Breaking up is hard to do – should you be brand blocking at-fixture?

Achieving a large impactful block of my brand on fixture appears to be the aspiration of many a Brand Manager, but unless you are the signpost brand in a category it is most likely the worst thing you can do.

Byron Sharp has taught us that a brand grows by acquiring new buyers at a faster rate than it loses existing buyers.  We are all therefore in the business of trying to acquire new buyers of our brand.

Presenting all the variants for our brand in one place on-shelf makes perfect sense.  Get the shopper to the brand, then demonstrate that we have every variant they may desire so the shopper has no need to look elsewhere.  The block has made it easier for your existing buyers to find you, but unless you are the signpost brand you may not get any new buyers to your brand.

As we have mentioned previously, signpost brands are the best known, most iconic or best-selling brands in a category.  The brands that shoppers use to help them identify a category, the brands that shoppers use to find a category in-store and the place where shoppers start shopping the category (irrespective of whether they are shopping for that specific brand).  Starting the category shop at the signpost brand gives the signpost brand the first opportunity to engage with the category shopper (including a whole bunch of potential new buyers).

If I own a signpost brand I want a nice big brand block.  If I’ve done my job correctly I will have argued that I should have the best position on fixture (the eye level shelves in the centre of the category), because I am the brand shoppers use to navigate to the category.  I will get existing buyers and new buyers to my brand because of that.  I will then demonstrate that within my range there is a suitable product to meet their needs, and I will grow my brand.  If I own a challenger brand however, the brand block I coveted may never get the chance to come into play because the signpost brand has got it all sewn up (potentially stealing some of my buyers along the way!).  I risk being marginalised – pushed to the sidelines.  I have a brand block, but it is wasted by being in the colder extremities of the fixture.

The rationale for a brand blocked fixture (that brand is the first decision in the shoppers’ decision hierarchy) is also often flawed, as brand is rarely the first decision shoppers make.  When you probe shoppers on their decision making you often find that there are elements that are not consciously recalled as part of the decision-making process.  For example, an ice cream shopper will often tell you that the first decision they make is the brand of ice cream they are going to buy, but when you probe them on it, you find that they had already narrowed the decision down to only brands of ice cream tubs.  So, the first decision is actually between tubs and hand-held ice creams.

In most categories there is a decision that comes ahead of brand.  Typically type or sub-category, but it is often not consciously recalled because shoppers have discarded the fact that they are narrowing their choice down to products that only exist within a certain segment of the category.  Or in their mind “brand” is a sub-brand that denotes a type or format of product (i.e. the brand is Diet Coke, a diet cola variant).

If I am a challenger brand, I want the fixture to be segmented by something other than brand.  Segment by type, format, flavour – whichever is in-line with shoppers’ decision making, as that gives me a better chance of being seen by new buyers.  My product has a better chance of attracting new buyers if it is located within a cluster of products that a shopper might decide between – I am a valid alternative to the products I am adjacent to.  I am the right type of product, in the right place when the shoppers mind is on choosing a version of these types of products.

You never know.  As a challenger brand I may also have a more dominant role to play within a subset of the category.  I may “own” a segment and can justify having the best position on-shelf.

There are exceptions, where a brand block is best.  There are categories that are genuinely brand-led.  In this instance a challenger brand must aim for a position as close to the signpost brand as possible with the aim of benefiting from the visual halo of the signpost.  There are also occasions where we may feel locating a product alongside its parent brand would drive more growth for us.  For example, when launching a new product, we may feel we will get more traction locating the product alongside an established parent brand in the category, rather than in a section of the fixture that currently has low penetration.  Although we would most likely strive to be in both locations in that instance, particularly as we aim to attract new buyers to our product rather than stealing share from existing buyers.

There is also a balance, of course.  We don’t want our brand completely dispersed across the fixture.  We want clusters of our brand sitting within relevant sections of the fixture.  A cluster that provides good standout, while the product group provides shoppers with the choice of products in line with their key decisions.

In summary, breaking up is hard to do, but for a challenger brand it is better to be in the game than in an attractive brand block on the sidelines.

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