Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

Category First Mindset

Are you breaking out of the brand bubble?

So, summer is over for another year.

Hopefully most of you managed to get away.  The more adventurous of you might have been off trekking in the Andes or canopy walking in Malaysia.  The less adventurous were perhaps reading by the pool, where the biggest decision you had to make each day was which cocktail to order.

Either way, you weren’t doing the things you do most other weeks of the year.  You broke out of your daily bubble.

We spend most of our lives in our individual bubbles.  Where you live is in there.  Where you work is in there.  What you work on is in there.  Your hobbies and interests are in there.  Like football?  It’s in the bubble.  Don’t like Formula One?  It’s out of the bubble.

But, when you travel you break out of that bubble.  You do things you don’t usually do.  You see things you don’t usually see.  You talk to people you don’t usually talk to.  You order a cocktail you’ve never ordered before.

We all know travel is supposed to broaden the mind.  But, it is also said to make us modest.  We see what a tiny place we occupy in the world.  There is a lot going on outside our daily bubble.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, in our industry we often live in a bubble.  At the centre of the bubble is often our brand(s).  We go into work each morning, thinking about our brand(s).  We leave thinking about our brand(s).  We see most things through the lens of our brand(s).  We are inside the brand bubble.

But take a step back.  Beyond a brand is a sub category.  Beyond a sub category is a category.  Beyond a category is a macro category (e.g. Personal Care, Drinks).  Look at most shopping lists.  They haven’t got a long list of brands on them.  They have categories (e.g. yoghurt) or types of products (e.g. green tea) on them.  They will often have things like “stuff for lunchboxes”, “dinner for Friday”.  Shoppers are often thinking need or category first.  They are outside the brand bubble.

If you are in the brand bubble you think brand first, category second.  If you are outside the bubble you think category first, brand second.  You have a “category first” mindset.

So, how can having a “category first” mindset help you?

Drive Category Growth.  A brand first mindset = How do we win?  You focus on the share battle.  You think brand growth first and foremost.  A category first mindset = how does the category win?  Only then you think about how your brand can win disproportionately.

Shopper behaviour change tends to be driven at a category level rather than a brand level.  For instance, which Gin brand has driven the renaissance of Gin?  There are probably two answers to this (a) none of them (b) all of them.  Both are correct.  Gin is not winning by brands taking market share from each other.  Gin is winning by getting more people to drink Gin versus other drink options.

Direct & Challenge Internal Thinking.  A brand first mindset = where can we stretch the brand?  Which new products are right for the brand?  A category first mindset = where does the category need to go?  Then you think about how you can deliver that – through existing brands or a new brand.  Is it a new set of products or new activities to drive category growth?

On a category strategy we worked on recently, the big growth opportunity was penetration – encouraging more consumers to use the category.  Yet, when we reviewed the 5 year plan, all the activities in it were new products.  And nearly all the new products were trade up ideas – targeted at shoppers who already bought into the category.  There was little in the plan about how new users can be brought into the category.  A category first mindset helps you see opportunities you don’t see when you think brand first.

Communicating Plans Externally (& Internally).  A brand first mindset = let me start by telling you everything I can about how good our brand is.  A category first mindset = let me start by telling you how the category can grow.  Then I will tell you how our brands can drive this growth.

A lot of NPD presentations start with the brand.  They tell you about the history of the brand.  Then they tell you the brand vision.  Just when you think you’ve made it through that, a mood film is thrown into the mix.  An hour later, there might be a slide that says “oh…and this will be really good for the category too”.  Most retailers don’t care about brand stories.  No matter how good or well presented.  They care about how the category will grow (and how they can win vs their retailer competitors).  So, paint a clear picture of how the category will grow.  Then say how your brand or innovation will drive that growth.

We are not saying, don’t think about brands.  They are very important.  What we are saying is think about them in the right order.  A category first mindset opens up new opportunities – for the category and for your brand(s).

Don’t be inside the bubble looking out.  Be outside the bubble looking in.

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