Do you really need a category vision? (and what you dó need instead)

  • A category vision shows the destination of the category in a few years’s time, and how manufacturers can achieve this together with retailers. But what do you do if your brand is in a declining category with not so much perspective for the future? Of a brand that has a very specific (e.g. vegan) proposition in many different categories?
  • Developing a strong (realistic) category vision comes from deep insights into consumers, shoppers and trends for the coming years. To gain these insights, you need a lot of market and desk research. What if you don’t have the budget?
  • To grow a category substantially, a behaviour change within consumers is needed. This requires investment in innovation, activation, education and promotion. What if your company doesn’t have the budgets to invest? What if the only marketing P’s you can work with are product, packaging and shelf?
  • It takes a lot of time (hence meetings/time in meetings) to explain your category vision to retailers. What if you are one of many manufacturers with little “air time” at a retailer?

  • A category vision is not always the “holy grail”. But what can you do (better) instead?
  • If your brands are in a category in decline, help your retailer increase market share or make a plan for (your and their) profit optimization. Retailers don’t spend much time on categories in decline, so don’t make a vision, but a concrete, easily implementable plan.
  • A brand with a specific proposition in many different categories can profit from a consistent plan (both visually and content wise). This will help you inside your own company, but also with category managers. The airtime will be limited, so make sure your plan is easily implementable.
  • If you have little to no budget for market and/or desk research: google is your best friend. There’s a lot of trend data to be found, e.g. on the website of the statistical agency of your country (CBS in NL). Many agencies offer general trend reports, as well as banks.

Category vision or a different way of working? It’s up to you! If you need help, you know where to find me

Eight ways to start off your annual plan with a sharp trend analysis


If you’re reading this right now, you’re probably working very hard on next year’s plans. Most plans kick off with a chapter on trends. It’s not too hard to determine the trends in your own category: look at sales and consumer data, but how to broaden your perspective? And how to look further ahead? How to avoid the clichés (Health, Convenience, Indulgence, Sustainability?)

Here are a few tips to help you along the way:

  • Download (and read) trend reports

Your regular market research agency probably supplies something, but the internet is full of it: trend reports. You can download many of them for free (in exchange for your email address). All kinds of experts give their vision on the future. A great start for your trend chapter.

  • Watch TV / use social media

Documentaries, fantasy/science fiction movies and series, YouTube videos by ad agencies from the UK, USA and China are great resources to spot the newest trends in retail. A great example is Black Mirror.

  • Look back

To get a better idea of what might happen in a certain amount of time, say five years, it really helps looking back for the same amount of time. I often do this exercise with my clients during category vision projects. I let them look back both business wise, and personally. It clarifies how much is possible within a certain time frame.

  • Travel

Travelling to other countries gives you a different perspective on how consumers behave and use different technologies. When on holiday, visit different types of stores (also online!) in the country of your choice. It might not always be possible budget or time wise, but travel shows on TV are a great replacement. Cooking contests in different countries can be a great replacement for food manufacturers.

  • Use your imagination

Your job is to stick to the facts most of the time. But for your trends chapter, it might help to use your imagination in the wildest possible way. What developments will we see? What is now happening and will expand? It helps to draw this instead of writing it down. Even if you can’t draw. Your brain will work differently, and you don’t have to show your drawing during the presentation if you don’t want to 🙂

  • Hire a science fiction writer

If your own imagination is too limited, hire a professional. The daily job of a science fiction writer is to shape the future, so they are excellent at it. Many companies have done this before.

  • Connect

Connect all different observations during your trends journey and share them with your colleagues. What is a common idea? What observations make people happy, or asking: “why don’t we see that yet?”. This is a great way to deduce a couple of really relevant trends. Also connect with your category analysis. What does CONVENIENCE mean in your category? Without thinking? Fast? A recipe with few ingredients? Easy to take with you?

  • Not the thing but the thinking

Most of the time, during a trend analysis you find concrete examples. Your audience will love these! But concrete examples are not trends, and they limit thinking during the next phase. Try to find (by connecting) the real insight behind these examples. How will consumer needs develop? These are your trends. You can use a few of the examples you found to illustrate/prove your trends.

I wish you lots of luck and fun developing your trends chapter. Do you need help? Please contact me for more information.

Three ways to improve your efficiency as a trade marketeer or category manager

Are you also busy number crunching in Excel and trying to create the most convincing trade presentations in Powerpoint? Do some things take you an annoying lot of time? Wouldn’t it be great to be a lot faster in these tools?

Let me give you three tips.

  • Improve your Excel skills by following (a course of) Leila Gharani

Leila Gharani is a former finance professional with almost 2 million followers on Youtube. You can find an Excel-tip from her here almost weekly. These videos are packed with advanced knowledge. Next to this channel, Leila has also made a number of online courses, that are ridiculously low priced for what she teaches you. Everything is explained very clearly, and the modules are built up really well. Even when you think you are quite good at Excel, I would recommend to start with Excel Essentials for the Real World. Pretty soon you will find out shortcuts or options in Excel you didn’t know yet, which can make you maybe five times as fast (at least, that was my experience). Do you want to work even smarter and faster than that? Invest time in learning PowerQuery, PowerPivot en DAX. Each video in the course takes about ten minutes, so I would suggest to start every day with one new lesson. Then you can immediately apply what you have learned in your job.

  • Make better (looking) presentations faster with Grunt or Think-Cell

Do you also think these standard PPT-charts or copied Excel-charts are really ugly? And are you also irritated about some of the alignment options in the charts? Do you get mad when an account manager asks you to add another column to that carefully aligned table/slide (which will take you hours to adapt)? All of these issues will be gone when you use the add-ins Grunt or Think-Cell. It requires an investment (Think-Cell can do more with charts, but is also more expensive), but it will save you loads of time and annoyance

  • Add photos and icons fast and legally

Often you are looking for illustrations to make your presentation visually more attractive. You know, you cannot just download them from Google Images, but where do you go? Unsplash offers fantastic pictures for free, when you mention the photographer in your document. For all kinds of icons, I have a subscription to the Noun-project. You can also use this for free, but I can use all icones without reference. They now also have an add-in for Powerpoint. So I never have to go back and forth to my browser to search for icons. It also facilitates easier changing the colour of the icon.

Do you have more tips for me or your category management colleagues? Please let me know.

Eight common mistakes when developing a category vision or plan

In the past 25 years, I have enjoyed creating 250 strong category visions and plans for various employers/customers with great pleasure and results. Making a category plan is usually very exciting, but often it is also difficult. That’s partly because most trade marketeers don’t develop a category vision that often. Merging a lot of information into insights and translating that into strategy does not happen by itself. There are of course all kinds of models and checklists for making such a plan, but applying models in practice is mainly learned through experience. There are a couple of mistakes I commonly see in the process, summarized in this blog. I hope it helps you prevent them.

1. Don’t make hypotheses

Developing a category plan starts with data analysis. A lot of data is available in almost all companies. Even with small businesses, this can add up to several hundred pages (tip: never press “Print all”). Searching through a large mountain of data without knowing what you are looking for leads to two things: either you find only the obvious things, or you find nothing. Be curious and let yourself be guided by the W questions: what/where/when/how but above all why and why not? And make sure to make hypotheses in advance, because on the one hand they bring focus to the search for the right insights and on the other hand they can help to substantiate or falsify the gut feeling that lives in many companies.

2. Not properly capturing insights

At the end of a long day of “creating” insights, everyone is often relieved and tired. Due to a lack of concentration, the insights are not written down sharply. In particular, the observations that form the basis of the insights are then lost. As a result, an insight becomes a kind of slogan to which everyone gives their own interpretation. So come together (in a small committee) a few days later, then everything has settled and you have the energy again to write it down really sharply (and make them more relevant to your category).

3. Shoot from the hip

There is one in every company: the ideas shooter! Someone who can come up with a hundred plans in five minutes that don’t even seem that bad. It’s just a shame that this doesn’t always happen at the right time, and therefore distracts from the process (for example, during an insights session). Just save all those ideas (practically on a separate flipover), they can come in handy later in the concept phase. And sometimes they also help to test whether you are heading in the right direction with the insights and drivers.

4. Retail Ps as category drivers

Really impactful and concrete strategic category drivers are not easy to create. I regularly come across that all (or some of the) strategies are disguised retail Ps. “Improve shelf plan”, “Effective promotion plan” or “Innovation” are often on the list. Why don’t these work? The retail P’s are tactics and not strategies. That means they are short-term oriented. A category vision usually lasts 3-5 years, so if you improved the planogram in year 1, you can scrap that strategy. Look for the insight behind. Improving a planogram e.g. can stem from confusion for the consumer and the shopper. To remove that confusion (strategic driver) you can fill in different Ps: clear shelf, better communication, implementation of promotions, clear packaging, range structure, etc.

5. No alignment with other departments

Because of the name, a marketing department does not always feel responsible for the category vision. Then the plan often just becomes a translation of the brand plans and then you miss opportunities.

6. Do not define (clear) KPIs

Measuring increases your knowledge, but many trade marketeers find it hard to define what to actually measure. If you have a category plan with four strategic drivers, I would at least determine one KPI for each pillar. In this way you guarantee good follow-up of the plan, and also a good idea of where you have to take extra steps if the turnover is lagging.

7. Avoid the clichés

In the end, we all want the same thing: more people to buy our category more often in larger quantities at a higher price. And that can be done by educating them, surprising and inspiring them and coming up with new products that suit them. In other words, education, variation, inspiration and innovation. You will not find these too generic growth strategies in my category visions. Go one or two teeth deeper and you will become really relevant.

8. No distinction between plan and presentation

Finally, the plan is ready! You have made a beautiful PowerPoint and everyone is enthusiastic. The time has come to convince retailers. Make a special presentation for that, because externally you have to tell this story in a completely different way than internally in order to have an effect.

Seven reasons to ask only five questions in a research survey

Some time ago, I visited a market research conference in New York, where the key theme was: “short surveys”. And with the word short they meant a survey with five questions or less. That short? Yes, that short?

Here are seven reasons why:

1. Focus on what you really want to know

This is probably familiar: when you finally have your research proposal approved, everyone wants to add extra questions. But are they really “need to know” or just “nice to know”? A strong upper limit to the number of questions makes sure you stay sharp. Only ask these questions that really will change your strategies.

2. Cost savings

Of course, you have already predicted this one. Respondents are reimbursed paid on the length of the survey, and with less questions, there is less analysis involved: a huge budget reduction!

3. Better quality of data

If a questionnaire is shorter (and less complex, and fun to fill in), the responses are more consistent. Also: try to limit the use of (Likert) scales, and “cheating” by combining three questions into one. Both are not good for the quality of the response.

4. Lower non-response bias

Short surveys are not only filled in better, but also more often finished. This reduces your non-response bias significantly. A survey with only 5 questions has about 5% non-completes. The percentage increases to 20% for surveys with 40 questions or more.

5. Agile working

Very large research projects result in a lot of information and insights, but often so much that an organisation only uses a fraction of it. I regularly summarise all researches done in the last 5 years for a client. There are always insights in there they “forgot” or want to research again unnecessarily. It’s better to cut your budget into a few smaller pieces. Take each quarter for a focused research leading to (profitable) action than one big research of which half will not be used at all.

6. More satisfied respondents

When a respondent has to fill in a long and boring survey, they will end it with a negative feeling. As your survey is about your category or even brand, this feeling will be associated with it. You don’t want that, do you?

7. Responsability towards your research colleagues

Us market researchers are extremely dependent on respondents (people!) willing to cooperate. And they are no longer just in panels, online customers are also asked for their opinion via emails after every purchase. Let’s please take our responsibility and work together to ensure that consumers don’t get “research tired” and that they want to keep answering our questions.

I hear you protesting: “But five is really too little!”. Not necessarily, but it is an extremely big step from current practice. On the one hand, this bold requirement really makes you think differently, and on the other hand, practice shows that we always want more, so if we arrive at 8-10 questions, we have already come a long way.

With my market research agency Spinos | Research & Analytics I no longer throw long questionnaires into the market. I prefer to ask my customers more questions, so that we can arrive at the real actionable insights. Do you want to know how I approach this? Please feel free to contact me.