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Category talk

Monomania  is a perpetual temptation for brand managers. The belief that people who buy and use my products are loyal to my brand and whose understanding of that product is not only coloured but dominated by their brand experience. It ain’t necessarily so.  And wishing won’t make it so.  Before you can sell a brand you have to have an established category otherwise people really can’t buy from you. People don’t buy brands in the first instance they buy products and the product needs a category. So one of your main challenges should be to look at how the category is performing and how your brand is positioned within it. Not as if it were the only one which is important but so that your product is at an advantage. To do that you need the help of other brands – as I was saying the rest of the category.  Elsewhere I have described this as a peleton – the way that cyclists race in groups competing against each other but bunched together in protection against wind and rain and traffic.  The winner isn’t usually the one in front all day. But the one who has protected their strength using the others as cover.

It also follows that if you want your brand to do well then the better the category is doing the better your brand is likely to perform all things being equal. The rising tide favours all boats.  If you only focus on your narrow advantage you are likely to miss out on this truth which can generate sales. And not at your competitors’ expense.  If you constantly use promotions to shift product volumes through the pipeline and if all your competitors are doing the same, then you will discover that your customers get used to buying on promotion and feel short changed when the product is full price.  So your promotional strategy needs to take into consideration what your competitors are doing as well as yourself. If you are all doing the same thing for tactical advantage it may be a zero sum game.  It is in your interest to build up the category.  Good practice all round makes for happier customers.

Talking last week with Kevin Maclean founder of the research agency Wardle Maclean about alternative forms of research that start with the customer agenda rather than the marketers agenda – one conclusion we came to is that people are usually more comfortable talking about what is new and changing in product categories rather than brands. So why not start with that  and let the conversation take its natural course instead of forcing it down to the brand on whose payroll you are. Perhaps you will learn something entirely different. That isn’t within the remit of your brand at the moment but ought to be.  We are in the process of setting up a research project to explore the area of customer led conversations. If you c ould help or even fund a piece of research to explore this area then do get in touch.

So top tip – make sure you cover off the category. Particularly when talking to customers.Its a natural starting point and it could take you somewhere new.

 


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