Pleasure Products: Manufacturing the Message or Retailing the Brand?

During my extensive eavesdropping at July’s ANME, I couldn’t help but overhear two novelty heavies engaged in an intense and spirited conversation. Spit was flying as the heated debate roiled. What is the answer to the age-old industry question: Who is responsible for driving the brand message – the manufacturer or the retailer?

Like with most things, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. There’s a role for both the manufacturer and the retailer to play when it comes to driving the brand. So long as both entities are on the same page messaging-wise, this should be a fairly smooth, logical and effective partnership. Ideally both need to be pushing the same message and speak with one voice for the brand. For a real simple example, that means if the manufacturer is rolling out a new tagline, retailers are going to want to remove signage with the old one.

There’s a role for both the manufacturer and the retailer to play when it comes to driving the brand. -Brian Sofer

In most industries it’s up to the manufacturer to create, establish, codify and then control the brand message or story. That makes sense, right? Let’s say Brand X is part of our company. Naturally, we will want to craft our company’s brand image with our team. All due respect, we don’t want a store clerk, blogger, know-it-all writer – or anyone for that matter, defining or messaging our brand. That’s in our wheelhouse, we’ll communicate our brand message and agenda clearly to our retail partners so they can then take it to their customers.

Once Brand X develops the game plan, the message can be delivered at a macro level and reinforced at the local or retail level. That balance and direction should be maintained. So when a manufacturer invests in a special national event or promotion from soup to nuts including advertising, taglines, messaging, full media support, etc – and then, with all the best of intentions your employee who is ‘good with sayings’ wants to incorporate some of his own cool promotional ideas, slogans and taglines into the mix? Yeah – don’t do that. Because right there you’re instantly clouding the message, diluting the event and likely confusing just about everything in one awesome burst of “outta your element.”

As they should, many brands are extremely protective of their image and how they’re portrayed in the public. It’s certainly not unusual in most industries to receive specific brand guidelines with new logos or corporate identity elements. Usually with an incredible level of specificity including things like, do not alter background color, do not rearrange product mix, do not crop, and so forth. Why? Because they need to maintain control of their message and their image. Just like in politics – if a blue party leader says X and a blue party leader says Y during a campaign, they’re “off message.” And being off message means you’re communicating a mixed or confused idea – that’s what all manufacturers are trying to avoid.

Don’t misunderstand me, there’s most definitely a strong role for retailers to play in the branding game. One of them is fairly crucial, that’s driving that brand in the store and actually converting it into immediate sales ie: cash money. It’s one thing for marketing eggheads in their ivory towers to come up with revolutionary and brilliant concepts – that’s all great – but someone has to leverage those ideas into strong sales, repeat customers and new revenues.

As retailers it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with what you’re selling beyond just the features and benefits of a specific product. If you’re able to sell the manufacturer’s brand story you’ll make an easy sale and likely earn a repeat customer; provided of course that the brand story isn’t, “Those are French.” But rather, “the brand your looking at is about luxury, confidence, femininity, sexual empowerment, discovery, positivity” – whatever that message is, that is what you should be broadly selling to your customers about the line. The manufacturers will set the messaging and the retailers should run with it. So use that already developed, manufacturer messaging and branding in your store’s print and radio advertising for example. Why reinvent the wheel?

Manufacturers have marketing teams that do nothing but develop strategies to elevate their brand and increase sales. As always, take advantage of all the resources available through your manufacturers. Use them to create email blasts, coupons, social media graphics, website banners, in store signs and displays. Get a hold of your vendor rep and ask to partner on a promotion, contest, store seminar or sales event. You’ll be amazed all the ways your manufacturer reps can provide support for their retailers.

At the end of the day, if both manufacturers and retailers are presenting a unified brand message to all consumers, everybody wins. Active and often communication with your manufacturer reps or your retailer customers will ensure best results for all concerned.

Brian Sofer currently serves as marketing ninja at Eldorado Trading Company. Sofer joined the Eldorado team in 2010. Brian is a creative, results-oriented marketing professional with extensive experience across his career utilizing digital media.