Let’s get rid of the c-word

‘Category’ is a restrictive word when it comes to marketing, writes Lee Naylor.

I’ve had an epiphanyLee Naylor - The Leading Edge – at Lent!

It came about because someone was talking to me for the umpteenth time about category growth.

You know the conversation – we need to grow the category, the retailer would like to grow the category, where do we look for category growth? And so on, and so on. All good questions – but the bit I had trouble with was the c-word – category!

You see, I don’t think categories exist in the sense that manufacturers, service providers and retailers talk about them in the regular consumer’s mind.

I’d take it a step further and say that no great innovation can come about until we move from a category mindset. To be a true pioneer, we need to think outside a predefined box. 

So why does the word ‘category’ become restrictive? Because it forgets the wider competitive set. 

‘Category’ actually constrains the consumer to look through the lens we have pre-determined as the right one. For example, I may think I’m in the bread category, but in consumers’ minds I’m in the quick and easy basket. That means I could be competing against cup noodles, chocolate bars or yoghurt!

Our work has shown by helping our clients reframe the market, we can find real growth opportunities. Rather than restrict it to the pre-determined category lens, we let consumers inform us of both the competitive set and the uses they put them to.

Widening the aperture gives companies the ability to innovate, market, and communicate directly to those areas of the consumers’ lives where products can play; not a subset determined by the category norms.

I know that retailers have played around with mixed success in areas such as ‘meal for tonight’ solution categories. The issue arises when we pre-determine what products actually go into this, and then subsequently retail them to the shopper as a ‘cross-category solution’ to a fundamental need they may or may not recognise.

The key is to not box the shopper into a mindset, but help them draw links between products and occasions that they have, both pre-store and in-store.

 So the next time someone mentions the c-word, tell them you don’t approve of their limited vocabulary. Instead, ask them to be a true pioneer when it comes to growth and break some boundaries!

Lee Naylor is managing director at The Leading Edge.

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Lee Naylor
BY Lee Naylor ON 2 May 2017
Managing director, TLE Sydney. Lee Naylor joined The Leading Edge in December 2010 as global head of disciplines. Previous roles include two years at The Nielsen Company as executive director, Consumer Research Australia, and 11 years as a research director at Research International.