Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

Category Development : Lost in Translation

Is your strategy visible at shelf…?

Over the last few weeks we have shared some of our thoughts on how to drive category growth.  We wanted to bring all this together into one simple question.  How visible is your category strategy at shelf?

Most of you reading this will have some beautifully crafted documents outlining how you will grow your category.  Whether you call them visions, strategies, or growth plans, many of them exist.  Lots of time and effort go into creating them.  They all make perfect sense in the meeting room.  Yet, when you go into store, your category often looks like most other categories.  Sure there are different products, but they are sold in a very similar way.  When outsiders (even industry experts) look at your shelf, they often wouldn’t have that much of an idea about what the category is really trying to do.  What shopper behaviour you are really trying to drive.

Paul Polman, the Unilever CEO, once said in an interview ‘I meet a lot of consumers.   None of them has ever told me they bought one of our brands because they liked our strategy’.  He’s right.  Your strategy manifests itself through a series of signals, often implicit, that you give to the shopper.  These signals encourage the shopper to behave in the way you want them to behave.  And therefore buy what you want them to buy.

No shopper should be able to stand back from the shelf and say ‘well, they are clearly operating a trade up strategy here’.  However, someone with a reasonably trained eye should be able to look at the shelf and pretty quickly tell what you are trying to do.

So, what are some of the signals that you can give shoppers to encourage them to behave in the right way (and to let your CEO know that the strategy is coming through at shelf)?

Range & Space.  Are the products you want shoppers to buy, getting the space they deserve?  Are they getting more space than current sales warrant?  Growth in space often needs to precede growth in sales.

Segmentation & Spotlighting.  Often the products we really want shoppers to buy are dotted all over the shelf or aisle.  We are reliant on the shopper stumbling across them.  We should be directing shoppers towards them.  Bringing the right products together and spotlighting them is key.  Unseen is unsold.

Product Presentation.  We’ve talked before about the importance of controlling the way your products are sold, particularly if you are a premium brand.  The way a sub category, and your specific product, is displayed implicitly tells the shopper how much it is worth paying for that product.  If you are trying to trade shoppers up, then make sure the product looks great.

Promotions.  We often see categories with very different growth objectives (penetration, frequency, spend per item), using exactly the same promotional tactics.  They might work for one category, but not the next one.  Promoting with purpose is essential.  To drive trial you need to use very different tactics than to drive volume.

Communication & Messaging.  If you are trying to tap into new consumption occasions, are you clearly communicating this?  If you are trying to get shoppers to buy new sub categories, are you giving them the right information?  Go into a Boots store and see this being done brilliantly across a number of categories.

Clearly the strategy is important.  If you don’t have a clear idea about how you are going to grow a category, you can never execute against it.  But once you have this, make sure that it gets translated at shelf.  Make sure the signals you are sending are the ones that will drive the right shopper behaviour.

So, get into store, take a look, and ask yourself ‘how visible is my strategy at shelf’…?

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.