Our supermarket shelves are full to the point of bursting with competitive products vying for consumer attention and powerful own label offerings promising the same level of quality as some of the specialist brands and at competitive prices.
As a result consumer expectations of brands today are far higher than ever before. They are presented with a plethora of choice and are increasingly basing their purchase decisions on more than just a product’s physical attributes. Brand owners in many categories will have to step up to survive!
To do this, against aggressive competition, a brand must have something distinctive to say, something that not only fulfils a consumer need more effectively than others but that strikes the right emotional chord with its potential end users – not just in what it says but the tone in which it says it! This difference can come from attributes beyond the physical benefits of a product – the values of the business behind the product, the personality of the brand and the empathy it demonstrates to consumers or the philosophy behind a brand and how it shapes the integrity of its products. It is these things that can transform a collection of commodities dressed in benign category camouflage into a powerful and evocative brand statement.
Now consider the fact that there is a growing concern around environmental and ethical issues, with the groundswell of public conscience on the rise and the ensuing macro trend in sustainability and environmental awareness passing through like a never ending freight train. It is of no great surprise then that brand owners and retailers alike are actively placing issues such as sustainability, environmental impact and husbandry higher up their CSR agendas. This is evidenced in recent FMCG brand launches and acquisitions like the purchase by Waitrose of the Duchy Originals brand; once a small minority voice representing the desire of its patron to provide natural, high quality, organic products that can be produced without compromising the need to help sustain the countryside and the wildlife dependent upon it. Today it is a range within a throng of locally sourced and sustainably produced products both within the portfolio of its new owners and those of other retailers.
The truth though, is that many companies lack the vision to take thought leadership in this area and rather than proactively raising the profile of sustainability on consumer agendas, with confident and distinctive long term strategies, they are instead following, not leading, the trend and tinkering around edges. Many seem unsure of how to embrace sustainability in a way that truly sets them apart, that fits with the essence of their brands and that engages consumers with their cause, many do little more than jump on the passing bandwagon like the growing number of brands that talk about being British or British sourcing rather than owning why Britishness is better.
When a brand and its products are the result of a clear vision, a passionate philosophy with a robust set of values, and the ability to strike the right empathetic tone with consumers, it can set itself apart from the rest. Whether it is a warm and engaging take on husbandry, like the recent launch of the ‘Happy Eggs Co’ who, in a dull, commoditised category – where purchase decisions are made in fractions of seconds – have found a simple, warm and idiosyncratic way to talk about husbandry, and in so doing helping convert the nation to free range (being responsible for 75% of the growth of the free range sector). Or Silver Spoon, one of the nation’s leading sugar
brands, using locally produced sugar beet in many of its core products rather than importing and producing sugar from cane, then recycling the heat from their beet refinery to grow tomatoes, making them one of the UK’s leading tomato suppliers.
The message then, to any brand owners looking to capitalise on or build on their sustainable, environmental or husbandry credentials is that, in order for any initiative in itself to be sustainable to the business, it must look beyond opportunism and ‘follower thinking’ by leading from the front with a long term vision and plan for how their business and brands can make a difference in a way that fits their philosophy, engages with end users and can only come from them. Then and only then will they strike the elusive balance between doing the right thing and enhancing their competitive edge.