Selling The Category And Not The Brand

Selling the category rather than selling your brand is brand-business mismanagement. Selling the category means the brand-business leadership does not know what is relevant and differentiated about its brand. Selling the category when your brand does not know what is its relevant differentiation plays into competitors’ hands.

From 1981 to 1983, Campbell Soup’s advertising campaign was, “Soup is good food.” Consumers agreed. But, soup buyers did not purchase Campbell’s. Consumers purchased competitive brand Progresso Soup. Campbell’s campaign reminded consumers about the benefits of eating soup.  The campaign did not provide the benefits of eating Campbell Soup.

Once, Kellogg’s ran a campaign about the benefits of breakfast. Again, consumers agreed. Kellogg’s reminded consumers of the benefits of breakfast. Consumers did not choose Kellogg’s products, however. Consumers went to Starbucks and McDonald’s. Kellogg’s did not remind consumers of the benefits of eating Kellogg’s cereals. Letting people know that breakfast is an important meal is great for overall healthfulness. But, that does not mean we will all reach for a box of Frosted Flakes or Froot Loops or Kellogg’s Brand Buds.

The latest Kellogg’s data show that Kellogg’s cereal business is struggling again. So much so, that Kellogg’s has just spun off the cereal business. Now, management can focus on the more profitable and exciting snack foods like Cheez-its and other fun every day foods, like Pop Tarts. W. R. Kellogg must be turning over in his grave.

Selling the category means selling the category benefits. Selling the category means not selling the benefits of your brand in that category. Category benefits are the “green fees” for a brand. Category benefits allow a brand to compete. But, category benefits do not communicate a brand’s relevant differentiators. You may persuade consumers with your views on the category. But, consumers are not necessarily persuaded to use your brand, even when flooded by advertisements.

Which brings us to Peloton. 

For some reason, Peloton appears to avoid communicating its benefits to customers. This avoidance has been ongoing. In the past, the communications were all about price. But, now, it is different. The new campaign features instructors. There has been a lot of hype around this new Peloton campaign that includes Peloton instructors. Yes, the instructors are compelling individuals. But, having an instructor telling customers that they should get off of their butts, listen to their inner voice and move may not sell Peloton memberships or hardware. In fact, Bowflex, another indoor fitness training offering, communicates the exact same message as Peloton in its current TV advertising. Bowflex states: the best you is inside, listen to that inner voice and move.

Selling the basics of the in-home exercise category may sell the category. But, as with Campbell’s and Kellogg’s, selling the category does not mean selling your brand in that category.  Why should I select Peloton over Bowflex? Is it because the instructor tells you that you can do this?

Peloton’s selling of indoor exercise is a good thing. Selling movement is a good thing. But, what makes Peloton movement different?

A noted biochemist who focused on living well once said, “If you eat it and you do not move it, you sit on it.” NPR commented on a study indicates that for those sitting at a desk, 5 minutes of movement every 30 minutes reduces your blood sugar, your pressure and makes you feel better. NPR is partnering with Columbia University on another movement study. Movement is good.

But, is movement the reason to buy into Peloton? Athletic shoes can offer movement as a benefit, too. So can free weights or NordicTrack. What are the benefits of movement? It is mystifying that Peloton does not appear to want us to know why we should move with Peloton rather than from the array of competitive offerings of in-home fitness. There are many functional, emotional and social benefits worth telling.

Dollar General (not Dollar Store), the retailer focused on serving the financially and geographically underserved, promotes its brand using benefits. In a recent interview with Deloitte, the global services group, Dollar General CMO said, “Our overall goal remains the same: to position the brand as the most convenient option to stretch customers’ dollars.” 

Dollar General communicates how Dollar General fits into the retail landscape. Dollar General communicates that it is a small-box discount retailer. Dollar General “… drives purchase consideration by telling the story of the categories we carry, the national brands on our shelves and the low prices we offer.” Additionally, Dollar General saves its customers money and time because those customers do not have to travel to the grocery or big-box store that can be 20, 30 or even 45 minutes away.” Dollar General can be the store for fill-in trips and for fuller fill-in trips due its array of choices.

For most of its stores, Dollar General operates in communities of 20,000 or less inhabitants. Sometimes Dollar General is the only store in town. Dollar General knows that connecting to its core mission is essential. 

Peloton’s communications have not connected with Peloton’s core mission. A brand must be in sync with its desired spirit. Mission statements express the brand’s intent, its purpose. Peloton’s prospectus offered the following: “Peloton uses technology and design to connect the world through fitness, empowering people to be the best version of themselves anywhere, anytime.” Clearly the instructors are aligned. You understand this if you actually take classes. But, for a prospective customer, the brand’s purposeful message is unstated. There are probably a lot of people who would appreciate the opportunity to participate in Peloton’s world view. 

Describing Peloton’s business model, a Harvard Business Review article concluded that even though participants are in different locations, participants exercise “…with a virtual community of peers and instructors” and “… the brand’s meaning extends beyond what they would experience with the bike alone.” 

This is true. But in order to increase owners/subscribers, Peloton must share its meaning with prime prospects. Peloton’s meaning has to be meaningful to both users and like-minded others. Right now, Peloton’s uplifting, positive, you-can-do-it message is not communicated to the uninitiated. It is a best-kept secret.