Retailers create the logo, packaging, and messaging used when talking about a specific product their store sells.
But, without a strong brand behind your product, there’s little to compel a buyer to choose it over another option. And with so many comparable options in most industries today, branding is more important than ever.
Product branding gives the items in your store an identity within the marketplace. Do it well and your products will stand out against what a competitor offers and engender the kind of customer loyalty that pulls customers into your brick-and-mortar store—even when it’s just easier to grab something online.
So, how do you make your products stand out in a sea of sameness? This guide shares important things to consider in your product branding strategy, alongside examples of five recognizable products that became wildly successful as a result of strong branding.
Table of Contents
What is product branding?
Product branding is the process of creating a brand for a standalone product. This type of strategy gives a product its own identity.
People know what to expect when they purchase a product … even if they haven’t had their own relationship with it yet. Shoppers buy into the brand of a product—including the “feel” it gives off—and consider that when searching for new items.
Science proves that most purchasing decisions are emotional. Product branding helps retailers manufacture those emotional connections, which direct potential customers toward a sale.
Product branding is crucial to the success of a corporate brand in the sense that, in most cases, a product can be the identity of the brand. For example: People know what a Snickers bar is. Not everyone knows who Mars Inc. is.
Elements of product branding
Interestingly, color is noted as one of the most important elements of branding. The science behind it shows colors impact our behavior, mood, and stress levels.
Truth is, product branding is not about any one thing. The whole creates something bigger than the sum of the parts. The product’s identity is built with numerous components, each of which come together to create an emotional connection for the customer. That includes:
- Logo design
- Names and descriptions
- Product packaging design
If product branding feels a little hard to pin down, that’s because it truly is. Branding is all about a variety of aspects about your products (and store as a whole) combining to influence how shoppers feel.
Successful product branding is heavily influenced by the expectations you set in consumers through components of your products—and whether or not you meet them.
Corporate branding vs. product branding
A strong retail brand identity leads to a strong impression on consumers. Your brand identity defines not only what your brand is, but every single interaction a customer has with your brand, both online and in-store.
A company’s brand—including company values, brand story, visual identity, and tagline—has a major impact on consumers. But products can have their own identities, too.
Product branding is when marketers introduce a product to the public with its own unique identity. This can be with the product name, logo, design—any aspect of the product that differentiates itself from all else.
In such cases, the parent company (the brand) becomes obsolete, while the product identity is of more significance. In a sense, these branded products can be considered mini-brands or extensions of the parent company.
Product branding emphasizes the commodity rather than the umbrella of the brand under which it exists. It’s a strategic tactic retailers can take if they have a product that fits the bill: it’s noteworthy and significant, or one of a few products in a line. If your business has a ton of dime-a-dozen products, it’s likely not worth the effort.
The importance of product branding
Target a submarket
Your target market is the group of people most likely to buy the products you sell. Fine tune your branding materials to reflect their own beliefs, values, and interests to reach and engage them.
But instead of taking a company-wide approach to attracting your target market, go granular. Break your target market down into submarkets—smaller, more specific groups of people most likely to buy each individual product.
If you’re targeting Gen Z customers, for example, sustainability-related messaging is high on your priority list when branding new products. It’s something that demographic is known to prioritize when searching for new brands to support, spending 10% more on sustainable items.
All successful brands have a target customer and a positioning with that customer, i.e., best price, best quality, most innovative, etc. Only by clearly understanding the positioning of the product’s brand is a retailer able to properly place and promote the product within their own assortment.
McDonald’s shows how these product brands differ by submarkets. Its entire target market is adults who need a fast, cheap meal. Its Happy Meal products, however, are created for children. The marketing strategy, product packaging, and value proposition (free toy) for those products are entirely different from its other meals.
Know your value proposition
Recognizable products stand out on shelves—an important thing to consider if you’re partnering with other stores such as supermarkets or grocery stores.
Take the toothpaste industry, for example. Manufacturers fight to get their products stocked in supermarkets. But when they get there, they’re competing against other brands on the shelf. The formulas of each toothpaste don’t vary dramatically.
A strong product brand makes people consider your options over the competition. They know that your toothpaste is recommended by dentists and appears in their Instagram feed often, and friends have told them the toothpaste actually tastes nice. Those three product branding components work together so your value proposition becomes a major accelerator in driving revenue.
Strong product branding is how you make sure what you’re offering stands out from every competitor with similar products and grabs the attention of your audience by building a unique identity.
Build product loyalty
Earlier, we mentioned that product branding relies heavily on the impression you give to a customer, and whether the experience they have when they purchase delivers on it. Get this right and you’ll convince them to stick around. Customers who feel an emotional attachment to a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value.
People enjoy telling others about their favorite brands. People wear brands, eat brands, listen to brands, and are always informing others about the brands they enjoy. On the other hand, you can’t tell someone about a brand you can’t recall.
We see this concept in action with coffee chain Starbucks. A research paper compiled the top factors that drove brand loyalty for the retailer. Its friendly environments and safe, consistent locations worldwide were two large factors in why customers formed emotional ties with the brand and remained loyal.
The consistency of the Starbucks environment has contributed to consumer trust. By providing a great experience where the barista remembers the customer, recalls his or her preferences, and makes the customer feel special, Starbucks influenced the brand loyalty factors of satisfaction and commitment.
Reward loyalty everywhere customers shop
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Leveraging a product branding strategy
Ready to build a new identity for your inventory? Whether it’s a new product or you’re undergoing a rebrand, this branding process will help them better connect with customers, leaving them with positive feelings about what you sell.
Do your research
Before you start contacting designers and asking them to create some fancy new logos for your product lines, take a step back. Research comes first.
Though there are several facets to branding. The two most critical are identifying your audience, and then identifying and studying your competition.
Meeks continued, “Once you obtain that information, you can construct a branding strategy that both addresses what your target audience wants, as well as finding out where your competitors are falling short, and then focusing on both those elements in your promotions, which, in turn, brands your product’s identity.”
Go out and interview customers, talk to shoppers, and get feedback from the market. You might also need to carefully consider the why behind what you offer and who you want to sell to. Answer questions like:
- What are the values and beliefs of my business?
- What is the purpose of my products?
- Who am I trying to serve and why?
- What does my ideal customer think about the world? What are their tastes and preferences? What would make them feel seen, valued, and cared for? How can I connect with them on a deep emotional level?
- What promise does my product deliver to customers, and does it deliver?
- How do people see my business and product line right now?
- How do I want people to see my business and products moving forward?
These questions will help you drill down to a few essentials that can inform the specific message and feeling you want your product branding to convey—critical information to know before you start making decisions on a visual brand identity.
Product branding requires that you stay consistent with images, design, quality, and messaging across the board. People begin to recognize and remember a brand after seeing it between five and seven times.
“Retailers often aim high when it comes to branding but fall short due to a lack of consistency,” says Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder and Publisher of Retail Minded.
“From their in-store marketing to their ecommerce marketing to their social media efforts to their email blasts and more, consistency is key to keep your audience both engaged and connected to your brand messaging.”
Take the following steps to create a cohesive brand across your store so different products don’t clash with each other (even when they’re not the exact same item):
- Establish a clear brand message that every product must convey.
- Designate color palettes for your designs.
- Create a style guide to clearly list out what your brand voice and tone are (with guidance on how to follow both).
branding by positioning and repitition. people walk by your product on shelves in store, regardless of if they purchase, the next time they see your digital ad, they may be more inclined to buy. 👀— dennis hegstad.eth🤠 (@dennishegstad) August 15, 2020
Get your team involved
If your products can create emotional ties with your customers, imagine the wonders your human team can pull off if they’re empowered to support your branding efforts.
Your employees are your most powerful brand-building resource—the customer experiences they deliver impact brand perceptions and preferences far more than any marketing you do, so make sure they understand and embrace your brand and appropriately interpret and reinforce it in every customer interaction.
This means including your business’ philosophies, values, and missions in their toolkit. Do they understand your biggest goals as a retailer? Do they know what message you want your store and products to send?
Give them this information and allow them to act on it, too. Provide guidelines for customer interactions that reflect the kind of brand personality you want to project to anyone visiting your store.
Examples of strong product branding
Not sure how to put these ideas to work in developing a stronger brand for your product? Check out how other retailers are building their product branding to understand how to apply the theory behind brand building.
You don’t maintain your spot at the top of the soda game for over 100 years for nothing.
Coca-Cola is regimented in the consistency of its product branding. Everything the brand produces conveys a consistent message and vibe, from its website to its social channels to its stores, where retail associates wear its iconic red uniform.
Logos, ad spots, social media, and even the shape of its bottles—this soda juggernaut maintains tight control over every aspect of its product branding. And it works to its advantage. The Coca-Cola brand is valued at $74.7 billion—blowing competitors like Pepsi and Red Bull out of the water.
Coca-Cola has managed to reach a level of authority few brands reach, using simple but striking imagery and product messaging that has millions of people associating their beverage with connection, love, and fun.
You can watch almost any commercial from Target and know exactly what store the ad is for—even without seeing the iconic bullseye logo (or the brand’s bull terrier mascot).
The quirky, fun, energetic vibes combined with the aesthetic of each TV spot are memorable and completely in line with the company’s personality and how it wants its customers to feel. That’s what excellent product branding is all about—the momentum that keeps shoppers choosing the retail store over cheaper or more convenient competitors.
If product branding is about emotion, Harley-Davidson nails it through a number of efforts to clearly communicate what the company is and exactly who it’s for. (It’s why the brand is top of mind when someone asks you to name a type of motorcycle.)
Everything Harley Davidson does, from the atmosphere of its stores to communities like its Harley Owners Group, makes customers feel like they’re part of something that’s exclusive to serious motorcycle owners and riders with no nonsense and no frills—just the freedom of an open road.
If we were to ask people to describe how they interpret an Apple product, phrases like “secure,” “expensive,” and “technologically advanced” would be common responses. That’s the brand Apple has built around its products—a strategy that makes it the most valuable brand in the world.
Apple’s entire product marketing strategy is based around being technologically advanced, friendly, and secure. It’s why you’ll find in-store classes that teach shoppers how to take photos, record videos, and code. (You guessed it: each of those activities involve an Apple product.)
Whoa! The power of brand. I took these photos at the Miami Dadeland mall. On the right, it’s the @Microsoft store. Fairly empty, not much happening. On the left, you have the @Apple store. Packed. Hustling & bustling. It’s the only store at the mall with a queue to GET IN. 🤔 pic.twitter.com/t1rLLxv8fI— Gaetano (@gaetano_nyc) September 30, 2019
Say you walked into a retail store looking for a new body wash. Every bottle has the brand’s logo and a brief description of what the product is, and maybe some direction on how it’s used. But you stumble upon LUSH’s Snow Fairy body wash—a limited-edition product that’s nailed its branding so much that your family and friends have told you to buy it when it next becomes available.
The infamous scent and bright pink color play a role in making Snow Fairy a bestseller—as does the huge PR push LUSH does before its annual release.
Snarky product descriptions, which reflect the overall tone the brand tries to reflect back to its target customers, also enforces customers to form an emotional tie to the product.
To push the boat even further, LUSH’s retail stores act as the home for a Snow Fairy–themed experience. Its Liverpool store, for example, has an Instagrammable floor replicating the brand of its product: pink, fun, and Christmassy. With such a strong brand identity, it’s no wonder thousands flock to buy the Snow Fairy product line each year.
Start using product branding at your store
Don’t shrug product branding off your to-do list if your company, as a whole, already has a notable brand. By giving personality and identity to each product in your catalog, potential customers form emotional ties with them. It’s those attachments that drive sales in a world where every product looks the same.
This post was originally written by Kali Hawlk and has been updated by Elise Dopson.
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