Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

Make your category strategy stand out

Most in our industry would agree that, in theory, a good Category Strategy is of real value. By a Category Strategy, I mean a clear Point of View on how a Category can be grown in the UK, that identifies a few key Drivers, and priority actions for each.

But with most companies now having Category Strategies, and many of the Strategies looking similar, they can sometimes fail to get traction with key stakeholders.  A Buyer could be forgiven for thinking, “Here we go.  Another Category Strategy, with the same old Drivers (“health”, “fix the basics”), the same old opportunity quantification (£10m for Driver 1,£20 million for Driver 2) and the same old look and feel (a few boxes here, some clip art there)”.

So how to stand out from the crowd of Category Strategies?  How can you get to a Category Strategy that charts the right way forward but also gets heard and remembered by the people that you need on board?  Well – here are four things to think about …

First, be crystal clear about role.  What role is the Category playing for the Retailer?  Is it like Fruit and Veg, which plays a role in store choice, or like Sweet Biscuits, which is about driving sales and profit? What role is the category playing for the Supplier or Brand?  Is it a Category in which the Brand seeks to lead, and grow share?  Or is it a Category where the Brand is happy to hold share and drive profit?  What role is the category playing for the Shopper?  Is it a Category like Cosmetics, where the shopper may be happy to browse and take in new information, or more like Tinned Food, where the shopper just needs to find what they want and move on?

Clarity on role for categories and subcategories is crucial to a focussed and realistic Strategy.

Second, be Retailer specific.  As Retailers become increasingly thoughtful and clear about their strategies, driven by increasing competition in the industry, so a generic “one size fits all” blanket Category Strategy from a Supplier is less and less appropriate.  Suppliers need to understand what each Retailer is thinking at a corporate and department level, and work out the main ways for the Category to grow, within that framework.  So Suppliers – take care before suggesting that Tesco radically expand their range, and don’t suggest that Sainsbury’s focus on multibuys.  And the strategy for growing the Category in Asda may differ significantly to the Strategy for Morrison’s.  This doesn’t mean a Supplier needs lots of fundamentally different Category Strategies, but does mean they need to spend time on a significant degree of customisation.

Thirdly, focus a lot of effort beyond what you say to how you say it.  Senior managers and buyers are seeing Category Strategies and similar presentations all day, every day. So think hard about how to stand out.  Rich and unexpected language helps.  Saying less helps –  identify 2 or 3 key points to land above all else and cut away the rest.  Good and memorable visuals help – arresting images that are directly linked to your big ideas.

Finally, be grounded but optimistic.  For many Retailers, growth is hard to come by.  You need to accept that truth. But if you don’t believe in your Category, then who will? There’s a real art finding the right balance – ambitious enough to excite, not so ambitious as to appear naïve.

So there’s four things to think about, as you work towards a Category Strategy that makes a difference.  Be clear about the Category role. Be Retailer specific.  Focus effort on how you say what you say.  Be grounded but optimistic.