OPINION: Safeway and BA moves suggest end for faddery

At the beginning of this month, astrologists were predicting turbulent consequences from an extremely rare conjunction of the sun, moon and five plants in the constellation of Taurus. So perhaps the recent outbreak of marketing sanity has more to do with what’s happening in the heavens than with good judgment.

At the beginning of this month, astrologists were predicting

turbulent consequences from an extremely rare conjunction of the sun,

moon and five plants in the constellation of Taurus. So perhaps the

recent outbreak of marketing sanity has more to do with what’s happening

in the heavens than with good judgment.



OK, that’s probably fanciful. It’s more likely to be a coincidence that

in the same week as this unusual planetary activity, Safeway came to its

senses and broke ranks with the rest of the pack by announcing it was

finally scrapping its loyalty card scheme, saving itself upward of

pounds 50m a year in the process.



The company will now focus on cutting prices. This is hardly

revolutionary stuff, but it is competitively sensible at a time when few

retailers can afford to throw money at schemes like this, which, Safeway

has admitted, not only do nothing to foster loyalty, but create an

avalanche of unmanageable data.



The next bit of evidence that heads are coming down from the clouds

appeared a few days later at BA. New chief executive Rod Eddington was

reported to be moving quickly to reverse two of his predecessor’s

decisions which had seemed to fly in the face of marketing wisdom.



The first is cosmetic, but makes a big statement. He is said to be keen

to replace all the multi-coloured tailfin designs with the version of

the Union Jack on Concorde. Love them or hate them, it has been

generally accepted that the ethnic tailfins have not enhanced what had

been quite a distinct brand image.



Even more fundamentally, he is softening the stance on the two-tier

marketing strategy which favours premium business class passengers over

what Bob Ayling called the backpackers in the economy section - sensible

at a time when an increasing number of companies are insisting that

their executives fly as cheaply as possible.



Making decisions like these takes courage. By their very nature, they

are an admission that what had been core elements of the marketing

strategy were wrong. Even braver, however, are those who refuse to be

overwhelmed by the fads in the market to begin with.



The frenzied and expensive rush by generally rational companies into

anything that displays their net credentials is a good case in point and

makes the exceptions stand out. The latter are not the head-in-the-sand

company leaders who think the web is just a passing fad, but canny

executives who keep what’s happening in proportion and whose marketing

sensibilities are firmly in place.



Take David Jones of Next. When he recently announced that the store

chain would reach pounds 12m in internet sales this year, and was

attracting 700 new mail order customers a week through its web site, his

accompanying remarks about the net pulled no punches. Pointing out that

these web sales had been achieved with an investment of only pounds

125,000, he questioned the comparative millions of pounds some retailers

are pouring into e-commerce. If your brand is already strong, and your

fulfilment systems up to scratch, why the huge investments when this is

basically a new method of mail order?



Good question. And one which is a reminder that companies can get caught

up in complex and convoluted marketing strategies that have more to do

with organisational interests than customer focus. When that happens,

they’d be just as well off using crystal balls.



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