Cereal shoppers

The next time you need to convince someone (your marketing director, for example) of the importance of segmentation, consider pointing out the ready-built case study that is the cereal aisle of your local supermarket.  It is a tour de force in category segmentation – these guys are pros…

Credit for this observation goes to Youngme Moon, of which there is an artful exposition in her cracking book, Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.

Here’s a delightful panorama of my local cereal aisle.  Click the image to see both sides of it.

A cereal aisle

Notice how different both sides of the aisle appear at a glance.  Boom – straight away you either turn left or right, depending on whether you care about diabetes or not.

Once you’re in the right ball park it’s the work of seconds to further eliminate large chunks of the offering.  In my case, being the sort that does need to make an effort to keep his waistline in check, I naturally turn right.  even on the virtuous side of the aisle there are sugery wolves in multi-grain sheep’s clothing, and the riot of colour that is the packaging is your subconscious guide here. A quick shimmy to the left, and I’m in dietary fibre country – mmm, mmmmmm.

Similar journeys – depending on taste, health goals, budget and susceptibility to cartoon characters – are similarly efficient in homing in on your next breakfast treat.

Consider the role of the cereal producers here, as well as the role of the supermarket.  The cereal producers wear their proposition on their sleeve.  By subtle and not-so-subtle packaging considerations they variously yell,

  • “I’m full of chocolate-y goodness, you wouldn’t deprive your kids of me would you?”
  • “My box is less wide, but has more depth – that means I’m healthy, and not like all these other mass-produced cereals you see.”
  • “I have a classy font for my logo and minimalist packaging, which must mean I’m healthy (just don’t check my nutritional information).”
  • “I contain vitamin d, which means you don’t need to feel guilty about letting your kids sit on their arses playing video games.  I may or may not contain some other stuff.”
  • “Something to do with your heart!”

By doing this they target a segment.  It’s a competitive landscape, and they know that picking their audience is the only way to make a dent.

The supermarket does the right thing and groups these segments together on the shelves.  This gets the customer onto the right battlefield as quickly as possible, where the fun really begins. It’s here that the manufacturers need to compete with one another for the customers’ affections.  This all begins with brand awareness which may tip the playing field in their favour (at a cost), but this thunder can be stolen with offers and promotions at the point of sale.  It might just be that a free spoon will make you whole again, and is enough to secure your pound.

Chances are that you either produce something (an insurance policy, a product, a service, etc…) or sell something.  Are you differentiating yourself properly?  Are you organising your shop front (digital or otherwise) to get the customer to the right products as efficiently as possible?

For bonus points, note how sugar is cross-sold just above the most puritanical of products.  This is no mistake.  This is for the segment of people that eat healthy cereal to feel good about themselves, but sabotage the entire exercise by covering it in sugar.  No, it’s not your metabolism…

It can be humbling and instructive to keep your eyes open and learn from the masters, even in something so mundane as breakfast cereal.