They're Here

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

A new strategy of installing TV monitors at Borders to show original programming, ads, and weather, will bring "knowledge and entertainment" to the affluent book browsers who spend an average of an hour in the store. It’ll also direct traffic to its web site and pave the way for more "cross-promotional deals with large media companies."

Voila. Thus has this week’s dim bulb award been won.

It’s too easy to dis the concept of putting TVs in bookstores. A million consumers are reminded each day of the inanity of the idea when they endure the white noise of monitors in Blockbuster outlets…and that’s a video business. Monitors sort of make sense in elevators. Maybe in airport hallways.

But not in a bookstore, or even in a cross media integrated entertainment content whatever they’re calling themsleves-store.

I know that every aspect of our lives is becoming like every other aspect of our lives. Each moment is an opportunity to interact with media, commerce, and the infinite cosmos.

So it’s no great insight to exploit your customers for that brief time you have their attention. Why stop with TVs? Borders could install vending machines, sell space to jewelry kiosks, stock more impulse candy and plush, and allow Jehovah’s Witness proselytizers to buy customer lists. 

But any bozo can find ways to waste someone else’s time. That’s not branding, and it’s not even good business.

I’d suggest instead that Borders — and any brand name — might want to figure out ways to differentiate offerings instead of mucking them up exploitative detritus. Add real value. Create a nowhere-else offering. 

The way to do that wouldn’t be via communications tools — which anybody can buy or promote — but, rather, with behaviors. Do things in unique ways, especially when it comes to businesses that offer experience instead of a particular proprietary product or service.

In this sense, the combination of things that happen in a Borders store, along with anything it might send to consumers directly or otherwise tell them via mass media, could be the elements of a truly integrated brand offering.

Here’s what Borders could consider:

  • Use multimedia to enhance the book business, not distract from it: There are probably cool ways to integrate multimedia with book displays, from simple links to movie versions (perhaps discounts), to screens that let browsers enjoy soundtracks, etc. There’s content upon which to organize the store, whether by title, genre, and/or release date, that could provide opportunities to make book browsing — still the primary business, right? — more engaging. TVs running commercials are a distraction. Tell people about better browsing experiences, and it might actually attract customers to stores
  • Help consumers get more from books: I wonder how Borders could provide more context for the books it offers; right now, tables and shelves filled with titles is a pretty poor way to display them (especially when compared to the info available far more easily online). There’s got to be a better way. Ditto for book reviews, reading clubs, special events. I’d focus on things that must and can only happen in real world/real-time
  • Do one better than the Internet regarding finding books (or any other media formats): It’s unlikely that anyone would brave the weather, traffic, and our fellow citizens to go to a store and hope to find something that they would have a far better chance to find online. Of course, some people might prefer looking in the geo-physical world, but the opportunity would be to make every possible aspect of that visit useful. Using real people…employees…to provide information is a giant, useful variable in this regard. Yet there are more people ready to help me at a Home Depot than there are in an average Borders (or in any book store)
  • Make the entertainment component truly interactive, not canned: Readers are a uniquely involved, odd bunch (I consider myself one). They have opinions, are curious, etc. Couldn’t Borders invent ways for its customer to interact with one another, not necessarily with canned advertising? So, for instance, why not offer some real-time tracking of customer interests…maybe there’s a "top 10" list to which every visitor contributes upon arrival to the store

Borders has lots of opportunities to approach its brand as a business, not a label that it puts over whatever it chooses to do. 

Televisions blathering on with commercials does little for the former, and isn’t the strateregic idea for the latter.

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