Finding a New Cultural Space


Had the buggy whip company changed focus from its core product – a whip for horse and buggy travel, to its core equities in fine leather goods, it might have taken the course of Gucci, who leveraged its reputation for superior craftsmanship and style to build a global luxury fashion brand. At the turn of the last century, Gucci managed cultural change by expanding its product line from leather goods for horse-driven travel, such as saddles and accessories, to include travel-related leather goods, such as leather gloves, luggage, and boots. They even make leather seats for luxury automobiles such as BMW.

Gucci adapted a winning strategy for managing cultural change by redefining their core business from their product line for horse-driven transportation to their company values for quality, style, and tradition. They grew a small Gucci leather shop in Florence into an international luxury giant by following this simple principle.

The Lesson of Borders.

The Marketing Semiotics research process anchors brand research in a broad understanding of cultural trends and new technologies that influence consumer choice in a given category. Rather than develop cosmetic tactics for improving store esthetics or advertising imagery, this process exposes the most relevant cultural space for the brand in relation to category trends. Before developing tactics for rearranging the furniture at Border’s, we would have redefined the essence of the book industry, moving focus from the end product, books, to contemporary needs for fast and convenient content, in print or other media. In this way, we would have recommended strategies for integrating the in-store business with contemporary trends in shopping technology.

If Borders had redefined their core competencies from book sellers to content distributors, management may have paused before handing their digital business over to Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook and .

If the bookseller had claimed ownership of the consumer content business instead, they would have found a suitable cultural space in which to market content in books and peripheral media under the Border’s banner. They could then have developed a retailing strategy that integrated digital readers and traditional books on-line and in-store. Instead, management focused narrowly on its traditional product line and eventually went out of business. The lesson? It was Borders’ short-sighted cultural strategy, not the growth of digital publishing, that ruined the business.

© 2013 marketing semiotics

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