How brands can get out of being stuck in the middle


The polarisation of consumer shopping behaviour means mid-market brands are in a spot of bother as many opt to reach below or above what they’re offering. But being in the middle doesn’t have to mean middle of the road.

When you’re in the middle you can struggle to grasp your true identity. You aren’t first and you aren’t last. You aren’t the cheapest but you aren’t the most expensive. People neither love you nor hate you. They could go either way.

As highlighted in this week’s trends feature, consumers have gravitated towards the extreme ends of the spending spectrum as less cash means choosing more budget options but still throwing in luxury treats to keep sanity levels regulated.

As the survey by Leapfrog Research and Planning indicates, luxury and budget brands are stealing share and effectively squeezing mid-priced brands out of the market. “If brands in this middle ground are to remain competitive, they must acknowledge that the squeeze may not lift,” Leapfrog’s Sarah Buckle told Marketing Week.

The challenge for brands in this space, she says, is to create clear and distinct values to enhance and define their position. And I completely agree.

Rather than self-fulfil the prophecy, brands should embrace where they are and explicitly tell consumers why they are still a good option in the face of rivals with both cheaper or more luxurious offerings.

It might sound two-faced, and confused, but the trick is to pick the right message for the right consumer group.

A mid-market brand can be presented as a quality budget option for traditional premium shoppers who just can’t afford to shop this way. Likewise, a middle brand can be communicated as an upmarket alternative to budget.

For example, online fashion retailer Asos has classed a range of high street premium brands, such as Whistles and Reiss, as “In Betweeners”, and has built a whole selling point around these middle brands. “These are design led, high quality pieces that don’t pull on the purse strings,” the site says.

Asos has grouped these brands together and painted them as a less pricey alternative to expensive designer brands; targeting otherwise designer shoppers with equally stylish products with credible brand images. These are shoppers you would otherwise insult by telling them they can save a few quid by shopping in Primark.

It’s a clever message, as it can also be read as targeting budget shoppers with designer aspirations. Shoppers who have as much chance of one day purchasing a Chanel gown as they have of winning the lottery, but could reasonably save to buy a £150 dress from the likes of Reiss. If you read the copy wording, it translates on both levels. Nice work.

The same opportunities exist for food brands. For example, Sainsbury’s sub-brand Taste the Difference and its counterparts are essentially mid-range as they come from the supermarket’s own brand selection. They can be marketed as budget options for premium brand buyers, or upmarket options for budget buyers.

Again – pick the audience, then tailor the message accordingly. Glossy yummy mummies who want to downgrade without appearing cheap, or hard working mums who want to buy nice food to make up for not eating out. Middle brands have a role to play for both these audiences; their consumers just need to feel that way too.

That’s the beauty of being a middle brand. You can stretch either way.

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