Event Recap: Private Brand Movement 2011

In today’s retail environment, many shoppers are overwhelmed by the vast range of “new” and “innovative” products that enter the market.  As hundreds of thousands of new products are introduced annually around the globe, consumers have grown tired of having to sort through hundreds of SKUs just to find their favourite brand offering.  For this reason, IIR’s 2011 Private Brand Movement conference, held in Chicago on September 19-21, sought to highlight ways that private brands can generate a unique connection with their consumers in order to help them stand out against the wave of new products constantly entering the market.

A series of interesting and engaging speakers at the conference provided insight on how private brands could design and market products that appeal to consumers.  As private brands are tailored to meet the demands of particular consumer groups, customers begin to establish a relationship with the brand.  Eventually, as consumers grow to love a brand and “make it theirs,” private brands can establish a loyalty that ensures they can compete with the ceaseless wave of new product developments from other players.

Design Thinking

Speaker Rob Wallace explained how private brands need to engage in a process of “design thinking” in order to foster these types of relationships with their consumers.  By creatively developing and marketing their private brands in ways that move beyond their traditional strengths, private brands can generate incredible returns on investment.  Using the example of Apple Inc., Wallace explained that products that possess novelty value, address previously unmet needs, or even invent new needs entirely (i.e. the IPad or IPhone) can replicate the unprecedented success Apple has seen in the retail market.

A critical component of this “design thinking” process involves carefully scrutinising the traits of potential consumers in a market.   Keynote Speaker Paco Underhill explained how the field of retail research can be essential to this end.  By analysing quantitative indicators like the number of people passing, noticing, stopping, shopping and buying from a display, retailers can begin to ensure their private brands are maximising their potential to establish relationships with their consumer base.  Eye tracking technology and shopper interviews can also help identify needs, such as the problems that small print on packaging can cause among the elderly.

Tangible Results

Other speakers at the conference provided examples of how they engaged in “design thinking” to drive success in their private brands.  Speaker Connie Walsh, Director of Marketing at Staples Inc., explained how careful consumer research among students led to the highly successful launch of the Staples Better® binders.  Consumer complaints of paper build-up in the home also led Staples to design and market the Staples Mailmate® shredder, which has also been very successful.  Staples has also capitalised on a pricing tier system among its private brands, in which consumers can find a “Good,” “Better,” or “Best” Staples brand product depending on their budgets and tastes.

Mark Andreer, Vice President of Brand Strategy at OfficeMax, explained how his company discovered that women represented a large consumer base for office products but remained underserved.  To this end, OfficeMax re-tailored its retail stores to meet the demands of female customers looking for trendy, design-focused office products that they could use to express themselves at work.  OfficeMax also built its private brands, like TUL® writing instruments, to serve as both stylish and functional additions to an office.  With the motto, “Life is beautiful, work can be too,” OfficeMax’s private brands like TUL® and DiVOGA® have appealed strongly to design-conscious consumers.

Looking Forward

The Private Brand Movement conference, therefore, proved to be a highly valuable resource to anyone looking to build private brands in the future.  By providing insight on the current retail landscape, potential tools for analyzing and understanding market opportunities, and tangible examples of those who have employed such “design thinking” successfully, this conference greatly expanded the how private brand managers view possible avenues for growth.