Branding the everyday basics – the new opportunity?

No one better understands the motivation of the vigilant value-driven consumer than the Private Brand owner and retailer. When it comes to daily food staples, the evolving line extensions – Family Dollar alone is reported to have added more than 40 new Private Brand products in the past year  – and additions to brand portfolios – the launch of Simply M&S earlier in the year – bear testament to this. But with a consumer studying the value of every item they now buy, could the Private Brand be doing even more when it comes to the development and branding of a hundred and one everyday and non-food staples?

With such a glowing track record in the innovation and design of our everyday food (and also beauty) choices, the Private Brand leaders and retailers seem the obvious choice to seize – and make a success of – what is something of an untapped opportunity for hundreds of products we use and restock on a daily basis but which remain the untouchables when it comes to dedicated design and innovation. And the opportunity is endless when you start to compile a list that includes everything from batteries to sanitary products, from kitty litter to pregnancy tests…

There have, of course, been many articles and also books written about user-centered design and the often overlooked – but genius – design of everyday things. Many more discussions focus on the myriad use of, for example, a ‘Q Tip’. But their stretch could be further maximized with a focus on branding and packaging design. Let’s face it, the majority of these products are unsexy and unshowy and, yet, we probably have more interaction with them on a daily basis than we do with our partners or family. So, why shouldn’t we make them a pleasure to use and show off by combining purpose with beauty?

The potential is there for all to see – hair straighteners are now GHD’s, we talk about the Dyson and many believe that a food mixer is actually a Kitchen Aid… Not the most sexy items but have become so with strategic brand design and naming innovation.

We are not saying that this is a brand new opportunity but it is an opportunity that could – and should – be revisited. Design advances to date have all been a bit piecemeal. With the consumer focus on lifestyle, we have seen new (but sporadic) incarnations in the home sector for everything from paint to light bulbs. Retailers such as Duane Reade were rightly praised for the design of their barcode, Manhattan skyline design, gracing everything from toilet rolls to bottled water and giving a taster for just what is possible when making the everyday special. But there’s so much scope for more.

We only have to look at the meat sector to see just what is possible – and how the look of one market has radically and irrevocably changed in a very short space of time.

From a daily staple and commodity, the meat sector has become increasingly specialized and sophisticated as well as increasingly competitive as brands look for new ways to innovate and present their offers. Traditionally, meat has been marketed by type of animal and cut whilst packaging has relied on a standard and labeled Styrofoam casing. But now we are seeing truly new and bold designs in what has always been not just an under-designed but a design deficient sector.

DeMaria is just one notable example. Instead of transparent plastic pouches and punchy branded bags, the Spanish company strove to enhance the image of its edible goods with a clean, contemporary and refined frame.

The die-cut window has been shaped to subtly reference the cut of Iberian ham, but also the base of the acorn that forms the foodstuff of the livestock. The cap of the oak fruit is a print of the decorative dome of the Salamanca Cathedral, local to the production of the contents of DeMaria Meat packaging.

To see the meat industry take such a stand with its brand design – and turn brands into more than just products with a celebration of the image and visual aesthetic – anticipates huge shifts in just how we can interpret and design a previously perceived basic and untouchable staple.

We need to take a wider view and look at why and how we brand for life’s necessities rather than desirables. Why should aspirational products be the only ones that are well branded when actually these untouchable items say far more about our chosen lifestyle than any other – and the diversity and cross-section of categories that this can touch and influence is seemingly boundless.

Today’s audience is not just value-driven but highly discerning and we need to find new and even better ways to play to this. And for our Private Brands and retailers when it comes to cost effective opportunities to put the brand in the hand, they need to realize that the new opportunity could probably lie in consolidating what they already have.

Tess Wicksteed is Head of Strategy at Pearlfisher –
Tess’s great talent is the instant ability to see the wood for the trees. As the creative force behind Pearlfisher’s strategic offer, she trades in originality, clarity and logic, getting to the point fast and delivering strategy that’s both creative and cohesive. A longstanding Pearlfisher person, Tess was Strategy Director in London for ten years before relocating with her family for a brand new challenge in New York.

As a literature student at York, Sussex and Cambridge Universities, Tess was keen to become first a clown, then a teacher. However, it was her belief that good culture matters that finally led to a career in design and an ongoing commitment to creating powerful brands that contribute positively to the world. Short and sharp in all things, Tess balances refreshing bluntness with disarming humanity. Her presence on a project promises fireworks – and guarantees results.

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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.