Ask anyone who even slightly cares about a band or a specific genre of music and they will tell you that they do much more than listen…
Real fans feel music. Real fans buy records on the sleeve design alone. Real fans have the download, the single, the Japanese import and the 12inch of the same record because it just feels different on vinyl. Real fans can taste the snakebite and smell the sweat in the venue when they heard ‘that’ song for the first time.
Music lives in fans’ hearts and they take that spirit with them everywhere, not just when they walk into a venue or turn on the hi-fi.
HMV’s old model is sickly but there’s something in its heritage that could be it’s cure. In the 50′s it was one of the very first experiential shopping experiences. With road closures for store openings and personal booths that played everyone from Little Richard to Big Joe Turner. HMV was a sensory overload on the high street.
The 80′s love of plastic and disposability should have been the warning sound. The bloated record industry went a bit Phil Spector and shot itself in the foot with astronomical margins for CDs and their tacky jewel cases, forcing the stores to become grand warehouses for alphabetized blandness; And everyone knows that someone who organizes their CDs in alphabetical order is a bore…
By the early noughties fun, danger and exploration had left the building. Bays of iPods and speakers neatly displayed next to the racks of CD holders showed the customer how confused stores had become. Outside the store, HMV did little to celebrate our passion or get people more into music.
The key for HMV to find its feet again is to remember what is selling and not its five inches of plastic. It’s selling icons, future memories, soundtracks to adolescence, friends and the experience of finding music. HMV became bland. Amazon is bland. Music is alive and vibrant and will always need a stage to perform and broadcast from.
Suggestions that labels like Universal, Warner and Sony will join forces to save HMV does not necessarily bode well for the brand’s long term viability. There is a danger that their involvement could perpetuate old model thinking, formats before fans, and prevent the necessary transformation that needs to take place.
HMV have spent the last few years making their high street presence mini identikit versions of an Amazon warehouse. Each one stocking the same anodyne guff anyone can buy cheaper online – we’re only likely to go in if we know what we want. There’s a parallel in the world of fast food or fast fashion: Byron burger sells patties all over London but two of their restaurants are never the same because the sites are not the same. Topshop has different stock in every store, spanning the range from big volume to boutique. What if HMV Hackney had exclusives that HMV Kings Road didn’t?
Photo: thecai.ie & jjmusicproductions.blogspot.com
HMV has some iconic retail locations, but there is no reason to meet your mate in the once brilliant Oxford Street store. HMV could stop acting like a supermarket and became a destination again. A place you want to hang out in and experience the passionate, exciting and escapist world of music that shaped young identities and returns spirit to old ones. In-store gigs, record label take-overs, second-hand sellers, boutique concessions. Give His Masters Voice some personality again.
Starbucks match their stores to the locations. They’re places where people hang out and meet others. And while some of HMV’s current stores might be the wrong size, there is still a place for various sizes and shapes of HMV stores up and down the country.
And even better if they’re staffed by passionate experts, like the wine lovers at Majestic. People that live and breathe the product, where a conversation with someone in store always leads you to walking away with more great discoveries. Celebrate difference and discovery. Amazon proudly claims to never have accidents but we’ve all discovered brilliant bands by accident. HMV can be the place where we do that again.
Finally, embrace digital. Not as a competitor to the retail store, but something that compliments it and gives people more of what they want. Just like our music tastes are a mixed bag of obscure artists and guilty pleasures, so too are our listening habits that include Spotify, vinyl, iTunes and good-old radio. Digital isn’t just a channel. It’s an easy way to play a more useful role in customers’ lives, more than just when they come into store to buy something. HMV can lead the way with curated email newsletters, surprising online radio stations, and shared playlists for all the music moments in our life.
Digital has enabled us to listen to more music than ever before. This is a great thing. HMV can be one of the few brands at the very top of the tree that help us get more into music and become fans. Real fans feel music and will follow it everywhere. And that’s a powerful place from which to build a brand.
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