The story of coach Sir David Brailsford and his approach to making marginal gains with the British Olympic Cycling team has been told so often in business circles it has taken on a somewhat mythic quality. Nevertheless, it’s a useful allegory when thinking about your approach to building a trade comms strategy.

Brailsford set about improving every element of the cycling team by 1%. They redesigned the bike seats to make them more comfortable, improved the clothes they wore and tested various fabrics to find the ones that were most aerodynamic.

But he went beyond the traditional cycling factors. The team tested massage gels to find the ones that were most effective, they found the best type of pillow and mattress that gave each rider the best night’s sleep and brought a surgeon in to teach the team about the best way to wash their hands, so they became ill less often. These marginal gains led to the team becoming the best in the world. Between 2007 and 2017 the team won 178 world championships and 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals.

While working with the trade press is unlikely to result in an Olympic medal, the principle of marginal gains is a great way to consider the value you get out of it. What would a 1% increase in distribution look like to your bottom line or a 1% increase in convenience sales? How can you improve every element of your trade comms by 1% – from creating convenience store-appropriate packaging to being seen 1% more often in trade press articles? In this blog, we reveal how you can make marginal improvements to your trade comms strategy.

Centre your trade comms on key SKUs 

Suppliers of course want retailers to take as many of their products as they can, but the reality is not every product you offer will be right for convenience. Brands therefore need to focus on a tight core range that will deliver retailers real results. For most brands, this will be no more than three SKUs, which need to be widely available through wholesale and appropriate for convenience retailers (small case sizes to reduce cash outlay, preferably sold in outers that can double up as shelf displays if appropriate).

Your main SKUs should be comprised of your bestselling products, and you’ll need to create compelling stories around them. You’ll need to promote relevant sales figures, a positive message about growth and a compelling story about the market or opportunity they tap into, such as a forecast in convenience. For example, a vegan snacking brand might communicate how much convenience under trades vs grocery and explain the sales uplift that could be generated per store if retailers implement the right core range.

Brands need to ask for shelf space that is proportional to their size within the category. As a rule of thumb, if your brand is 10% of category sales, you can make a strong case for asking for 10% of the fixture. If you push for more than that, you may run the risk of being seen as greedy.

Focus on case studies and sampling

After you’ve identified your core range, the next step is proving it works and the best way to do it is to get your products onto retailers’ shelves and start building case studies. There are many levers in the trade press that you can pull to do this, such as store projects or by encouraging your field sales team to report success stories back for publication. The more case studies you have, the more you can use them across your feature copy and press releases. Some titles will be happy to cover retailer quotes you provide; others would prefer you to give them their phone number so they can get their own quotes. Don’t fear the latter approach. If your brands are performing well for stores, you should be confident retailers will tell a positive and honest story on their own terms.

Brands that seize every opportunity for face-to-face contact with the trade end up becoming the most trusted. Though sponsoring initiatives like awards and conferences can at times feel a little old hat, the fact that they build up that presence over time and enable you to have direct conversations with the trade can often prove invaluable.

Repeat the message

Coverage! Frequency! Impact! Those three words are the mantra for driving success with your trade comms strategy. While the temptation for both trade comms managers and trade journalists is to focus on new products, lasting success is generated by sticking to the one message and ensuring it comes across repeatedly in coverage in a variety of engaging ways, such as in advertorials, roundtables, panel events and sponsorships.

That’s why, years later, retailers still talk about Kepak’s ‘Super Six’ or follow spirits’ companies’ principles of organising displays by products that are ‘good, better, best’. For months on end, that was the message they hit home, and it worked. For the best results, you need to make sure this message is aligned across all contacts with retailers, which means your field sales team need to be on the same message, too. It’s not uncommon for field sales teams to carry with them copies of magazines that contain positive coverage to underline their credibility.

Create long-term plans

It’s very difficult to be able to repeat the message if you’re not thinking long-term. Although trade press can occasionally dish out the odd harmful story, by and large they are an approachable bunch. If your brand truly has their readers’ best interests at heart (and you’re willing to invest in a little advertising here and there) you’ll find titles are more than happy to work with you on landing coverage at the right time, such as ahead of consumer activity or to coincide with wholesale deals.

Planning around seasonal events is the start, but you need to layer this with activating around industry events too. You also need a plan in place to be part of the discussions that retailers care about, such as retail crime, sustainability, cost of living, growing margin, efficiencies, and emerging technologies. The most effective brands establish themselves as convenience experts beyond the categories they operate in.

Conclusion

 It’s time to start thinking about what your 1% will be in 2023. Will it be to improve the distribution of your third biggest seller by 1%? Will it be to increase your share of voice by 1%? Perhaps it’s as simple as being present in 1% more features.

Whatever it is, creating measurable targets and hitting them is by far and away one of the most satisfying parts of working with the trade. There are proven, tried-and-tested formulas for creating a trade comms strategy that will unlock sales and new listings. Identifying the most effective ones for your brands can help you drive success next year and beyond.