Private Brand: Hierarchies & Architectures

This is the second in a three part series of guest posts from Rob Wallace the Managing Partner, Strategy at Wallace Church, a Manhattan and San Francisco based brand strategy and design firm working with both private and national brands such as Target, P&G, Whole Foods, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Bacardi, Dell and over 40 other clients in every product category. Rob speaks on brand identity issues at Columbia Business School and conferences throughout North and Latin America, Europe and Asia.  He is a published co-author of “Really Good Packaging Explained” and well over 25 articles. The final post in the series will appear the next Tuesday.

Private Brand: What’s the Same, What’s Different, What’s Next?
Growing Brand Hierarchies/ Complex Brand Identity Architectures

Rob Wallace

The cost of creating a successful new brand is daunting. And the chance of new CPG brands surviving beyond one year has dropped in some categories to less than 11 percent. This has given rise to an ever-increasing proliferation of both private and national “mega brands”, or large multiple SKU brands that cover an ever widening array of targets, product offerings and consumer experiences.

What’s Different:  Monolithic Store Brand vs. Multiple Private Brands
The traditional “store brand” architecture, which simply adds a retailer logo to an adaptation of the national brand leader’s identity, is changing. “The days of Store Brands being the generic equivalent is over”, states Gaemer Gutierrez, CVS Design Director. “ Retailers have adopted the strategies that national brands have been doing for years. It is now about brand building but in less time, lower cost, and better quality. This pushes national brands to stay ahead and be more innovative. This ultimately raises the standards of the entire industry.”

The monolithic store brand is now giving way to a series of private retail brands. Because they control the product mix, retailers can simply create a brand by using outside manufactures to produce products to their specifications. This strategy has resulted in some retailers having too many individual private brands. Because they could not all be properly promoted or seeded into the culture, these multiple small private brands have not proven to be the most successful retail branding strategy.

What’s the Same: Brand Justification
Now knowing that fewer brands with stronger relevance is a much more successful strategy, both retailers and CPG’s alike are reducing the number of brands, while still growing their product offerings. Welcome to the age of the “mega brand”.  Target’s Archer Farms, for example, has more than 225 products in three different tiers representing virtually every food category. Crest has grown from its six original toothpaste flavors to more than 80 brand offerings, in value-based to super premium price tiers, covering virtually every oral care need. 

What’s Next: Strategic Brand Identity Architectures
Private and national brands are now often segmented into value-based, value-added, premium, organic, wellness-positioned, consumer segment targeted, and any number of brand proliferations, leading to the question, “how big is too big”?   Melissa Smith Hazen, Director of Strategic Design, Ahold USA states, “A brand can continue to grow as long as it stays relevant to the consumer and true to itself.”  Offer one additional new product beyond what consumers believe the brand can contain and it will betray the integrity of all the products that preceded it. Welcome the age of the complex brand identity architecture.

Effective mega brands are like well run organizations or strong families.  Each member or each product represents its specific benefit, and yet meaningfully contributes to an intuitive and indelible connection that unites them all. The most effective brand identity architectures articulate a balance between individual product benefits and overall brand consistency.  Finding this balance and designing it into the identity architecture is branding’s newest challenge.

The most balanced brand identity architectures are often visually unified by a consistent brand color. Since color is the first and most visceral visual cue, owning a color can be a brand’s most valuable asset.  Owning a shape is equally important. Effective brand architectures dedicate a consistent “staging area” for every package element. Even if the actual elements change with each brand offering, they should always be in the same place on the package.  This creates a consistency of layout or a “shape mnemonic” that further unifies the brand. The most complex brand architectures are also often the most simple.  Reducing the number of brand messages is key.  Perception Research Services reports that consumers can only process three to four elements, and that includes your logo.  Communicating your brand message simply and visually, rather than verbally, is key.

Learn more about Best Practices of Complex Brand Architectures.

What’s Your POV?
You are invited to participate in this on-going dialog by adding your comments.  Only with shared insights will processes advance. Your insights are critical to its success, so please contribute.

Rob can be reached at

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.