The language of the category

It’s a funny old business, this branding lark, in nearly every conversation this last week, I’ve talked about ‘the language of the category’.

What do I mean by that?

Brands exist in our heads. You can’t see them, touch them, smell them.

And they are much more than the visual expression of the brand through its name, logo, trademark, artwork, pack, product or business.

So if that’s the case, what is a brand?

A brand is a collection of emotion of thoughts around our experiences related to products.

How an individual thinks and feels about a brand is the brand to them – not to everyone, just to them.

But in a large UK retail store there are 15,000 to 30,000 food and drink product lines, just about half the total number of products.

And research shows that a consumer’s repertoire is no more than 100 at any one time!

So how do consumers make their choices? How do brands break through the ‘brand noise’?

Engagement is the critical relationship facet of a 21st century brand.


Because buying is largely instinctive. Consumers don’t reason every element of every purchase.

They engage with brands that say something about themselves and buy into brands that they believe in.

When I started my life-long career in brand and marketing in 1973, the adage at the time was ‘communicate what the product is and what is does and do it an engaging way’.

Sounds a pretty complicated process to me – and sure, in the 70’s it worked in the era of big brands, mass communication and a significantly smaller range of choice dominated by the global brand owners.

And in the mass product and brand proliferation of  21st century, this approach simply does not work.

Brands today have to engage first and having won the privilege of gaining a few seconds of the most valuable commodity in the world, time, they can then rapidly communicate what the product is.

Think about this scenario.  If you went to a party and walked into a room and didn’t see anyone you knew and didn’t talk the initiative to say hello, then you could have a very boring evening.

Brands have to do the same. They have to say hello, to give you a smile, to convey that they are worth you giving them some of their time, to persuade you that you’d rather listen to them than the brand next to them.

So smart brands know that they have to deliver’ their ‘pick me’ elevator pitch in seconds.

And to do this, they use numerous tricks and techniques that helps consumers understand what they are, why they are different and why they should buy them.

One of these techniques, is the ‘language of the category’.

It’s been proven multiple times that brands that try and do something so different that consumers don’t get it fail.

Look at this brilliant example of an iconic brand using the language of the category to help consumers get what it is instantly.

Love it or hate it, we all love Marmite.

The malty taste, the gooey texture, it’s strong, impactful and distinctive brand and colours and their iconic jar.

But in entering the peanut butter category in 2019 they ditched their iconic jar and instead followed the language of the category with a straight sided jar and deep lid.

This has been the presentation style for peanut butter jars since SunPat dominated the category in the mid 80’s

Clever. A fast way of not only engaging but being disruptive. Our brilliant brains associate the iconic Marmite jar with the love it or hate it product that it contains.  By ‘breaking their brand code’ and by using the product presentation format of the peanut butter category, they instantly achieve two things.

They disrupt and they engage, quite brilliant.

If you’d like to find out more about how we have been helping clients in the post-COVID food and drink world, take a look at Food Brand Strategist.

And take a look at BoomBod as an example of our work.

And to explore how we can help you launch a new food idea, ping an email so we can schedule a call.






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