Store Brand? Manufacturer Brand? The Real Issue is Telling Consumers Something Meaningful.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about store brands competing with manufacturer brands – mostly talking about how store brands are thriving. This is to be expected – both due to retail evolution and the recession. But I don’t think we have to consider the brand preference a zero-sum game — reality is far more interesting.

Both types of brand play important roles for the consumer. And the consumer market is so robust there’s plenty of room for all types of brands – if they deliver something meaningful to consumers.

What’s missing in the current discussion, though, is any coherent discussion of the reality that it takes outstanding communication to make both types of brands thrive.

How Consumers View Manufacturer Brands and Store Brands. MediaPost recently discussed a survey about store brands and manufacturer brands (link here). Reading the article got me thinking – that consumer interaction with manufacturer and store brands goes something like this:

Consumers start by seeking the product that is most meaningful them – regardless of brand type.

So when a manufacturer brand offers good reason to buy, consumers act. And when they buy a product based on value (whether store brand or manufacturer brand), they’re happy to pay a fair price without needing it to be “low price”.

But far too often they don’t know WHY a brand product offers any advantage because it’s not been made clear. Lacking communication that provides meaning, they fall back on price – and in that case the store brand wins a great deal of the time.

Since store brands usually have a bit of a price advantage (or at least no price dis-advantage), a manufacturer brand suffers most without communication.

The Desperate Need To Communicate. Companies understand what I’ve suggested and spend millions building meaningful difference into the products within the brand line.

But remember the old philosophical thought experiment? “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear does it make a sound?” There’s a marketing equivalent: “If you add value to your product but nobody hears about it, did you really add value?” Of course not.

The Need for Product Advertising. This is why product oriented advertising – that tells consumers meaningful things about products – is also most effective at building brand. Because there’s no better statement of your values than product. And when your advertising shows your value through product time, after time, after time – you build a strong brand and you build it quickly.

So there’s this ironic truth: Focusing your advertising on the idea of a brand is often the least effective way to build the brand.

It’s worse because the modern evolution of brand advertising rarely offers meaningful reasons to choose brand products. Instead, we’re regaled with absurdities that are supposed to get our attention and lead us to “love” that brand. Quite often merely cool production or “edgy” social media executions are claimed to increase “engagement”.

(If you want “engagement” to build your brand, shouldn’t you try to lead the consumer to buy & use the product? I can’t imagine more powerful engagement than that.)

Brands Thrive When They Tell Consumers The Value of Their Products. We’ve been doing brand DRTV advertising for Kobalt brand tools from Lowe’s for a couple of years now. What’s striking is how powerfully advertising drives product sales while building this store brand.

And that leads to the most fundamental truth: it doesn’t matter much whether you have a store brand or a manufacturer brand. Brand strength is built when you communicate the value and meaning of your products.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Growing retail based businesses through television, DRTV, and all forms of video. Doug is a strategist, executive producer, director, author, & teacher.

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