Branding | Hiebing

Death to Traditional Brands … or Not

July 27, 2018by Jeane Kropp

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether or not brands, as we know them, are dead. Clearly, shopping and communication channels are evolving at warp speed, but what does that mean in terms of the impact on brands?

“Store Brand” Success Stories

There are brands, and then there are store brands. And just to be sure we’re on the same page, store brands are products manufactured specifically for a retailer and branded under the retailer’s own name or brand.

There are three organizations that have busted the myth that store brands can’t be good: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco. Not only that, this trio has cultivated a true following.

On top of delivering quality products for purchase, these three have demonstrated that a store brand can also peddle high-caliber products at reasonable prices.

At Whole Foods, the 365 brand aligns with modern-day shoppers seeking transparency, trustworthiness and clean ingredients. 365 offers both organic and natural products, catering to a range of its target’s needs. On top of that, add in the Amazon guerilla in the room (or the aisle, as it may be), and that sends the potential power of the 365 store brand into the stratosphere.

Meanwhile, Trader Joe’s serves as a master of the “brand experience.” Who wouldn’t want to shop in a tiki-themed environment and discover that goat-milk brie is not just a thing, but also a thing you now love? Not to mention the way the Trader Jacques’ and Trader Giotto’s brand names might cause the corners of your mouth to turn up as you and your cart cruise through the store. Across America there is such pent-up demand for new Trader Joe’s locations that there are innumerable Facebook pages begging the company to open a location in their specific city. This goes to show the power of a great in-store experience that pairs discovery with playful branding.

Costco, while more suburban and largely family focused, is legendary for its approachable pricing and free samples (one can have a six-course lunch while browsing on a Saturday). Because the selection can vary, there’s a treasure hunt aspect to the experience—and it’s also an extra bonus whenever one stumbles upon new offerings from Kirkland, Costco’s store brand. Just ask anyone about the Kirkland sea-salt caramels. In short, Costco is keeping the brand game fresh with the intermingling of mainstream brands and its top-notch Kirkland.

Why These Brands Are Successful

In a word? Millennials. Millennials cover such a large range of ages that it’s hard to buy into some of the learning and perspectives about them. But a number of things about this group do make inherent sense.

When it comes to loyalty, 51 percent of millennials compared to 39 percent of boomers feel that “I have no real preference between private label versus national brands.” This makes sense when we take into account that millennials are the first generation to devote their attention to alternative media channels (versus traditional ones like broadcast and print). They have avoided some of the repetitive messaging that ABC brand whitens teeth better or XYZ truck gets more miles per gallon. They watch only five seconds of an ad before they skip to the YouTube content they were seeking at the onset. As a result, their experience of the world is different, and their lives are different.

Pair this with the millennial orientation of being equality-minded and focused on the greater good, which leads millennials to look for mission-driven brands and organizations, many of which have only come to fruition in the past decade or so. Look at Toms Shoes, around since about 2006, yet now with annual sales of $500 million. That’s proof that money follows the good, at least in some cases.

Millennials are seeking products and brands that resonate with both their needs and their values. Spend up, spend down, there’s no one way in which they behave. Take a look at your brand to ensure it’s communicating with heart and soul to spark loyalty, regardless of price point.

The Backlash of Brands

You’ve likely heard or read about Brandless with its stark tagline “Forget the brand tax. Save 40%.” Brandless has jumped on the anti-corporate backlash with a fervor. It states it has eliminated the cost of developing and supporting a brand, hence its ability to offer all products at a mere $3.

When we dig deeper, what Brandless has really done is rebrand what a private label is and created its version of an Amazon Prime subscription model. Everything $3. Membership for $36 equals free shipping.

Put aside the fact that one can buy Target’s private label pasta sauce for $1.59 in the same size as the Brandless offering. Also, consider that people are buying more with their ethics and values these days, so the proposition of BFY (Better for You) Food Group and its free meal donation to the hungry with purchase holds high appeal.

Given all this, one can be cynical and say, “BRANDS ARE DEAD!!!” But that’s nonsense. Even non-brands are still brands, and the only brands that are “dead” are those that merely need to find new ways to emotionally connect with their target audiences; they simply need to dig deeper to build a business around a group’s shared value(s).

Consumers are still consumers, and they want brands that they feel align with their lives, their values, their needs. After all, isn’t that what branding is all about?!

There’s no time like the present to take a fresh look at your brand story, as there may be components of it that haven’t yet been marketed but are truly meaningful in today’s world. Contact Ted Jun at to learn how we can help.

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