13 November 2020


Todd Schneider, Account Director, shares his views on getting customers to say “I do” to a retailer’s private brand offering

In my career, I’ve been privileged to work on a number of iconic global brands. I have always found the best way to look at brands is to compare them to relationships between people.

A brand’s mission is to build a relationship with a customer and help fill in the “missing piece” with qualities which best complement their needs.

I believe that some private brands may have a commitment problem, lacking the ability or the care to provide that missing piece – until the customer says, “let’s call it a day”, or some equivalent – and promptly heads for the door.


Commitment to the Customer

Think about your spouse or significant other and your first dates with them. You would be sure to look your best. You would spend plenty of time with them to understanding what they cherish and what they like to do. You worked hard to understand their values and belief systems – it was all about forming a strong bond.

We can compare this with the approach of strong CPG brands. They are hyper-focused on understanding their customer. Starry-eyed idealists, they understand that their customer is one-of-kind with unique needs, expectations and life circumstances… someone really special and should be indulged as such.

Contrast this with many retail brands. Some take the view that their brand’s customer is everyone who walks through their front door. They often fail to undertake in-depth research about their customer and rely on what they can glean from the national brands present in the same category.

Private brands don’t always have it easy, so this is in many ways an understandable approach. The retail business moves at a rapid pace and their private brand offerings are required to span across multiple categories – and that all makes getting to know your customer more challenging.

As a result, we have a private brand that wants to be everything to everyone. That doesn’t sound like someone you want to date, does it? I want someone focused on just me.


Commitment to a Brand Organizational Structure

Retailers are often merchant-led organizations. Merchants are rewarded by the performance of their entire category, not by the building of strong relationships between private brands and their customers.

You can compare this with CPG organizations, which are often brand-led. This is easy to see simply by looking at the job titles: Brand Managers, Brand Directors, Chief Brand Officers and so on.

I believe many retail organizations need a bit of relationship therapy. What they could really use is a brand therapist – someone they consult with to help them gain a deeper understanding of what their brand really is, how it behaves, and how it can help merchants achieve their objectives.

This person needs to have the credibility and authority to truly influence private brands and help merchants make choices that both honour their private brands, and build on broader business objectives.


Commitment to Being Who You Are

In relationships, we have all heard the saying, “Stay true to yourself”. Well, the same goes for brands.  This is all about having trust and confidence in your brand and sticking with it. Without a commitment to a customer and without a brand champion in the organization, I regularly see retail brands cave in and alter their brand’s look simply because of what their competitors are doing.

While it’s important to recognize shifts happening around a brand, remember that your customer wants a relationship they can count on, and someone that stays consistent and delivers on their promises. No one wants to date a social chameleon – they want authenticity and consistency, especially in a world with so much upheaval.


Final thoughts

Today, many private brands are simply showing up on shelf and not introducing themselves to their customers. While showing up is important, it has never been enough to build strong, meaningful and long-lasting relationships. Retail organizations need to take a step back and ask themselves if they really intend to build a brand – or it’s simply about managing private labels to house their product assortment.

Either can be effective based on your broader business objectives, but I always prefer to be in meaningful relationships. Brands take hard work, but in the end, they are there through all the ups and downs and stand the test of time. So ask yourself…

  • Are your private brands committed to a customer?
  • Is your organization committed to a structure that supports true brand building?
  • Once your private brands are established are you ready to stick by them and the customer they serve?

Your answers to these questions may point you in a new direction.

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