At the moment I'm reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, a book about building good habits and breaking bad ones.
The book puts forward the argument that the accumulation of our daily habits is what determines our future. This means that if we want to get somewhere, its the things we repeat regularly that matter most.
This idea is somewhat counter to our tendency to consider achievement of the outcome we’re going for as the measure of our success. What Clear is asserting is that it's not actually the goal that matters – it’s the system, or habits we create to reach the goal, that matters more.
"If the system is working, then the outcome will take care of itself" - James Clear.
This thought prompted me to consider how it may apply to food marketing and innovation. One of the ways we often look to create differentiation in the market is to focus on an outcome. This is frequently linked to a goal such as creating or marketing products as containing ‘the most probiotics’ or ‘the least amount of sugar’ or ‘the highest amount of fibre’.
The Problem with Being the 'Best'
While these outcomes can provide a point of difference in the market, the problem is that eventually we discover there's a floor or a ceiling we can’t get past anymore and at which point such goals become redundant. For example, there is only so much fibre you can put into a product before the amount causes digestive discomfort, rather than contributing positively to good health.
Similarly with whole foods. There are only so many ways we can influence the natural nutritional profile of a food before we run out of options.
So what would it look like if we focused on creating better habits associated with food consumption, or on setting up better systems associated with food production, packaging and distribution, and started marketing that, rather than focusing on being the 'best', or the 'greatest', the 'lowest' or the 'highest'?
This perspective may be a useful way to help re-direct our thinking, open new avenues for innovation and provide the opportunity to tell better stories about our brands and our products to consumers.
Invest in 'Better'
Investing in encouraging better habits or in creating better food systems can stretch from food production and distribution through to retailing and consumption. There are many options that if adopted, provide infinite ways to differentiate and communicate better stories about our food.
Food reformulation targets are one well known way to invest in 'better', by providing guidelines for food production that result in healthier foods. This in turn creates currency for brands and consumers by providing evidence that a company is meeting consumers desire for 'better for you' foods.
Other ways to create currency in 'better' include looking for ways to improve methods for farming that reduce environmental inputs, using renewable resources in production, using electric powered vehicles in distribution or encouraging more mindful snacking and consumption habits.
The Benefits of 'Better'
At a time when trust in the food system and trust in the food industry in particular is low, striving for 'better', rather than being the 'best', has a number of advantages:
It can help connect in a more authentic way with the growing, more conscious consumer. Being perfect or already being the ‘best’ leaves little room for improvement.
It's a clear indicator of transparency – if you are not perfect, and not ‘there’ yet it indicates an openness and honest way of being.
It indicates a commitment to continuous improvement. Just like a commitment to life long learning is one of the keys to happiness and growth, a commitment to continuous improvement for a business can have a significantly positive influence on company culture.
It may have benefits for teams. As James Clear outlines, "the problem with a goals first mentality is that you are continually putting happiness off until the next milestone is achieved. A systems first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process, rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied every time your system is running".
If the system and habits we adopt keep getting better and better, team satisfaction and contentedness also has the potential to keep on improving.
If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your systems and habits instead. Solve problems at this level and the outputs will look after themselves.