Solving the Commodity Category Challenge

September 18th, 2015 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, Insight, storytelling, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Solving the Commodity Category Challenge”

How to win when winning can be elusive…

Solving the Commodity Category Challenge

Put yourself in your shoppers’ shoes:

Have you ever stood in front of a grocery shelf or case and had trouble making a selection because they all looked the same and made similar claims?

Cheese, milk, vegetables, eggs, fruits and proteins face a similar challenge. As commodities, the distinctions between forms and varieties are often slender in the minds of consumers – and choice often defaults to price.

Favoring scale, many businesses put more options on the table to seek competitive leverage with price, assortment and terms. Yet time and time again we see even larger businesses running up against static market share outcomes. Incremental growth is often hogtied to overall category health.

You know in your heart you have a great product. You may honestly believe its better than the other options. You tout your process or your ingredients or your attention to detail. And so does everyone else with a modicum of storytelling capability.

You say, “but we KNOW we’re higher quality.” And thus the die is cast: does the buyer or consumer really believe you’re 20 percent more truthful than the nearest competitor — or are we back to price?

Is your Brand Magic enough?

Branding commodities today is the price of admission. But even there it becomes a zero sum game as brands in the competitive set tout similar claims and benefits in similar ways with similar packaging. Sameness is the corrosive condition that often saps major share gains.

Hope as they say is not a strategy. Commodity conditions often lead to growth forecasts linked to category health (good or bad). Alongside runs a fair amount of pressure for innovation because incremental growth in core categories is harder to achieve otherwise. Distinctions are thin. Processes and ingredients resemble one another between brands. Product forms look the same. Are packaged in comparable formats. Tastes are often familiar between options.

What’s the operating challenge that sits at the center of commodity marketing? Working overtime to upend sameness.

What’s the solution? Differentiation beyond brand.

Pushing the envelope of differentiation may require sacrifices and pruning to move away from trying to be all things to all people. Uniqueness is a superior strategy in a sea of sameness.

How to achieve? There are a number of pathways to advantage and so the solution may include a mix of strategic moves. First step requires redefining who the consumer is, narrowing your focus and then fully aligning with their culinary and lifestyle interests.

From there, a healthy dose of courage is needed to rethink the customer category toolbox – disrupting accepted go-to-market rules of brand and business behavior. Zig when everyone else zags.

What to look at:

  • Flavors
  • Packaging
  • Format
  • Occasions and usage
  • Channel
  • Marketing communications tools
  • Quality markers

When you’re ready to zig against the pack, you’re in a better position to leapfrog competitors and snag incremental market share gains in your commodity category. To the victor go the spoils.


Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for  higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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