Brand or be branded - companies must stand for something

There are many rules of retail and one right at the top of the list is that you've got to know what you stand for - it's simply not credible to think you can be all things to all people!

And not unreasonably, if you don't go out-of-your way to grab the agenda of what you're wanting to stand for, then the world at large will make one up for themselves....brand or be branded.

Recently I read a rather interesting article in the UK's  Daily Mail ONLINE edition that flirts with the problem of not knowing what you stand for. Its not robust research nor did it start out to be, but it did nudge me onto one of my favourite hobby horses. The report compares the fortunes and merchandise of ailing M and S versus burgeoning Primark.

As we know, M and S is the globally famous company (it used to be a brand) that's lost its fashion-way and credentials ....and Primark, the unashamedly cheap and cheerful hi-fashion retailer that's taking over the world wherever it's shops spring up (now even boasting a concession in the uber-trendy and normally expensive Selfidges London flagship store).

I've wondered for a long time why any modern, relevant chain store group would think teenagers looking for fashions would be happy to rub shoulders with mums and grannies (and vice versa) - well M and S clearly do! I've also wondered why anyone would be prepared to fight and scrummage to buy fashions that are 'not' built to last nor be comfortable - well Primark do!

So both brands astound me.

I'm sure M and S have lots of fancy brand strategies that defend their position but I for the life of me I can't think what they stand for that's emotionally compelling and sustainably used to be unassailable quality and price - but it ain't now! And for the record, it strikes me the only thing that a 'middle of the road' positioning conjures up is dead animals and lines that shouldn't be crossed! How I wish they'd give their disillusioned and still adoring public a reason to 'feel' something, a reason 'why' they should choose M and S - let alone merchandise that answers a need and a shopping journey that builds a delightful experience. I simply don't know what they stand for and therefore don't shop there anymore.

And I'm equally sure Primark do have a brand strategy and I bet its ruthlessly simple. And I also bet they'll do everything to strip out costs to deliver unassailable prices on 'bleeding-edge' fashion that's so cheap you probably don't need to wear it many times because you can always afford to buy something new .....and if it's a bit scratchy and uncomfortable it's still worth it at the price! Not a classic brand strategy but you get my drift - boy do they know why they 'exist'. For me the only possible shadow on the horizon for them is ethical trading: the tension between cheap disposable garments and environmental/social consciousness. In my mind I  know exactly what they stand for and it's not for me.

So what's my point:

I used to shop at M and S because they were ubiquitous and I wanted underwear and ordinary sweaters and didn't care who I was rubbing shoulders with. But there are many other places to buy that stuff now. Have to say they seem slightly cheaper, with some dodgy fashion statements but now I'm the old guy rubbing shoulders with the youngsters killing time, laughing at the skinny jeans in an out-of-touch shop because its raining outside. I think the place is not good at anything anymore, not good at service and not 'relevant'. It's even lost its edge in the edgy food department compared to Waitrose. I think it's safe and naff. I'm deeply saddened.

I never shop in Primark because it's not for me. It's chaotic, noisy but feels like something is always happening, something I want no part of. I understand its very trendy and ridiculously cheap. But I want well made comfortable gear and this is not the place for someone stareing down the autumn of his life. But I'll continue to admire the place providing it develops a conscience. I'd brand it as trendy with prices are as tight as the shoe-fit. I love them for it....and I know why they exist.

One is a confident retailer the other is not. One knows what it wants to be and the other wants to be everything. One is winning the war by standing for something, the other is loosing it by chasing everyone.

As Steve Jobs famously said 'what wrong are you trying to right' - why should anyone care about what you do sure, be focused ... stand for something.

Stand up for what you believe in: brand or you'll be branded - because being branded is no fun at all !


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