barnes & noble brand

Barnes & Noble: Navigating At The Intersection of Global, Local And Personal

One of the most important issues for brand-business leadership today is navigating the intersection of global, local and personal. One brand-business that has found its way in this marketing landscape is Barnes & Noble.

For a long time, being locally relevant was not considered necessary for brand-businesses, except for language and monetary currencies. Ubiquitous, uniform, global brand-business marketing was profitable. Standardization was efficient and effective. Organizationally, power remained in the center.

Things have changed. Today, we live in a highly connected, over-informed, technology-driven world. People have a love-hate relationship with globalization. We appreciate the comfort and reliability of iconic, recognized brands, regardless of geography. Yet, we bemoan the homogenization of products and services. We yearn for authentic, locally-occurring experiences. Globalization sacrifices local experiences on the altar of sameness. We want the safety, security and predictability of global brands. But, we feel that global brands are powerful behemoths that do not understand who we are as individuals.

There is a tension between global and local organizations. It is common to hear phrases such as, “My region is different,” or “I am accountable only for my market, or “I will design and implement plans for my area of responsibility.” The result: a fight against common goals. 

Add to this mix the factor of personalization. Technology allows us to demand experiences that are precisely and intimately tailored to each and every one of us. We desire the highest personalization when it comes to goods and services. 

Our brand-business landscape features the collision of these three forces:

  • Globalization delivering a familiar, consistent, reliable brand experience;
  • Localism delivering a relevant and respectful brand experience; and
  • Personalization delivering a unique branded experience that recognizes and reflects the customer, exclusively designed to meet that customer’s individual needs.

Barnes & Noble, the iconic American bookseller, is managing with excellence at the center of these three colliding forces. The New York Times wrote that Barnes & Noble is overturning a key element of brand management – consistency – by adding local and personal to standardization. 

This is not exactly true. 

Homogenization alone is no longer a desirable characteristic. Even McDonald’s has different menu items in different geographies. In France, there are French cheeses and Actimel, Danone’s probiotic yogurt drink. Barnes & Noble recognizes the consistency of the Barnes & Noble brand promise along with the relevance of localization and the uniqueness of personalization. A winning trifecta.

Under CEO James Daunt, Barnes & Noble is changing the way books in mass market bookstores are sold. He is not throwing out the overarching Barnes & Noble brand-business Brand Promise and Brand Essence. That commonality of a familiar, consistent standard of reliable book buying experience still exists – it is still Barnes & Noble. Consistency is not being dissolved, as The New York Times states. The Barnes & Noble brand core lives. The way that employees deliver that brand core is different… and better.

Each Barnes & Noble store now has the freedom to reflect the interests, tastes and preferences of neighborhood which it services. This affects not just the books that are offered. The addition of local and personal affects store design and store management. 

Reflecting local and personal while maintaining a consistent Brand Promise is not new. IHG’s Hotel Indigo is an example of localization ad personalization. The brand Hotel Indigo stands for branded boutiques reflecting a neighborhood. Hotel Indigo designed its hotels to generate a personal and locally reflective experience.

Mr. Daunt is asking each store’s management to be less mass market and more “my market.” Mr. Daunt is asking each store to behave in a local and personal manner, something only independent bookstores have successfully accomplished. 

One of the most important factors of successful localization and personalization is respect for the store manager. As Mr. Daunt demonstrates, the store manager is the brand manager. As reported in The New York Times, Mr. Daunt believes in local store leadership. “Local managers are given a free hand.” This means the store manager has the freedom, within the framework of the Barnes & Noble brand promise, to design and stock a store that reflects a local, neighborhood experience. After all, who knows the clientele and the neighborhood better than the store manager. The store manager becomes the brand manager who, along with his staff, creates a “dramatically” powerful local and personal experience. Allowing local teams to do what they think is best for their local customers creates “better bookstores.”

If you just want a book, as Mr. Daunt says, “The guys in Seattle will sell you one.” Barnes & Noble provides, “The enjoyment and the social experience of engagement (browsing) with books in a bookstore. That’s our game.”

The rules of brand-business marketing have changed. Here are some new rules to facilitate managing at the intersection of global, local and personal.

Rule #1: Have a Brand Framework. A Brand Framework describes the nonnegotiable boundaries and policies that define a brand’s common, global/national total brand experience. The Brand Framework includes the brand vision, the brand promise, the brand policies and the description of the target customer. The Brand Framework explains how to bring the brand to life by executing within the parameters of defined service and design guidelines, service behaviors, specific brand standards, trademark policy and other non-negotiable items that have to do with people, product, place, price and promotion. 

Brand-business leadership evaluates and activates all action on behalf of the brand against this Framework. It is a dynamic document, which is enriched and refreshed to reflect new learning and to keep the brand relevant.

The Brand Framework is a dynamic, liberating document.  The Brand Framework’s boundaries protect the brand-business core while allowing the freedom to create what is right for the brand in a local/regional environment.

Rule #2: Implement Freedom Within A Framework. Freedom Within a Framework allows for local and personal relevance and differentiation within the brand’s agreed global/national coherence. Freedom Within A Framework means that all of those working on behalf of the brand-business are encouraged to be creative within the boundaries of the Framework in order to attract customers and potential customers while growing customer loyalty. Freedom Within A Framework is all about regional and local creativity. 

Rule #3: The Local Manager is the Ultimate Brand Manager. Local managers make sure that each customer has a great branded experience. Local managers are responsible for ensuring that the brand-business lives up to its promises while creating an individualized, neighborhood experience. Local managers localize and personalize.

  • The local manager knows the customers best.
  • The local manager knows customers’ need and behaviors.
  • The local manager knows customers’ problems and concerns.
  • The manager knows customers’ interests and tastes.
  • The local manager knows the neighborhood. The local manager knows the business community and the potential for building strong local business relationships.
  • The local manager is responsible for local area marketing.
  • The local manager is in charge of local community outreach.

Rule #4: Trust Local/Regional Brand Leadership to Localize and Personalize. Align the organization and build a foundation of trust. Think of this as harmonization: every participant may have different parts to sing, but the customers hear a melody. For many brand-business organizations, trusting local leadership to do the right thing in the right way is minimal. Trusting local leadership is more than an org chart; it is a mindset change.

Rule #5: Allow Local leadership to take accountability for delivering the local brand-business experience.  Mr. Daunt believes in his local store management. He believes that booksellers are special people.

The three forces of globalization, localization and personalization are growing simultaneously. To win, brand-businesses must leverage all three of these powerful energies to their advantage. The world is increasingly connected. But, relevant, local differences and personalized experiences that build brand-business preference cannot be ignored. The brand-business goal is to build strong brand-businesses that are globally/nationally consistent, locally relevant and personally differentiated. Just like Barnes & Noble.