What Every CEO Can Learn From Best Buy’s (Continued) Branding Mistakes

Recently, I came across an article in Ad Age covering Best Buy’s most recent branding efforts.

Here’s what stopped me in my tracks:

“For the past 18 months, the U.S. marketing team, led by Drew Panayiotou, senior-VP marketing, has been working to reframe the retailer's brand proposition. Now it's ready to unveil its efforts. Best Buy's new tagline, rolling out this summer, is 'Making technology work for you.'"

And with that, the article continued with: "We want to be a brand that's about more than that."

I Hate To Kick A Brand When It's Down
I do. But when you’ve spent 18 months and come out with “Making Technology Work for You” as the new tag line, we have to take a cold, hard reality check.

Best Buy, your culture is about unloading inventory, not helping the customer. Taking a page from Apple’s retail strategy by adding “Central Knowledge Desks” will not replace doing something real and authentic. My personal experiences unfortunately have not changed what is inbred into your culture

But let’s get more fundamental: That slogan is not only tired, it is a death sentence that is bland, old, worn, uninspired and not reflective of a single strand of your customer’s aspirations. It reeks of “marketing speak” and “committee-itis.”

What Was Shitty Yesterday is Shitty Today
In a previous Fast Company post, I wrote about what it takes to create a shitty brand.

In case you missed it, here it is again:

In light of something like this resulting from 18 months (or 18 weeks, 18 days or even 18 minutes), it’s a boring shame and violates one of David Ogilvy’s most succinct quotes. “You can’t bore people into buying your product.”

The Love/Hate Angle of Branding
The strongest brands stand for something as well being opposed something else:

  • Apple is opposed to technology that sets the rules and asks people to adapt; it champions technology that adapts to the needs of the people.
  • Nike stands for athletic achievement and is opposed to sitting on your ass.
  • Dyson stands for no loss of suction and is opposed to stagnant complacency, first making obsolete the old guards of vacuum cleaners and then doing the same with their own technological solutions.

With all that said... Best Buy, what do you stand for? Also, what are you opposed to?

Until you answer those questions, the likelihood of rising from the ashes is grim at best.

Saab and its "Born from jets" campaign is a brand that is no longer with us.

JC Penney’s recent “rebrand,” while attractive design-wise, has done nothing to revert their declining sales. It dealt on a very superficial level, sugar-coating JCP's presentation without driving home any meaning any consumer cares about. (Other brands try to make themselves meaningful with trite "corporate statements" and "mission statements." Candidly, I've yet to run across that did anything more than remind everyone they were working for a corporation. Zero inspiration. No passion. Total lack of authentic energy to inspire.)

Why?

Because they failed to address the two sides every brand has:

  • What is stands for and
  • What it is passionately opposed to.

Only after answering those questions can you honestly determine what to sound like, what to look like, what your design aesthetic is, and why anyone should care.

And if the best you’ve got is “Making technology work for you,” then the likelihood anyone will care is very slim.

David Brier is a brand identity specialist, package designer and branding expert. Besides creating the Defy-O-Meter, David is also the author of Defying Gravity and Rising Above the Noise. David's series of videos shed new light on effective branding in these videos and interviews. You can subscribe to his YouTube channel or request your own free copy of David's eBook, "The Lucky Brand" .

[Image: Flickr user Ben Barnes]

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78 Comments

  • Taquito Jones

    Apple opposing technology that sets rules?????

    lol u really think that? ur a joke

  • Shailesh Ghimire

    Really this passes for serious business commentary? What a pathetic rant with very shallow analysis. Reminded me of why I stopped reading Fast Company five years ago.

  • Dave Kearns

    I find it interesting that Best Buy can be labeled as a Brand. They sell multiple products from various Brands. I have no idea if Best Buy actually manufactures products, but perhaps they should partner up with a few. 

  • David Brier

     Thanks for your passion and candor. It's refreshing and I would be thrilled to see Best Buy emerge stronger, but it will take some stronger thinking from the TOP to give the stores something to celebrate and something that customer's can get passionate about. Buying stuff is NOT the reason we come. Getting more value in  terms of insight, in terms of understanding is what will drive people's interest.

    Make it speacial, make it remarkable....

  • David Brier

     Thanks Michael.

    My newest favorite is for skype:

    Skype. When you almost want to communicate....

  • Rob Gilgan

    I agree with pretty much everything that's said in the article - and in the comments - with a couple of caveats: as important as branding is, what's killed BestBuy is the culture itself. Consumers simply tired of know-nothing, lying, cheating sales associates and started cannibalizing (returning merchandise after the thrill wore off). Also, Apple abandoned computer enthusiasts, but not users. Windows users gravitated to Mac because savvy marketers promised them it was a better experience than Windows. And this borders on the bizarre: "when the entire Macintoash (sic) user base was forced to purchase new hardware and software because that's the way Steve wanted it." The operating system and the hardware continued to improve and evolve (what CEO wouldn't want that?)....tried installing Windows XP Pro on a 386 lately?

  • Pishabh Badmaash

    When Circuit City disappeared, BB raced to absorb the void and got stuck with all the crap they had to do

  • Steve Olenski

    I think David is spot on with this article. I completely agree with his stance on the new Best Buy tagline for sure... it is truly horrific in so many ways. 

    His "Shitty Brand" was not only hilarious it was also right on the money. And as to the one commenter who said he was confusing advertising with branding, I do not see where and how? His points were quite salient and nowhere did he try to discern between the two.

    When you've achieved such brand equity/awareness as Best Buy, you don't need a tagline that is so literal. 

    Overall a great article on yet another branding mistake... 

  • David Brier

     Thanks Steve for the comment. It's unfortunate that Best Buy doesn't realize THIS:

    People LOVE to see and hear stuff. Online shopping cannot match that or offer that audio or video experience (hearing those actual speakers OR seeing that amazing new flat screen TV), so...

    Why not create showrooms as the ultimate oasis' that people enjoy experiencing? It can't be a "shovel dump of inventory" but something so much more.

    Would that be so hard? No.

    Unless you had an old culture that wouldn't adapt or old guards who are so scared about losing their jobs their jobs that they cannot see the problem (or solution) with any clarity.

    Thanks again Steve for your comment.

  • guest

    Me again, BBY employee from before.  

    There are those here who realize all of the above, and all of what's being commented.  The problem is that we are too few, and too far between.  Stephen Gillett, our new President (over everything just about) gets it.  He gets the enormity of his task, and I feel he has a clear vision in mind that makes sense, that is doable, that would solve many of the problems we have with how we do business.  The question is will he be able to execute it before the bureaucrats and sheep here eat him alive.

    Showrooming.  We should embrace it.  If people are indeed "showrooming", and they are, it means they are in the store!!!!!!!!! They are no more than 20 yards from a register where we could receive their money for the thing that they WANT!  Foot traffic is one of the goals of any brick and mortar retailer.  If we can't close the deal on people in the store, looking at the thing they want, near to a register fully capable of taking their money, then shame on us.  

    I could go on and on.  

  • David

    Thanks again for your comments. My only recommendation is how will BB become a passionate friend of the buyer and not the dreaded pusher of product?

    If BB answers that, then I think BB can save itself.

    Better yet, what would Richard Branson do? Or the late Steve Jobs?

    Those answers would help BB survive this.

  • Diane

    I prefer buying CDs and DVDs from the store.  I used to *love* Best Buy, but now it's nothing more than an unpleasant shopping experience.  They consistently *don't* have what I want or need (one time I wanted a simple tape recorder--at the time, I didn't have a credit or debit card, someone else got the sale) and their store aisles are usually very tight and crowded.  There is only one Best Buy I would consider going to, and it's very open.  Unfortunately for Best Buy, I don't live by that store anymore.  So where do I buy my DVDs?  Meijer, where I do my grocery shopping.

    If Best Buy wants to succeed, they need to give shoppers more breathing room in the stores, ensure a faster checkout experience, have great prices, and actually carry those bizarre things people may want on a whim (like a tape recorder).  Hell, I had to go to a record store (yes, a record store) to buy a Cult CD.  Why wouldn't Best Buy have that in my area where classic rock is quite popular?!

    Sometimes marketers need to stop looking at the brand (their brand is just fine) and recognize the real problem: the product. If you have a good product, people will come.

  • Julie Rumsey

    David really hits the target on this one!! It's astounding that a team at BB could take 18 months, then roll out such junk. Committee-itis for sure!!

  • Michael Albert

    Spot on, David.  Wonder what the bill was for that 18 month project?  Just as meaningless, here are some blasts from the past.
    Verizon:  We're working for you.
    Exxon.  We're Exxon.
    Delta.  We get you there.
    Denny's:  A good place to sit and eat.
    Petco.  Where the pets go.

  • milkmen

    Every company aspiring to build a brand must start by gaining empathy (not sympathy) for their target audience.  If Best Buy had empathy for its customers they wouldn't be charging for an extended warranty that isn't much better than Costco's or Walmart's return policy.  

    The company is out of touch on many levels.  Best Buy has falsely assumed that their growth and longevity came from being great instead of riding the technology waive of flat screens, portables, mobile, etc.  

    If they had empathy for their customers they would have true INSIGHT about the market place, how to position or re-position themselves, how to re-position their message, and most important how to back up that position, not just blow more smoke up my ass with a lame tag line.

    Great post.  

  • David Brier

     Thanks Cody. It's refreshing to read a comment where one bullet isn't turned into a platform for blatant off-topic commentary. Thanks for your response and your interest.

  • myleftone

    I agree with previous comments about the Apple bullet, HOWEVER, that was one line from an article about an important point: oppositional branding. The article should make anyone think about what defines their brand in positive and negative terms.
    Best Buy's problems, however, run far deeper than anything the branding folks can fix, tagline be damned. The world has shifted under their feet. In an environment where any electronic product can be bought cheaply and quickly directly from a just-in-time manufacturer on the web, discount showrooms supported by stocked regional warehouses are dead. Best Buy won its bricks-and-mortar retail category, but only earned the right to be the last to die.

    Furthermore, Best Buy's online competition is probably insurmountable. They could use their current (if declining) clout to establish and strengthen direct-to-customer channels with the major manufacturers they carry, and focus on being an online provider of premium products. But that takes vision. They could re-position as an online service and support provider with a retail division, but that's a totally different business.
    One more thing: Apple remains a strong example of the opposition branding concept, but I would suggest it is FOR: Sleek hardware and OS design and ease-of use and AGAINST: Clunky design and difficult-to-use technology for anyone without an MIT doctorate (sorry, that is and will always be the view of non-Apple products by Apple users and other non-technical folks).

  • David Mayes

    As a survivor of Best Buy/Future Shop, David Brier's infographic is spot on...hilariously so!   As a professor of Management I went underground to work there just prior to the current ownership struggle.  The culture is so ingrained, militaristic, and arrogant, virtually cult-like, that it is impossible for anyone there, including the previous CEO, to see their world as other people see it. It is tragic to see very hard working blue-collar people earning a pitance, drinking the corporate kool-aid, even buying company stock as it crashes. 

    The sooner this dinosaur thrashes to death in prehistoric volcanic lava, the better. 

  • Jason Nelson

    It's real hard for a company to change an established brand.  Ideally Best Buy would create an environment where people WANT to go there for the experience.  But that is a serious challenge; I can't seem them ever being an Apple-like store.  Frye's Electronics has a restaurant in their store (at least the one I go to)  and seems to create a better shopping environment - more like Costco.     
    I also find Best Buy's stores less than appealing and their prices aren't even that good.  

  • Jeff

    Suggested addition to the red circle: People in the company who have no marketing/branding  experience but think anyone can do it.