The Overlooked Advocate

Why focusing on the inside is just as important as the outside

As Seen in Global Retail Brands Magazine, October 2018

At most good restaurants, the head chef wants the waiters, the people on the front lines, to actually be able to explain the intricacies of each dish. For the “specials”, waiters usually get to experience them before dinner service, and the purpose in this is simple. If the waiters have tried the specials, they can advocate them authentically to diners, and maybe even with some level of passion and credibility.


It is the same thing with Private Brands and retailers. People who work for the retailer organization, whether that is within headquarters or across store operations, can be vital advocates for the quality of the brand and its reason for being. The truth is, unfortunately, this is often not the case. It is not because they are incapable advocates, it is just because the culture hasn’t properly educated them. In many cases store associates haven’t tried the product, can’t point to signature items, and literally don’t know the real virtues of their own brands.


What you do inside the organization around your own brands helps to ensure advocacy on the outside where it matters the most, to the customer. This is seemingly an “old school” Private Brand precept, “educate on the inside to explain it outside”, but to me it is one of the first signals to how strong the culture is around brands. Here are some ways to further Private Brand advocacy and how to utilize your own, front line associates as real, influential weapons.


It starts with mission and purpose.


Most retailers and consumer goods companies have an overarching mission statement, and the great ones are aspirational, poignant and not just CEO-speak. However, there are very few Private Brand departments that define what they are trying to accomplish, the critical role they might play in helping the company reach its mission, and the higher ground they are reaching up for. And even for the vast amount of Private Brand departments that are wanting in mission, there still could be a “functional” outline of what the brands are there for, why they exist and the importance to the organization (shared with operations).


Trader Joe's Mission



For the largest of retailers like Target (with 350,000+ team members) or Tesco (with 500,000 employees), less than 1% of them work in the headquarters. There is an army of customer-facing associates, who if better armed with Private Brands’ mission and purpose, could be great “influencers” if they knew more. We just need to tell them and get them engaged.


The Human Resources department is the critical first point of touch.


It is important that we educate new employees, right from the onset of being hired, that private brands is important to the organization and why. In that first day with Human Resources, how have you equipped the various HR resources with a presentation on the role of own brands, a video message from leadership on the advocacy role they expect from store level associates, or a topline of the different brands and what they are designed to do? We miss a perfect, upfront signal and messaging opportunity if it is not done day one.


There needs to be ongoing operational dialogue.


Building advocacy for own brands isn’t just a one-time event, for your store level, operating associates it has to be consistently and authentically built into your monthly communications and meetings. The higher order purpose and opportunities can’t just be delivered by the Private Brands team only, other leaders throughout the organization need to be just as inspiring and repetitive in describing own brand objectives. What is the monthly progress of own brands, what are the new items and product successes, what is in the pipeline that will be important to roll-out positively to shoppers? Private brands have to have a regular, ongoing, prominent role in the operations dialogue and agenda for it to have cultural traction.


The importance of supplier summits and who to involve.


There are lots of Supplier Summits these days around topics like Innovation and Supply Chain, and some can be meaningful and productive interfaces when done right. But one “miss” we see a lot is not including Private Brands significantly in these summits, and not extensively including cross-functional leadership and operational leaders to participate. We tend to create personnel walls around certain topics, and this is usually because everyone is so busy and there is a desire to be time efficient. Everyone needs to hear the message around Private Brands, and when these supplier summits are created, ensure that Operations and people on the front lines are not left out.


Associates in the stores who are interfacing with your customers can be an incredible asset if they are armed, educated, integrated and inspired into the fabric of the retailers’ own brand objectives. Don’t let your associates be the uninspired army that was depicted in the movie “Employee Of The Month” – give them a true sense of why your private brands are essential and you will be surprised with their positive influence.


Employee Of The MpnthDax Shepard, Jessica Simpson and Dane Cook in “Employee Of The Month”




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