[L/M NET] Tom Fishburne > Product Proliferation or “Category Management should include Clarity Management”

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Some brands are line extension machines. To jockey for shelf space, they launch waves of new SKUs each year, often without meaningful differentiation from what is already there.

I’m sure there are category management justifications for every niche item, but most supermarket shelves are cluttered and hard to shop. Does Crest really need 40 varieties of toothpaste? Clutter causes confusion and confusion causes paralysis.

I love the refreshing simplicity of Help Remedies. I first spotted the healthcare brand at Duane Reade a couple years ago. Against the clutter of a typical drugstore aisle, they stand out.

Help’s rally cry campaign is “Take Less”: “Everybody in the drug aisle likes to talk about more, bigger, extra, super, and maximum. But we’re not going to talk about that … Help is a new type of drug company—a drug company that promises you less.”

I’d love to see the “Take Less” philosophy in more categories. Category management should include more clarity management.

As HBS professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter observed, “When everyone else suffers from over-complexity, there is a market for products and services that simplify life.”

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post. I’ll pick one comment by 5:00 PST on Tuesday. Thanks!)

After drawing this, I remembered I drew a similar cartoon back in 2003, Flanker Madness. Here’s one from the archives.


(ralf says:

Tom mentioning Crest reminds me of my own tooth paste & brush history at GlaxoSmithKline (I was responsible for media strategy not product strategy).

Flanker sometimes make sense, but to do it right is the most difficult to do. If you do not know the benefits of a brush, or your consumers, and their problems, you will fail.

Exaggerations do not make sense at all – which eventually led to my comparison of the brushes' history with that of sneakers: they grew from the most basic tools to some fashionista's gadgets. But the best were still the plain ones (which in the sneakers case we love as 'retro' or 'originals' today.), I guess. Best in the sense of effectiveness, not sales. The best in the sense of product life cycle and profit contribution. Some of them exist even 15 or 20 years later.

"Take less" is my favorite philosophy.

Tom is cartoonist and founder of Marketoonist, helping organizations communicate with cartoons. He draws from 16yrs of marketing, most recently as Marketing VP at method. He speaks about innovation, creativity, and marketing, using cartoons to visualize. @tomfishburne