[vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ shift_y=”0″][vc_column][vc_column_text]If you peruse the food section in Costco, you’re not likely to spot a KIND bar, or any variation of those branded products that crack your teeth. Many have been replaced by Costco’s private label, Kirkland. Evidently, Kraft failed to comply with Costco’s requirement that vendors “justify” price increases. We are officially at a point where customers tell vendors the price they will pay.

Brands still matter, and people will pay a price for uniqueness and functionality. Apple is shooting for a $1,000 price point for the new iPhone X. I guess I’m going to have to pull some benjis out from underneath the mattress (it’s a metaphor; please don’t show up at my house with a stocking pulled over your head).

However, branding is under attack. Creative agencies are having a difficult time staying relevant in an age where traditional advertising is quickly eroding in favor of digital media. Many products are now sold on Amazon and other ecommerce sites, where they are compared side by side, and the lowest-priced items are prominently presented. Rarely will you see brand families displayed, including at retail. Even Procter & Gamble, perhaps the greatest marketer in the history of man, is having a hard time keeping its shelf space.

Branding has entered a new era in which corporate reputation steals the headlines, often for all the wrong reasons. Some CEOs, like many news anchors, can’t seem to make it through the work day without hitting on a female colleague. Brands are taking a beating from all sides.

There are undoubtedly brands that still carry cache, such as Gucci and Coach. However, even high-end brands are facing cheap knockoffs from China and other places where intellectual property is not protected.

Brands can’t win on reputation alone. Products must be so interesting that customers keep coming back for more, because they are attracted to the brand’s mystique and the likelihood that it will offer something new. Reputation is not something that can be earned on any given day with any given offer. In strategy, we refer to this as “accumulative advantage”- advantages that point not to a single offer, but to the confluence of many offers on many days.

I wear Johnston & Murphy shoes. I mean, I only wear Johnston & Murphy shoes, because they last a really, really long time and are really comfortable. I’m not going to buy another brand just because I find a pair online for $20 cheaper.

Attributes that used to give brands an advantage, such as quality, are simply the cost of admission today. A brand must communicate a complete list of attributes, and perform consistently against those attributes over an extended period of time to steer clear of commoditization and irrelevance.

For more on the consumer goods sector, see our Consumer Goods, Food and Retail page.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]