Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

Category Development : Your Biggest Strength

Are you winning on your biggest strength…?

How often do you think Carlo Ancelotti, the Real Madrid manager, comes into the dressing room after the game and says to Cristiano Ronaldo ‘another great hat trick, Cristiano, but you really need to work harder defensively’.  We suspect not very often.  Was Lionel Messi told as a 12 year old ‘Lionel, you need to dribble less and pass it more, otherwise you won’t make it’?  We doubt it.

Yet, how often in life do we focus on weaknesses?  See a red box and a green box on a sales update, which are we likely to pay most attention to?  Ever been in a performance review, where you quickly get the person’s strengths out of the way, so that you can have a good discussion about their weaknesses?

Our natural tendency is to hone in on weaknesses rather than celebrate and drive strengths.  However, if you follow this to its natural conclusion you would have a world of averages.  Everything is OK.  And a world where everything is OK is a pretty boring place.

We think the same thing is often true for FMCG categories.  We are often surprised by how many category strategies focus on addressing perceived weaknesses rather than driving core strengths.   As a result, we worry that differentiation gets lost and categories continue to blur, slowly eroding a category’s reason to be bought and used.

So, how to avoid this and make sure you are driving, and winning on, your biggest strengths…?

Have a crystal clear category (or sub category) proposition.  Be clear on what advantage your category has vs competing categories.  Then communicate that as clearly as possible.  For example, there are many reasons to drink fruit juice (and some not to…), but focusing on ‘1 of your 5 a day’ is a simple, clear reason to buy and use.  It is something that the competition – water, carbonated soft drinks – can’t say.

Have a clear communication and message hierarchy.  The reality is that most categories and brands communicate more than one thing.  This means having a lead message and a supporting message. The lead reinforces your core strength and the support can reassure on a potential weakness.  For example, a Bakery leads on aroma to entice you in.  Then it may have a range of ‘healthier’ options.  A bakery doesn’t say ‘we’ve got some healthier pastries, oh and by the way, they smell fantastic and really melt in your mouth’.

Products that deliver on your category’s biggest strength.  Does your food taste great? Is your produce the freshest?  Does your fabric conditioner have outstanding fragrance?  Does the detergent clean brilliantly?  Each product usage occasion can either reinforce your category strength or erode it.  The product and experience absolutely have to deliver against this.

Great presentation in store.  What is the shelf and display saying to the shopper?  Too often categories look like a wall of boxes.  There are just slightly different boxes in the next aisle.  If every category or sub category looks the same, how do you create a point of difference?  Merchandising, signage and imagery should bring to life and showcase your key strength.  As we’ve said before, presentation = perception.

We are not saying that addressing barriers to purchase is not important.  Clearly it is.  What we are saying is never lose sight of what your biggest strength is.  Because if you lose sight of it, you can guarantee the shopper will lose sight of it.

No category or sub category wins without a clear strength.  What is yours…?

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.