Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy, Range & Portfolio

Blurred Lines

Are you blurring or clarifying things?

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day.

It’s always been a pretty clear celebration, right? The clue was in the name ‘Mother’s Day’ – a day to celebrate mothers.

But, it appears it’s not so clear after all. This year Waitrose sold gender-neutral Mother’s Day cards. Apparently, the aim was to reduce the use of the “M-word” and make the celebration more “transgender inclusive”. So, if you wished to, you could have bought a ‘Happy You Day’ card.

It wasn’t just Waitrose. Scribbler had a Mother’s Day card saying “Dad, thanks for being the most amazing Mum”. Which could be a stroke of genius – how to double the size of your potential market in one go. And you only need to move “Mum” to the start of that sentence, “Dad” to the end and you are all set up for Father’s Day.

We’ll let you decide what you think of all this. However, what it does represent is the wider trend of blurring that we see in many walks of life. Things that used to be pretty black and white (e.g. who do I buy a Mother’s Day card for?) are now a shade of grey.

We think the same thing is true in our industry. A supermarket used to be pretty simple. You knew what the products were. You knew what they looked like. You knew where to find them. You knew when to use them. For instance, it’s a cereal. It’s in a rectangular box. It’s in the aisle with all the other cereal boxes. We eat it for breakfast.

However, things aren’t so clear these days. Is it a cereal? Or is it a muesli, granola, cereal bar or breakfast biscuit? It no longer just comes in a rectangular box. Do you find what you need in the cereals aisle or do you have to go elsewhere? Do you still eat it for breakfast or should you be eating it at other times of the day?

In theory, all this is a good thing. Shoppers have more choice of what to buy. But in practice it makes things harder for them. The lines are blurred. The simple task of identifying what the product is, where to find it, when and how to use it, is not so simple anymore.

So, how can you give shoppers more choice but make it easy as possible for them to make a choice?

Category Clarity. We do a lot of category strategy work. One of the first things we do with teams is a mini session on the category landscape – what do we call this category, what is in and out of it, what are the different sub categories within it? It sounds easy. But it is never that easy. If we allowed it, we’d often still be debating things 6 hours later.

If you are not clear internally on what is in and out of the category or how the category should be divided, how are shoppers ever going to be clear? How will you know in which category or sub category a new product should sit? How will you know what to call the category and sub categories? This issue is even more acute online. Why should a shopper spend time trying to figure out the taxonomy and where a product might sit? Just use search – as most shoppers do.

So, are you clear on what your category is called? What is in and out? What the different sub categories or segments are?

Product Clarity. We all know what our products are. We think about them every day. However, what is obvious to us is often not obvious to a shopper. This is true in mainstream categories. A deodorant is a deodorant, isn’t it? Well, no. You have antiperspirants that stop you sweating. You have body sprays that don’t – but make you smell better.

This becomes even more of a challenge in emerging categories. Take healthy drinks. We clicked on the ‘Healthy Drinks’ page on Ocado. There were 129 products. Here is a small sample of some of the product names we saw…’Erbology Organic Aloe Vera Shot’, ‘Plenish Savour Organic Raw Cashew Cacao Maca Milk ‘(seriously), ‘Wild Power Wheatgrass Shot With Beetroot & Blackcurrant’. Don’t stray too far from the facilities after you’ve downed that one.

So, are you being clear – crystal clear – on what your product is?

Proposition Clarity. Did you know that in France any beer of 1.5% ABV or less can be called ‘no alcohol’? This means that ‘no alcohol’ isn’t actually ‘no alcohol’ it is ‘low alcohol’. Clear…? Not really. This is why many no alcohol beers are now communicating 0.0% to make it really clear that they contain no alcohol.

If something is central to your proposition then call it out. If you have no fat say 0% fat. If your product has zero sugar call it out. When propositions and communication are developed they often rely on implicit cues. They are great when they work well. But it can increase the blurring when they don’t. It’s much better to be explicit.

So, are you clear on your most important product benefit? And are you making it clear enough to shoppers?

All of this boils down to one simple question…’could you easily explain it to your Mum?’

That’s if you’re still allowed to call her that.

On a separate note, we are very pleased to announce we are expanding  – again!

We are lucky enough to have had another busy year and are getting more hands on deck.   So, we are really pleased to announce that Alison Perkins has joined Insight Traction.

Alison will be helping us in the 3 main areas in which we work – category strategy, channel strategy and shopper marketing strategy. She brings plenty of experience to do so.

Alison joins us from Johnson & Johnson’s Consumer business where she was UK Shopper Director – leading shopper insight, category development and shopper marketing across the UK trade.

Previously Alison has worked at Unilever and Nestle.  Her experience spans a broad range of categories (Foods, Beverages, Healthcare, Toiletries, Baby & Beauty) as well as Global and Local commercial and programme management roles.

Alison shares our passion for all things shopper & retailer and keeping things simple. Whilst her commercial experience will keep us and our advice firmly anchored in the real world!

If you’d like to catch up on any of the work we have been doing, think we can help you on anything, or would like to meet Alison in person, then please call or email one of us.

Thank you for your continued support.

Best wishes,

Insight Traction