Moving Beyond Category Management

by Mary Ellen Kuhn
Searching through a stack of “been-meaning-to-read” materials in my office in pursuit of a topic for this month’s Upfront column, I encountered an unfamiliar acronym — CMAR. It stands for consumer marketing at retail, and it appeared on the cover of the “2004 Category Management Benchmarking Study” from those smart and savvy marketing and management consultants at Cannondale Associates.
Cannondale has sponsored an annual category management survey with both retailer and manufacturer participants for a decade, and the gurus there report that category management is evolving into CMAR. As the report explains it, CMAR is broader in scope than category management and also is more results-oriented. It involves the manufacturer supplying the retailer with the kinds of consumer insights that allow the retailer to deliver better solutions to customer needs and better differentiate itself from the competition.
As Cannondale partner Don Stuart explains it, “CMAR is about trying to put the consumer into the process.” Applying this approach to retail execution allows a retailer to get beyond the “conventional wisdom” approach in areas including assortment, store layout, fixtures, signage and promotions.
As Stuart points out, a retailer taking a conventional category management approach to the candy category might opt to stock only those best-selling chocolate and non-chocolate SKUs that account for the majority of sales in a given market area. Such an approach, however, may leave no room for the kinds of less-than-mainstream items that can do so much to help a retailer stand out from the crowd.
Cannondale uses a variety of research techniques to get a better understanding of what consumers want. In-store intercept interviews, for example, are a good technique for zeroing in on consumer behavior at point-of-sale. Another good strategy, Stuart notes, involves marrying the results of consumer attitudinal research with frequent shopper data. That way it’s possible to compare what consumers are saying about a product or category with what they actually are doing, i.e. the purchases they are making.
To achieve superior performance, both retailers and manufacturers must differentiate themselves from the competition. Cannondale summarizes its recommendations in the following four steps:

1. Benchmarking – This requires understanding what is important to one’s customers as well as learning competitors’ leverage points.
2. Customization – This entails conducting customer- and shopper-specific research and building programs for trading partners based on mutual needs.
3. Technology – Recommendations in this area include tapping into consumer shopper card data as well as using tools and automation to help customize decisions in areas such as pricing and assortment.
4. Broadened Perspective – Cannondale puts it simply:“Look beyond the category and beyond the channel to aisle, occasion and solution management.”
It’s good advice, definitely worth some consideration. For more information, check out the Cannondale website at