Regeneration of the Brand Lords

This novel economic era is triggering a succession of brand revolutions that will transform the marketing world. 

From HMV to The Evening Standard, from hair removal brand Veet to TV station Channel 4, the relentless firestorm of change is incinerating once flameproof brand strategies. Brand guardians are drawing up new blue-prints for survival that will be tested in some of the most turbulent market conditions many companies have ever faced.

Just this week, former KGB agent and billionaire oligarch Alexander Lebedev looks poised to snatch control of the London Evening Standard (for £1) from The Dail Mail & General Trust. The paper is likely to undergo its own Russian Revolution.

Meanwhile, questions over the future of Channel 4 are set to be resolved as Communications minister Lord (Stephen to you) Carter recommends that the station should be shoe-horned into a bigger broadcaster. And in the depilation market, Reckitt Benckiser-owned Veet is launching into electrical hair-removal products for the first time (MW this week).

But it is the re-creation of music, dvd and games retailer HMV that offers the most stunning glimpse into the regeneration craze that is sweeping the world of brands.

“His Master’s Voice” has this week unveiled what looks like a radical re-invention of its business and one that will re-write the rules of the entertainment industry.

The chain is buying half share in a company that owns 11 of the UK’s top music venues. In one stroke of a pen, chief executive Simon Fox converts HMV from a high street chain with an uncertain future into an entertainment superbrand. It will be able to offer bands a complete management service, promoting their concerts through its own venues and retailing their cd catalogues and merchandise at the same time. HMV becomes the ultimate rock ‘n roll big top and Fox the circus master. From renaming top venues with the HMV tag (such as HMV Apollo in Hammersmith), it will be able turn these into outlets for its products. It will sell tickets to its own gigs from its stores.

HMV’s main high street rivals are wiped out – Woolworths has closed and Zavvi – formerly Virgin Megastores – is in administration. HMV is buying 14 Zavvi stores for a mere £700,000. As the last man standing in the high street entertainment war, it is set to become master of all. Now, after years of being written off as an underperformer, HMV is re-creating itself as an all-encompassing music and entertainment brand which is unsurpassed.

On the downside, it should be borne in mind that the gig-going trend of the past few years is waning. But by championing both live and recorded music HMV can benefit from trends towards both going out and staying in. This counter-cyclical strategy means it can benefit from the £1bn gig market or from people entertaining themselves at home.

This is just one of the ways that brands can spend small amounts of money to reinvent their businesses. HMV’s £18m investment in venues is a snip for a company with annual turnover of £2bn.

We can expect to see more imaginative and category-shaking strategies like this to emerge in the coming year. New upheavals are expected in magazines, newspapers, cars and retailing.

Brand lords must regenerate every now and then just like Time Lords. Onlookers are waiting with bated breath to see how they will look, behave and feel when they re-emerge following the great brand transformation.

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