5 Questions with the Vertex Judges: Don Childs

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 Don Childs, SVP, Executive Creative Director, BrandImageOhio, USA.

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?

I see a few ways our private brand clients are looking for ways to compete with the national brands and new online retailers. They’re evaluating and refining their strategies and striving to innovate on their strategic vectors rather than emulate others’. They’re also spending more time seeking shopper and customer insights and putting innovations in place that fulfill their unmet needs. Lastly, I see them investing in design as a strategic way to gain the competitive advantage like never before.

What role should strategy play in solving retail problems?

The historical challenge of private brands is that they tend to react and respond, often following a national brand’s lead. Strategy is the tool that allows private brands to take control of their own destiny and set a path toward the future that supports their overarching strategic goals. Strategy is the roadmap that allows a retailer to set their own course rather than run about following others. Strategy is key to building strong private brands that can compete with and at times dominate national brands. It should support organizational agility allowing timely decisions versus hasty ones. In short, it feels like a cultural shift toward a proactive climate of “what’s next!” rather than “what do we do now?”.

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

Setting a strategy and sticking to it seems very difficult for a lot of retailers – they suffer from reactionary brand proliferation. There’s a tendency to try to be everything to everyone, to chase trends, to mimic the market instead of focusing on building their own meaningful and motivating brand solutions. While the strength of the retailer is its ability to act quickly, in the effort to be relevant or communicate value, they are often being short-sighted, ending up with diluted and meaningless brands. Figure out who you are and why you exist – act more like marketers than merchandisers.

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

Design is the voice of your private brand and usually the only touchpoint in the marketing mix your customer is guaranteed to engage with. So it stands to reason that Design is not a cost to manage, it’s a strategic tool to invest in. Invest time in doing it right, invest in customer insights, brand architecture, brand strategy, developing a meaningful story and invest in the expression of your brand. Some CPGs are going the wrong way, away from the power of design and the value it plays in brand choice and loyalty.

What will private brands look like 10 years from now?

CPGs have not done a good job responding to the threat of private brands. Many are plodding behemoths who treat their “equities” as anchors rather than springboards. I’ve seen little indication this will change. They’re cutting-cost to try to find their way to growth and profitability. The trend that finds CPGs reacting to innovations coming from retailers is a signal of what’s ahead for private brands. Private brands will be the ones who define what it means to be a brand. Retailers will be the benchmark for consumer experience, agility and innovation.

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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.