Prioritising future opportunities with category strategy

Posted by Sapien Team - 07 March, 2023

Want to know how your category and competitive environment is likely to evolve in the next three to five years? What about how to best position your brand for future growth? Category strategy could be the solution you’re looking for.

What is category strategy?

A category strategy is a roadmap that details future sources of growth for the categories your brand operates within. With it, you can leverage your resources to profit from these future drivers of growth.

“Category strategy provides a framework for exploring how a category may evolve over the medium to long term,” says Mark Vincett, Co-founder of Sapien. “It explores what macro trends might impact the competitive environment—from supply chain to shelf—and overlays these with the deep category understandings from consumers and shoppers. With this, brands can identify which trends are most likely to effect the products and services people will want in the future.”


The best category strategies put brand second

One of the most challenging aspects of category strategy is putting brand thinking (and brand speak) second. While growing your brand story is important, category strategy is a means to unlock a source of growth rather than a means to grow your brand.

Remaining too focused on your brand limits you to your current processes and capabilities. From there, it’s easy to fall into a “we can do this, we can’t do that” mentality rather than identifying how demand is changing and how you may need to reposition, reinvent or divest your brand to meet the needs of your future customers.

“True category strategy needs to operate at a category or genuine consumer-shopper focus, rather than a brand focus,” says Mark.

However, it’s not enough to look within the category, the most effective category strategies combine learnings from outside the category with rich insights from within. This approach helps to identify how external factors or changes in other categories are reshaping the wants or needs of your consumers and shoppers. Teams that have these insights are better able to pre-empt demand, prioritise innovation on future sources of value, and deliver solutions their retail customers want.


Success comes from collaboration

“Collaboration is key to successful category strategies. At Sapien, we promote internal and external stakeholder engagement from the outset, encouraging knowledge and goal sharing to build alignment and future success,” says Mark. “Engaging external stakeholders early in the process, taking the time to listen to their category frustrations, goals and objectives helps us to promote a category-first, rather than a brand-first, mindset.”

This has become increasingly important as more retailers and channels are developing their own category strategy or growth drivers. They are understandably reluctant to embrace a brand-led set of growth drivers that may be at odds with their own.


A multi-faceted approach

Category strategy projects can involve various methodologies, from analysing sales trends and financial performance, to rich ethnography through in-home and in-store immersion interviews, and validating emerging opportunities among a robust representative sample.

“These layers of learning mean we’re able to uncover evidence-based growth opportunities that can be meaningfully valued and sized for brands to target and pursue,” says Mark.

To use an ageing population issue/opportunity as an example: it is not enough to simply know there’s an ageing population and more people will want to dye their greys. It’s about knowing how much this audience already spend on their appearance, how many people will want to recolour their hair, the channels they will use, how much they’ll pay for it etc.

This granular detail of information is what meaningfully informs the size of the future opportunity.

Sapien Lights the Way For Just Juice Resurgence READ MORE

Future growth mapped out

In the past, some brands have struggled to translate big growth platforms and ideas into meaningful day-to-day action, and as a result, failed to capitalise on key growth opportunities.

“Once you recognise an opportunity, you need to build a plan across your organisation to pull towards future growth,” says Mark.

Sapien’s approach identifies stages or steps towards growth that help your brand progress towards an ultimate goal and its reward. These stages might be tiered based on your existing and future capabilities, what you can do quickly through communications or re-merchandising, or new packaging/line extensions to fill the gap before a new product or route to market is available.

“If you don’t move towards those future opportunities, you’ll be left behind,” Mark says. “Smaller niche brands that were nothing five years ago will move in and become far, far more important—they’ll out distance you all the time. Meanwhile, you’re left trailing the pack, trying to sell a product no one is interested in anymore.”

While there’s no crystal ball revealing the future, category strategy gets close. It will uncover and prioritise upcoming opportunities and help you build a step by step plan to realise their potential.

All that’s left is to take the first step.


Interested in conducting category strategy research with us? Get in touch.

New call-to-action

Topics: Category Strategy