Retail Branding: it’s not (just) private label

Over a long period, retail branding research, led by Steve Burt, has been one of the main areas of research for my colleagues and myself at the University of Stirling.  I have written a couple of things on branding in collaboration with Steve and we have just had a book chapter on retail branding published.  It contains themes I feel quite strongly about.

There were, for me, two motivations in agreeing to write this book chapter on retail branding.  First, I felt strongly we had something to say, as I have become increasingly frustrated and annoyed by the myopia being exhibited in this field.  And secondly, the ability to state this case better suits a book chapter than the ludicrous constraints on journal article publishing now apparent in the parallel universe that is ‘REF world’.

Routledge companian to brand Cover

So our book chapter on retail branding has just been published this month in the new Routledge Companion to Contemporary Brand Management and we thank the editors for providing the space for us to say again; retail branding is not private label.

Branding in retailing is not new, but the modern retail conceptualization is far removed from the original ‘name on the product’ brandmark.  Retailers as brands go far beyond a simple ‘product label’ by positioning the retailer as an organisational entity in consumers’ minds or even developing a personality, ideology or mythology.  The conceptualization and operationalization of the modern retailer brand develops a broad, integrated, brand architecture embraced by consumers, products, stores and the company itself.  It is not ‘private label’ and we should stop calling it that beyond a narrow band of activities which are directly private label.

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Our chapter presents the development and implications of modern retail branding, through the consideration of four issues.  We begin with an examination of the retailer’s identity and the scope for differentiation in an increasingly crowded marketplace.  This sets the scene for a review of retail product brands (private labels) followed by a discussion of the emergence of retail store branding and corporate branding.  The final section examines contemporary issues in retail branding.

Our concluding section covers two aspects of modern retail branding; brand experiences and relationships and retail internationalisation.  As retail brands have become more sophisticated and holistic, so the concepts of the brand personality and the brand experience have become more significant.  The meaning of the brand becomes the driving force for the retailer.  Retailers thus create a brand ideology, personality and impression.  For many the retail brand has become an experience with the flagship store at its apogee.  The internationalisation of retailing has added another dimension to the research on brands and retail branding, exploring brand transference, embeddedness and cross-border interactions.

Retail branding requires careful consideration of how the image and brand are developed and delivered, how they relate to consumer needs, demands and perceptions and an understanding of the importance of economic and symbolic dimensions of activities.  It is not just about sticking a name on a product. And sometimes it does go wrong – how much of the elements of the slide show below (from mid 2000s) has survived Tesco’s problems and failures to live up to the claims?

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We hope the chapter does convey something of the sophistication of contemporary brand management in retailing and how and why it has emerged as it has, together with some thoughts on future issues.  If you are interested (and it is not only food we consider) the submitted word copy is downloadable.  Looking at the contents of the volume as a whole, it looks really interesting and it will be good to read it.

Finally, why am I a little agitated about this and want to restate my denial of private label as retail branding?  It is because of the myopia I referred to earlier; I recently had to amend a journal article in order to get it accepted by an editor, as a referee was insisting that retail brands did not exist, but only private labels do.  It was not a core issue for the article, so we moaned but complied when it was insisted upon.  But as they say in these and other parts – that’s bollocks; this chapter sets out to show why.  Modern retail branding is a sophisticated strategic approach; it is not a label on a product, though that is a part of it.

Burt S and L Sparks (2016) Retail branding, Chapter 33 of Dall’Olmo Riley F, J Singh and C Blankson (eds)The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Brand Management, Routledge, London

And if you are interested, then this file has details of some of the other recent work on retail branding by Stirling retail staff.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Academics, Brand Extension, Brands, Consumer Change, Corporate branding, Labelling, Loyalty, Private brands, Private Label, Retail brands, Retail Change, Retailer Branding, Retailers, Retailing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Retail Branding: it’s not (just) private label

  1. I definitely agree with everything you spilled in here about retail branding. Good job for this great article! Thanks for sharing.

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