Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy, Range & Portfolio

Category & Brand Roles – Define then Follow

Do your activities have a clearly defined role?

Rowing is a pretty easy sport isn’t it?  Put a few big, posh lads in a boat.  Tell them to row as quickly as possible.  A few years later you win a medal at the Olympics, right?

Well, unsurprisingly, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

For example, the 8 man boat is made up of different types of people with different skills.  First you have the ‘stroke’.  They sit closest to the stern and set the timing of the strokes.  They are usually the most competitive rower.  The person directly behind them follows the rhythm set by the stroke and helps transmit it to the rest of the boat.  They are typically the fittest rower.

The middle crew are the engine room and focus on power.  They are normally the heaviest and strongest rowers.  Finally, there is the Bow pair, responsible for the stability and direction of the boat.  They are usually the smallest and most technical rowers.

For the boat to go straight and quickly, each section of the boat needs to perform their role as effectively as possible.  If they don’t – the Bow pair push too hard – there is a problem.  The boat goes slower not faster.

So, why are we talking about this?  Well, we have been involved in a lot of discussions about roles.  What role could, or should, a category play?  What role does a brand or piece of innovation play?  And in these discussions, we often find two key things.

Firstly, people are often not realistic about the role something plays.  For instance, we hear people say that a category needs to deliver a more exciting, engaging shopping experience.  This is all well and good, until you remind them that they are talking about household cleaners.  And maybe excitement and engagement is not the right role for that category.

Secondly, even if there is a realistic (correct) view on the role something plays, we often see activities that work against that role.  For instance, a category and brand objective of trading shoppers up, followed by a series of deep promotions that actually trade shoppers down.   It is like the Bowmen deciding that they are going to row faster.  It increases speed for a few metres but, soon after, it slows the boat down.

Different categories, brands and SKU’s are all part of the retailer ‘boat’.  For the store to function most effectively these different parts need to have clearly defined roles.  Roles that help the boat go faster.

So, what do we mean?

The role a category plays for a retailer.  To keep things simple, there are really 2 types of category.  The first are categories that retailers can differentiate on – categories that give a shopper a reason to choose one store over another.  These are things like Fresh Produce, Meat, Fish, Bakery (for some H&B, BWS).  The selling environment, range and quality of products need to be better than the competition to drive store traffic.

The second are categories that shoppers buy whilst they are in store, but are not ones that a shopper will choose one store over another for.  They are things like tinned food, soft drinks, household.  They are still important – they are worth a lot of £’s.  But the selling tactics should be different.  Simple and efficient ways of selling, that make the shopping experience as easy as possible.

The 2 types of category work together to (a) get shoppers to come to a store (b) to maximise the value of a basket once they are there.  Their role needs to be clearly defined and they need to be sold in the way that helps them most effectively perform that role.

The role a brand plays for a category.  Different brands should play different roles in a category.  If not, all you have is a bunch of brands trying to out-promote each other.  Just moving money around.  So, you need to have a brand(s) that provides a (consistently) low price option.  There should be a brand(s) that can trade shoppers up – better quality, higher price.  There should be a brand(s) that can drive repertoire – get shoppers into new parts of the category and consumers into new usage occasions.

Again, these brands need to follow their role.  Where do you want a wider range of SKU’s, where a narrower range?  Which do you promote more, which do you promote less?  Don’t have the trade up brand(s) offering lots of deep discounts.

The role a SKU plays for a brand.  What we have said about a category and a brand applies equally to SKUs within a brand.  Which are the lead SKU’s – the ones that draw shoppers to a brand?  Those need more space and maximum distribution.  Which are the repertoire SKU’s that encourage shoppers to explore the range?  Which are the replenishment SKU’s – the ones that you want shoppers to buy repeatedly, almost without thinking?  Align your tactics (price, promotion, merchandising, distribution) to these roles.

SKU’s should play different roles within a brand.  Brands should play different roles within a Category.  Categories should play different roles within a store.  The role needs to be defined.  The selling tactics need to follow the role.

It will help the boat go faster.

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.