The following is a guest post from Perry Seelert the strategic partner of the New York City based strategic branding and design firm united*. Perry presents his insights and learnings from this past weeks groundbreaking Private Brand Movement Conference in Chicago.
The Private Brand Movement conference was insightful in a number of ways, but here is quick “take” on what it brought to light that felt different than other conferences and shows past. The overarching observation, though, is that the “new school” for Private Brands is starting to overtake the “old school”.
New School – Sees Private Brands strategically, where points of difference are truly developed, innovation plays an integral role, and are not just seen as a “value” play
Old School – Sees Private Brands through functional eyes and more as “products” vs. “brands”, where imitation and NBE rule the day, innovation is left to the leading brands, and private label is purely a margin/value play.
Another key takeaway was that in this Conference, you felt like the world of Private Brands transcended the Food-Drug-Mass channels, and this was exciting to see. There was a real diversity of attendees from Golf/Sport, Home Improvement, Dollar and Office channels, and while this interest was encouraging, it does beg the strategic question of what categories, destinations and “anchors” will you own in the consumers’ minds, as a channel and as a retailer. It cannot be just what’s available from the manufacturers; rather, the destinations you create in the future will guide the product development process.
Building A Voice:
A further separation at the Conference between the new and old schools is the emerging belief that a brand’s voice is developed by more than just the visual language and design. It used to be that Private Brands were just happy to address the aesthetics – colors, cues, typography and iconography, and they had to be mindful (and many were too mindful) of the leading national brands. Well, that dynamic is changing. When enlightened companies are developing a brand language, it is visual, verbal and structural, and these elements are all considered within the story of the brand. Many presenters at the Conference indicated this was starting to happen, not perfectly, but at least starting to. But even more important, the voice of many Private Brands is being transmitted beyond the package itself, within event marketing, through social media, interactively, through the store environment and across advertising. This is new for most. Taking advantage of this more expansive voice is the easy part, doing it creatively and with a unique idea in mind for your brands will be the challenge. Doing it with an emotional voice will further separate you from the pack.
It is clear from the Conference that the one area for growth is the idea of innovation, even though it was talked about a lot, because the degrees from “incremental” to “breakthrough” are subjective retailer-to-retailer. Personally, I don’t think the product innovation really has to be breakthrough in all cases, in fact, I think focused innovation is better. If retailers had 3-4 big product ideas where they forcefully and consistently told the consumer unique stories, this would have a huge halo effect on the store. Premeditated innovation, not innovation by happenstance, is what everyone should be concentrating on, and doing it in the 3-4 places that reinforce your points of difference and/or destinations will have a huge impact.
Next steps for the conference in 2011 will be to make it more global, even more cross-channel, and more granular in discussing how innovation can come to life cross-functionally. But 2010 was definitely a success, with a new school emerging around Private Brands that gives us all a lot of motivation to do more and hope for the future.
Perry Seelert is the strategic partner of united*, an award winning branding and design firm co-founded in 2006 with Lawrence Haggerty and Andy Johnson. united* has been embraced by many of the world’s most influential companies because of their unconventional approach to design. A&P Supermarkets, North America’s first chain grocery retailer and largest in metro New York, teamed up with united* to develop an array of revolutionary brands which have transformed the way shoppers are thinking about Private Brands. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.