Sometimes, smaller is better

Harish Bhat | Updated on March 12, 2018


When consumers desire less, marketers can make small a virtue

The world is generally attuned to the perception that larger is better, that more of a good thing is always desirable. A larger car, a bigger home, a longer vacation, a bigger pack of cookies, a wider television screen … this list can extend endlessly. “Mine is bigger than yours” is the clarion call here, and so marketers constantly strive to make things bigger than ever. After doing this, they then strive even more vigorously to get consumers to upgrade to the next big thing. Largely, they have succeeded, which is why we are surrounded by bigger and larger products with every passing year.

In the midst of this ever expanding universe, marketers should pause for a while to reflect on a surprising truth – that in many situations, consumers may actually prefer smaller products, and may turn away from larger or longer or wider offerings if they are provided the right choice. When do consumers prefer smaller products, and why? How can this create new and interesting marketing opportunities? Here is a brief exploration of this space.

Small is healthy

I love ice-cream, so I eat it every weekend, and sometimes during the week. But I know that the sugar and the rich calories in the ice-cream are not very good for my waistline or my health. So wherever I am, I always search for small choco-bars or butterscotch cones, containing less than 60 ml of ice-cream – my self-imposed limit on each occasion. Clearly, in these circumstances, smaller is healthier and therefore better for me.

As all consumers want to remain healthy, and as 49 per cent of all human beings also want to lose weight, smaller packs of beverages, chocolates, cookies and many other foods can have very wide appeal, particularly if the logic behind the “smallness” is communicated clearly and compellingly. Similarly, restaurants which serve smaller portions, and consciously speak about this as a positive differentiator can be a big draw for consumers who want to eat a fine meal even as they control their calorie intake.

Small is attitude

While many people like larger cars or even larger homes, there is also a segment which consciously prefers smaller vehicles or residences, even if they are able to easily afford the larger ones. These consumers believe that driving a small car is a reflection of their new-age, positive attitudes: of being environment-friendly because the small car uses less fuel, or emphasising through the vehicle they drive that they would like to remain understated rather than flashy, in everything they do.

There is also the attitude of “reverse snobbery” many affluent people possess, which leads to their turning away from the larger and glitzier products, which they see as markers of social snobbery. To draw out these consumers, marketers have to create products which are small, not loud, but are packed with all the appropriate features. And then appeal smartly to this attitude.

Small is convenient

For people who travel often, smaller packs of shaving cream or hair oil are likely to be far more convenient to carry along. As urban homes shrink, it is also undoubtedly convenient for consumers to use smaller sofa sets, washing machines and air-conditioners, which occupy less space yet deliver the same functional benefit. Smaller and lighter laptop computers have been steadily gaining in popularity, because they are clearly perceived as being easy to carry and use. And smaller mobile phones may be far more handy for people who want to tuck them into the pockets of their tight-fitting jeans.

Shorter, more frequent holidays are becoming far more convenient to many of us, compared to a longish annual vacation which was once the norm. Marketers can cater to this need by creating short breaks packed with exactly the right kind of relaxation and fun these busy consumers are looking for.

Small is beautiful

There is a distinct segment of consumers for whom small is beautiful. These people desire to use small and minimalist products because they find them the most aesthetically appealing – and not because these smaller offerings are either affordable or healthy or more eco-friendly. Such people would typically like to wear small or slim wrist watches, rather than bold ones. Women in this segment may prefer carrying relatively small handbags or accessories. Many of them use small notebooks to write in, small elegant cups to sip tea from, and small, minimalist-styled items of furniture in their homes.

Other big reasons to go small

There are many other areas where small is preferred to big, and short is preferred to long. For instance, many young people today prefer to consume their news in shorter and briefer capsules, because they appear to have too many things to do, and also because their digitally distracted attention spans are smaller. Many travellers wish to carry increasingly smaller pieces of luggage, primarily because finding storage space in modern aircraft or buses for large bags is getting increasingly difficult. There are also regulations that limit the dimensions of bags which can be carried as hand baggage. Women may wish to wear only small items of gold jewellery to the workplace, because travelling in public transport wearing large and conspicuous pieces may be perceived as a safety risk.

From the above exploration, it is clear that there are so many product categories, areas and circumstances where smaller is clearly better. Marketers can profitably leverage these “small” opportunities by garnering these insights, right-sizing their products, and then making the apt functional and emotive appeals to their consumers.

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of The Curious Marketer. These are his personal views.

Published on April 06, 2017

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