Fundamentals of category management, 1: Start by getting the basics right

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As an industry, we like to talk and think about the next big thing: the new product, the new retail format, the disruptive market entrant. The temptation becomes even greater at the time of year for resolutions. But the best way to a successful 2018 is to focus on the same big things that have always mattered. The things that make the difference between the winners and losers in our industry, year after year. Here are three.

First, understand the rules of usage occasions. That means understanding breakfast, quick lunch at home, weekday evening meal, Sunday lunch, and so on. Know their size and value but most importantly know what the rules are. For quick lunch at home, they might include ‘takes less than a minute to prepare’, ‘costs less than £1’, ‘effortless to clear up’ and ‘long life’.

Sometimes companies convince themselves the rules can be broken to accommodate a new idea. They can’t. The only way is to understand the rules, then work out what you might offer that plays to them.

Second, practise shopper realism. Know how shoppers’ attention is attracted, how they arrive at their decisions and choices. Companies are investing more and more into this understanding. It is critical for effective packaging, merchandising, PoS and promotions.

Fundamentals of category management, 2: Delivering truly great innovation

Take packaging. It is still common for it to be judged in isolation. But the right way is to consider the pack in the context of many competing packs on shelf. Be mindful of a shopper who cares a lot less than us, who is willing to commit limited time and energy to finding our pack, then processing the messages we want to get across.

Online is no different: 20 years in, we still often see brand images that are clearly not optimised for the online shopper.

Finally, 360-degree commercial planning. Getting products or activities right for consumers, but also retailers and their suppliers, isn’t as simple as it may appear. There’s little chance of it working without thoughtful, cross-functional planning. For example, there’s no sense in finalising a new product launch - pack size, recommended price and margin aspiration - only to discover later that aggressive promotion will be required to get the necessary trial and repeat.

That sounds incredibly obvious but too often the right people don’t join up on a plan early enough. Perhaps that is the most important resolution for 2018: not to be involved in any activity which we could look back on later and say “we didn’t plan that carefully as a team”.

Understand the rules of the occasion. Practise shopper reality. Engage early in commercial planning. The same old things, but key to winning in 2018.

Jeremy Garlick is a partner of Insight Traction

Readers' comments (1)

  • Andy Palmer

    Nice article Jeremy. We still see, all too often, that ‘excitement led’ projects, lead the way over the basic principals of solid category development, and while innovation is incredibly important, if it's not underpinned with robust data led observations, insights, and recommendations then it falls flat. Get those important things done well and its rock and roll.

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