The language of the category

It’s a funny old business this branding lark. In a number of client conversations last week, I found myself talking about ‘the language of the category’. But what do I mean by that?

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

And they are much more than the visual expression of the brand through its name, logo, pack design, packaging or product. So what is a brand?

A brand is an individual collection of emotion of thoughts around our experiences related to products and the way in which the product attributes are portrayed and translated. How an individual thinks and feels about a brand is the manifestation of their individual relationship with the brand and the level of importance that they place in choosing that brand over others.

In a large, UK multiple-retailer store, there are 15,000 to 30,000 food and drink product lines, just about half the total number of products on sale, and research shows that a consumer’s food and drink repertoire on average is no more than 50 at any one time. So how do consumers make their choices? How do brands break through the ‘brand noise’ and gain that all important purchase?

Engagement is the critical relationship facet of a 21st century brand. But why? Because buying is largely instinctive, consumers don’t reason every element of every purchase. Only 20% of a purchase decision is conscious behaviour and the average dwell time is around 5 seconds so consumers 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 through the advertising industry in 1973, the adage at the time was ‘communicate what the product is and what is does and do it an engaging way’.

And sure, in the 70’s it worked in the era of big brands, mass communication and a significantly smaller range of choice dominated in the main by the global brand owners.

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

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

Think about this scenario.  If you were invited to a party by someone you barely knew and walked into a room, didn’t recognise anyone and didn’t take the initiative to say ‘hello’ to someone, then you would have a very boring evening.

All brands face the same challenge. They have to say hello, to give you a smile, to convey that they are worth you giving them some of your time, to persuade you that you’d rather listen to them than the brand next to them.

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

To do this, they use numerous tricks and techniques that help 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 to the norm that consumers don’t get it ultimately 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 know the strong, impactful and distinctive brand and colours and the iconic Marmite jar.

But when they expanded into the peanut butter category in 2019 they ditched their iconic jar and instead followed the language of the peanut butter category, utilising a straight-sided jar and deep lid – 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 of being disruptive too. Our 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 recognised and established 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 I help clients launch category-disrupting brands, take a look at Food Brand Strategist.

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

Last Updated on 31/05/2023 by Eddie Stableford

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