There’s more to branding than meets the eye
Recently a small, independent supermarket opened at our local shopping strip. I was immediately drawn to the name and brand identity which are naively unethical and amusing in equal measures. It turns out this is the fifth KolesWorth in a small but growing chain of independent grocers. I dare to say at some point soon the good fold at Coles and Woolworths might have something to say about brand infringement. An equal distance from my house is an IGA which opened a year ago.
But there’s more happening in this example of SME branding than first appears. There are a number of brand assumptions that come with small independent grocery.
Setting aside political correctness, In Melbourne most of these smaller grocery stores are run by families with South east and Sub Continental Asian heritage. These businesses demand long hours of not particularly fulfilling work, and these family structures and culture are prepared to put-in what’s required to make them successful. Both the IGA and KolesWorth run true to this assumption.
The product range will be limited. The smaller footprint restricts the size of the range and selection choice. As a result we position these retailers more for ‘topping-up’ or when we run out of something like bread, milk or cerial, rather than catering for a full, weekly shop.
We will be charged more. The smaller footprint, smaller range and lower sales volume all mean that we expect to pay more for the convenience these retailers offer us.
With smaller retail format comes local advantages of relevant product range and friendlier service.
There’s a good chance we’ll be ripped-off.
These assumptions form the context by which we view the brand. And in this context, the ‘borrowed’ name and brand colours provide neither a negative nor a positive brand association.
Brand Name and Identity
Although not a negative, this is a real opportunity missed. Every local community provides an rich opportunity for a business that can tap into the sense of community. Yearning for Community is a powerful, long term consumer trend. If the business had been called ‘Malvern Village Grocer’ with a brand identity that leverage cues of expensive, market produce, the community would likely be moved to embrace the business as adding to the sense of aspirational place rather than just the functional amenity.
Interestingly IGA as the directly competitive brand has spend many years building a brand that stands for independence, local community and fairness. Kolesworth were entering a competitive landscape with an established brand already in place.
Range & Price
Both retailers stock a similar range with a similar premium on price. However, neither brand provides the context to stock a more premium range, such as gourmet ready made meals that would be popular and have higher margins.
Which leads us to Service and Fairness
And here’s where it all comes together or falls apart. The IGA store quickly developed a local reputation for ripping-off customers. Being local, it was often kids who were sent down to buy the milk or the bread for school lunches. The word soon spread that the owners of the new IGA would add an extra dollar or two whenever they thought they could get away with it. This was the brand perception that was created in the first months of opening and I can’t verify whether this ever actually happened, or how often and by how much if it did. In some ways it played to the expectation for the category and so wasn’t seen as a business killer, although it certainly wouldn’t be a brand association the parent company IGA would be keen on.
However, the main brand impact occurred when KolesWorth opened their doors. The Kolesworth owners were super friendly, service oriented and according to the local grapevine; ‘weren’t ripping people off’. Suddenly there was choice for the local, convenience shop – and what had been an acceptable trade-off became unacceptable overnight. In retail the difference between profit and loss can be a fine line, driven by a handful of customers who decide to shop with the competition.
What makes an SME brand
It turns out we couldn’t have asked for a better illustration of the layers of branding:
• All brands operate in a context of assumptions about their category.
• All but the most fortunate of brands operate in a competitive landscape.
• All brands need to meet expectations on product/service they offer.
• All brands need to be seen as fair by their customers, and with few exceptions…
• All brands need to provide a level of customer service at least as good, if-not better than their competitors.
These are all the table stakes that must be attended to. From there, brand strategy, positioning, differentiation and identity are all tools to stand-out from the competition, attract more customers than your fare share and ‘un-level’ the playing field to their advantage.
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more at…
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