We could argue for both, but it would seem the one who survives to win is the tortoise, no matter manufacturer or retailer.
In some categories, it would appear (without naming names) the retailer is all over the place (racing ahead, falling behind, acting over confident and then falling short). But, it is also easy to make an example out of manufacturers who have, in their own unique way, bounced around between what their brand means to people to what types of innovations they can bring to market to the way they promote their brand with margin crushing methods like coupons.
So, private brand or manufacturer brand, we believe each can learn at least three lessons from this epic race.
1. Movement forward is positive, no matter what the pace.
This applies to any brand, even in technology where sometimes people think everything is moving so fast a tortoise would never poke its head out in time. Well let's consider Apple, we remember using them a decade ago as a great example in design and being told they are seen as irrelevant by many in Silicon Valley. Irrelevant one decade, largest asset value in the world today. What seems like speed may also be a vision for the future. If you can see farther, you can design farther ahead. If you design farther ahead, you can sometimes redesign the future.
2. Navel gazing on the job is not always overcome with speed.
As ethnographic researchers, we are big fans of observation and taking the time to understand what's happening. Where navel gazing comes into play here is spending too much time considering what "was done" and too little time considering what "could be" done. Just the simple act of looking at financial reports, how much total time do you think a corporation spends in human resource time looking at the daily historical documents? Count the hours and then compare that to how many inside are looking forward.
3. Arrogance is a competitive advantage for your competitors.
A few years past we enjoyed a speech by the vice chairman at Target Corporation. Part of his speech was a bar graph showing all the major retailer sales (including Target) stacked up against Walmart. The result was so clear, no matter how confident we are in our friends at Target, that chart was a humbling experience. The part that impressed us was how Target, in all their success around "Design for All" had the humility to see they have more to improve upon. Just when you think you're the best of the best, start looking around for the tortoise, because you've just taken on the role of the hare.
So, the question remains, are you the hare or the tortoise?