Everyone’s talking about HMV – the demise of the high street giant

I can’t say I’m surprised, but I can say that I’m saddened. Not even a week after Virgin Megastores’ ‘funeral march’ in France, the UK sees the once epic music retail giant poised to give up the ghost. So where did it all go wrong and what does this say about the future of the once buoyant British high street?

Once upon a time I was a 16 year old music snob, hanging out in the Metrocentre, wearing jeans 4 sizes too big. Listening to 90s Britpop and anyone signed to the Poptones label was my world. HMV had a real place to fuel my musical fire (and get me buying the industry rags), but it wasn’t about buying music there. Even then I’d discovered that Amazon was loads cheaper. It was a place to browse idly.

It could have been so much more.

There are very obvious failures here, which I think everyone gets. Their lacking the gusto to really adopt digital music, not lowering prices as the online players circled, buying up too many of their failing competitors hastily realising their errors too late, diversifying into pretty much everything entertainment in a not very single-minded way (think minidiscs, film, posters, mp3 players, accessories, headphones, magazines, books, venues and gig tickets, tablets – have I missed something?). The consequences for the brand? Not great at all. They lumbered like a carrier pigeon in the world of the iMessage, standing for everything and absolutely nothing. Get Connected? I don’t think I want to.

I don’t want to be harsh because at one time HMV was an iconic retail innovation, plus, they’re still hopeful for a buyer. However, if what will be will be, I think their demise will affect us in a Woolworths-style way. Those empty ghosts, now more often taken over by Poundland.

What might the retail landscape look like with an HMV-shaped gap?

We won’t miss the shop, the products or the general retail experience. What pulls at our heartstrings is the heritage and provenance wrapped up within the brand, the icon that’s part of the fabric of Britain - something that was very often forgotten and now will potentially be lost forever.

This article from Brand Strategy Insider is really nice - http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2009/06/the-importance-of-brand-heritage.html – they talk about “one of British marketing’s biggest weaknesses is its Anglo-Saxon disregard for history and provenance.” Maybe HMV’s failings could have been stemmed by considering their heritage – history of firsts and very humble beginnings – whilst planning their business and brand moves more strategically.

The future high street of Britain may be missing some retail power-brands of the C20th. The key to survival really is: Consider your heritage – here you’ve been and what equities you can leverage + Imagine the future – where is your category going and what to you need to do to survive and succeed. Always innovate cleverly and spend money wisely.

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