Brian Creath

Steal This Idea.

In Brand, Marketing, Positioning, Strategy on March 26, 2009 at 11:08 am


Those of you who have reached the age of 40, may recall that in the early 1980’s, generic products in the United States had plain white labels with blue or black lettering, or yellow labels with black lettering, describing what the product was (i.e.: Yellow Cake Mix, Tuna In Water, Chocolate Flavor Syrup, Deodorant Soap, etc.) There was very little other information except for ingredients and preparation information required, and no brand name at all on the front panel. This was during a sharp economic downturn when many consumers were placing more emphasis on value than on brand loyalty. In the U.S. industrial Midwest, a region especially hard hit by the recession of the early 1980’s, generics became a common sight in supermarkets and discount stores.

Today, as consumers flock to WalMart and gain an increasing amount of product and service information from online and word-of-mouth resources, the tug of war between brand loyalty and basic value is being tested again.

Could the concept of true generic marketing work in today’s environment? Of course, the web has drastically changed retail and distribution dynamics. And, most savvy retailers have created house brands during the past 25 years, either branded with the retailer’s name, or a fictitious third-party brand. (Think Target’s ‘Merona’ brand.) But for discussion, let’s stick to true generics: Products, services or retail outlets that carry a product or category description as the label. (Think ‘Beer’ or ‘Gas.’)

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy as a guide to need-based, recession-area marketing, let’s look at retail food for just a moment. (And let’s limit the thinking to perishable, local sales where the web can’t compete as a true retail outlet.)

Would a place called ‘Hamburgers‘ that priced its products fairly, and carried limited offerings in a stripped down, minimalist retail setting do well today? Especially if it could create strong ‘buzz’ based on quality products and quality service? How about a quick shop concept called ‘Milk & Bread‘ that again, carried very few, quality milk and dairy staples.

In the 1980’s, a generic product’s perceived quality came from the retail environment in which it was sold. Often, the product itself wasn’t of very high quality. Today, as real value (quality+fair price) makes a comeback, and as the web gives consumers a way to express product/service satisfaction (or lack thereof), a successful generic product or service offered would have to be of solid, or very high quality. Today’s, “I’m-just-looking-for-good-deal” consumer would, in all likelihood, appreciate a stripped-down concept that carries a built-in ‘quality over marketing’ position.

Could your category utilize generic marketing? If so, please steal this thinking. If not, please look around: As we move through the end of a recession and into recovery, marketing opportunities abound — companies simply need to apply smart thinking, strong support and decisive action. And if you need a firm that can help you think, I do know a good one.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.


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