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So, you want world-class Category Development?

World-class category development is complex, and the project brief may be sketchy.

Companies who appoint a team to develop a world-class category development project only to recognise the shopper activation element will be disappointed; there’s much more to a strategic category vision. Category development, on the other hand, starts with a category vision, includes NPD and efficient use of the in-store resource – the shelf. Recognising only the in-store activation devalues the longer-term ROI of a category vision.

Recently we have been working with brands who can see the potential but can’t quite make the difference needed to get noticed. Some of these brands believe that activation is the key to success, and they are right to an extent. Brands reach out to us when they need help gaining a deeper understanding of the market. We shine a light on that market for new or existing brands. We know activation is essential to shopper marketing, but not the whole exercise. We create world-class category development as the sum of all the parts. Missteps in these areas will lead to skewed results.

Fresh thinking

It always surprises me where we find our inspiration. In 2004 I was in Orlando waiting in line for the Aerosmith ride. It was a world-class ride back then, and I wanted a go. It was a frivolous ambition, but it was personal to me. I had a 90-minute wait, a notebook, and a pen. By the time I stepped onto the ride, I had mapped out a new client methodology for shoppers with more exacting needs and added world-class category development to the heart of any business. The 5-point plan is below.

  • What’s the opportunity? Driven by consumer/shopper/customer/category insights
  • Who and where to target – understand the 5 W’s and H
  • Develop the proposition and identify what the opportunity is. Consumer/shopper/customer/category value
  • How to activate
  • Right measures – setting KPIs.

This 5-point process is regularly deployed to help brands develop opportunities.

World-class category development at the heart of your business

Using this stepped process ensures we start by understanding what we are trying to do, who the target is, the size of the opportunity, and what success looks like.

The plan is based on collaborative working, creating agile solutions and delivering the optimum outcome. Not only do we design the ‘strategic plane’, but we help you land the plane as well, using our operational expertise. We roll up our sleeves at each stage and deliver the agreed ROI.

Technology is not the holy grail.

Sleeping brands looking to get fit need a plan before system deployment. Technology doesn’t answer the new ‘disruptors’ ambition who dreams of world domination. Like everything in life, technology is part of a blended mix. The algorithm can process data quickly, and right now, it can provide a transactional decision for any shopper. But we contend that technology will never replace human intuition. Or when it does, we humans will have evolved again. We’ve been doing that for centuries.

Today technology, AI, algorithm, and data (call it whatever you want) is freeing up our quality decision time. How? Do we no longer consider putting shopping powder, flour, toilet paper, and beans into our baskets? The machine allows us to buy these online and deliver them to our pickup point of choice when we want.


The machine plays no part in managing my budget, my decision to trade my label for branded goods or vice versa. The algorithm can’t appeal to my indulgent senses allowing me to swap my usual jam for something more aspirational. Our choices are centred around the price, product, place, promotion, and habit, aren’t they? Yep, that’s correct if you’re an algorithm. But don’t ignore personalisation. That’s equally compelling in the shopper’s decision tree.

The brand’s story is about engagement in-store, which is when I interact with the brand’s attributes, including (but not exclusively) trust, integrity, and desirability. These are the emotional factors that change what I buy. How that story plays in-store determines what I buy and how often.

That is intuition, insights, and experience. That’s the human factor. Like the tip of an iceberg, activation is the bit everyone sees. Just ask the captain of the Titanic. We should never forget the scale of construction below the waterline.

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