The Self-Congratulatory Syndrome : Shows & Awards

This is the final guest post in a three-part weekly series from Perry Seelert the strategic partner of united* dsn, a design consultancy based in New York and San Francisco. In the series Perry asks some hard questions of everyone involved in the business of Private Brand. LEave a comment, let Perry know know what you think, certainly he will ruffle a few feathers.

The Self-Congratulatory Syndrome : Shows & Awards

The private label-focused shows and conferences report that they had greater attendance and a greater number of displays/booths than ever. It probably will validate approaching them in the same way next year.

But this is where research or “the numbers” go awry. This is another example of the self-congratulatory syndrome at play.

Through a critical eye, there is still so much potential in transforming the way the industry projects itself, and the push towards more credible marketing and branding. But the visual and environmental language of these shows fight against this if we are to be honest. The facilities often feel tired, the signage caught in the 80’s, and often the manufacturer displays and kiosks have been repurposed too many times. And all too often the agendas are the epitome of the “The Self-Congratulatory Syndrome” monotonous speakers presenting case studies with innovative “NEW” ideas like” “compare & save” or maybe a new “value tier”. None of this screams “innovation”.

The Awards within the industry also seem to have gotten a little crazy, with all the trade magazines and websites having their retailer of the year and annual package design winners. If these awards were more selective, they would feel more meaningful, but in many cases they are rewarding very mediocre design.

I think much of our silence about these shows and awards means too many people have come to accept the status quo, but we need to push for more.

True marketing
For a long time in the store brand industry, the word “merchandising” has meant “marketing”. Something you do in the store and something you do literally to illustrate the price disparity of store brands (can you say “compare and save”?). This is the merchandising old school, and it is not marketing.

The irony is that the marketing dollar requirements are less than they were twenty years ago, because the power of environmental, digital and social media have overtaken the power of traditional media. In other words, building a brand in today’s culture not only costs less, you can actually do it faster too.

What we say in these new forms of media, however, cannot be just price messaging and it cannot just be a stream of mundane facebook posts. We have to live up to the challenge of keeping our digital and social media current, compelling and creative. In the future, we will have to dedicate our marketing budgets and people assets differently to respond to this new media. And, to develop a true marketing approach we need to have a strategy that transcends “impulse” marketing tactics and is more invested in building brand “equity”.

This is the right environment and time to look at our industry and private brands’ future with a more critical eye, and to challenge the old way of doing things. We have to stop being so self-congratulatory, because we have gotten lulled into a false sense of security as the economy has lifted store brand performance. Too much praise, too little critique as of late, and hopefully a little more critique can spur new ideas, new branding and a new way of measuring our success.

Perry Seelert is strategic partner of united* dsn, a design consultancy based in New York and San Francisco. To contact Perry: or 917.267.2857

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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.