Imagine shopping at a grocery store that doesn't have any signs pointing you in the right direction. Odds are you'd spend a lot of time wandering the aisles until you found what you needed.
People want a sense of direction when they're shopping, and they want to see their options grouped together — whether that’s kitchen tools, breakfast cereals, or winter coats. One way to do this is with product categories.
Product category marketing helps your brand stand out among related items, so your company’s products wind up in the shopping cart — whether real or virtual.
Let's explore product categories, how it differs from product classification, and see some examples in action.
What is a product category?
A product category is a group of similar products that share related characteristics. Product category marketing focuses on promoting certain categories to meet consumer expectations.
Your distinct offerings and customer personas should guide the organization and grouping of your product categories.
For example, Dick's Sporting Goods offers a variety of outdoor gear. To guide customers, they group products into interest-based categories, such as fishing, running, and climbing. For cosmetic brands, it also makes sense to organize categories by product type, such as makeup tools, eyeshadow pallets, and foundation.
Product category marketing amplifies why a company is the best choice within that group of products. Why should customers opt for your offering rather than your direct competitors?
Gaining brand recognition and appreciation across a product category means greater returns for your marketing efforts. When consumers have positive experiences with a specific product category it also builds brand trust, which often expands to other categories through the halo effect.
Product categories are sometimes confused with product classification. Both are organizational strategies and both help guide marketing decisions, but classifications are much broader (think convenience goods, shopping goods, and specialty goods).
Let’s take a look at nine product category marketing examples to inspire your own.
Admittedly, it helps to have singer and business powerhouse Rihanna at the helm. But Fenty Beauty innovated the idea of foundation makeup “for all,” and its commitment to inclusivity made the brand an instant hit.
Why it works: Fenty's success underlines a simple truth about today's consumers: they are belief-driven. Increasingly, consumers want to see brands improve the world along with making a profit. Fenty aligns with this shift by keeping diversity and inclusion top of mind with its product offerings — and by featuring models across a spectrum of skin tones.
This Vermont-based retailer has been a big name in fly-fishing and outdoor gear since 1856. But they’ve also carved out a product niche with dog gear — and dog beds in particular. The brand draws people who want comfortable dog beds for their furry pals in styles that enhance their home decor.
The marketing images of dogs sleeping or lounging on Orvis beds is enough to inspire a nap. And its social feeds are chock full of irresistible images and videos of dogs, including puppies in a hammock.
Why it works: The company has built a loyal following with the fundamental belief that pets are significant members of the family. Orvis has made its site a resource for dog health and behavior topics, and they boast a variety of dog beds for dogs of all sizes, ages, and health issues.
Putting together their furniture may be a tough task, but at least Ikea supports your relaxation too. The marketing of their bedding shows off playful sheets and prints for the kids and a mix of bold designs and neutrals for adults. The bed linens product category is grouped under ‘home textiles’ together with curtains, quilts, pillows, and towels.
A playful Ikea ad campaign in the UK even featured bottled bedding and pillows, connecting the dots between a restful night’s sleep and health. In the current pandemic, the company marketed the idea that comfortable bedding was essential — especially when your bed is doubling as your office.
Why it works: By grouping a variety of products under one roof — Home Textiles — Ikea presents an opportunity to up-sell. After all, if you buy a new mattress, you may also need new bed sheets, pillows, and blankets.
For more than a century, Swarovski has put the sparkle in gowns, tiaras, jewelry, sculptures, and even luxury cars. For its jewelry product category, Swarovski puts luxury within reach with a mix of modern and classic crystal necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and watches.
It sustains brand awareness with seasonal collections, collaborations with designers and celebrities, such as Karl Lagerfield and Penelope Cruz, and social media campaigns with influencers.
Why it works: Swarovski has taken its medium, crystal, to new heights with creative partnerships and continued innovation. It's these efforts that keep the brand — and its products — fresh and exciting even after 125 years in business.
Target is known for its positioning across product categories, including affordable fashion, electronics, and cleaning supplies. Though they’re grocery section is smaller than most supermarkets, they cover all of the ‘must-haves’ on any shopping list — from milk to salads to pasta.
In 2019, Target added its own brand of grocery essentials with their Good & Gather line, which includes frozen berries, cereals, snack foods, and eggs. Their Instagram Stories showcase easy snack and meal ideas, and feature foodie influencers like TikTok and Instagram sensations Tabitha Browne and Lisa Lin.
Why it works: Target uses private labels and exclusive brands to its advantage. If you get hooked on a Target-exclusive product — like an item from their Good & Gather line — you can't go anywhere else to buy it.
Launched in 2004, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign was far ahead of other brands in promoting body positivity and self-acceptance. Their ad campaigns for body lotions and soap have long featured women with a wide variety of body types and skin colors.
Rolls, wrinkles, cellulite, and stretch marks are all on proud and beautiful display across its social channels. Today, its skin care brand identity is synonymous with self-confidence, and Dove body lotions and soaps are frequent flyers on "best of" lists for affordable skin care.
Why it works: In an industry that typically profits from consumers feeling unhappy with their appearance, Dove stands out with a marketing strategy that centers around self-confidence. Dove energizes its brand with a higher purpose that most women — their target audience — can get behind.
The company known for DIY is also a go-to spot for holiday and seasonal decorating. Michaels stores transform every month or two with festive decor for spring, summer, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, July Fourth, Mardi Gras, and Pride Month.
Michael's also does an exceptional job engaging with the creative community. Most stores offer free classes, demos, and events that anyone can attend. During the pandemic, these classes went virtual, offering both adults and kids a creative outlet to explore at home.
Why it works: Michael's continues to find new ways to engage with new and existing customers — from festive in-store displays to free classes and demos. It positions itself as more than a supply store, but rather a source of fun and inspiration.
Patagonia’s tagline is “We’re in business to save our home planet” and the company’s marketing efforts lead with its commitment to sustainability across product lines. Its website urges consumers to "Buy Less" and prominently features a section of "Used Gear."
When you visit its Facebook or Instagram pages, you have to hunt a bit to find posts highlighting particular products. Instead, the feeds focus on pressing issues, such as environmental stewardship and fair labor practices.
Why it works: Patagonia effectively weaves its core values into its marketing messages. When you do need to purchase a new (or used) piece of outerwear, consumers know they are supporting a company actively minimizing its negative impacts.
Product category: Green household cleaning supplies
Grove Collaborative is another company focused on sustainability. Its goal is to make it simple and affordable for people to choose green household products that are non-toxic, sustainable, and cruelty free.
The company offers eco-friendly cleaning supplies, including concentrated soap and detergent refills and reusable glass bottles, which it sends out in recurring monthly shipments.
The company also shares ideas for holiday meals and decorating, and releases a monthly "Sustainability Snapshot" of their environmental impact, such as the number of single-use plastic bottles they keep out of land-fills.
Why it works: The company's marketing reflects its minimalist ethos. Grove also uses social media, namely Instagram Stories, to attract new customers with product images, cleaning tips, and even humorous videos.
Each of these brands has clarified where their products fit in larger retail categories. This helps them market their distinct value to target customers and, ultimately, earn a greater market share within these product categories.
Originally published Dec 29, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated December 29 2021