The Allure of Small

Ryan Skinner
Senior Analyst
September 14, 2017

I’ve always been drawn to small.

I suspect it’s because I started out small. Not in the “all-babies-start-out-small-duh-forrester-analyst” way, but in the “this-kid-is-undersized-for-his-age-what’s-wrong-with-him” way. A late growth spurt made all that go away, but it left me with a lingering fondness for smallness.

Small can be good. But is small, good, in marketing?

The activist investors who are trying to change the course of the world’s biggest marketing machine said, in a recent presentation:

Smaller CPG companies are growing approximately 3 times faster than large ones in the US. [Slide 6]

First of all: “Yay for small!”

Second of all: “Wait, really?”

The statement stems from a report in 2016 by the Boston Consulting Group and IRI that, at least after cursory review, passes the sniff test for research rigor. According to BCG, many of the smaller and faster-growing companies are those that focus on plant-based ingredients, which are part of a general shift towards higher nutrition consciousness among consumers.

The investors didn’t stop there. They also added:

Small, mid-size & local brands are now better able to utilize the digital ecosystem to level the playing field with P&G [Slide 8]

After another ‘yay for small!’ fist clench, I had to note that this intriguing little nugget is offered without any citation or support. Digging deeper in the report, the authors return to the point, but this time offer evidence, showing how a number of smaller brands (Thinx, Kiehl’s, The Honest Company, Dollar Shave Club) have 3x, 8x, even 28x the number of Instagram followers.

I cannot agree that number of Instagram followers correlates in any particular way to business performance (now or later). Never have I seen any such study; never do I expect to see one, either. As we’ve reported before, subscribers and followers can rarely be considered an asset; they are usually an artefact of past engagement and nothing more. And, in Instragram’s case, they may just be bought.

Despite this, the authors are right that something has changed.

The huge natural advantages of BIG have gone away. Big and small are now on more of a level playing field from a marketing perspective, and – given that there will always be more small players and some wildly successful ones – that means the BIG companies are bound to lose some market share to the smalls.

What we see here are consumers loving new (and certain, specific, kinds of new), not small. FYI: P&G’s also being criticized for lethargic new product development.

It’s possible that ‘love of small’ is real. I love small; maybe others do too. But, for now, BIG is losing market share not because of an inherent love of small but a systemic disintegration of the market barriers that protected BIG.

It turns out, over time, consumers actually want choices, and, over time, these change. Go figure, P&G.

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