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Is homogeneity dead?

August 4, 2008

Homogeneity and it’s close relative, consistency are cited as critical components of brand success.

Many analysts tell us that brands have to deliver consistent experiences if they want succeed and that homogeneity is what consumers want and desire.

It’s therefore interesting to read about the demise of Starbucks in Australia.

According to the BBC..

“The mighty Starbucks coffee empire has been handed a heavy defeat by
thousands of small Australian cafes in the fight for a nation’s taste
buds.

Eight years after it began selling its espressos and frappucinos in
Australia, the US giant has succumbed to powerful financial and
cultural pressures and has closed 61 of its 85 shops across the
country.

Savouring a morning cup of coffee has become a ritual for
millions of Australians – yet one that Starbucks failed to capitalise
on, in spite of the way the chain had become a global cultural
phenomenon during the 1990s.

“It was maybe too standardised,” says Michael Edwardson, a consumer psychologist in Melbourne.

“Early on it was unique and different, but as it became a global
chain the standardisation made it lose some of that coolness and
edginess. It was quickly copied and lost its lustre.”

What does this suggest for brands?

Perhaps brands need both consistency and inconsistency; they need to flex and play with both elements. It’s clear that consumers today probably need a mix of both. Certainly parts of brands need standardized elements, but they also need to surprise and delight their customers. They need to get ahead of the curve, rather than behind it.

This is incredibly demanding and challenging for brands; the idea of staying ahead and bringing surprise to consumers depends on having great intelligence and brilliant execution, not to mention the investment required to support change.

Too often, brands sit back and wait too long to make changes. Instead of getting ahead, they wait until the last minute to do something. They try to get away for the longest possible time without making changes.

As this story shows, culture has the power to move much faster than brands. Brands need to recognize the rapid pace of change and invest not just in the intelligence to stay ahead, but act on it before it’s too late.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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