Categorized | Americas, Asia, Europe, Features

Know Your DNA

Posted on 01 July 2022

by Perry Seelert, Strategic Partner and Co-founder, Emerge

Every retailer has its own unique genetic code, and the first step is to understand, decipher and disseminate it

There are almost 8 billion people on earth, but our genetic code or DNA as it is called, is 99.9% the same from one human being to the next. Differences in the .1% hold all the important clues to what makes us unique. Think of it this way, most of what defines us as a species is foundationally the same in our genes, but it is this small little sliver of “differentiation” in our DNA that defines us, that separates us, that crystallizes who we are.

Similar to people, retailers also have their own DNA that represents the “heart and soul” of who they are, and peels one retailer apart from another. There are the common structural elements like service, freshness, price, variety/assortment within a retailer, but how you position yourself within each, along with the personality you wrap around your approach that makes all the difference.

It is true, some retailers have a more palpable, readily identifiable DNA than others, who might be a little more “vanilla”, but there is a real importance in studying and rooting out what the retailer’s DNA really is (whether you are working inside a retailer or you are on the supplier side). This is because your private brand program should flow from that understanding.

Your own brand program should be an amplification of your retail DNA. It should be a further expression of it and in sync with the retailer’s genetic code. Though not every retailer and private brand program lives up to this principle.

Target’s DNA Sets Everything In Motion

One retailer whose DNA works in lock step with their private brand portfolio is Target, and they are a good study in this retailer-to-own brand harmony.

First, look at the hallmarks of their retailer DNA and brand values:

Key words that you would use to capture their DNA, approach and attitude are:

These are words that embody who they are and set the tone for their marketing, brand naming and overall private brand portfolio architecture. This DNA permeates their private brand program. One of their most recent brand launches in Frozen Novelties and Bakery indulgences, Favorite Day, typifies their DNA, it expands it and amplifies it.

You see this connectedness of DNA expression-to-Private Brands in almost everything they do, from fashion to food to housewares.

Before you go down on a vigorous path of Private Brand development, or as a supplier, pitch a new item to a retailer that you think makes intuitive sense, remember that it all starts with a retailer’s DNA first. Know it.

Wegmans Connects “EZ-Meals” Throughout The Store’s Anatomy

Another retailer who infuses their DNA into their own brand program is Wegmans, who does it not just through product, but through an all-encompassing presence across the store.

One of Wegmans’ retailer tenets is to inspire their customers to make great (and easy) meals, so their Wegmans EZ Meals is interwoven throughout the store – you see it in the product itself, throughout all the store media, into recipe planning and connected through multiple departmental merchandising opportunities.

It is really inspiring, and it shows how DNA should leads everything for a retailer in the ultimate execution, including private brands.

Choose Each Product Carefully

Understanding, distilling and then expressing your retail DNA is tough enough, so expecting that every private brand connection will be perfectly connected is probably not fair, let along every product within the brand.

But you can mitigate these disconnects by thoughtfully considering if every product truly makes sense by asking “will it creatively amplify what my position is all about, and will consumers buy into it?” With Weis’ “Signature Collection” (Weis Markets is a family-led retailer with near 200 stores in 7 states) this is a nice aspirational brand, but in my mind, a product misfire in a squash-based pasta sauce. And from really far away, my guess is that it is not one of their top sellers. Dustcollectors are never great reinforcement of your DNA, no matter the aspirational intent.

Creative Versus Precious

When we talk with retailers or suppliers about product development and portfolio, the conversation often goes to “how far can I push upwards” with my own brand, and here I have to say that there is a fine line between preciousness and creativity.

Even with retailers like Tesco, who can credibly offer a Brussels with Madeira Jelly Pate under their Tesco Finest brand, it still feels like a stretch for me for almost all retailers. Retailers like Trader Joe’s/ Aldi, who pride themselves in being first with everything, where this newness is a key part of their DNA, always do it in an approachable way.

Aldi is one of the first retailers to launch “rainbow” or “colorful” cauliflower within their own brand – it is fun, approachable, creative, and their shoppers will give them credit for being first. Again, this gets back to what your DNA is, but even in Tesco’s case, I still believe that dialing back the “preciousness” and dialing up the “creativity” serves you better.

Ensure Suppliers Know Your DNA

Many retailers still may not be totally clear internally as to what their DNA is, so then it is difficult to translate it externally. But, if you are a retailer who has a clear brand story, then make sure this is communicated to the supplier community. Don’t assume they know it, understate that this is the first step in any product you want to see, and explain why the connection to own brands is important. Similarly if you are a supplier, and you have a retailer a little unsure in their DNA, then you should do the homework to understand how the retailer is positioning and differentiating themselves. This bit of DNA digestion and analysis will serve you well, as you want to ensure that what you are pitching and selling in has the greatest chance of success.

Final Thoughts And Pushing Your DNA

On a final note, some retailers want to continue to “push” their DNA in new directions, and this is possible over time and with the right strategic discipline. Target is also a good example of morphing their DNA over many years to total modernity. But generally, the DNA leads the direction of own brands and not the other way around.

It is amazing to see the continued sophistication and development in the private brand industry and gratifying that we have come so far. Consumers are embracing private brands in record numbers, so it is easy to be focused on fast growth and fast ideas. But doing your DNA homework and making sure that the brand and product portfolio is all work in synchronicity (and is a further amplification of the retailer’s “heart and soul”) is well worth the time and investment.

Perry Seelert is a retail branding and marketing expert, with a passion for challenging conventional strategy and truths. He is the Strategic Partner and Co-founder of Emerge, a strategic marketing consultancy dedicated to helping Retailers, Manufacturers and Services grow exponentially and differentiate with purpose. Please contact Perry at [email protected]

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