Milk faces branding dilemma

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Each year, when I attend the Alltech International Symposium, I walk through “The World’s Market” located on the ground floor of the Lexington (Ky.) Convention Center.

The market, which is part of the Alltech event, is a testimony to the power of branding.

Rather than just any generic ice cream stand, I walk up to “Chaney’s Dairy Barn”; rather than just any café setting, there is “Alltech’s Haitian Coffee Garden of Hope.” Over at the meat counter, the daily special is Lyons Farm New York Strip.

The power of branding has served Alltech well over the years, boosting the company from a $10,000 startup in 1980 to one with annual revenue in the hundreds of millions of dollars — now approaching $1 billion.

Name recognition is huge. Even the arena at the Kentucky Horse Park north of Lexington bears Alltech’s name.

Each year at the Symposium, Alltech shares secrets to success. In 2010, they brought in Joaquin Pelaez, senior vice president and chief support officer for the China Division of Yum! Brands Inc., who summed up the power of branding fairly succinctly.

A brand allows a company or product to create a positive image that draws customers, he said. “It is an amazing privilege when consumers come to you because they trust you.”

Recently, I read that the Roberts Dairy brand was going to disappear. It bothered me a little bit because I grew up in an area where Roberts was a leading brand. Obviously, not all brands last forever. But, in the case of milk, any brand loyalty must be preserved as much as possible since milk is often seen as a generic commodity rather than as a valueadded, branded product.

Can milk ever overcome this? Will it become iconic like Coke or Pepsi? Or will it simply remain “milk”?

The more I think about it, the more I see the wisdom of forming partnerships with Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s and others. That way, the dairy industry is able to leverage its products with the brand recognition of a McDonald’s. And, when an industry leader like McDonald’s commits to something and has success with it, others in the industry are sure to follow.

Dairy Management Inc., which manages the national dairy checkoff program, is to be commended for making a switch from generic advertising to the strategic partnerships. (Actually, the switch was made years ago and announced in 2005.)

Branding is important. But as any good marketer knows, you have to connect with consumers and speak their language. For now, milk is milk. So, let’s embrace the good things about milk, publicize its nutritional benefits, and work with well-known companies that see those benefits, as well.



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