LAS VEGAS -- More random notes and comments from “Content Guy” Kevin Coupe from the annual summit sponsored by Information Resources Inc. (IRI), that took place Tuesday and Wednesday at the Wynn Las Vegas…
• Perhaps it is because the discussion connected so clearly with the editorial mission here at MorningNewsBeat, but one of the best sessions I’ve seen in some time came when Thom Blishock, IRI’s president of consulting and innovation at IRI, brought to the stage four “Blogger Moms” who run various websites in which they talk to moms all over the country, provide a forum for discussion of relevant issues, and offer companies a unique opportunity to get insights about how their customers see their products and services.
These women are representative of, and give voice to, hundreds of thousands of women all over the country. And they hardly are a homogenous group…in the space of just 30 minutes, they expressed a variety of opinions and perspectives.
For example, “a lot of women are embracing private label,” said Alma Klein of www.marketingmommy.net and www.chicagomomsblog.com, “because they are not the…generics that our moms brought into the house that we were embarrassed about.” However, she added, there are limits: “I would never buy no-name shampoo from a dollar store because I am not convinced it is going to work.”
Christine Young, a mother of six, of www.fromdatestodiapers.com said that she believed that brand loyalty was selective, and said that she was intensely committed to Johnson baby products (and was even before the company hired her to be a spokesperson for the brand). But she also said she felt the same kind of loyalty to another brand – Kirkland products at Costco, which is, of course, a private label.
And Liz Gumbinner, of www.mom-101.blogspot.com, said that as a former ad agency creative director she remains firmly committed to the power of brands, suggesting that it is only brand equity that helps a company survive when its products are found to be contaminated with cyanide or melamine.
The “Blogger Moms” agreed that transparency was an enormous issue for them. “We want clear labeling,” said Lynnae McCoy of www.beingfrugal.net. “If you are using GMOs in your products we want to know about it … we get to make the decision…if we find out abut it later, we’ll feel like we can’t trust you anymore.”
Klein pointed to the practice of shrinking product sizes and charging the same price – hoping that customers won’t notice – as a major pet peeve. “It gets people angry,” she said. “Be up front .. show us some respect, and maybe we’ll show more respect for you.”
Another point of agreement – high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is going to be the next trans fats of the food industry, and food manufacturers better get used to the idea.
“The relationship between brands and consumers is about to forever change,” said Gumbinner, “because your future is in the hands of consumers.” It is inevitable…and both retailers and manufacturers would be better off embracing the idea instead of denying or ignoring the reality.
That reality was live and on stage at the IRI Summit – vigorous, vibrant, engaged and more than a little frightening to an audience that largely seemed unfamiliar with the existence of Twitter.
• Private label seemed to be a major touch point for many of the other sessions…which makes sense, since the recession has prompted a growth in private label acceptability in the US, which makes CPG manufacturers a little nervous and makes retailers a little more willing to put the screws to their suppliers.
Some pertinent comments from various sessions…
“It isn’t private label. It is a private brand.” …Tim Hammonds, president emeritus, the Food Marketing Institute.
“If a manufacturer wasn’t the number one, two or three brand in a category, you were in real trouble before the economic downturn…there is a very distinct need for good private label development…it is good for the shopper…it keeps pressure on manufacturers to innovate. …Steve Goodroe, executive-in-residence, Terry College of Business at the university of Georgia.
“I’ve heard manufacturers say that they are not bringing new ideas to retailers because they are afraid they might steal them.” …Thom Blishock, IRI.
“Private label is here to stay and is going to grow. You can either fight it or live with it. The ones that fight it will probably be victims of private label growth over time.” …Jeff Martin, executive vice president, merchandising and supply chain, Giant of Landover.
• In another presentation, Mike Salzberg, president of the Campbell Sales Company, noted that his brand was prepared for the economic downturn because “we’ve gone through 30 recessions since 1869.” He suggested that the company’s message has always been about wellness, convenience, price and value…and that consistency of message has helped the company frame its message for the latest downturn.
And, Salzberg reiterated the “speed” message that was emphasized on the first day of the summit. “You have to question every decision you made 30 days ago, because it might not be the right answer anymore, and you have to be willing to cut bait and move on.”
• Mike Haaf, senior vice president/chief marketing officer for Food Lion, took the audience on a guided tour of the journey that his company has made from being a “one size fits all” retailer to one that has created multiple formats and store clusters that are uniquely customer-centric…and emphasized that “the journey toward customer-centricity is not over…it continues to evolve.”
• And Steve Forbes, the former candidate for the GOP presidential nomination and longtime editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, delivered an assessment of the current economy that included some small degree of optimism. “As someone once said, the world can only end once,” Forbes joked. “And this is not it.”
“With all the pessimism in the air,” he added, “the virtue of a free people is not that we don't make mistakes…we make plenty of mistakes…but you recover from those things, you learn from those things, and you figure out how to move ahead…eventually we get it right.”