‘Smart brands’: Building equity by ditching the “bells and whistles”

More and more brands today are opting for simplicity over seduction
September 2018
‘Smart brands’: Building equity by ditching the “bells and whistles”

As modern-day consumers, it is hard not to be seduced by major brands reaching out to all of our senses, grabbing our attention through captive marketing campaigns and manipulating our moldable perceptions through careful brand positioning and packaging.

On the contrary, there are some brands today that work off the complete opposite strategy. Open, honest and without all the needless trimmings, smart brands build their equity on appealing to what consumers actually need and discarding the big-brand mark ups. Here, we'll take a look at our favorite so-called “smart brands”.

Brandless (USA)

Founded in 2017, this brand sells over 200 clean-label food, beauty and personal care products, and household supplies under its own Brandless label, selling only online to avoid passing on additional costs to their customers. Brandless limits its offerings to simplify shopping; there is often just one choice for each type of item. Every product is sold in minimal packaging for just $3.00—or two for $3 or three for $3—a price that the company says reflects the elimination of a "brand tax," or the costs associated with marketing, advertising, distribution, and brand cache. Brandless base their service on “Just What Matters”, establishing a loyal and growing following since its inception.

Dollar Shave Club (USA)

“We'll succeed because Gillette is too expensive.” - The fervent creed of the Dollar Shave Club, the successful subscription-based model that caters for all things male grooming.  It was acquired by Unilever in 2016 for $1 billion and has acquired millions of loyal customers worldwide along the way. The punchy, humorous, yet all the while no-nonsense approach to their products actively appeals to their target of the simple male, who knows the pain of forgetting to buy new razor blades every month, not to mention paying extortionate amounts of money for razors, all too well. Watch below for their original high-spirited, back-to-basics advertisement that spring-boarded the Dollar Shave Club to the top of the men’s grooming market.

Southwest Airlines (USA)

Southwest launched their “Transfarency” marketing efforts in 2015, intended to amplify its status as the no-fee carrier– its base fares do not come with add-on charges for baggage or fees for flight changes, nor do they include any other hidden charges. This expulsion of all unnecessary additional charges, coupled with a strong customer service reputation, has helped to build a relationship of trust and transparency amongst passengers. Their simple, honest and no-frills approach clearly resonates with consumers – the company carried 130 million passengers in 2017. The way in which they communicate this message has also played a role in the success of the campaign– Their pleasant, authentic and conversational tone of their marketing platforms is reassuring to existing customers and has brought many more onboard.

Charles Shaw (USA)

The popular US grocery chain Trader Joe’s launched a wine label priced below $3 in 2002, with its value proposition appealing to “smart” consumers with an interesting activation at the point of sale. It proved to be an extremely savvy move, with an unprecedented 800 million bottles of “Two Buck Chuck” wines being sold in its first 12 years onTrader Joe’s shelves. Their range of wines is more than extensive, offering Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio to name a few, not to mention a recently launched range of classic wine varieties using only organic grapes. Some people might be inclined to turn their nose up at the sight of $2 or $3 wine; however this wine has been critiqued by connoisseurs all over the world and has received many accolades along the way, as well as surpassing the billion bottle mark in 2016, which has helped to silence many naysayers.

Tesco (UK & Ireland)

The UK and Ireland grocery giant anchors it’s positioning on “everyday value,” helping its customers save money, without compromising on quality. Their messaging uses an amusing brand tone of voice that intrigues consumers to engage with the brand in a comfortable and almost personal fashion and with this playful wit, avoiding any uncertainty surrounding the creation a ‘cheap’ brand image. Tesco stocks high quality goods on par with many known consumer brands, but without the consumer brand price tag. In case they haven’t told you already, every little helps.

E. Leclerc (France)

The popular French retailer takes a ‘political activism’ standpoint to convey its positioning around quality and low prices. They argue that eating a balanced diet shouldn’t be an upper class privilege and that a healthy, varied diet should be accessible to all, regardless of social class and income. This political activist approach has inspired consumers to stand up and reject paying high prices for basic fresh produce and to instead adopt what they offer – quality, healthy, food at low prices.

Their own private labels Repere and organic line Éco+ provide hundreds of different high-quality products at prices affordable for everyone, giving them a greater customer reach versus their competitors. Their approach has shaken up the French supermarket sector in such a dramatic fashion, that they have recently leap-frogged long-term rival, Carrefour, who led E. Leclerc in market share 22,9% vs. 14,2% in 2008. E. Leclerc overtook their rivals with a market share of 21,3% vs. 20,2% in 2017, proving the punch that smart brands can pack. [1]

As we can see, these“smart brands” really do live up to their name, building brand strength and equity by cutting out all the unnecessary bells and whistles, all the while focusing on the more profound aspects of consumer needs and wants.

By solely focusing onthese important aspects, smart brands captivate consumers and entice them to buy honest, buy simple and buy smart.

As they say, easy does it.


‘Smart brands’: Building equity by ditching the “bells and whistles”Jaime Martín
Founding partner & CEO