By Danielle Pinnington
Some of the most interesting work we do at Shoppercentric is around the development of Category Visions. These projects give us a chance to work closely with shoppers and brand teams to explore the category as it is now, and the opportunities to enhance its relevance going forward.
We always start these projects with a key question to the client: What category are you in? You are probably thinking ‘surely your clients know that before they commission research designed to look into the future?’ In fact this is a hugely important question, and we shouldn’t take the brand or category team’s answer as a given, but as a hypothesis. The words marketeers use to define the category they believe a brand is in can be at odds with the consumer/shopper perspective. This is where the opportunity for increased sales lies, as well as expensive mistakes.
Let’s take yoghurts as our example. We might think yoghurts are a category in themselves, and certainly that is how they are sold. Take a wider view of the aisle or the online dropdown list and you see that yoghurts actually sit within chilled desserts. If we then widen the view again by spending time with consumers and shoppers we learn that yoghurts compete with frozen desserts, cereals, dried fruit/nuts, cakes/biscuits, and even savoury snacks.
Suddenly defining the category as a product format doesn’t do justice to the variety of needs and occasions it can meet. The yoghurt brand that appreciates the wider perspective will recognise that there are more opportunities to engage with consumers and shoppers, as well as different angles from which to communicate the brand’s benefits. As a result that brand will challenge the status quo and stand out from the yoghurt crowd because it recognises the limitations of narrow category definitions, and looks to compete with brands and products from outside the yoghurt bay.
By the same token, too aspirational a category definition can lead to confusion among shoppers. Healthy Snacks is a great example, because what’s healthy for one person may be unhealthy for another, and is it healthy per se or just healthier anyway?
Interestingly retailers are starting to take notice of broader category definitions, identifying category pillars and three year plans that will move whole store zones forward rather than individual bays. This makes absolute sense. It enables retailers to push their positioning principles more effectively through joined up thinking, as opposed to managing the more disparate product format category definitions, for example thinking baby instead of nappies vs food etc.
There is a clear win win to be had by taking a new look at your category definition. Get out from behind your desk and take a look at how people consume and shop for your brand:
• Are you paying enough attention to the breadth of consumption occasions?
• Do you appreciate and reflect the span of consumers?
• Are you clear which products are competing for the same occasions/consumers?
• When and why are your products being purchased, and by whom?
Armed with this knowledge, you can address whether the category definition you use is too narrow, and what could be gained from a business perspective by widening it, as well as being realistic and relevant in the proposition you present to consumers/shoppers.
However you choose to define your category, you are manufacturing a particular product format. But as we all know, the magic
is in how you sell it.