Moving beyond private label to make a real brand

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You may well have got started in FBA by looking for a product type, finding a Chinese supplier who could make it at the right price, and having it shipped to Amazon. Whether it was chopsticks, tee shirts, school stationery or LED lamps, the only thing that was really different from the competition was the label – and the price.

It’s still a business model that works if you get the right product niches. But to make a long term brand, rather than just sticking a portfolio of different products together, you need to do a bit more work.

First of all, you need a target customer and you need to know their pain points, or their precise wants. Here are a few examples:

•      fashionable black girl – “Why can’t I get good makeup made for dark skin?”

•      busy mom – “I need really unsmashable containers for food prep!”

•      cat owner – “I need cat toys my cat will play with for more than two minutes before she loses interest.”

•      mechanical pencil nerd, who happens to be an architect – “I want a mechanical pencil that’s got natural accents, like wood, which can take any size lead, and won’t roll off the desk or smash if I drop it on a site visit.”

Yes, pain points really can be that specific! So can customers.

The first customer has a whole load of businesses ready for her – she didn’t ten years ago, but she does now. Makeup is no longer made just for blonde, blue-eyed, pale-skinned girls.

Busy mom? If you can sort this out, you can sell her all kinds of other products based on the same promises of hard-wearing and time-saving.

As for the cat owner, I’d like to offer him a special cat toy subscription service. A new, tough, cat mint filled, toy every month.

And the architect? Actually finding the products is easy, but perhaps curating them in one place with other graphics materials would be a good idea. Then she might buy an opens-completely-flat notebook, too.

Of course you do need to find a niche that’s big enough. I suspect architects who have to work on site are not quite a big enough niche. But the others might be.

Secondly, you need to innovate. And again, think about pain points. Busy mom has a pain point she probably doesn’t actually know about, and that’s trying to do things one-handed. Kid in one hand, frying pan in the other. Shopping in one hand, door key in the other.

And almost all the food prep containers I know have closures that need two hands to close them. Time to innovate!

Thirdly, you need to be the go-to place for people who want your product. That might be a one-stop-shop, or it might be the place that always has surprising things, the place that’s always on-trend, or the place that takes accessibility seriously. (There’s a massive market for pens, cutlery, and tools that have good ergonomics for people who suffer from arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. But most of these products look hideous. There’s your niche!)

That enables you to leverage your brand in a way that doing private label the ‘old’ or the ‘easy’ way doesn’t. You are getting paid as a curator, not just a reseller. You are getting paid for knowing what your customers want to buy next. You can add wholesale to your product list now, if you like – you are ‘Mr Cat’, or ‘Pampered Pooch’, you have all the best toys, leashes, bedding, and now you can wholesale cat food too. (If it makes you money, obviously.)

It’s not about products any more. It’s about customers. You just turned your orientation on its head. And you know what? It works.

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