Waterstone’s will learn from HMV marketers

HMV Group is bringing the marketing for HMV and Waterstone’s under a consolidated team lead by Graham Sim. It’s exactly what Marketing Week editor Mark Choueke was talking about in his in-depth look at marketing leadership last week.

HMV is probably the most shining example of a high street retailer revolutionising itself to keep up with, and ahead of, today’s fast moving consumers, their habits and their demands.

In its last set of financial results, Waterstone’s was the only arm of the business that didn’t sing. The group reported a 17.7% rise in pre-tax profit to £74.2m while at Waterstone’s profit slumped by more than 70% to £2.8m.

So by consolidating its marketing across the brands, what the HMV Group has done smacks of smart marketing and phenomenal leadership.

In the past 12 months HMV’s transformation in to what it calls a “broad entertainment brand, and what Mark Choueke calls an “entertainment superbrand” has been well documented.

When Simon Fox joined as CEO in 2006 his job was to bring the chain bang up to date as HMV’s top brass realised that what it had been doing for decades was dead, and if it didn’t modernise to within an inch of its life it would cease to exist.

And so it did. Dramatically. Yes its high street stores still house racks of CDs and records, but now it’s alongside film, games technology and merchandise.

And the wider HMV brand now takes in live gig venues, event ticketing, independent cinema, digital music downloads, and mobile gaming through a partnership with Orange.

Waterstone’s is now the only bookstore chain left on the high street after the closure of Borders at last year, and I hope that Sim takes some of what HMV is doing and applies it to Waterstone’s to ensure that it doesn’t go the way of Borders.

While they clearly have a very different footprint and it would be wrong to think that Waterstone’s could duplicate HMV’s journey, there is an opportunity here for Waterstone’s brand marketing to take a leaf out of HMV’s book.

Under Sim, HMV began selling music and film experiences rather than just products and this is every bit as applicable to reading and books.

There are plenty of directions such as digital and live events that could see Waterstone’s flourish and move with the times in ways that its customers wouldn’t expect, but will happily embrace.

It will also find itself opening up to a sheaf of new customers who while interested in reading, aren’t as interested in paperbacks as they are in e-books, and may not want to read poetry but will go along to a poetry recital.

It has been bandied about that the HMV Group has thought of selling off the Waterstone’s chain, but hopefully this new marketing structure will give the Waterstone’s chain the revival it needs. And if anyone can turn around the fortunes of Waterstone’s, it’s HMV.


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