White, Black or Shades of Grey | Brand Play and Category Choice for Consumers

Aditya Rao, a seasoned market researcher talks about brand play and category choice of consumers. And how it is segmented in FMCG.

Consumers these days want it simple. They like to look at issues with two clear distinctions either black or white. Wherein black represents “the bad”, so as it is claimed and white “the good”. However, when there are shades of grey as in a mix of both, that’s when the confusion starts. Hence you would need to educate the consumers a lot more in areas of grey and wait for the consumers to respond. 

Let me explain this using a few examples, consider the categories of Hair oils, hair creams, and hair gels. Hair oil (white) is one of the biggest categories in the FMCG space, having almost 90% category penetration. Followed by hair gel (black) on the other extreme with around 3% penetration. Both White and Black continue to grow or are stable. but the grey category does not seem to. Yes, Hair creams (grey) which lies in between these two has hardly a 0.1% penetration.

  While one can attribute the same probably to confusion in the minds of the consumer, who is unsure as to what to expect out of grey categories like these. To call it something extreme, or in other words, an extreme reference could be uncertainty in the minds of the consumer. Thus, it becomes the brands’ responsibility to educate the consumer about the pros and the cons of the product or category in question, albeit through the advertising medium or some other medium as deemed fit for the category in question. Also, the other point to note here is that this education may need to be sustained for a substantial period. 

Now, this is at the mass level, let’s look and examine the same at the premium end of the spectrum. Can we say that this is a story that holds? Especially, when we look at mainstream brands who do not play in the premium end of the category?

 While brands like L’Oreal, TiGi, etc in the grey categories made inroads through the salon route, it is still through the route of advocacy. And this is at the premium end of the spectrum. Perhaps these set of consumers are easier to convince, may be more open to experiment and decide. They believe they are seeking the advice of experts while using such products. 

Whatever is the case, it is a different challenge to convince customers.  There may be a few categories that don’t fall in the shades of grey theory, or are there? I think it’s worth a thought. Let me know what you think. Happy to get a few comments. Also, read something on Market Research.

-Aditya Rao

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