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How Store Brands Turn Feedback Into Marketing

How Store Brands Turn Feedback Into Marketing

Private label is red hot, but even more interesting than its market share is its marketing.

On the one hand, retailers are trumpeting their own-brand value messages, with some — notably Publix — even offering free store-brand-equivalent products to customers purchasing certain national-brand items. The point is to promote product trial.

Others are taking a different marketing tack by soliciting customer opinions through clever campaigns, and using those comments to help promote their products. They're taking a page from the interactive world of social networking with its focus on user feedback — although these strategies aren't high-tech digital or meant to emulate Facebook or Twitter. Here are some recent examples of how retailers are pursuing and publicizing customer feedback.

  • Spartan Stores is sponsoring a contest to learn where shoppers use and enjoy its store-brand items. The company asked consumers to send digital photos showing how such products were used during a vacation or other outing, along with the details. A group of judges will name 20 winners in September who will split a total of $2,600 worth of Spartan gift certificates, including $1,000 for the grand prize.

  • Kroger Co. recently held a contest for the relaunch of its Comforts line of baby and toddler products. The chain asked shoppers to suggest a name for the yellow firefly featured on the line's packages. The winner, who is expected to be announced next month, will receive a $10,000 scholarship for their child.

  • Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets is seeking online feedback from shoppers about its store brands — including votes for the most popular items and opinions about products sampled at in-store demos. While this isn't really a contest, the chain did throw in an incentive for shoppers: They are encouraged to send short product reviews, and their feedback may be featured on the company's home page.

The above approaches each have unique aspects, but they also share a number of elements in common. These include solicitation of feedback for initiatives that are clever, fun and relatively inexpensive to pull off. The distributors may gain information about how consumers view their products, and the opportunity to broadcast that feedback for publicity purposes. All this takes advantage of consumers' increasing willingness to engage and share opinions, a phenomenon fueled by the growth of Facebook, Twitter, product review sites and other online tools. You could even say that such contests and initiatives help position private label in a progressive light.

That leads me to a contest of my own: picking which campaign I most admire — and I don't need anyone's feedback for this. While these are all very good programs, my favorite is Spartan's, because the distributor wins on multiple levels. In addition to engaging consumers and promoting its brand, Spartan recoups the dollar prizes when customers come back to spend the gift certificates in the participating Spartan Stores. Now that's a strategy!

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