Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Product Sub-Branding - Fad, Trend or Strategic Betterment?

Creating sub branded products to reflect personality, people and places reduces costs and lets the clothes do the CRM, to a degree. But how viable is this practice in such an uncertain, growing market?

As the fashion market continues to expand and chain stores seek to close the gap between themselves and the luxury market, what are the current key points of differentiation used by big dollar brands to keep themselves a mark above the rest?

Many key retailers in today's market have turned to better consolidating core ROI products to reflect resonating names and personalities. These products are often cash cows and have remained so for consecutive seasons earning themselves a place on the brand's trophy shelf. To keep the large volumes moving and to help brand building, retailers invest and integrate the products into marketing strategy, weighting each spend on prior and foretasted success. B2BInternational.com
 describes this simply as an ‘Identification Label’. Fashion retailers have however evolved this notion to what we know better as sub-branding, as loyal followers grow and emotional connections develop with the product.

The move to personal product resonance (as I like to call it) is nothing new and is often key to strategy used by FMCG businesses to a different degree. It could almost be viewed (by competitors) as a sign of brand maturity and integrity. Investing in personality creation reflects a loyal following and a top seller, to be sure. The execution and appropriateness on the other hand, is where the real elbow grease is required and many brands lack the lacklustre delivery to see it through long term. The contribution of the sub branded products long term, will also serve as a cost reduction method, with little design work required from season to season, bulk buys and recycled marketing materials.

Australian high street chain store Marcs has been a successful market leader with humble beginnings. For many years the company has kept a core product offering that has remained consistent from season to season and has over many years gained propulsion and a loyal following. The two core products are the Brando and the Arnie.

Both are two basic tees that gents come back for after many years of successful association and conditioning of the customer. The ability to guarantee consistent sell through is a core strength and a developed competitive advantage. It suggests great consumer insight and an understanding of the brand. Costs are kept to a minimum with large buys and a shelf premium that ensures these core items never hit sale, ensuring maximum GP. The marketing material remains in store each season with small appropriations made in seasonal campaigns. Following the success of the Arnie and Brando portfolio, Marcs has since aimed to adopt the strategy across the board, mostly until something resonates with consumers and an investment decision can be made to move forward with repeating and to further develop the strategic role. 

The brand now names 70% of all products after places or people, for quick association and as mentioned above, for market testing for potential long term champions. As Derrick Daye writes on brandingstrategyinsider.com humans and brands alike are emotional and an ‘emotional wrapper’ is needed to drive sales. With such a large stretch of products now being named, not overcrowding the consumer’s mind must be a tentative initiative, as to not remove the initial purpose, which was resonance.

Banana Republic, chain store wonder is adopting a similar strategy naming their cash cow ballet flat ‘Ashley’, giving her flair with more than 15 colors, patterns and textures. The sell through will be undoubtedly astronomical, they are also graced with the benefit of being cheap market substitutes to competing chain store and luxury labels. Banana Republic seems quite confident to invest in order to sell, increase ROI and also to brand build through their trending product popularity.

Luxury retailer Coach has taken this approach to strengthen their sales but more importantly, to strengthen their brand heritage. Their handbags have remained a core product and competency to the business and by moving back to classic, named and established styles, the brand aims to consolidate clients, past and future. The Penny, a style from the 70’s Coach Era has been reborn with new features and benefits, just to name one in their portfolio. Coach gives us insight into one of the many ways sub branding can help a brand financially and emotionally. 

 A broad adoption of names and personalities to fish in the market for winning cash cows seems to be a trending strategy in a highly competitive and expanding market. A brand with maturity and a level of market dominance will be fit to roll out such strategies, however basic marketing can provide as a checklist to prevent derailment.
  • Always check project performance against objectives. Be consistently aware of the strategic purpose of sub branding initiatives.
  • Premium pricing strategies. If branding is as much a priority as ROI, these core products should be held at a premium without compromising with end of season sales, retaining the customer and the brand integrity.
  • Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but it will not allow you to copy a core competency and something that has become inherent to the brand essence. Many retailers will seek to execute similar strategies within the same product category. To be sure, core branded products must be aligned with the brand and make emotional sense to the consumer.
Personal sub-branding is growing in popularity and diversity, but by ensuring self-awareness and knowing a brand's capabilities, brands may move this strategy from short term fad status to a strategic mold of the business.

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