The Eternal Temptation of the Low Hanging Fruit

by Francesco Pagano

By Francesco Pagano & Costas Papaikonomou

Spoiler alert. This is a rant, but it’s a short one. Maybe it’s a mini therapy session for a lot of innovators out there. It started with a small comment on LinkedIn, which triggered a response. A nerve, an open nerve was exposed.

There must be a reason why a low hanging fruit is still dangling there, we agreed. Left there by wiser people before you.

The so-called low hanging fruits are the death of Marketing, period. When you try the drugs of shortcuts, to improve P&L and management’s happiness, you initiate a slow trip into oblivion. It’s Marketing masochism. It’s Brand suicide. Because it’s a low hanging fruit for you, and not your customer.

The quick and dirty. Almost never Quick, almost always Dirty. The many enough to make it big. The yes, but. The no negatives. The first few marginal gains. The consumer will understand. The consumer will not notice, we tested it. The OK the consumer will notice, but we have to. The my KPIs demand that we do it. The nobody likes it. The nobody cares. The everyone does it. The we like every penny. The quick fix. The rounding error. The smart clean-up. The we don’t stand still. The trim. The reality check. The every little bit helps. The every stone. The once in a while. The zero base. The frog that boiled. The eternal original sin.    

It is the classic temptation of any Innovation Team, across all Departments, be it Supply Chain, R&D or Brand. As the long term pipeline unfolds, with its tortuous path, we always return to the core, in search of some fat to cut to fund the higher hanging fruit. We will not cut to the bone, says the wise manager. Good boy. The C room likes you.   

The procedure doesn’t make any sense. Or, better, the procedure makes a lot of sense, when governed by the logic of efficiency and impact. ‘Efficiency produces short term gains,’ to quote Peter Field, heavily impacting the very nature of a Brand. Brand building needs long term commitment, which is only distracted by the picking of the easy wins along the way, unless this serves the purpose of benefiting the customer.

From personal experience, Costas’ painful personal experience to be precise: the launch of a new plastic pump technology in the early 2000’s, at a fraction of the cost of the original stainless-steel pumps. He presented it proudly at a global trade show, his voice shivering in excitement: ‘Just look at how it performs just as well as the original! Just look at our amazing patents. Just look at how cheap the spare parts are!’ Upon which a large customer cried: ‘But we never needed spare parts until now!’ plus an angry #thumbsdown, had social media already existed then, and hash-tags been invented.

We have all slowly boiled the frog at one point in our careers.

Now, the small point of this piece: there is a way to capture easy grabs, while winning it all. Here is one case, to save the soul (the pulp?) of all fruits of the world.

You can aim low. You can. As long as you kill it with your fans, as much as you make friends with your Finance crew. One case for all, a win-win. adidas brings down the composition of its running shoes to very few components, which are easily and beautifully assembled into a simple, amazing new proposition. Take a look at the adidas ultra-boost running shoe, first launched in 2015. This shoe is the dream of any Supply Chain veteran, and as a matter of fact the lightest running shoe ever created. At the time of the launch, adidas claimed to have created the ‘best running shoe ever,’ verbatim from their PR & Communication gang. Let’s make no mistake. The impact on Supply Chain optimization, and consumers’ ‘real life’ problems, was clear, conscious and wanted. It was not a quick and dirty run through the list of opportunities, but the result of multiple years of research on their ultra-boost technology and prime-knit fabric, all led by the desire to learn how to make running shoes again, and regain the undisputed leadership in the world of performance. adidas looked at the whole tree, and yes they picked the high and low as well. Are you simplifying your Supply Chain, reducing your carbon footprint, making a superior product, while landing at better margins? Well, you are unique, and you deserve all of my money. Take it. It’s yours. And so is the future of business. The low hanging fruits that you pick have to be ripe fruits of joy for your customer as well. Remove excess pits, skin and pulp that neither of you need any more from the trusted old products. This is the only win-win update of your core business. Brand Managers own the high and the low fruits. True innovation uses them the same way, to excite the audience, day in, day out. If you discount your low fruits, you discount your whole Brand. Every little saving helps. Until it steals from who’s owning your Brand, and its fruits.