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Through online retail, Brandless offers a variety of health-conscious products all at the price of just $3. Image Source

We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s a lesson many of us were taught at a fairly young age. Well, in some cases, that lesson goes right out the window when it comes to the consumer market. And there is no shame in it. Companies know this. That is why branding is everything. It’s the first impression companies must skillfully craft to grab new customer’s and keep them coming back. The brand is the face of a company, and that face tells customers not only what the company offers, but can even provide a bit of insight into the values and mission of an organization.

But what if a company has no brand? Is that even possible? One company, started July 11, 2017, has in fact attempted the faceless approach, to an extent. Appropriately named, Brandless is an online food and household products company dedicated to providing customers with quality health-conscious products all set at a single price of $3. “Our mission is deeply rooted in quality, transparency, and community-driven values,” states the company. “Better stuff, fewer dollars. It’s that simple.” The company accomplishes this by eliminating what is called a brand tax, which consumer’s pay when buying from large name-brands. By reducing packaging to simply just the content of the product placed within a simple rectangular logo with no mention of the brand’s name, Brandless has been able to dodge the brand tax, offering lower prices to consumers. The company estimated that consumers on average pay 40% more on goods due to brand tax. To demonstrate their service to consumers, the company offers a savings comparison showing the total purchase amount with and without the tax.

So Brandless has succeeded in the impossible? Not quite. Here is the catch. The company’s branding, or more specifically their logo (a rectangle and an intentionally used trade mark symbol) is so minimalist, they are currently facing an Office Action from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; The UPTO claims that the design is not distinct enough and that “the color white on product labels to [Brandless] would be against the public interest,” since white labels are so commonly used. The UPTO also required that they remove the TM from the design as this cannot be trademarked within a design.

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Brandless’ current logo is facing an office action from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office due to its use of a commonly used general shape. 

Brandless now needs to submit a response to the office action or their product label will be denied. In other words, if any other company decides it wants to use similar branding and packaging, then they have every right to do so. If so, Brandless’ distinct marketing technique becomes washed out by a variety of competitors using similar colors, designs, and strategies. Suddenly, Brandless is just a face in a crowd.

So, is branding really avoidable, even in the clever way Brandless attempted? Without branding, a company may become indistinguishable to the next competitor, which is a potential threat Brandless could face. A brand is a lasting impression as well as a display of values that inspires people to buy as well as stay loyal to a product or service. However, with that being said, Brandless’ values are clear; the health, well-being, and affordability are a priority for their customers. These values are so well demonstrated, that the company is putting its customers before its own name, gambling their success. That begs the question is that enough to make a company memorable? So then isn’t that branding? Whether or not Brandless’ logo is rejected, their actions are still clearly leaving an impression on the market. If anything, Brandless is a reminder to marketers that aesthetic isn’t everything. Perhaps consumers don’t judge a book by its cover after all.

From a marketing management perspective, here are some questions to think about:

  • What are some pros and cons Brandless’ guerilla-like branding strategy provides for both the company and its consumers?
  • What are some examples of branding that go beyond label and package design?
  • As consumers become more consciously value-driven in purchasing, what should marketers keep in mind when branding and advertising to the market?