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Branding Blunder Bedevils Best Buy

branding

by Kenneth Rudich

In the midst of developing the third installment of a three-part series about Brand Management for the Modern Era, we were suddenly given cause to take a momentary break because of a slip by the well-known brand name Best Buy.

Value Fulfillment Humbug  

On Friday, 12-23-11, we stumbled across an updated report by HLNtv.com titled, “Best Buy blows it for some online shoppers.”  What makes this disclosure even worse for the giant retailer is that it got included as a link on CNN.com, which expanded the potential size of the audience who might see it.

According to the report, some online customers received emails from Best Buy just days before Christmas to let them know their orders had been canceled and would not be shipped as promised.  The problem was apparently due to a lack of inventory for some of the hotter items requested since the Black Monday shopping spree began.  Less than 1% of online customers were affected, which means 99+% had reason to believe they would be treated to a fulfillment experience.

Still, the stumble represents a possibly significant hiccup for the Best Buy brand.  As noted in our current three-part series about brand management, protecting the brand image has taken on an elevated importance in this modern era of social networking, highly invigorated competition and consumer skepticism.  Though this misstep threatens to directly affect service to a seemingly paltry number of online customers, the fallout for the brand image could be far more sizable when all is said and done. 

Consider the reader comments it has spawned at the end of the article.  There are 61 thus far (having grown from 44 when we last checked); and not only are the majority of them unflattering but they’re also diverse in nature.

In other words, one seemingly small and somewhat confined mistake is now getting amplified to a considerably larger degree because others have chimed in with their own separate reasons to vent about the brand.  And a few are even promoting other retailers that consumers might want to try instead of Best Buy.  It’s the beginnings of the proverbial snowball effect. 

The big question for the Best Buy brand is: will it continue to pick up steam until it reaches critical mass, or will it fade away in a few days’ time?  As long as it has legs, it’s a worrisome thought. 

Another difficulty rests with the sharing that’s being done on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and blogs like this one.  True, it’s creating broader brand awareness, but not necessarily the kind Best Buy would prefer to have.

Still another pain point stems from a simple truism.  In the news business, it’s known as the man bites dog effect.  It goes something like this: when a dog bites a man it’s not news; but when a man bites a dog it’s news.  In retail, it gets modified to reflect a similar circumstance: executing customer fulfillment is not news because it’s expected; failing to achieve fulfillment is news.  It’s the unwanted and unexpected that arouse the most attention.  It may not be fair, but that’s the way it is.  Just ask the folks that heretofore managed the Circuit City brand. 

And unfortunately for Best Buy, this circumstance is even more bedeviling by virtue of it having the double whammy of marrying bad service with bad timing.

Brand Management Hero or Dud

One final concern for Best Buy must center on its ability – or more precisely, whether it has the ability – to diffuse the potential lingering effects of a negative sentiment in its wake.  Can it finesse this circumstance with enough guile and skill to negate it, or maybe even turn it into a positive outcome just yet…or at least make what is viewed as a genuinely good attempt to do so?

Best Buy is providing e-Gift cards to the affected customers, but so far it has come across as lacking a sincerely apologetic tone, as though they’ve done the least they can do to atone for it and that’s all they intend.  Or maybe we at MSM are missing something. 

What do you think?                   

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