This is not a new debate, however with the growing advancements in technology, consumer sophistication, brand proliferation and dynamic product life cycles, the importance of brand management and its relevance is in question. In many respects brand management and category management for most companies is considered one in the same, but in reality brand and category management are alternate systems with a degree of stress between them.
Brand managers typically handle or share multiple brands within a company portfolio, while category managers generally have responsibility over the marketing and sales aspects of all brands within a company portfolio.
Of course this will all depend on the type of company we are talking about, as larger companies will generally have strong marketing departments and brand development teams, while in smaller companies, these functions may be managed by one or two people.
When you add into the mix the retailers increasing emphasis on category management and category-based measures of performance, it is clear that the greatest stress is on brands and the relevance of brands in relation to the overall performance of the category. Herein lies the greatest internal challenge for most companies when faced with the realisation that the demonstration of responsible category management may lead to recommendations that operate in conflict with their very own brand portfolios.
The importance of category management for retailers may create the impression to FMCG manufacturers that they need to move away from brand management, however retailers are also of the opinion that brand management is critical to the ongoing development of brands, as it facilitates brand innovation that supports their own category management development strategies.
Retailers do, however, expect manufacturers to be able to address category issues without loosing focus on the brands that drive retailer categories to meet the growing expectation of consumers, for greater choice in-store.
Neither brand management or category management are more important than the other, and both need to co-exist in most companies, as the brand managers seeks to grow categories through brand development and innovation, while category managers seek to drive sales and share of voice on shelf, which will only continue to be squeezed.
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Craig Matthews is the MD of Stock Box, with over 30 years industry experience in retail development, specialising in independent retail programs.