What can startups (and the rest of us) learn From a zero-brand marketplace?

This is a photograph of the fresh food market in Ljubljana’s BTC shopping centre. If you’re used to regular supermarket produce, it’s an amazing array of fresh food. By Slovene standards, it’s nothing particularly special. Just somewhere that everyday people go to buy everyday groceries.

It was interesting to me because unlike the vast majority of customer environments in my daily life, it functions perfectly well in a virtually brand-free vacuum. I noticed this because:

  • There are no signs other than handwritten prices
  • The produce is laid out in near identical tubs and sold in plain plastic bags
  • The sellers have made no effort to market themselves ahead of time
  • They’re all dressed similarly in casual clothes
  • All the prices are visible so the customers have perfect comparative pricing knowledge
  • There is non of the loud hawking or sales theatrics that you find in many UK marketplaces

I asked my cousin “how do you choose where to buy from?” It turns out that this is pretty obvious.

Customers buy what looks good. And perhaps, if somebody really impressed them last time, they might buy from the same place again. This means that in the absence of branding, marketing, analytics, social media reach and spin, the product is the only thing that matters.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here for those of us trying to find our way in other industries?

Imagine that Ljubljana’s BTC market is at the far left of a sloping scale and at the opposite end is a product that is only bought because of branding. Each of us trying to make a business work needs to choose a point on that curve that we wish to inhabit. And as the photo above demonstrates, the better the product, the less brand support is required to retain your position on the curve.

Your product can be fruit or it can be copywriting, website design, photography or carpentry. But if you have limited resources and are trying to build something meaningful, placing the product or service at the very centre of your efforts always makes the rest of the task easier.

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