Cutting through the jargon

06 August, 2010

If we were to tell you that a major supplier was planning to revolutionise RTD merchandising to grow sales in the LAD category, there’s a fair chance you might not understand what we were on about.

At least, that’s the conclusion of research conducted by Heineken UK, which is trying to find simpler ways of communicating wisdom on best practice to independent retailers.

It picked the brains of a number of retailers in the convenience store sector and found when it comes to talking about beer and cider, suppliers and stores are frequently talking a different language.

In some cases there are barriers because English isn’t a retailer’s first language, but it’s also common for store owners and managers not to understand the advice they’re getting because it’s swimming in impenetrable jargon – terms that have become internalised by sales and marketing people in the course of their work, but which mean little on the shop floor.

Merchandising speakGetting back to that first sentence, LAD – meaning long alcoholic drink – is one of the major stumbling blocks, says Heineken.

The word “category” cuts no ice with some, while RTD – ready-to-drink – is more readily understood as alcopop, a word virtually banished from industry communications on the tacit understanding that it trivialises the, er, category and makes an unwelcome connection with the world of soft drinks. Even the word “merchandising” causes problems for some.

Heineken UK is using the findings to improve how it communicates its new For Your Convenience initiative, which aims to provide best-practice advice on range and display to help convenience stores build their beer business.

“A lot of the time they just don’t get the jargon,” says Shaun Heyes, the company’s head of marketing for the off-trade. “We’ll be trying to use pictures and really simple words that everybody understands.

“A lot of the time as suppliers we think we’re doing the right thing and have the best intentions, but it’s only when you start to talk to retailers that the real picture comes out.”?Some of the time this will mean simply stripping out the problematic words altogether rather than trying to replace them, so instead of talking about the “category” Heineken will refer to “beer and cider”.

Heineken’s research is based on a sample of 600 retailers – the findings have been strong enough to make it take a step back from its usual corporate-speak and reword its in-depot POS, sales presenters and materials for trade shows.

“Occasionally, we’ll say alcopops where we need to talk about RTDs,” says Heyes. “You’ve got to talk to your audience and independent store owners don’t talk that language.

“It’s transformed the way we’ll do trade communications from a company perspective, but it won’t really impact on our national brand advertising which is already jargon-free.”?Jayesh Patel, owner of Westholme Stores in Goring-on-Thames, Oxford-shire, endorses at least some of the conclusions reached.

“I would understand ‘category’,” he says, “but not LAD. Is it something to do with the layout of drinks?”?The phrase RTD leaves Patel looking blank, until prompted with mention of alcopops which brings “ready-to-drink” to mind, although he’s quick to add that he doesn’t stock any because of under-age drinking concerns.

RTD confusionHaydn Hicks, franchisee of the Bargain Booze Select Convenience in Ulverston, Cumbria, instantly recognised RTD as “ready-to-drink”, but when asked for examples of products which might fit that description suggests Ribena and Coke.

He thought that LAD might be something to do with laddish culture and “girls pretending to be boys”, and when we slipped in PBA (premium bottled ales) confessed: “I haven’t a clue”, despite selling a wide range of such products in his shop.

“Why don’t they just say premium bottled ale, or better still real beer?” he asked. “It just goes to show that nobody knows what the hell they’re on about.”

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