Anyone who works in personal care will recognise that regime is critical to growth. So for example, in male shaving, the category can be grown by convincing men that as well as razors and foam, they need a pre-shave moisturiser and post-shave balm. If shoppers buy all that, suddenly the money’s flooding in.

Again, not new but it is correct. The company that works out how to actually do it – how to effectively set up the shelf to nudge shoppers into the required behaviour, and how to drive that behaviour with the right on-pack messaging and promotions – will win. Focus more on those details.

Thirdly, make sure senior people hear the arguments. Younger, more visionary people tend towards new “clear blue water” ideas. Hard-bitten senior pros are more likely to wonder if such ideas have not been tried, because actually they’re not such great ideas. Senior pros may find more appeal in something grounded in sound common sense, featuring tried and tested approaches.

At the end of the day, it is right to have a yearning for the new and ground-breaking. We’d never progress without that urge. But it’s normally more important to keep sweating away at the big problems and opportunities we already recognise. It may not always sound clever, but it is normally wise.