What price premiumisation?

The do’s and don’ts of creating a premium offering for a mainstream brand

For brands, there’ll always be a desire to deliver an experience that’s worth paying more for. One of the ways that consumer brands aim to do this is by developing a premium offer that encourages their audience to “trade up” to a product or service that’s somehow elevated above the core brand experience.

There are plenty of reasons to do this; it might be to satisfy shareholders, increase margins or grow a category, but the challenge is always to ensure that the core brand remains recognisable and approachable while delivering something that’s worth the extra cost. Done well, a premium offer enhances perception, adds value and amplifies all of the things the core brand is loved for. Done badly however, and the premium offer risks damaging the master brand.

So with all this in mind, how do you set the design strategy for your brand launch? What do you change and what do you keep? And what exactly makes a brand or an experience premium? The most obvious place to look for answers is the luxury sector, which shows three main qualifiers for a truly premium experience:

Superior quality or performance: Think sports cars like Aston Martin which offer an elevated driving experience through measurable superior performance. Does your product offer noticeably improved performance compared to your competitors or the core brand? This can also be difficult as the offer of improved performance casts doubts on the core brand.

Scarcity, rarity, unexpectedness: Here we look to jewellery, diamonds, gold and things that are more valuable precisely because of their rarity. This is often a difficult thing to achieve with consumer brands as genuinely rare ingredients will obviously make costs prohibitive, but does the product make use of exotic or unexpected ingredients that make it a bit more special?

Being in demand, valuable or important: This is the space that mainstream brands can use to trade up most effectively because it’s a balance between functional and emotional benefits, and is the space that best allows brands to do what they should do best - tell engaging stories.


The do’s and don’ts of premiumisation

DO be clear on the reasons behind your drive to premiumise

Before you dive headlong into creating a new premium offer, it’s always important to define needs of your brand. What are you looking to achieve with your premium launch? Are you trying to satisfy shareholders? Increase margins? Grow the category? It’s also vital to define the needs of consumers. Are you trying to appeal to a new audience? Or respond to a new need, want or insight? If you don’t truly understand the reasons for extending your brand into a premium space, how will consumers?

DO understand what makes something premium

Broadly, we think there are three qualifiers for a premium experience and these define the types of story you can tell with your premium offer:

• Superior quality / performance • Scarcity / rarity / unexpectedness • Being in demand / valuable / important

Each comes with its own challenges: claims about quality or performance need to be backed up with noticeable benefits; rare or exotic ingredients increase costs for both you and the consumer; and the creating the feel of value or importance means delivering on an experiential level. You don’t have to achieve all of these at once, but if you can deliver on one or more, you’re well on your way to creating a meaningful premium offer.

DO tell stories to take the consumer along with you

Whether you’re celebrating your heritage, provenance or performance, stories give consumers a reason to become invested in your brand and ultimately, pay more for the enhanced experience of your offer. For their Premium Mixer range, Schweppes took inspiration from their history and their patent for the first bottle that could hold carbonated drinks. It allowed them to tell a story about heritage, but also about craft and experimentation, all in service of the perfect gin and tonic.

DON’T over-promise and under-deliver

It might seem easy to start throwing around hyperbole and letting your design team run wild with rich colours or flashes of gold, but unless your premium offering is genuinely premium, the disconnect between your promises and the experience could damage both the brand extension, and even the core brand. A premium promise has to be met with a premium experience, don’t let your design and language write a cheque that the product itself can’t cash.

DON’T assume that you can copy from other categories

Taking cues from luxury brands is a great way to elevate your brand extension, but it’s important to pick and choose cues wisely and stay relevant to your category. A simplistic example would be that while “cream” is luxurious and opulent for the yogurt category, applied to a fabric softener it carries connotations of stickiness and sogginess; completely at odds with the usual notions of lightness and freshness you’d associate with such products.

DON’T lose sight of your core strengths

When you’re exploring new territory for your brand it can be easy to get carried away with what sets your premium offer apart, but a crucial part of creating a brand extension is protecting what lies at the heart of your brand, and holding on to what consumers know and love about you. Your premium offer shouldn’t be so disconnected from the core brand that it feels unfamiliar, if it does then perhaps it’s not a brand extension that you need to create, but a new brand entirely.

Ultimately, premiumisation is about more than just packaging; it’s about delivering a meaningful, motivating experience that adds real value to your brand. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind and you should be off to a good start.

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