5 Questions with the Vertex Judges – Paula Bunny

Leading up to the judging of the fifth annual Vertex Awards International Private Brand Design Competition I sat down with each of the judges and asked them five questions about Private Brands, package design and differentiation – their answers present a unique global perspective and depth of knowledge of the retail brand space.
Standard entries close January 15th

Today’s conversation is with Paula Bunny, Creative Director, Brother Design, based in New Zealand New Zealand

Over the last year Amazon, Whole Foods, Lidl and Jet have made aggressive moves into private brand, what impact are you seeing them have on your private brand clients and their brands?

As a New Zealand-based business, none of these brands feature in our market. However, there’s been a lot of noise about Amazon opening across the ditch (in Australia) and the effect it may have on our retailers–online and off. After a few delays, it has finally opened its (virtual) doors, and the overwhelming reaction has been disappointment: pricing was pretty much on par or above what Australian consumers are used to, and private label isn’t a big part of the Amazon Australia experience (yet).

There are plenty of rumors about Lidl joining their compatriot competitors Aldi in Australia, and fellow Schwarz group retailer Kaufland is opening, but nothing is definite. Meanwhile, Aldi continues to grow at 10% a year and their private label products feature strongly in Nielsen Australia’s Product of the Year Awards. But on this side of the Tasman, it’s still a two-horse race in supermarket retailing: Australia’s Progressive group and New Zealand’s own Foodstuffs.

What role should strategy play in solving retail problems?
Strategy is essential to solving problems in any aspect of business, including retail. Strategy is your compass, your Bible and the consultant at your shoulder. It provides you with a constant touchstone for decision-making. If it’s not on strategy, it’s not on.

But however beautiful the strategy, one should occasionally look at the results. I’d add that a beautiful strategy is never enough. The execution must be beautiful too. So beautiful that consumers simply cannot resist buying, and telling their friends. And a large part of that is the job of design.

What is the most common mistake retailers make with their brands?

In my experience, it’s underinvestment. Too many retailers view private label as a cash cow, trying to extract margin at the expense of appeal. It has led to dull, unattractive quasi-brands that sell only on price to the bottom of the market. It’s a recipe for stagnation at best, more likely long-term decline and failure.

What advice do you have for retailers trying to take their brands to the next level?

Do the opposite of the most common mistake: invest. And not just money, invest imagination. Private brands have all the same opportunities and scope as any brand, so use them. Investing thought and creativity into private brands will reap rich rewards.

What will private brands look like 10 years from now?

As retailers and marketers learn from the ongoing success of private brands, they’ll be better able to replicate winning formulas and avoid mistakes. So I expect more and better private brands. And of course they’ll be increasingly sold online.

Where I think there will be significant change is in the ways private brands use technology and digital networks as part of the brand experience. We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of private brands using social media, digital connections, tailoring the customer experience and loyalty. There’s a long way to go, but the potential is immense.


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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.