Bynder Marketing Insights

Branding A Commodity

Written by Daniel Schafrat | 5 May 2014

Brand consultants love a challenge, which is why, around a year ago, there was somewhat of a furor in our department when a well-known German toilet paper manufacturer called to book a consultation session...

Our free one-hour consulting sessions focus on a discussion regarding the ambitions of the company in question. Based on our experience with other clients and partners, we share our observations of industry trends. Next, we discuss how the company can better their branding strategy. Together we figure out what problems the client is experiencing and on what issues they can improve.  

Most people will agree that toilet paper is one of the most boring products to market out there. There are thousands of existing brands, all boasting similar features: triple-ply, double-ply, extra soft, extra strong, etc. We've heard it all a thousand times, which is why unexciting products like toilet paper are labeled “commodities”. Generally, commodities are defined as products that have many substitutes in the market.

Unfortunately for our toilet paper clients, commodities are also generally thought to be insanely hard to brand because they are so standard and, dare I say it, boring. They are largely undifferentiated products - consumers usually do not perceive a huge difference between brands and the offerings are interchangeable. Moreover, the most important concern with branding commodities is portraying the desired price range. Consumers usually buy commodities based on their price – luxury items are meant to be expensive, whereas budget items have to be low-priced. Other examples for undifferentiated commodities include toothpicks, bicycle pumps, printing paper.

Don’t get me wrong though; there is great value in commodities – billions worth in fact! After all, everyone needs toothpicks and toilet paper.

Which brings us right back to our toilet paper consulting session. The market is flooded with toilet paper brands (just think of Charmin, Kleenex, Andrex, etc...), so how were we going to make our clients’ brand stand out?

I went on a mission of sorts: I asked my colleagues which brand they personally prefer (and yes, it was as awkward as it sounds). After much discussion, we realised that we all had a specific brand in mind, but no concrete reasons as to why we preferred that specific brand. Those of us buying budget brands admitted that we had a favourite, yet there were many others for the same price that we never thought of trying. The ones who preferred the more luxury brands may have had specific reasons for preferring their choice, yet their reasons could be applied as easily to any other luxury brand out there.

We concluded that consumers inevitably tend to link certain instincts, emotions, and eventually loyalty to specific brands of toilet paper. There may be a hundred varieties out there, some with 2-ply rolls, others with cartoon prints, but our gut would always tell us to go for a specific brand. 

How then were we going to make our clients’ commodity stand out? 

The obvious solution was that in order to sell one of the most boring products in the world, we would need to create a strong brand that was tangible to consumers without them even needing to hold it in their hands. Eye-catching design, catchy slogans, funny commercials – instantly recognizable branding that would immediately differentiate our clients’ products from their competitors. We would need to create such a visual identity for this brand of toilet paper, that the toilet rolls themselves would be the least important part of the brand. Creative branding would be our clients’ way to escape from selling the product on its own merits, which would be difficult as one roll of toilet paper is basically unrecognizable from another without the packaging (at least to our inexperienced eye).

I encourage you to learn from our experience. Learn to search for your own unique selling proposition. Most importantly, create a brand and sell that brand. Using brand guidelines to enforce that brand across all communications channels. Create unique attributes, unique promises, unique values – features that only your specific brand can offer. 

Most importantly, learn to look for hidden differentiators. There will always be factors about a brand not visible to the naked eye such as your customer service, company identity, support services, etc. Your job as brand creator will be to pick and choose the factors that will make your brand strongest. Be innovative, and you can create a career-building brand out of a commodity like toilet paper.

Oh, and about our client. Thanks to our consulting services, our client was able to roll out an effective marketing strategy and create strong and effective brand guidelines that will help them manage their brand for years to come.

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