The retailer v. manufacturer head-to-head

I caught an interesting piece in Marketing Week last week by Paul Benady.  He was reflecting on the current struggle between retailers and fmcg brands for control of consumers’ purses.  He made a number of good points and clearly highlighted the need for us all to get a grip of the relationship between our brands and the lives of consumers.

This isn’t really a struggle between retail brands and fmcg brands.  Its just the usual struggle between marketers and a test of how well they work with the resources they have.  In other words, how well they do their job.  Sure the big supermarket brands (not necessarily their businesses) are in good shape these days and the odds are in their favor because of this.  Yes they are close to consumers minds and could levage this advantage easily, but its by no means a done deal.  As Benady says there is a great deal of value in the fmcg brands – tradition, reassurance, longevity, reliability and quality. It would be ill-advised for them to pitch into the price-point battle, but I believe they have what it takes to win the war, if only they focus.

The danger, as usual, is that marketers may not see the wood for the trees.  There are rational and emotional elements to any brand relationship and marketers need to understand these and define clearly in their own minds which are which.  The two questions I ask brand guardians is

  1. Do your rational arguments strengthen your emotional relationship with your customer?
  2. Is your tactical activity reinforcing your strategic message?

Whilst it sounds logical, I see all kinds of brands where the rational argument is out of kilter with the emotional aspects of the relationship and I suspect that in an attempt to apese the price sensitivity of consumers over the next few months we’ll see a few brands throw the baby out with the bathwater in clumsy attempts to raise the price element in their value equation.

There’s also a good chance, because it happens too frequently anyway, that in an effort to protect what they see as their brand values some fmcg marketers will lose the message by wrapping it up in creative cotton wool.  This is no time to be shy.  If your point is valid and in line with your brand message, make it straight, not obliquely.  Its a chance for real smart creatives to show what they can do to reinforce the message.

Taking a swingometer view of things my feeling is that we’ll see a sharp swing towards price over the coming weeks and months, followed by an adjustment back towards quality that will result in a new value optimum.  Of course, this is where the supermarket brands are aiming with their presitge sub-brands, so to some extent they are already there, but they have arrived from the direction of price whereas most fmcg producers who venture there will be coming at it from the quality end of the scale, so there’s a clear difference and a variety of opportunities there.

The other decider will be how flexible manufacturers can be.  One of the great strengths of retailers has always been their ability to respond quickly. Of course, everyone should have seen this coming way back, so hopefully it won’t be a factor, but it will be interesting to see, over the next few months, who can deliver timely solutions that customers will respond to  and that are consistent with and will leverage their established brand values.

As I have said many times over the last few months – “Interesting times”.

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