In the Coleman Insights presentation “The Urgency of Branding” that Jay Nachlis and I first shared at Morning Show Boot Camp in Chicago last year, one of my favorite points highlights this image on a slide:
The classic Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupon. We think it demonstrates a classic marketing blunder, putting all your focus on a promotion, not your product benefit. Last Wednesday was the last day Bed Bath & Beyond accepted coupons, shortly following the announcement that the store will go out of business for good on June 30th.
The fact that many headlines of Bed Bath & Beyond’s demise actually mentioned coupons—“Bed Bath & Beyond, facing bankruptcy and string of store closings, stops accepting coupons”, for example—makes complete sense for a store that was known more for a tactic than its brand.
That’s the lesson in “The Urgency of Branding”, and it’s one that bears repeating here.
There are many hot takes that attempt to explain the reasoning behind the store’s failure. They opened too many stores. They didn’t adapt to online shopping. They made too many stock buybacks. All may be true on some level. But at its core, the problem was deeper.
Throughout its long history, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Bed Bath & Beyond without a 20% off coupon. That coupon, delivered regularly to seemingly every mailbox in the United States, was so iconic and representative of the company that it became a dominant brand image.
And thus, it became one of the first things that came to mind when you thought of it. Say Bed Bath & Beyond, picture a 20% off coupon.
Rather than, for example, say Bed Bath and Beyond and think of the destination for furnishings for my kids’ college dorm. Say Bed Bath and Beyond and think of the largest selection of shower curtains anywhere. Say Bed Bath and Beyond and think, “That’s the comforter store. I’ve bought every comforter I’ve ever owned there.”
Nope, you think of a tactical discount.
Just as, as explained by our Image Pyramid, radio listeners need to clearly understand and be able to communicate a stations’ Base Music or Talk Position (i.e., “The Hip Hop station,” “The Relaxing station,” “The Sports station”) consumers need to clearly understand and be able to communicate a store’s base position.
Technically, the position is in the name—they are a bed and bath specialist—but they didn’t reinforce the position in their marketing, instead they allowed the tactic to overwhelm the brand.
This is a dangerous path. Dominant personalities and forefront contests can be hugely beneficial to a radio station, providing brand depth on their Image Pyramid. But if tactical efforts come at the expense of the brand, rather than in support of it, you risk overwhelming the base position.
Fortify and focus on your base position and deploy marketing that reinforces the image.
That’s the key to surviving to infinity…and beyond.