The pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow

My eye was recently attracted to a piece in Marketing Week from Waitrose Chairman, Mark Price, reportage from a talk he gave in Swindon on 2nd May. Its essence: we will do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. There was also the pleasing symmetry that a food retailer has the surname ‘Price’, presumably the same phenomenon as dog owners resembling their pets. Waitrose don’t seem on the surface a particularly contrary business. Indeed, you could argue with some strong justification that they reflect middle class aspiration in all its forms. Yet this simple statement, ‘do the opposite of what everyone else is doing’ reveals a maverick streak – and a great marketing lesson. A couple in fact.

The first?

The importance of zagging. This isn’t just ‘do the opposite for the sake of it’; rather, there is a natural human instinctive to follow. It’s the opposite of what people say they will do – as Monty Python beautifully summarised it, “we’re all individuals – but of course, we’re not. There’s a host of reasons why we want to follow: the need or desire to fit it; a way of building connections with others; to give us a sense of group security. And because brands or companies are the product of human actions, so it follows that companies tend to follow too.   ‘Me too’ products are aptly named – indeed, you could argue that (until recently) many Asian markets have built their entire economies on fast following – and done it blummin’ well. Let’s go back to Waitrose. Specifically, Mr Price’s comment was in regard to how the company he stewards is dealing with the threat of the Discounters, Aldi & Lidl in particular. He continued that Waitrose’s aim is to be everything that the discounters aren’t through a focus on service, range and making coming to its stores an experience. Contrast this with the Tesco response – also reported in Marketing Week: launching ‘pound zones’, areas of the supermarket that will offer non-food categories such as health and beauty and pet items for as little as 50p (‘Pound Zone’ presumably being snappier than ‘Half Pound Zone’?*).

Actually, Tesco have got a tougher job: sitting in the middle of the market, being the biggest retailer in the UK, they are a source of business for everyone. So they clearly feel they have to compete.   Yet Waitrose are competing by looking not at what their competitor is doing but by what they’re not doing. They are zagging when everyone else is zigging. It’s tough to do; it requires total alignment but it can mark you out as distinctive and therefore, more memorable to you customers.

And they also illustrate the second lesson.

They’re competing on their terms. To half refrain: they’re competing by looking not at what their competitor is doing but at what they can’t do. This is simple brand positioning at it’s best: you take the core thought that you are trying to own in the mind of your target and ruthlessly implement it. Waitrose is not a discounter therefore it responds with enhanced service offer, promotions for its customers and enhanced benefits for MyWaitrose card holders. At the other end of the price:service spectrum you have Aldi & Lidl. Reduced ranges, functional stores, little in the way of customer service add-ons: basic and to the point. Yet just as well positioned.

Which illustrates the issue that Tesco are facing. It’s not that they’re big: there are plenty of significantly bigger companies who continue to grow strongly. No, their issue lies in the notion of every little helps. It seems they are trying to do everything to help. If they’re to return to the path to growth, they need to get back to doing Tesco things that help.

(*Which reminds me of a family friend who when she first went round ‘Poundland’ kept on asking in a slightly astonished voice, ‘How much is it?’. “£1 Jane” came the repetitive response. “That’s why it’s called Poundland”. She’d have been much more comfortable with Tesco’s counter-intuitive Pound pricing strategy.)

IMG_1067David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for categories and brands. To find out more about how The Crow Flies could help you, just wing over an e mail to or call on +44 (0) 7885 408367.   You can follow The Crow Flies on Linked In (, on Facebook ( Twitter, you can caw us at @crowflieshigh. Or just send a carrier pigeon and we’ll intercept mid-air. 

© The Crow Flies, 2014

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