Monday, 16 June 2008

When Autonomy Goes Wrong: How A Cheap Hi-Fi On Top Of A Fridge Can Damage A Brand

For a brand with a large number of outlets it’s importance to balance brand homogeneity with the ability for individual managers and outlets to be distinctive and different. A coffee shop that is part of a global chain but acts ‘local’ and allows its management and staff to put their own distinctive and personal stamp on all they do is a good thing. A brand that tries to instil a one-size-fits-all approach to all its operations regardless of local market needs and cultures is too inflexible. But you have to ensure some standards prevail.

For a retail environment, brand homogeneity can be realised through in-store music. I have worked with a number of brands introducing and managing an in-store music service. In both cases, music and audio became an important part of the brand experience. For Gala Bingo, I launched their first cross-estate music service introducing a managed solution that was bespoke for their audience. Previously, their customers had got whatever music their local manager liked. Customers in Colchester got to listen to Oasis most of the day as that was the manager’s favourite; but that was at odds with both the brand positioning and the audience demographic. I also worked with Benetton, introducing a music service into their flagship London store, replacing a system where managers used to go out and buy CDs of their choice. Again this helped extend and enhance the brand experience, but autonomy was permitted. The Kensington store did not need to play the same music as Oxford Circus; in some stores it was up to the respective store manager. And that flexibility and trust worked well.

But autonomy gone wrong can lead to a bad brand experience. This morning I went in to a Superdrug store. It was very noisy. On top of a fridge unit was perched a hi-fi playing music at such a level it was distorting. This was not an in-store music system; this was a domestic hi-fi on the top of a drinks fridge! You might expect this in your local car mechanics, but not in a professionally branded retail environment. And worse, it was turned up too loud seemingly to entertain the staff at the risk of scaring off the customer. And in an instant - that cheap hi-fi on top of a fridge did a lot to undermine all the work that brand has done to create strong values.

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