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Empathy in Category Leadership

How Do You Build a Category Strategy Destined for Greatness?

How do you make tough category choices that stand up to scrutiny and steep competition? How do you build influence and inspire action?

Leading category strategists know that empathy is the foundation of all effective marketing strategies. Empathetic marketing starts by stepping into your shopper’s shoes to gain a true understanding of their experience, their motivations, their decisions and their actions.

What exactly does the customer experience entail? Recently, behavioral scientists have argued for a broadened view of the customer experience, suggesting that it is “comprised of the cognitive, emotional, physical, sensorial, spiritual and social elements that mark a customer’s direct or indirect interactions.” (De Keyser). The shopper’s experience is comprised of millions of micro-moments, and their exposure to every major and minor stimulus has the opportunity to generate impact and elicit a behavioral response.

Here are 5 questions category leaders can ask to integrate empathy into their decision making process:

  • What were the various stimulus the shopper was exposed to along their journey? What stimulus (displays, promotions, experiences) did they look right through? What stimulus elicited a response and engaged the shopper?

  • What path did the shopper walk to get to the aisle? Where did they come from, and where did they go next?

  • How did the shopper navigate the aisle? Did they beeline directly for my brand/product? Did they journey halfway up the aisle searching for something, only to stop, turn around, and backtrack when they did not find what they were looking for where they expected to find it?

  • What areas of the shelf are ‘hot spots’ that get the most visual glances and considerations?

  • How did the shopper make their decision at the shelf? Did they pick up multiple items, turn them over and read the ingredients? Did they pause and deliberate? Did they exhibit price sensitivity?

With these answers in hand, category strategists can make informed decisions about shelf flow, product placement, assortment and pricing strategy, promotional planning, adjacencies, and more. As we seek to design the store of the future, knowing your shopper is key to building in service of your shopper.

Where do you start? Start by throwing out the one-dimensional planogram or playbook and start looking to the real-world for cues. As any seasoned category manager can tell you, the shelf sure does look different in the store than it does on the computer screen. It’s not enough to get closer to conceptualizing the actual store. You also must discover the drivers and behaviors of the actual shopper. Observing the ‘aisle in action’ can be eye-opening for many category managers and brand marketers, as they see how shoppers actually search, consider, and decide in an organic setting.

Shopper empathy is great, in theory, but often difficult to apply at any meaningful scale. After all, how many shoppers’ shoes can a single category strategist put on? That’s where the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning come in. VideoMining’s AI-powered behavior sensors and analytics platform can capture and decode billions of micro-moments along the shopper’s experience to collect meaningful patterns and trends.

These insights allow category strategists to build a mental map of the decision making process and inform on strategies to motivate certain shopper behaviors. The result? A future shopping experience that is designed for the shopper, with their most instinctual and minute behaviors as driving factors of fact-based strategies.

Transform your category strategy through authentic shopper behavior science; give us a shout at