How to win the supermarket war

Shops are marketing battlegrounds, where consumers have the power. But research, good design and partnerships can help your brand stand out.

adrianAt first sight, supermarkets may look like benign places with shoppers contentedly pushing their trolleys up and down the aisles on the weekly shop, but for brands they are something of a battleground. On every gondola, long-established names fight to hold onto their hard-won supremacy, while young pretenders storm the ramparts with all the marketing muscle they can summon up.

A quick look at statistics shows us why brands have to slug it out in the aisles. First, consumer decisions are made with breathtaking speed. The average shopper will scan the shelves at a pace of up to 15 feet per second and spend no more than 30 minutes in store. The purchasing decision is made in a split second and for brands this means success or failure.

Second, in a multi-channel environment, TV ads are having less impact than ever before and consequently around 70% of our buying decisions are made in store. The only advertising you will see is primarily via the packaging itself with POS in a supporting role. So, it’s vital that brand packaging performs. This is the last marketing touch point before a product is either popped into the basket or left on the shelf.

Grabbing the attention of the consumer is important for brands that are already well-established in the marketplace, but it is absolutely vital for brands that are making their debut. Having worked in branding for over two decades, I have a bird’s eye view of what it takes to get a new brand to market and secure victory in the supermarket war.

Do your research

crispsWith any new brand, the starting point is solid research. The packaged-goods market is a crowded one with most categories already saturated, so it is vital to know your consumer, what they are buying right now and also be able to articulate in your marketing why they should buy your product instead. This can be done without resorting to endless focus groups that can sometimes do more harm than good.

To succeed, you need to either grow the entire market or cannibalise market share held by other brands. Tesco has achieved the former with its fresh&easy brand in the US, and Loseley achieved the latter when it reinvented itself with a radical new look that was poles apart from the brand’s previous persona. Thanks to wit, humour and creativity, the market perceived Loseley’s overhaul as a complete rejuvenation of a brand that was able to secure listings in the major multiple once more. Both Loseley and Tesco demonstrate that when developing a new brand it is better to lead than to follow. Successful brands are those that look forward rather than over their shoulder.

tescoYour brand should also make sense in its geographical and cultural context. Again, Tesco got this right in the US. Two years before launch, fresh&easy placed sociologists in US families for six months, and from this activity they knew exactly what their prospective consumers wanted. This enabled a new brand, tailored to its audience, to be created from scratch, rather than exporting the successful Tesco Metro or Express format from the UK.

The tone of voice and appearance that you choose for your brand are critical. We all recognise that a product needs to achieve stand-out and attract attention. However, sometimes the temptation to shout at the consumer “Look at me! Here I am. I’m new – pick me!” is too great.

Remember, with design, less is often more. The fresh&easy packaging, for example, stands out because the design is more focused and less cluttered than its US counterparts. It also benefits from a hierarchical structure that is absent from many own-brand US products.

coffeebeanA worthwhile investment

A golden rule in launching a new brand is to consider design as an investment. It’s important to factor an appropriate budget for design into your business plan. You can always find someone to do it cheaper, but would you use that principle if you were engaging the services of a private doctor or a lawyer to defend you? Probably not. Here Tesco epitomises a brand that is allocating appropriate budgets to achieve its goals. They know that a venture like fresh&easy is a unique opportunity. It is either done right or not at all, and so they are spending in the region of $2bn (£1bn) to enter the US market. Few brands have pockets this deep, but all brands should follow that example. It’s often more expensive to unravel the muddle of an under-funded decision than it would have been to spend the right amount in the first place.

loselyFinding the right partner

Branding is vital. The branding of your product provides 365-days-a-year advertising on-shelf or in the home. Brand packaging needs to inform, engage and seduce. Here, selecting the right partner is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Enlist the help of a specialist, someone who has a track record and understands the market intimately. More importantly, find a consultancy that offers strategy and insight alongside creative capability.

Despite the obvious need for research, brand owners should make sensible use of focus groups – but don’t take them too literally, as that can cause you to dumb down your brand. Remember, the E-type Jaguar would never have been built if it had been over researched.

Lastly, an understanding of what the consumer is increasingly expecting from packaging will help to time-proof your design. For example, there is an increasing expectation to see a brand that acknowledges the three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle. Success is more about being aware of the importance of consumer agendas than being trendy and riding a bandwagon to secure popularity.

Hopefully, my suggestions can help your brand win the supermarket war. And even if outright victory eludes you, they should at least enable you to win a few battles along the way. 

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