Why cannibalisation is a dirty word

Every time I hear the word ‘cannibalisation’, it makes my pulse increase, my eyes roll and my patience wean. There is no politically correct way to put it: I hate it! To me, it expresses a lack of willingness and understanding of doing what is in the best interest of your customer.

So, what does the term actually mean? Well, in basic English – it’s the negative sales impact of new product innovation on your current product offering. E.g. introducing a new product that has the potential to eat another product. Personally, I find the term terribly antiquated and one dimensional (not to mention the imagery that the above description evokes in my mind – think: the movie ‘ALIVE’).

Anyway, what really frustrates me is that more often than not, the term is used as a justification as to why you should pause or completely stop innovating. In my view, making business decisions based on the fear of cannibalisation doesn’t make sense.

When you think of innovation you must put the customer at the fore front, therefore cannibalisation shouldn’t be a consideration. What you do need to consider however, is that if you get it right and you meet your customer’s needs, they will continue to purchase from you. And the most important reason to continue to innovate and the reason to ignore the cannibalisation warning sign, is that you can’t buy the LOVE that can be built from customers feeling that you care and respond to their needs.

Steve Jobs once said, “If we don’t cannibalise ourselves, someone else will”. That’s a pretty sensible reason to consider cannibalisation a positive and not a negative thing. Apple cannibalised the Macintosh in favour of the iPad – not a bad call in retrospect. Although I bet my bottom dollar that there were many people who opposed this idea. Think to yourself how often you have heard or hear people say “I love my ipad/iphone” etc. The love capital and loyalty that Apple created through this process has no doubt extended into other areas, which equals customers continuing to buy apple products. Call it what you like, Apple loyalty, Apple brownie points or Apply love. I prefer the love.

At My Food Bag, my one single mission is to ensure we exceed our customer expectations and needs. To enable us to delight our customers we continue to cannibalise ourselves (and we have great fun doing it)!

Our product road map for the year always centres around opportunities for us to improve our customer experience and better meet our foodies’ needs. Inevitably, this can erode some of the bottom line or your profit, or in some cases both. However, our firm belief as a business is that as long as we’re acting in the best interest of our customer – we’re doing the right thing and therefore we will always win. That’s probably also why at the end of the day cannibalisation has only benefited our business and our bottom line.

I challenge other businesses to take off their business hat, put on their customer hat and truly figure out what their business needs to do to not only meet but exceed your customers’ needs. I bet my bottom dollar that if you do this – you’ll soon be on your own winning streak.

Lastly, if you insist on continuing to use cannibalisation as a term, use it to explain what may happen – rather than trying to prevent or stop something from happening.