Christopher Durham recently sat down with the Vertex Award judges and asked each of them 5 questions about their perspective on private brands, packaging design, and differentiation. Below is a recap of Christopher’s conversation with Maria Dubuc, President of Marketing by Design (MBD) and Vice President of Big Red Rooster.

Over the last year Amazon, Whole Foods, Lidl and Jet have made aggressive moves into private brand, what impact are you seeing them have on your private brand clients and their brands?
They’re changing the whole landscape. We’re seeing some major shifts from our clients. Retailers are no longer sticking their heads in the sand when it comes to their brands; instead they’re looking at ways to improve. They’re upping their games in order to compete with the new and expanding players. It’s really exciting because as creatives, there’s so much we’re going to be able to do with building brands now – better, innovative design, more emphasis on strategy, watching trends and making them, not just reacting to them. Our clients are seeing the impact of investing in their brands. It’s exciting, and it’s about time!

What role should strategy play in solving retail problems?
If you don’t have a plan, you’re not going anywhere or you have no idea were you are going. That’s a problem, so having a strategy is key. There was a time when the only plan for most retailers was to carry low-cost national brand equivalents. There was no marketing, no strategy. Just have them. In many cases, the brand was created by a contract graphic artist doing what he liked, with no consideration for the consumer. Those days are over, and private brand is never going back to that. The reality today is that retailers must have a brand-specific strategy in order to be noticed in today’s marketplace. It needs to be created by someone who understands your consumer, product mix, and company, so your brands end up being your customer’s first choice, not a choice.

What is the most common mistake retailers make with their brands?
Retailers need to stop talking to themselves. It’s not about what you like. It’s about what consumers like. And if you’re using a creative look from 30 years ago, they’re not going to like you. Conversely, you can’t create a strategy that focuses on one universal look across all channels to be used for the next 10 years. There’s constant evolution in the industry, especially today, when competition is becoming fierce. Private brand strategy has to be creative, and it has to be consumer-centric. Always remember, they’re the ones you’re trying to reach.

What advice do you have for retailers trying to take their brands to the next level?
Be flexible and nimble! Have a strategy, but keep an eye on the trends. Your strategy should be adaptable and have evolution built into its DNA. Consumers don’t stay the same for five years. Retailers can’t either. Agencies know the rules of design, communication, and branding. Trust yours to know when it’s okay to break the rules because it’s their job to be agile and have their ear to the ground. If you don’t trust them, it’s time for a new agency.

What will private brands look like 10 years from now?
I’m convinced the industry is only going to get better. If you went to the Velocity conference, or you’ve read Vanguard Vintage Originals, you know there was a time when private brand was amazing. There weren’t national brands and private brands. There were just brands. I’m happy to say, we’re going back to simply building great brands. Ten years from now, we’ll all be taking chances with our brands and designs, because why not take risks and chances? We own the brands. Ten years from now, the concept of “private” brands will be archaic, because we’re going to change that attitude. It’s time to drop the word “private” and be what we are: brands!

For more, check out Christopher’s blog, MyPrivateBrand.