5 Questions with the Vertex Judges: Nick Vaus

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
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Today’s conversation is with Nick Vaus, Partner & Creative Director, DewGibbons + Partners, United Kingdom

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?

Let’s face it, when Amazon makes any kind of aggressive move, it affects everyone. My agency works with both private brand retailers in the UK/Europe and global branded clients, and the impact of increasing penetration into private brand by the likes of Amazon, Whole Foods, and Lidl has made all our clients sharper, more focused, and on their toes.

There’s definitely a move towards better understanding consumers and delivering innovation, whether that’s through new products or through the marketing and design of the products. But the truth is that the innovation side of things is less apparent with private brands. Retailers operate on such narrow margins, so can they really afford to invest in private brand innovation to truly become leaders of the pack? Perhaps they’re destined to remain focused as price-conscious, mostly copycat alternatives to branded products.

What role should strategy play in solving retail problems?

Strategy should be king for retailers when it comes to their private brands, but many still seem to struggle with that – it feels like it’s mostly tactically-led. Surely it’s better to have a long-term strategic approach to your business, understand the categories you want to operate in and your competition (whether branded or own label), and identify consumer needs, insights, purchase habits, and trends? This enables you to provide a relevant and differentiated brand offer. Without that, it’s pretty tough to have a clear idea of how to move your brand forward.

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

Retailers need to leverage their bricks and mortar environments to offer consumers an experience that they can’t get when ordering products online. They have the physical spaces and the ability to provide actual human contact, but they’re just not thinking about how to use that to their advantage. What are currently giant warehouses of products need to become experiential showrooms. Think cooking classes using private brand products…

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

Learn from branded products and think creatively about how to market their brands beyond the point of purchase. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. For example, Marks & Spencer recently relaunched Formula, its private label signature skincare range, with a new formulation, brand positioning and packaging design. It supported this relaunch by asking key beauty bloggers/influencers to review the products, and those positive reviews led to products flying off the shelves.

What will private brands look like 10 years from now? 

For those private brands that position themselves mostly around (lower) price, perhaps we will see a movement towards completely stripping out graphic and structural packaging to drive down costs even further. Why need a label? Why need the bulky structure? Not only will this reduce costs, but it’s more sustainable, more responsible, and more conscious.

Then there are the private brands that might decide to leverage all those insights collected by the retailer to really drive innovation. We might even begin to see a total reversal of the current state of play, where branded products imitate private label by creating their own cost-conscious product ranges. Some are already doing this, like Deciem’s The Ordinary range of skincare treatments whose positioning is “to raise pricing and communication integrity in skincare.”

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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.