Key Learnings from Velocity: My Private Brand Conference

Velocity: My Private Brand conference, which looks into the rapidly evolving world of private labels through the eyes of some of the leading retailers, took place in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September. Only in its second year, this event is the convergence of forward-thinking private brand innovators, owners and advocates.

Attendees heard from informative presenters and insightful panels on a myriad of topics, including building private brands that emotionally connect, unlocking real results through diversity, looking back on 30 years of private brands and much more. It was three days of connecting and learning from some of the best in the business, during which three key topics emerged as focus areas.

Innovation

The first of these topics is innovation, which is also seems to be a hot topic across all categories in branding. During her  fireside chat, Nicole Lord, Senior Director at Office Depot, discussed the difference between innovation and invention. “Product ‘renovation’ doesn’t need to cost a lot,” says Lord. Listen to your customer and learn how small innovation can make a big impact. For example, Kat & Jack, Target’s baby and kids private brand, offers onesies with a zipper that unzips from the bottom to make diaper changing easier. This is an examples of just one small, inexpensive product innovation that was uncovered just by listening to their target consumer: moms.

“Private label brand owners need to out-think and out-strategize major brands” said Brain Quinn, Director of Proprietary Brands for PetSmart. Private brands not only have the ability to create value by understanding their consumers better than major brands, but, thanks to loyalty cards and online shopping profiles, retailers own the consumer purchasing data and have a real-time view of portfolio sales.

This gives private brands the ability to test and learn. Take advantage of this. Be experimental in portfolio assortment and mix. What doesn’t work can be adjusted quickly to allow for the next new introduction.

Portfolio of Brands

This leads to the second theme: creating a portfolio of brands. The portfolio of private brands could happen in a variety of ways. Juan De Paoli, Senior Vice President for Private Brands at Retail Business Group (A Company of Ahold Delhaize) shared how Ahold Delhaize’s merger forced them to look at every brand within each company’s portfolio and develop a strategy that works for their different shoppers. Ahold Delhaize “does not believe in branding for branding sake. It needs to have purpose. We’ve create a portfolio of niche brands that hit specific segments,” said De Paoli.

Nicole Lord agreed and shared her experience from the merger of Office Max and Office Depot. “Every brand should not be a rock star. If we make the right investment and if we are right strategically, we can win. So now we are laddering up our portfolio to our corporate vision and strategy, and how our brand will meet that vision to win. There are brands that have specific roles—some do not need to disrupt or transform. Demands from customers are specific—so are our brands.”

Packaging Design

Finally, the last topic around which there was much discussion was package design. Specifically, how private brands need to lean more heavily into packaging design. As Christopher Durham, founder of My Private Brands, discussed, we need to fight against, what he called, private brand sameness. “There is a need to really differentiate so if we pull the logo off the product, we still know what brand it is.”

Boxed.com had a few design tricks to share. Since it does not have a physical presence, it puta more emphasis on the tertiary elements. It uses the entire packaging to surprise and delight by bringing zest and personality to the product. The company sometimes achieves this through a “punny” line on the back of pack, or making a relevant claim that targets consumers. It’s about being authentic to the brand and creating a connection between the brand and the consumer.

There’s a lot of competition on both the physical and digital worlds. Today, private brands are just as valuable—if not more valuable—than their national competitors. In the end, it’s about being brave as we build our private brands, as making brave, bold moves through innovation, portfolio management and packaging design is what will allow private brand to win and continue to grow.

No longer “me too,” this category is pushing toward “only me.”


Debbie Arnold is Senior Director, Business Development for Interbrand.

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