By Daniel Burrus | Oct. 4, 2017
If you’re a consumer who stays on top of retail trends, you’ve likely come across a line of products that have a somewhat unusual branding and pricing structure.
As the name of the company suggests, Brandless’ products are packaged and sold simply for what they are. Hungry for a bag of vegetable chips? Brandless offers a bag of “vegetable chips.” Looking for hand cream to help smooth out dry skin? Brandless has a “hand cream.” No manufacturer name or a brand title that’s a clever play on words—just whatever happens to be inside the bag, box or some other form of container.
Further, if you enjoy the “hunt” that comparison shopping can afford, best to take your safari elsewhere. Every Brandless product costs $3, no matter if it’s coffee or toilet bowl cleanser.
But Brandless is more than just simplicity in both presentation and cost. It’s a powerful illustration of a company that’s using a variety of anticipatory organization strategies—a useful example that shows how leveraging both Hard and Soft Trends as well as cycles can lead to success with low risk.
A Brand That’s Not a Brand
Of course, in creating a line of products under the heading Brandless, the company is, in fact, creating a brand. In one respect, the brand is simplicity and a straightforward approach—simply labeled products, all of which are priced the same. That’s a definite form of branding.
Additionally, the brand represents a departure from the traditional system by which products are brought to market. By bypassing expensive labeling, delivery, marketing and other features that inevitably lead to significant cost increases for consumers—in the case of hand cream, often more than 300 percent--Brandless effectively takes the point for shoppers looking for the least expensive prices possible. That, too, is a type of branding.
But Brandless also incorporates a number of features of my Anticipatory Organization Model that can offer significant competitive advantages. One is what I refer to as the Law of Opposites. By forgoing conventional retail price add ons in favor of flat fees for every item in their product line, Brandless is taking an opposite tack from the vast majority of retailers. That’s a form of innovation in an era where innovation is an imperative to identify significant opportunities.
The Leverage of Demographics
Brandless is also taking advantage of another core component of an anticipatory organization, namely, the Hard Trend that demographics represent. At one end of the spectrum are baby boomers who want to make the most of ever increasing life expectancy. And, to enjoy those years as much as possible, they’re focused on putting healthy, organic products in and on themselves—the sort of organic items that fill Brandless’ shelves.
Then there are millenials, a group who spends more than $65 billion each year and influences upward of $1 trillion in total consumer spending, according to a recently released study. At the risk of painting a significant segment of the population in one broad stroke, millenials aren’t always keen on doing the same things and buying the same products that prior generations did. While the lure of organics cuts across generations, millenials are likely less attached to those brand names that their parents and grandparents loyally bought year after year. Hence, the lure of the “brandless” packaging and message.
The Opportunity of Cycles
However mistaken it would be to dismiss the potential that the Brandless model offers, it would also be inaccurate to suggest that its focus on millenials’ buying habits and preferences was singular in its insight. The fact is that millenials are behaving pretty much the same way that every generation in history has behaved—yet another powerful idea that affords enormous opportunity.
Think back to when minivans were first introduced in the early 1980s. At the time, although they were inherently practical—a vehicle designed to transport families, often ones with young children—the question nonetheless persisted: Since their parents had grown up hauling their own young families around in the classic design of a station wagon, would buyers take to the new design?
At the time, my response was: absolutely. My reasoning was simple: the younger generation was starting to have kids, but they didn’t want to drive around in the station wagon that had been a mainstay of their garage when they were growing up.
That rejection of things that came before has been repeated for centuries and has continued to this very day. For instance, people of a certain age are attached to sleek, stylish lines in automobiles. Not so with younger buyers. Just take a look at the number of squared off, boxy cars that are filling the roadways. Once again, a new generation of buyers simply doesn’t want to replicate what prior generations embraced.
That’s an established, cyclical pattern. And, as the Brandless model shows, recognition and application of the leverage that cycles afford can translate into enormous opportunities.