Published on: February 20, 2009
About 10 days ago I found myself in Dublin, Ireland, for a few hours…which is never a hardship.
This time, I was walking along Merrion Row and happened upon a small food store that was as nice as any such store that I’ve ever visited. It is a SPAR store, and is fresh-food driven, offering fresh sandwiches, a smoothie and coffee bar, ready-to-heat-and-eat foods, and even a smattering of frozen and packaged foods.
It struck me that the strength of this particular store is that it has unusual focus…its message and content are completely consistent, and seem in synch with an urban environment.
It is nice to walk into a store and be delighted. Kudos to Spar for its Irish innovation (which, to be fair, has been there for several years…it’s just that I hadn’t been in it until now).
At a time when the focus of many people in the retailing business seems to be on efficiency, it’s nice to see interesting marketing schemes pop up from time to time. It tends to give one hope that we’re not so locked into cost cutting that there is no room for innovation…because new ideas and new products always are going to be the best ways to achieve transcendent excellence and prosperity.
I thought about this just last week when Amazon.com announced that it is coming out with a new version of its popular Kindle, the electronic book reader that has sold more than a half-million units at more than three hundred bucks apiece since first being introduced by the retailer. Now, I’ve gone on record here as saying that I love my Kindle – I have the old one, and I bring it everywhere, and have read a dozen or so books on it since getting it as a birthday present last year. I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially to people who travel and like having easy access to book, newspapers and magazines without having to lug actual books, newspapers and magazines around.
What really caught my attention about the new Kindle announcement was the note that Stephen King has a new novella that only is available via the Kindle. In almost every retailing venue, it makes sense to have differentiated content of some kind…it creates excitement and loyalty that cannot be precisely duplicated. In other words, it should be an advantage.
So anyway, as soon as it became available, I bought and downloaded the novella to my Kindle. It’s entitled “UR,” and as I read it I found myself captivated not just by the story, but by the synergy of it all. You see, “UR” is a story about a mediocre college professor who orders a Kindle…but ends up with a very special Kindle that gives him a view of other dimensions and realities where things are not the same as where he lives…and also gives him a view of the future, which can be dangerous for all sorts of reasons. It is a terrific story, sort of like a really cool “Twilight Zone” episode, and I recommend you read it…if you have a Kindle.
Think about this for a second. You need to have a Kindle to read a story about a Kindle…which you actually have to pay a few bucks to read the story after you’ve dropped more than just a few bucks on the technology that allows you to read it. This has a great kind of circular logic about it…and the best thing is that it reinforces the brand at every turn with differentiated product, differentiated content. It is the marketing equivalent of “connect the dots.”
The question I would ask other retailers is whether they are doing the same thing – providing differentiated product in a differentiated context, in a way that reinforces their brand at every turn of the aisle, at every checkout, on every one of the retailer’s web pages?
We all know the ones that do. But I think it is fair to suggest that there are plenty of retailers that do not.
It is a mark of how the world is changing that the Times Square Virgin Megastore in New York City is closing down.
It should not, however, be a surprise.
When the store opened 13 years ago, the iPod had not yet been invented. Music downloads were not popular. And Amazon.com, which made the act of shopping at a brick-and-mortar store unnecessary, was just in its infancy.
Thirteen years ago, it may have seemed that the Virgin Megastore would be in Times Square forever, that it always would be a fixture there.
But there is no “always” in retailing. There is no “forever.”
Today’s differential advantage is tomorrow’s commodity. There is no such thing as an unassailable market position.
Get used to it.
If you’re in my business, you learn to appreciate a really good “lede,” which is the first sentence of a new story or column. The idea is to do one of two things – a “hard lede” that gives all of the essential information, which is then elaborated upon in the rest of the story, or a “soft lede” that is anecdotal or provocative, turning the piece into what’s called a “reader” that you can't stop reading.
Then again, sometimes the writer is able to do both. Such was the case this week, when CNN.com
had the following story…in which the lede did both:The founder of an Islamic television station in upstate New York aimed at countering Muslim stereotypes has confessed to beheading his wife, authorities said.
I wish I’d written it. Tragic story, but a great sentence, worthy of Raymond Chandler.
Speaking of good writing, Peggy Noonan has a good column in this morning’s Wall Street Journal
, entitled “Remembering the Dawn of the Age of Abundance.” She brings to the current economic debacle an innate sense of optimism and possibility…which, quite frankly, we all could use.
I cannot, however, see any possibility of the complete truth being told to us by A-Rod, who seems to believe that the facts about his steroid are best doled out in tiny, elliptical pieces…not realizing that this story is never going to go away, and that the press is never going to be satisfied. Nor should it be.
On the great “Morning Joe” the other day, Chuck Todd was talking about the problem with “rolling disclosures,” and how they never allow people to get ahead of the story. Now, he was talking about “rolling disclosures” in the context of Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, who seems to have an elusive relationship with the facts when it comes to how he got his Senate seat. Which made me think that Burris and A-Rod have a lot in common.
I wish they’d both go away.
Last week I found myself near Orlando for a few days, where my 14-year-old daughter and I spent an inordinate amount of time at Universal Studios and Disney’s Epcot. We went on “The Mummy” ride at Universal six times in six hours without once having to wait on any sort of line, which was good for us but cannot be very good news for Universal, which seemed unusually empty. Another sign of the recession, I guess. The even better news for me was the fact that I have a teenager who still wants to go to a theme park with her dad, and tolerates the fact that I don't go on anything resembling a ferris wheel or on any rides that go upside down.
Also in Florida last week was Jimmy Buffett, who made a surprise appearance at the Margaritaville in Key West, where he debuted a typically cheerful and funny song about the recession: “We’ve Got A Lot To Drink About.”
You can find it on YouTube in advance of it coming out on CD, and while the camerawork is shaky, the song is great, with one lyric going:Here’s your bucket for the big bailout
We’ve got a lot to drink about…
Great stuff. Check out the performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liN_ps9Vdbs
I think I’m gonna head down to the River Cat tonight, have a beer or a boat drink, and think about it some more.
Have a good weekend. I’ll see you Monday.