Manage the Category Not the Brand

From minivans to home rentals, it pays to focus on the advantages the subcategory provides.

Two brand stories caught my eye today, HomeAway and Nissan’s Quest.

I argue in Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant that the path to winning is to create new categories or subcategories rather than engaging in brand preference competition in established categories.

HomeAway is on the Super Bowl with an ad asking “Why hotel when you can HomeAway?” The ad shows some of the struggles to get comfortable in the cramped quarters of a hotel and showcases the space and freedom of a vacation rental. Whether the execution of the ad is effective is another issue, but the idea of creating a new category, defining its dimensions and becoming its exemplar is exactly where potential growth is at. HomeAway is a classic case study. It will be interesting to see what happens. Established brands can also focus on category management even with existing categories.

“Creating a new category, defining its dimensions and becoming its exemplar is exactly where potential growth is at.”

Nisson Quest has been also run in the minivan category pioneered by Chrysler in 1982 and joined by Toyota and Honda in 1998. As the minivan category got tired in the last ten years, brands have tried to move the category a bit away from soccer moms and toward more style and fun. In an extreme example, Ford introduced its Galaxy in the late 1990s in the UK as a vehicle that allowed business people to “Travel First Class.” Ford was trying to create a minivan subcategory very removed from soccer moms.

Nissan Quest is going the other way. It is attempting to return the category to its soccer mom routes with a 2011 model that is a bit more traditional. Its ads emphasize the functional benefits of family-friendly storage, accessibility and features. This approach can potentially make the Nissan Quest more relevant to the core minivan market, namely soccer moms.

Further, for some, it can go beyond relevant to authentic. If the subcategory is redefined to be classic soccer mom rather than something different, Nissan might enjoy some degree of authenticity. It is the real minivan.


Authenticity is gold standard for relevance. Some brands need to engage in brand preference competition to retain their relevance and market position. However, I think it is always worthwhile to look at the positioning from a category or subcategory perspective rather than only a brand point of view. It can change strategy and make communication more effective.