The Rise of Category Geeks

I was recently approached by POPAI to sit on the panel to judge the “Retail Marketer of the Year” at their prestigious Marketing@Retail Awards. It has promoted me to reflect on the changes in FMCG in the last three years and something quite profound struck me, the geeks have taken over!

Has the FMCG squeeze lifted?

You must have noticed the change recently? Remember that skinny guy who looked like he'd never been outside and always sat quietly in meetings tapping away on his new uber odd device? Yeah, that guy who somehow now leads the future strategy meetings you have with Woolies? Well, seems he's now got a team of 10 and a direct line to the MD. How did that happen?

This shift has been happening for a while now and it might just be the best thing in your world. Who are you? You're a hard working National Business Manager, NAM or NSM. You're the one who has to front up to customers at an hours’ notice, deal with margin squeeze, "investment" demands and figure out how to manage the private label explosion. It's been a tough ride. But, over the last year it does seem to be a bit more collaborative, a wee bit less un-friendly, almost like you and your customer want the same things.

The category geek

I have a view on this shift, and it is all about the geek and the stealth like rise to the top. Category management has been around for a long time but the last 24 months have seen a huge change in the role it plays in shaping the FMCG and Australian retail world.

Six Degrees works with all range of large and small FMCGs and retailers and we love chewing the fat with thought leaders like Paul Bull and his Real World Marketing Team, Sue Temple (who lit the category fuse at WoW) and Lee McClymont of POPAI.

So what's actually happening? The smart sales directors and CEOs have moved headcount from brand, from finance (and even national accounts) into category and shopper. Why?

“It's category and shopper based plans that get you and your customer on the same page”.

Sure your brand is important. But only in the context of growing the category using consumer based insights to influence shopper behaviour as part of a plan with category drivers at its core. It's your one time geeks, who are using their super analytical smarts with commercial acumen to make your world work.

I'll leave you with a question. Who will be your next sales director? The heads of channel will be jostling for the position for sure, but take a look at the dark horse coming up on the outside - the head of category. “Surely not?” you say. Have you checked what a category or shopper marketing manager earns recently?