How to Ace Your Upcoming Category Review

Your category review with your biggest retail partner is three months away. Panicking, much?

Of course, you and your marketing team knew about this essential meeting for a year or more. You’ve been pulling the numbers, eyeballing the shelf landscape, tracking key performance indicators, obsessing over your competition, and getting ready to field tough questions from the category manager.

Maybe you’ve realized the picture isn’t as pretty as you’d hoped. Velocity’s inconsistent or down overall. A competitor is scoring premium shelf space you once owned. Other brands’ packages tout new flavors/ingredients/formulations in response to consumers’ latest likes.

Maybe you think: We need a rebrand.

And here you are, the category review a mere three months out. As we said, panicking, much?

Here’s the thing: Rebranding as most leaders define it (a spiffy new logo and new packaging template) is not the answer, not right now. Graphic design will not save a flawed business strategy.

So many brand owners have come to us in this position. Typically they’ve tried to tackle the project internally, thrown some dollars and creative staff at it … and run out of time, energy, or both.

These in-a-crunch brand managers don’t understand the rigor that’s required to develop a brand strategy, and they make assumptions about timing and pricing. And they don’t realize until they speak with strategists like us that their need isn’t as simple as a redesign.

You’re short on time. But you need to have something to present to the category manager. Here are four ways to approach your situation:

  1. Don’t panic. You don’t need to execute a rebrand in three months in order to turn the ship around. In fact, trying to pull this off without doing the strategic work it requires will only set you back. We’ve seen brands do a quick “rebrand” (a.k.a. redesign) to meet the category review date and fail because that shiny new logo did nothing to improve sales. Then, of course, they do the actual strategic work and end up redesigning the redesign. They wind up doing the work twice and losing 18 months in the process.
  2. Decide on your end goal for the project. New design? New channels? And why? If you’re jonesing for a new logo and identity design to get into the NEXTY Awards, fine. But that’s not a rebrand, and certainly not a strategy. Never redesign for the sake of redesign. Do it to address changing market conditions or to reach new audiences.
  3. “No seriously, we’re dying. We need a rebrand and we don’t have the time or money to do it the right way.” That’s a tough position to be in. (See “Don’t panic,” above.) There are small things you can do that don’t require external experts and can buy you time until you can do this properly. Take an aggressive high/low strategy, play the margin game, get rid of poor performing retailers (be realistic), “demonize” your competition, focus on one or two target audiences in a couple of key markets, and put all your trial/social efforts into getting samples in their hands. While all this is going on, be on the search for investors who understand the value of brand strategy and partners who can help you do it right.
  4. “No seriously, we need to rebrand, and we don’t have the time — but we do have the money.” Here’s where it gets dangerous. A rebrand may be exactly what the doctor ordered, but you need time to do it properly. (Again, see No. 1 above.) Better to go to your category review with information about your upcoming rebrand than to try to cram the work into a too-short timeline. We’ve seen this done well in our practice, and we recommended this approach ourselves.

In the retail world, buyers and category managers are facing massive pressure for sales performance — and that pressure is moving downstream to brands and suppliers. Retailers are looking for brands that match their own values, and buyers are looking for suppliers who can truly partner with them to move product. They want you to succeed so they’ll succeed.

And your success depends on strategy. Yes, you need to make changes. Yes, design will be one of the outcomes. But rebranding— the right way, the strategic way — takes time. Create a plan to address your retail partner’s issues, try some interim tactics (see No. 3 above), get through the meeting. When you come up for air, let’s talk. We’ll be waiting right here for you …