20 Jan 2011
This quote accurately sums up many businesses, and back in the middle part of the last decade it was very true of ACCO Brands’ shredding business. Shredding is essentially a mundane task; an every-day hygiene task that has the potential to be very irritating and upset the balance of the day. Just like many other every-day actions, failure to perform can have devastating effects; customer data and confidential, commercially sensitive information are daily parts of our lives, and increasingly, legislation means that disposing of it casually can have serious implications.
Mike Stranders, ACCO Brands’ director of product management for shredding, commenting on the state of the industry, says: “There had been relatively little genuine innovation… Most players had made incremental improvements around a common battleground”.
In short, no company had set out to solve the basic performance defects that result in total consumer frustration with the result that a hygiene task had the potential to become a major drama. Reviewing all the facts, ACCO Brands made a strategic decision to lead the shredding market by solving the consumer pain points and providing a simple and effective consumer experience.
At the heart of the strategy is consumer insight. What is insight? According to IBM, ‘Consumer insight has two forms. Firstly, there are insights (plural) – flashes of inspiration, or penetrating discoveries that can lead to specific opportunities. However, much bigger than this, and central to what companies need today, is insight (singular), defined as “the ability to perceive clearly or deeply”, a deep, embedded knowledge about our consumers and our markets that helps structure our thinking and decision-making’ [From IBM, Consumer Insight: How to use data and market research to get closer to your customer].
It is a breakthrough in understanding that provides for a very different way of looking at things. A former colleague and ex-demonstration pitchman sums it up in a simple phrase. Remembering his experience as demonstrator at an exhibition or consumer show, he says: “It’s all about getting the nod; that reaction from a consumer that says you really understand me, I get it.”
So what are the insights that have driven the ACCO Brands journey so far? The first, back in 2005, was the simple observation that consumers hate paper jamming in the shredder – that annoying and totally frustrating moment when the machine stops with a sheath of half-shredded paper stuck in its mouth and no amount of tugging or pulling will free it. The usual result is much lost time and enough shredded paper on the carpet to create the impression that one has a massive dandruff problem.
As it happens the solution was simple once the development team was focused upon the consumer pain point, and in 2007 the Rexel Mercury range of anti-jam shredders was launched onto the European market. Using patented sensing technology to inform the user that they are about to demand too much of the machine and to reduce the number of sheets to be shredded in a single pass before jamming occurs, the simple promise is “Jam free performance every time”. Rexel’s Mercury anti-jam technology is the original and in ACCO Brands’ opinion the best, but is now not the only anti-jam product on the market and as the competition have striven to catch up, a series of incremental improvements have continued to improve the consumer experience.
Leadership is about setting the agenda. It’s not necessarily about being the biggest. Apple is a classic example; they aren’t the world’s largest computer company but they are clearly leaders. Take the evolution of iPod into iPhone into iPad: from MP3 player to a multi-purpose device that can play music, watch video, make a call, browse the web, play games, engage with friends and colleagues, take photographs and enable online shopping. They don’t have the market to themselves and there are a whole bunch of highly qualified fast followers. However Apple is consistently setting the agenda in the marketplace and challenging the competition to catch up.
So what was ACCO Brands’ next move? A simple insight; the observation that about 50 percent of consumers choose to shred in batches. This category of consumer, rather than shredding as they go, choose to wait until a pile of paper has developed and then stand by the machine and feed the shredder until it has all gone. Products exist claiming to automate the process. However, ACCO Brands’ development team saw potential consumer pain points:
– Dealing with stapled documents, without jamming, is problematic.
– Failure to shred different sizes of paper unless they are accurately positioned is a potential issue.
– Varying paper finishes can result in performance problems.
– Exposure of sensitive information whilst the shredding process is underway has the capability to create a potential security issue.
The result is that many consumers continue to “supervise” the machine, dedicating valuable time to what should be a routine task.
The solution is again simple; a product that has a flip-open top to store all the documents to be shredded, that pulls paper into a central cutting system tearing the sheets away from staples and shreds automatically. The Rexel Auto Plus 100 executive personal auto-feed shredder is born. Launching onto the European market in January 2011 the product solves all the pain points for the bulk shredder, whilst also providing a manual shredding option for the shred-as-you-go consumer. The Rexel Auto Plus 100 represents a new level of leadership in the shredding category and restates the company’s commitment to thoughtfully lead the market through making the act of shredding as pain-free and simple as it is possible to be.
ACCO Brands has embraced consumer insight as a means of thinking differently about a problem, determining action and creating competitive advantage. It is a journey and a commitment that places the consumer at the very heart of the business and sets out to create different ways of doing seemingly mundane tasks in a way that can revolutionise the user’s experience.