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Comment: We’ll tell you what’s premium!

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With Rolex and Apple topping the latest Superbrand survey, one might be tempted to say think that the word ‘premium’ is incongruous with price, however our latest research findings suggest that this is not necessarily true.

As part of our investigation into all that is ‘premium’, we needed to clarify what today’s shoppers understand by the term ‘premium’ – and how they judge which brands are just a cut above the rest.

What soon became clear to us is that ‘premium’ is both a subjective and a relative term: a personal judgement made from an individual vantage point. So it is Laurent Perrier in some situations, Tesco’s Finest in others. What is always common, however, is the sense of trading up from cheaper alternatives in order to achieve a consistent and satisfying result – one that’s worth that extra investment.

Brand tiering, so evident in the grocery channel, has hard-wired good / better / best judgements into a multitude of everyday shopping decisions. In this context ‘premium’ is at the top of the pile: the Finest ready meal or the Butcher’s Choice sausages. It costs more, but we all know that you get what you pay for don’t we?

But move from the everyday shopping list to more special treats or indulgences and it becomes a little less clear-cut what the extra investment is paying for. Emotional terms creep in: ‘luxury’, ‘pampering’ even ‘guilt’. It seems to all get a bit more complicated.

However, when asked to rationalise what characterises ‘premium’ across the board, shoppers reach a clear consensus:

  • 76 per cent of shoppers cite ‘product quality’ as the key defining feature of a premium brand
  • In comparison only 51 per cent mentioned ‘price’, indicating what appears to be a more discerning value judgement that is being applied

Price alone clearly does not denote superior quality for shoppers. And so it seems that the days of being happy to be TOLD what we should all aspire to – and being made to pay through the nose for it – may perhaps be over. One shopper we spoke to succinctly summed up this apparent shift to substance over style when defining a premium brand: “Superior quality, great ingredients, more expensive – with an image to match.”

If the brand doesn’t invest in the product, why should I?

Care and attention also mark out a premium brand for many – in terms of its packaging and its treatment on shelf. When quality materials are used for packaging it suggests quality inside too. When time and trouble has been given to the design and look of a branded product, it suggests something that manufacturers are proud of. When brands are given an eye-catching dedicated space in store – or are even just presented in a neat and tidy fashion – it indicates that the retailer is willing to invest in them too. A seal of approval on all fronts, implying confidence that this is a premium brand that really is ‘worth it’.

So of course that leads us to the fixture. We often talk about how ‘switched on’ shoppers are these days – and how easily they now read the subliminal messages on shelf. They know that only the best brands command space and attention in store, hence the observation: “Premium products are generally tidier, not as crowded, and staff want to keep the area looking good to attract people with a little bit more to spend.”

As another shopper put it: “Brands are not just selling a product but a lifestyle or an image – stacking high in boxes does them no favours.” Poor housekeeping, or sloppy merchandising, can go a long way towards undermining a premium brand’s cachet. A firm bedrock of quality can protect brands against this potential erosion, but those brands less confident in their premium positioning must beware the message conveyed by such a clear neglect of presentation in store.

In short, great (and proven) quality appears to lie at the heart of an unequivocal premium brand definition – but there is clearly also a role for expressing this, through price, packaging, image or even channel and in-store theatre. These are the clues that shoppers use in store to spot the products that shout ‘quality’ and can tempt those extra pounds out of their purse.

Published on Wednesday 20 March by Editorial Assistant

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