Where have all my customers gone?

Barnes and Noble is trying to revive their brand by redesigning their web site. If you are familiar with Barnes and Noble online (BN.com), tell me (in your mind), why don’t you order at their site?

No matter what reason you just gave in your mind, I’ll venture a guess that it was not, ‘because their web site looks outdated.’ No, I don’t think that would even make it into the top 10, maybe not the top 20, reasons.

But, that is what the CEO of BN.com seems to think. I think he has a bad case of ‘marketing myopia.’ Myopia, when referring to eye health, is the inability to see far away, such as to the horizon. If you have myopia you are said to be nearsighted.

Daniel P.B. Smith

Daniel P.B. Smith

You can only see what is close up; if it isn’t right next to you, you just can’t see it. Of course, this is a big problem because you need to see both near and far to function properly.

Marketing myopia is the inability for marketers, or anyone involved with the brand, to see beyond the familiar things they already know about. It’s the business equivalent of ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ Which is certain death in fast paced, forward looking, consumer markets. Trends always go forward, never backward. This is why yesterday’s solutions won’t solve today or tomorrow’s problems.

Redesigning their web site is myopic because the executives are so familiar with the brand, with the way things have always been done, that they only see things from their perspective. An architect thinks the problem is with the design, a real estate agent thinks the problem is location, a plumber thinks the problem is bad pipes. We specialize and our solutions usually revolve around our expertise. So, business executives think the problem is with the equipment they normally use.

But, we are forgetting a crucial cog in the retailing wheel – the customer. If I were to poll a sample of online book buyers, my guess is that more than half would say the number one reason to order online is price. Boom! That’s it. Price – and BN.com almost always has the higher price. Sometimes it is the actual item price, sometimes it is the added shipping cost which drives total cost up. A close second is convenience.

Convenience could be related to the fact that almost everyone in the civilized world already has an Amazon account, many have the Amazon app, and we are so familiar with Amazon that it is a regular part of our lexicon. When we go into a restaurant we automatically ask for a Coke, when we shop online we ask for Amazon. It’s that simple.

But this creates a huge uphill battle for other brands such as BN.com. If they want to overtake (or simply carve a piece out of Amazon’s pie), they need to fight the battle with consumer weapons, not necessarily with familiar, myopic weapons.

What do customers want? Low price and convenience. Period. Ok, maybe selection, but that’s a given on both sites. Could BN.com find a way to improve logistics so that they can improve both price and convenience? Yes, it is not an unsolvable problem, but it will be hard.

When you sell a commodity (e.g. books, music, movies, etc.) like BN.com and Amazon do, you must compete on things you can control and that are meaningful to customers. If I am selling ice cream, I can make it super premium, or put it in fancy cups, or change the flavors. But, if I’m selling books, I’m selling the same books everyone else is selling. Location has dropped out of the equation because I’m online, so trying to get my stores in the tony neighborhoods doesn’t matter. Coffee bar, a non-issue.

On second thought, maybe BN.com could offer a tiny packet of Starbucks ground coffee with every order. You might not be in the physical store where you can get a cup of premium brew, but it might be a differentiating feature (until Amazon copies it).

Bottom line, if your brand is failing, ask yourself why. Then, look beyond your comfort zone for the answers.

Greg L. Lowhorn

To read another post on marketing myopia, click HERE.

Snelling Chart by Daniel P.B. Smith, shared under license.