Mark Ritson wrote an article for MarketingWeek titled To win the biggest legal battle in marketing, Google must show who its competition really is. In dissecting the timely issue of the Google antitrust suit, Ritson explains a more timeless topic: “the categorical problem with categories.”

«  You must first acknowledge that categories do not actually exist. Sure, they exist in marketing plans and PowerPoint decks, but they are a confection… used to maintain a semblance of logical, simplistic structure »

A hungry customer walks into a supermarket looking for a snack: « Soup competes with noodles and with chocolate and with crisps. »

Who is the competition?

« Like any marketing question the answer can only be found by asking consumers.  »

« Don’t ask executives for a list of competitors, they will inevitably come up with a myopic set of rivals…  Capitalism is not a game in which the players get to [choose] who can, and cannot, play. »

« Even the word ‘competitors’ is wrong when you fully grasp the implications of market orientation. These are ‘alternatives’.  »

Consideration set data

« The only way to work out the true competitive set is to ask consumers which options they are considering or, even better, which ones they did consider prior to making their purchase…  And don’t over-specify the cue question either. Your question is not: Which European luxury brands would you consider for your next handbag? It is: When thinking about a new bag, which brands do you consider? »

« When you ask that important question the right way the over-simplicity of categorical thinking becomes readily apparent. Cognac competes with Vodka. Scooters with London Underground passes. Life insurance with gym membership. Streaming services with an early night.  »


« if you have a proper segmentation of the market… it is very likely that this long list gets a lot shorter very quickly. Most people know that within a market segment the needs, behaviour and sometimes identity of these customers differs from the rest of the market. But [fewer] marketers know that if you look at the consideration set data and then slice it by segment you usually discover that the competitive set differs too. »

« The case for segmentation is partly based on how much more powerful your subsequent positioning is when you can zoom in on a segment’s specific needs. But it [is] also founded on the value of being able to position much more tightly against a much shorter list of potential suppliers for those specific needs. »

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