Secret Marketer: While saving costs is always a priority, cutting choice is not the way to go

Standardisation to save money is all well and good, but in an age when most brands are diversifying their portfolios it may be a step too far.

Even though many commentators tend to agree that the UK is out of recession, some things have not returned to previous levels – one being the incessant focus on cost control. Maybe that is a good thing, even though it places undue pressure on the business.

One area that my employer believes is critical to drive down costs is the concept of standardisation, in other words doing something only once and letting repeat requests ‘cookie cut’ that initial design. The approach originates in the operations part of our business where it is fair to say that we have a reputation of every new manager wanting to do things ‘their way’, leading to multiple variances of the same product.

This approach then transcends into my area, where there is a desire that we have one global advertising campaign, one global website, one design for internal business cases, one way of reporting our budgets.

In many ways, this has to be a good thing and it has been done by some companies for many years. But in other ways it dilutes the creativity of respective regions, ignores cultural variances and also presupposes that the original ‘design’ is the best one.

I guess it didn’t do Henry Ford, who famously said “you can have any colour so long as it’s black”, that much harm. And last week, I had an interesting experience in a trendy restaurant in Brixton. I had been told it was one of the hottest spots in London, and sure enough the food was amazing.

However, with so many restaurants in London, how was a new eatery going to stand out? By serving only one meal – one starter, one main, one dessert. Wow. I was immediately counting the cost saving – absence of menus, reduction in training, buying raw materials in bulk, lack of wastage.

While Gordon Ramsay’s big beef is restaurants with too much choice on their menus, to go from one extreme to another is certainly brave, but why not? In my house, my wife rarely gives me a choice for my evening meal – it’s what’s on the table, or nothing.

Back in my business, where people regularly complain about the breadth of our portfolio, and as the average salesman can remember only one thing at a time, such an approach could reap benefits. But in an age when most brands are diversifying, it is perhaps a step too far – for now at least.

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