Riot brands: The dangers of chasing the lifetime customer

Brand reputation has never been more firmly in the spotlight thanks to the recent riots that took place across England. A systematic breakdown in law and order for just a few days ensured that many of the country’s leading brands had their high street stores looted by a demographic they have spent years seducing.

It is no surprise that the very brands that have actively solicited the youth pound, whether they were JD Sports, T-Mobile, Foot Locker, Miss Selfridge and gadgets purveyors Dixons Stores Group, were the ones that were dealt the most savage treatment at the hands of rioters.

In an age where the disparity between the have’s and the have not’s has perhaps never been greater, it was inevitable that so many youngsters decided to take a chance to secure something for free, when Londoners were allowed to do so just a few nights previously.

RIM’s Blackberry together with its Messenger platform, which allows people to communicate instantly without trace or record, has been singled out by the authorities for criticism.  Blackberry remains the dominant smart phone of choice amongst the young because of the expense and contractual arrangements required to secure an Apple iPhone. Messenger is a powerful and cost-free communication platform. A great position to be in, but left unchecked, it becomes a dangerous tool that criminals can take full advantage of.

So, where does this leave brand strategy?

Attracting the young is an important strategy in many markets because it presents the opportunity to nurture the mythical ‘life time customer’. I say mythical because on one hand, in the age of unrivalled choice, improving own brand quality, and a decline in real-term disposable income, I doubt they exist. But from another they clearly do. Clothing brands like G-Star-Raw, for example, represent a specific gangster lifestyle. There is a swagger about the models, an attitude, an arrogance.

Clothing giant Burberry had a huge problem a few years back, ironically caused by its main USP it’s check design. The market was flooded with cheap copies and Burberry became the clothing of the class termed ‘chavs’. Burberry has steered a steady path to return to its premium positioning and the company recently reported incredible profits.

The lesson for brands? I think as a responsible brand owner, be careful what you wish for. Assess the long term viability of a target cluster of customers and think carefully about how to service their evolving needs.

Images: Newquaysurfer and Gadgethelpline

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