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Borders – why is it relevant? What does it mean?

January 4, 2011

Value migration has reared its head again over Christmas as bookselling giant Borders moved ever closer to brand irrelevance in the US. Amid talk of supplier financing and Barnes & Noble hegemony in the bookstore market in the States, the once great Borders business slips ever closer to oblivion. Such is the fate of companies with what appears to be a poor brand management strategy.

If Borders closes, nearly 700 stores will disappear in the States. The point is, when Borders closed its UK operations did anyone notice the difference? Did anyone care? Well, no. Borders had little in the way of elan, class, or quality. Its stores disappointed. Its loss, therefore went unlamented. Visit and you quickly see that there’s little in the way of any obvious brand distinction between it and Amazon. Why, therefore, would you choose Borders over, say,  Amazon?

As Tim Cohn notes simply in yesterday’s Search Marketing Communications blog, the best brands are defined by the simplest messages. The simpler the hook, the easier the brand recognition. Coke is it, Vorsprung Durch Technik, Rolls Royce motor cars – all these tell a story without further embellishment. So what’s the Borders story?

Truth be told, I haven’t a clue. Think of Foyles and you get a sense of history; Barnes & Noble is advancing with technology; Waterstones is reasonably classy (although their curious “feel every word” strapline suggests they wish the world stayed with books and didn’t mover forwards). Borders tried and failed in the UK and now it seems its singularity of brand position doesn’t stack up in its home country either.

Brands, however, are an emotional journey between customer and company and brand strategy is about maintaining the relevance of that relationship. As companies grow and change they need to remain relevant. Unfortunately, it seems, Borders is no longer relevant.

With two senior executives resigning over the holiday period there’s no doubt that things are going from bad to worse. When board directors resign, you know there is something seriously wrong with a business. Meltdown, sadly, seems the only way forward for a brand that’s lost its relevance and its way.


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