The increasingly international CPG marketplace is bringing consumers brands, products and experiences from all over the world, and creating new revenue opportunities for brand owners. But brand expansion can entail creating mass appeal, which at the surface doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, but in reality can heavily dilute the key elements that make a brand unique. The danger lies in settling on some kind of lowest common denominator of brand attributes aiming to maximize appeal and scale of the brand. If not managed well, the brand loses its meaning and ultimately its equity.
As a consumer, I am thrilled to live and shop in today’s diverse global marketplace. Flavors that were once only found in their indigenous locales or in specialty stores have become mainstream. One might start their day with Starbucks Ethiopian coffee and a bowl of Dulce du Leche Cheerios cereal; for lunch enjoy a Near East quinoa salad, Lay’s sriracha flavored chips and a Naked pure coconut water; and perhaps end the day over an Absolut Berry Acai cocktail. Not only have foods and flavors from around the world become mainstream, they have in many cases become offerings from mainstream brands.
Part of this international bounty is due to the growing sophistication of the American palate. In particular, millennials, the most ethnically diverse generation in US history, seek new flavors and food experiences beyond what Gen-Xers or Boomers ever craved. They are influenced by an increasingly global mix of popular culture, sports, fashion, etc. that bring new relevance to products not traditionally found in their hometown. While this creates opportunities for brands, there is the risk – if not managed as well as some of the examples above – of appearing as a disingenuous and fad-chasing poser brand among a group of consumers that abhor disingenuous and fad-chasing poser brands.
This dynamic has been one factor in the movement for authentic, small-scale experiences ranging from artisanal soaps to food trucks to buying local. There is something virtuous about a brand that does not aim to appeal to everyone. For larger equities, even globally-relevant ones, brands can thrive by staying the course, knowing who they are and remaining faithful to their proud heritage without chasing the latest fad. I am particularly fond of the latest connection, for example, that Jack Daniel’s is making with Frank Sinatra, a famous advocate of the brand, in its brand communication. Frank drank Jack. There is an indelible, impossible-to-copy, lasting authenticity in that message, which should resonate well in a spirits world crowded with pop-stars-of-the-moment hawking their own libations.
Backlash against the implications of globalization goes well beyond the world of brands. This struck me recently while ordering a glass of Spanish wine at a Spanish restaurant. The waiter, also Spanish, begrudgingly poured the wine but informed me that it was “not a real Rioja.” Apparently the traditional methods of wine-making have been eschewed and replaced by more modern, globally relevant ones such as the abundant use of American oak barrels. It is increasingly hard to find “traditional Rioja” as more and more producers cater to international palates. The waiter went on to lament the movement in his home country to do away with its traditional siesta break during the day in an effort to make Spanish industries more competitive, all amid a national financial crisis.
Brand owners can take a lesson from all this and ask themselves if their equities possess something distinctive and perhaps worth celebrating, like Spanish Rioja or the siesta. If so, then tread carefully into new worlds before the lure of international riches undermine the unique brand DNA that your adoring consumers find so appealing. In fact, your loyal consumers might just like you all the more for it.