Branding and the Homogenization of Retail

The retail jewelry scene confounds many in the corporate world. It remains one of the few industries still dominated by independent retailers and the independently owned manufacturers and wholesalers that supply them. It’s a business where the brand continues to be the local retail jeweler, despite rhetoric from manufacturers trying to play the brand game with once- or twice-a-year spends in consumer magazines where they tie in local retailers. This is branding?

De Beers’ branding effort has the diamond world concerned on two counts. The first is at the trade level, where it has promised “better” goods to suppliers who develop consumer brands. The theory is that the more money spent on promoting diamonds to the consumer by diamond manufacturers who are trying to establish “brands,” the more the consumer will buy “branded” goods from retailers.

At the same time, De Beers is entering the retail scene in partnership with LVMH, opening retail jewelry stores in key markets around the world. Establishing the De Beers name as a viable consumer brand also will drive the diamond business at retail to new and higher levels and return diamond jewelry to its rightful place in the luxury goods category.

If you listen to the financial commentators on CNBC or the other networks, you’ll hear the word “model” used with regularity. “Financial model,” “marketing model,” “operations model” are new code words of the business world, e.g., “If only Kmart had used the Wal-Mart model, it wouldn’t have failed.” The theory includes the term “best practices,” wherein if you follow a particular way to do something, you will enjoy the same success as the originator.

Years ago, at an ArtCarved sales conference, speaker Bill Gove presented a principle in psychology that applies here. Gove made the point that in raising children, you have to recognize differences in each child and focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. He noted that the more you encourage a child to become more like someone else, the less like themselves they become. He concluded by encouraging the ArtCarved sales force to focus on their own individual strengths, because that’s what makes each of us successful.

The same principle applies to business. The strength of the retail jewelry business is its diversity. Each segment has carved its own niche—from independents, to regional and national chains, to the Wal-Marts of the world.

Modeling—or, more accurately, homogenizing—retail at any level breeds a sameness that causes consumers to wonder what store they are visiting. Have you ever noticed the sameness of the various department stores? Am I in Strawbridge’s, Macy’s, or Bloomingdales? Am I in Zale, Littman’s, or Kay?

Some operational elements lend themselves to modeling. Branding and all that is part of the marketing mix is not one of them. The more you change to become like someone else, the less like you you are!

fdallahan@reedbusiness.com