Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy, Range & Portfolio

(Category & Brand) Guess Who

How many of you have played the game Guess Who?

The original had a great cast of characters.

There was Bill.  He looked like a jolly farmer.  Pointy bald head, ginger goatee and incredibly red cheeks.

There was Sam.  He looked like a librarian.  Very round head, round glasses and a tiny set of pursed lips.

There was George.  He looked like an ageing musician.  Long face, white hair, wearing a trilby.

It was a pretty simple game.  You picked a card with one of the characters on it.  The other player did the same.  You won by guessing the other player’s character before they guessed yours.

The key to winning was asking the right questions.  Questions that helped you eliminate as many options as possible each time.  Is it a man?  Yes.  Is he wearing glasses?  No.  Does he have facial hair?  Yes.  Is his hair ginger?  Yes.  Does he look pretty pissed off?  Yes.  It must be Alfred then.

Why are we talking about this?  We think that a lot of games of Guess Who are played in our industry.  It’s a slightly adapted version – instead of having to guess who the person is, it is about guessing what the category is.  Or what the brand is.  Or even what the product is.

You might be sitting in a meeting room listening to someone describing a category thinking “am I in the right meeting, are we still talking about washing powder here?”.  Or reading a brand vision statement that has compelling stuff about what the brand stands for but nothing to tell you why the brand is good.  Or see a new product on shelf with really funky packaging, an even funkier name, but after a few seconds you are still not sure what the product is.

As categories look to broaden, as brands look to be more purpose and emotionally driven, as more and more products come to market, there is an increasing risk that you lose sight of what you are actually selling.  And the closer you are to your category or brand, the greater the risk.

If you lose sight of what you are selling, shoppers will lose sight of what you are asking them to buy.

So, how can you make sure that you remember what you are selling?

Category.  We do a lot of category strategy projects.  We spend a lot of time discussing category names and definitions.  Too much time.  What should be pretty simple often gets overcomplicated.  Take a category name.  The primary job of a category name is (surprise, surprise…) to make it really clear what type of products are in the category.  To do this you need to use language that everyone understands.  So, if you are talking about the Sauces & Dressings category, call it “Sauces & Dressings.”  Don’t call it “Eating Enhancers” (a real example).  How many times have you asked someone to pass you the eating enhancer?  Never.

Category definitions are also really important.  The definition needs to directly link to the category.  This sounds obvious.  But about half the category definitions we see are hard to link to the category they are supposed to be defining.  For instance, if you have a definition like “drinks that are good for you”, what does that mean?  Water in?  Sugary flavoured water out?  Carbonated soft drinks out?  What about diet versions?  Fruit juice in our out?  Don’t get too focused on where the category could go in the future that you forget about where it is now.  A category doesn’t need a broad definition; it needs a clear one.

Brand.  There are two trends we are seeing with brand vision statements and propositions.  The first is the focus on purpose.  Brands are being told to be more purpose driven.  That shoppers buy the “why” not the “what”.  Yes, the why can be important but only after you have nailed the what.  There are not too many shoppers in the deodorant aisle thinking first “I want a deodorant that will help save the world” then “now – will it stop me sweating?’.  Most shoppers buy deodorant to prevent sweat and odour.  Get that right first.

The second thing we see is a focus on emotion.  Brands believe that an emotional connection gives them an advantage over other (often cheaper) competitors.  Again, this can be important.  But, it needs to go with, not instead of, superior product performance.  Brands that have strong equity are typically the ones that have product superiority.  Ben & Jerry’s creates an emotional connection, but it also has great tasting products.

So, remember what you are selling.  If you are a yoghurt, it is OK just to be a yoghurt.  A really good yoghurt.  Better than the other yoghurts.

All this is crucial when connecting to shoppers.  It is also crucial for manufacturers communicating with retailers.

Does the busy buyer who has only got twenty minutes to spare, want to hear about your vague category definition?  Or your vague purpose driven brand positioning?  Or your NPD with the really funky proposition?  Or do they want to hear that you have a great product.  That shoppers will want to buy.  That will help the buyer sell more?

They haven’t got time for a game of Guess Who.