Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

How Categories Grow #2

This is the second in a series of 4 blogs we are sharing on How Categories Grow.

If you want help developing a category strategy based on the principles we are talking about please get in touch.

Right, onto the blog…

,Reinventing Roles

On 1st December 2022, England played Pakistan in a test match in Rawalpindi.

England batted first. By the end of the first day, they had scored 506-4.

It was the most runs scored by a team on the first day in the history of test match cricket.

The previous summer, England won all 4 test matches chasing a total in the 4th innings of the match.

They chased 277, 299 and 296 vs New Zealand. Then they chased 378 vs India.

They were the first side in history to win 4 consecutive test matches when batting last.

On the first day of the Ashes series against Australia this summer, England scored 393-8. The captain Ben Stokes declared.

It was the 6th time he’d declared in the first innings of a test match. The most in history.

The previous record was held by New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming. He did it 5 times. In 80 matches. Stokes did it for the 6th time. In 19 matches.

England have been playing “Bazball”. The name given to the style of cricket driven by Stokes and coach Brendan “Baz” McCullum.

The philosophy behind it can be summed up in 2 quotes.

James Anderson… “We’ve got a captain and coach that don’t want draws. We’re not playing for draws.”

Ben Stokes after a Test Match… “I’ll say it quite simply. We were either winning this game or losing it.”

They’ve won a lot more than they’ve lost.

And in the process they have reinvented the approach to Test Match cricket.

Why are we talking about this? In our industry there is a very traditional way of talking about category roles. Typically there is a 2×2 grid. In the boxes are labels like “destination”, “routine”, “develop”, “protect”.

You plot your category in one of the boxes and move on. You’ve ticked the category role box.

The problem is that this is too focused on the WHAT. It tells you what box the category is in. Usually a box with 20 other categories in it. And not a lot else.

This is the old way of looking at things. Like Test cricket before Bazball.

Instead you need to focus on the WHY. Why does your category exist? What is the differentiated role it can play for shoppers and retailers? Why should they care about it?

This is the new way of looking at things. Like Test cricket after Bazball.

So, how can you reinvent your approach to category roles?

You need to identify your BIG WHYs…

WHY this category. This means being clear on the role the category plays for consumers.

It could be a functional role – e.g. it delivers hydration, it removes stains. It could be an emotional role – e.g. the happiness that comes from many treat categories. It could be a combination of the two – e.g. deodorant prevents sweat and odour. By doing so, it gives you confidence.

This tells you a lot more than a label like “develop” or “protect”.

The key thing here is to make your big WHY relevant. It’s about purpose. But purpose with its feet firmly on the ground. A purpose that can make a difference in the day-to-day lives of consumers. A purpose that differentiates your category from every other category.

It’s fine for ice cream to deliver small moments of joy. It doesn’t need to save the world.

WHY the category can grow. This means having a clear commercial hook for retailers.

Too many categories have black box “size of the prize” methodologies. They spit out a big number. Everyone nods and says that’s a nice opportunity. But they all know it’s bull****. So, it’s just lip service. Most people have forgotten it as soon as they’ve left the room.

Much better to have something that is simple, easy to remember and motivating. Simple – e.g. “get every shopper to buy one more pack a year.” Easy to remember – e.g. “one more pack a year.” Motivating – e.g. “this is worth £Xm.”

Months later people still remember that it’s “one more pack a year.”

WHY you. This means being clear on the role your brands can play to deliver the growth opportunity. This is more strategic than a long list of brand activities or how much you’re going to spend on advertising. It’s about what you bring that other brands in the category aren’t bringing or can’t bring.

It might be an innovation pipeline that will change the mix of products that shoppers buy in the category. Think BrewDog in Beer. It might be the commitment to driving good habits in a category. Think Colgate in Oral Care. It might the way you challenge norms in the category. Think Essity (Tena, Bodyform) breaking taboos in Intimate Hygiene.

Show why you are different and what that brings to the category.

Too often we cling to the old way. It’s like playing for a draw in Test cricket.

However, often it’s the new way that is the best way. Like playing to win (whilst knowing you might lose) in Test cricket.

As Ben Stokes says, “you’re not fearing failure. You’re just going out and doing what you want to do.”

It’s how you win cricket matches. It’s how you grow categories.

Look out for the third blog of the “How Categories Grow” series next Friday.