We hear a lot about branding these days. A product or company’s brand consists of the many intangible factors that define it. Coca-Cola’s brand is an excellent example of this. It is estimated that well over half of the company’s value is its brand. It’s more valuable than all the bottling factories around the world, distribution channels and even the secret formula itself. Just the name and all the things it conjures up in the mind of the public.
Recently TV shopping channels, QVC in particular, have been narrow branding. This means they are offering a limited spectrum of products in an attempt to link themselves with the positive buzz about them. TV shopping used to be know for innovative, sometimes wacky products that were not readily know by the public. The iconic phrase “as seen on TV” used to refer to something innovative, a really unique product that you could live without but would rather not.
The concept of narrow branding creates a “club” of customers who own certain products and then attempts to make everyone else want to join the club. TV shopping channels have long known the power of testimonial phone calls from satisfied users of certain products. The networks build huge ownership bases for certain products by offering them over and over again. This ensures that they’ll have a large number of customers who will call in to extol the product’s virtues. And those testimonial calls have always helped to sell products.
When I worked for QVC, if we sold between 30 and 40,000 products during a presentation, it was the stuff of legend. Now with the increased selling time given to selected products, it’s the norm. It’s not uncommon for the network to sell well over 100,000 products in a single day.
So if they’re selling so much, what’s the problem? Boredom, for one. Television is a fluid medium. Presenting the same products over and over again is like a TV show repeatedly airing the same episode. (Although I can’t see the “Leave it to Beaver” episode where he falls into a giant bowl of soup too many times.) Narrow branding is fine for catalogs, which are a static medium, but most TV viewers are turned off by reruns.
Infomercials that repeat time and time again are saturating the market for the product being presented. That’s why most of them disappear from the airwaves in a few years and are often replaced with a “new and improved” version of the product to start the cycle again. It fairly obvious that the TV shopping channels are emulating this narrow branding strategy.
Again the fluid nature of TV, especially the 24/7 live TV of the shopping channels, is in direct opposition to this. The fact QVC’s sales were disappointing in the past quarter is likely a sign that customers are getting tired of seeing the same products presented ad nauseam. QVC’s U.S. President was let go soon after their latest sales results were released. The first step in recovery is understanding that you have a problem and her firing may have been that first step.
Along with creating boring shopping TV, narrow branding has done serious collateral damage to all those small, independent companies that made unique products that were sold on television. Most of them are gone, making way for the big national brands that are shown repeatedly.
I just read that the Kirk’s Folly line of jewelry, once featured prominently on QVC, is closing their doors in November. While I used to shudder every time I had to “blow fairy dust” on-camera with Jennifer Kirk, I had great respect for her and her fantasy-world line of fashion jewelry. While I suspect that the closing may be partially retirement-related, I’m sure the line would have continued if QVC’s schedule wasn’t so crowded with coffee makers, high-end vacuum cleaners, tablets, proprietary kitchen gadgets and cookware.
The proprietary factor contributes to narrow branding. The enormous initial success of the company-owned Diamonique line of jewelry showed that QVC could make a lot more money if they owned the products they were selling. I’m pretty sure that many of the often-repeated products seen on shopping channels today are owned, at least in part, by the channel itself. It’s smart business.
What isn’t smart is the short-sighted narrow branding strategy. With the advances in online interactivity and streaming video, there’s an ever-expanding supply of home shopping sources these days. I’m pretty sure if the channels continue to offer an extremely limited universe of products, their viewership and sales will continue to shrink. If a channel takes the time and resources to search for and find those unnecessary but almost irresistible products they used to sell, they will become the leaders in the industry. It’ll take guts, vision and smart leadership. While I had a really sarcastic last line about that, I’ll just end it here.
(All posts ©2014 – No portion of this text may be copied and/or pasted elsewhere without written permission of the author.)