To win the holiday season, blow up your categories!

Michael Ellgass
EVP, Technology and Retail Media Platforms
Media Center of Excellence

If you have ever worked in retail, you know the power of category management.  And if you’ve ever planned a weekly circular, you know the work that goes into getting the perfect mix of hundreds of products into those pages. And let’s not get started on geographic versioning!

In one of my previous roles, I remember one year we almost had a fistfight over whether the bakery pumpkin pie or the new premium frozen pumpkin pie could grace the front cover of the circular!

But with good personalization tools, now you can present the right solution to the right customer in the medium that they prefer. That’s right, solution – not product. Because, the truth is, neither pie wins without a dollop of whipped cream from the refrigerated section and scoop of vanilla ice cream from the freezer. And, by the way, the best pie may be baked from scratch and require trips down many aisles. Because meals transcend categories.

After you get your category strategy right and all your merchandising principles in line, follow these three steps to ensure your activation strategy wins the season.

  1. Identify your customers. You need a strategy for the customer that bakes and the customer that will show up the day before the holiday looking for convenience and fast preparation. Your customer database should be able to help you identify both.  Behavior-based audiences can be built around shoppers that purchase different groups of items and also by looking at when they historically shop.  A good integrated customer data platform, such as IRI Liquid Data® and intuitive audience building tools like IRI Audience Builder can help you experiment and examine the intersection of different buying behaviors. 
  2. Identify the customer you are missing. Once you’ve looked at your best customers, get some help looking at the rest of market. Your most loyal customer still shops other places and may be missing some of the goodness you have to offer. If you’ve made big bets on solutions to win the holiday, use propensity scores to find additional shoppers. IRI ProScores are one industry-leading example of how you can find the folks that will value what you have for them even if they haven’t been a heavy purchaser from you in the past.
  3. Unify your measurement. A good marketing mix will tell you how much you should be investing in that circular and how much you should lean into digital. But once your marketing starts, you will need campaign-level management to optimize your buys. Addressable media like email, digital and social can be optimized during a campaign. You can use incremental purchases as the KPI to evaluate which creative is working best, the optimal frequency and even where to run your media.  IRI offers a tool called IRI Lift Measurement which uses the industry’s largest data set to bring that type of granularity to your results. For non-addressable media like circulars, radio and in-store signage, a test and control approach like IRI Matched Market Measurement can give you a return on ad spend so that you can optimize before the season passes.

Take these steps and it will be your customers who blow up your categories! (By that I mean shop heavily with you throughout the holiday season.)

If you have comments or questions about how you can incorporate segmentation, ProScores or unified measurement tools into your holiday marketing plans, please reach out to us at