Brand experiences

As a brand strategist, three separate things this week have made me think about brand experiences – an event that we, as consumers experience through our interaction with a brand in some way.

The first was a conversation with a client about the growth in urban brands and how more and more are emerging in the food sector which have dis-associated themselves from the origins of their ingredients and focused on the environment in which they’re prepared or going to be consumed.

A notable example is City Kitchen, a range of chilled ready meals. 

City Kitchen has been very successful I understand but as a brand strategist, I’m intrigued by the approach taken by their brand owners in creating a brand that deliberately distances itself from its heritage –  in this case it is Tesco. 

Tesco calls City Kitchen a venture brand and they have others with more planned over the coming months. An interesting brand strategy. 

In essence these brands are presented as stand alone brands with their own communication style, own website and social media sites and it takes a lot of digging to find who they’re owned by.  

On shelf they have their own brand style and compete head to head with conventional own label products and other brands. Now that’s the
interesting bit.

The chilled food category has always been dominated by retailer own-label except, for example, within the vegetarian meals and pizza sub-categories. 

With own-label value propositions long established through a three tier pricing strategy of good value, special and extra-special, if retailers want to increase prices this is extraordinarily difficult for them to do – unless there are higher-priced brands to compare with of course. 

City Kitchen has been introduced to perform that role.  It looks like a brand and behaves like a brand with high quality ingredients, interesting recipes and excellent  visual presentation combined with a premium price positioning. 

As such it performs two roles: it attracts consumers looking for something new and different and it creates the perception that own-label products are better value. 

In the current climate we’re all being careful about how and where we spend our money and good value for money has never been more important. 

As we cut down on eating out and with many restaurant offers mediocre, there has been a resurgence in dining at home and M&S, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose continue to tempt us with their Two dine for £10 offers and others.

Tesco brand strategists have, as it seems decided to take a different approach.  Appealing to time-pressed individuals with above average disposable income to treat themselves to dishes they might buy for lunch or dinner from an eatery in the city. 

In that sense, divorcing the food completely from its origins and focusing on the kitchen is very clever and it’s an alternative to approaches around celebrity chefs and perhaps even restaurants that have previously succeeded in this area. 

The even smarter bit is that the brand is guaranteed distribution across the Tesco estate and there are no royalty fees payable to either a chef or restaurant.

With a nationwide presence in the bag, excellent on shelf positioning and display and no need for marketing spend, Tesco are creating brands that are going to give traditional brand owners & brand strategists across all product sectors a rather difficult time.

Rushing along Regent Street the other day I passed panels and panels of construction hoarding, hiding the building work going on at what is to be one of the streets largest retail sites.  The brand? Hollister. 

Hollister is a very smart brand and they’ve invented a new type of brand experience that they call ‘retail theatre’. 

If you’ve been into a Hollister store you will know that it is unlike any other High Street Experience. 

Ambient lighting is non-existent as is natural daylight with clothing displays minimally lit by the occasional high-powered spot-light. 

I understand that most of the staff are first and foremost models and have been recruited primarily for their looks rather than their sales ability but the strength of the experience is so strong within their core target audience that every store opening causes massive traffic jams and pandemonium inside. 

With its night-club style environment and gorgeous looking staff you’re transported from the British high-street into somewhere far away and quite how you’re going to survive on the small sum of cash you have left for the month after a visit is of no concern – until it’s too late. 

Hollister is currently the place to be seen, which is difficult in itself given the low level of lighting used in their stores.  How clever.  Just as the real theatre intrigues us through mystery and a sense of never knowing quite what’s round the corner, they’re doing the same. 

As a brand strategist, I can’t but help as I am moving through the store one almost has a sense of seeing acts in a play, with new characters emerging into view as you turn a corner. And there is the clothing, barely visible, anonymous. 

But you’ve just got to take some of that experience away with you, aided by a gorgeous male or female who will relieve you of your cash whilst you’re still wondering whether you really want to buy it or not. Brilliant. 

My last experience was a meeting with a client for whom we’d created an on-line brand some 18 months ago. 

He was delighted to tell me how successful the brand and website has been and how rapidly his business is growing which as a brand strategist is great news for me and my team. 

There were various approaches we explored in creating a brand strategy for him but one aspect that has proven very successful has been the use of a Route 1 domain name by which I mean a domain that absolutely describes what his business does.

As a brand strategist I believe passionately in brands and the value and wealth they can create for their owners, and traditional branding focuses on being differentiated and an entity which as well as being fit for purpose can also be trademark registered. 

But in the digital space, it is increasingly the domain that is most important, and indeed in all our brand creation tasks one of the very first things we do is check whether domains are available to match our proposed brand names. 

And here is the rub. Trademark rules state that you cannot register a name that is descriptive of the service or goods that you’re providing.

So it might be fantastic to have a domain name for a dental practice for example such as but it would not be possible to register that name as a brand for the business. 

I’m intrigued by how this parallel brand equity space is developing.  

With Google in particular getting increasingly smart about how they generate pay per click revenue I expect that direct domains are going to become more sought after and as the digital space continues to grow it may be that domains become more valuable than registered trademarks.

Only time will tell – watch that digital space.



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Eddie Stableford
Eddie the Brand Strategist brings 35 years experience in marketing to Mastermind Coach. During his career as a brand strategist he has worked with businesses across the globe including BT, Epson, Ford, Heinz, Marks & Spencer, Nestle, Oracle, Peugeot, Philips, Pioneer, Roll-Royce, Speedo and Tesco and has also helped start-up and growing companies develop highly successful brands (read more about Eddie...).
Eddie Stableford

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