January 25, 2022

Differentiating Your Brand in a Crowded Segment

In South Carolina, Virginia, and my home state of North Carolina, there is a grocery chain called Lowes Foods (started by the son of the founder of Lowe’s Home Improvement).

You think your business segment is crowded?

Here in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), the grocery segment has gotten extremely competitive over the past decade. We have Aldi, and we now have a similar German-based competitor, Lidl. There’s Food Lion on the low end and Harris Teeter on the high end. We have Whole Foods, and we now have the similar competitor Sprouts. There’s Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Publix opened its first store in the area in 2014, and Wegmans invaded five years later.

One possible move when faced with a massive influx of competition is to wave the white flag. Kroger took this tactic, deciding to peace out altogether­­ – it announced it would close all 14 of its area stores in 2018.

Another tactic is to attempt to improve the existing product, and this is what most stores did. Food Lion and Aldi renovated their stores, with things like wider aisles and brighter displays. A Harris Teeter location added a bar in 2017.

But it could be argued that no grocery store in the area went as far as Lowes Foods. Rather than simple cosmetic changes to imply an improvement, Lowes went full-on thematic in its adjustment. The chain embraced a hyper local-centric theme, designing the entrance to look like a barn and arranging displays with a farm-fresh aesthetic. And truth be told, I really like the store.

My favorite of all the Lowes additions is The Beer Den, a bar in the center of the store that allows you to sit down for a beer or take it with you while you shop. The local theme is regularly on display in The Beer Den, which features almost all local or regional beers from around the state.  A few days ago, I was talking about local beer with the bartender when he asked me if I’ve heard of something they do called “The Beer Run.” When I said I hadn’t, he explained it to me this way:

“Over there in the beer section is something called The Beer Run. It’s filled with beer from smaller breweries all over the state that, for whatever reason, can’t logistically distribute outside their market. So, we’ll bring our trucks to the brewery, and get the product so we can give them exposure in markets they wouldn’t otherwise reach.”

The Beer Den at Lowes Foods

This is SO. FREAKING. COOL. Except for one thing.

When I walked over to The Beer Run, there were stickers under the beer with a Beer Run logo, but nothing anywhere that explained what it meant. I shared the story with multiple people because I was so taken by it, and no one else had heard about it either. As timing would have it, as I shared the story with my wife, we passed a Lowes Foods billboard. In large letters, it said BROBAMENOJU! And although you can read here what that apparently stands for, I assure you that one cannot read it when passing at 50 miles per hour.

We’re expected to read a non-sensical word and the definition and understand the marketing message. While you may get that they’re trying to tell you that their products in brown bags are good for you, that may not be the easiest message for a consumer to pick up.

There are a couple of takeaways from this blog I’d like to focus on.

One, Lowes is doing some pretty incredible and innovative things to differentiate itself from the competition. But if it does not tell the consumer what it’s doing, loudly and clearly, it cannot expect it will be understood.

Two, Lowes needs to ensure it is marketing the right things. Is healthier food an image it expects to win? Should it concede that Whole Foods owns that space? Are they different consumers? (great questions for research to answer).

If local is the differentiator, The Beer Run story would be a great one to tell. But it’s not even being told in the store (except by a very enthusiastic bartender).

When you make strategic changes to your brand, don’t expect the consumer to notice. Communicate the changes aggressively and clearly. Use research to determine which images are available to win, then focus intensely on messaging to win the image.

I’ll bet you have a brand story to tell. What’s your Beer Run?

 

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