Make it simple

Posted by on Jun 13, 2011

Just over a decade ago, the premier marketer in the U.S., Proctor & Gamble, created a new mantra for their product portfolio strategy:  “Make It Simple.”  At the time, P & G President and CEO, Durk Jager questioned whether the world really needed 52 versions of Crest toothpaste or 31 varieties of Head & Shoulders shampoo.  The incredible proliferation of product shapes, sizes, packages and formulas not only confused consumers, but the product line complexity cost P & G money as well.   Although P & G’s simplification program focused primarily on reducing their bloated product lines, the “Make It Simple,” charge could be adopted by all consumer brands throughout their marketing approach—from the actual product and the consumer promise to the packaging and advertising.  As Durk Jager stated, “It’s mind-boggling how difficult we’ve made it for consumers over the years.”

Making it simple is not easy; a quick walk through your local grocery store will attest to that.  Although I am not a huge soda drinker, I am amazed that Coke finds it a market necessity to offer six versions of Diet Coke:  Diet Coke, Diet Coke Plus, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, Diet Coke Lime, Diet Coke Cherry, and Diet Coke with Splenda.  Not to mention the entire line of Coca-Cola Zero products.  And of course I still see the stalwart TAB diet cola on the shelf, even though TAB was supposed to be the Diet Coke before there was a Diet Coke.  Coca-Cola no doubt has a fabulous strategy to support this incredible line-up of diet drinks, probably including phrases like, “shelf dominance,” and “diet cola consumer ownership,” but the fact remains that the product line-up, the packaging and consumer benefits of each of these many diet cola varieties are just downright confusing to people.

As marketers, our job is to make it simple.  Simple for consumers to understand why they would want or need the products that we are selling to them.  At HY Connect, we try to challenge our clients to boil down the many product attributes and benefits into a single, focused promise that really connects with the consumer.  It isn’t always easy to tease apart the complex benefit “laundry list” that some products offer, but if we, the marketing experts, cannot do this, how do we expect the consumer to do it.  Avoid, at all costs, trying to sell the aggregated benefit “cluster.”  If you can’t describe what your product does in one line or less, it’s a good bet that consumers don’t need what you’re selling.

Making it simple is also not a one-time task, but rather an ongoing process that requires dedication and vigilance.  P & G offers a great example of how, when left to its own, marketing momentum seems to favor consumer choice to the point of complexity.  After trimming the Head & Shoulders line from 31 varieties to 15, leading to increased overall sales, the same Head & Shoulders line slowly grew back to 36+ versions.  I invite you to visit the Head & Shoulders website, headandshoulders.com, and use their “collection selection” tool to help you find just the right Head & Shoulders solution for your dandruff challenge.  Well, that’s simplicity of a whole different sort.