Marketing innovation: Best Buy vs. Target

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Best Buy’s Richfield campus

Two of the most difficult marketing jobs in Minnesota right now have to be leading local retail giants Target and Best Buy. Target is about 60 percent larger than Best Buy. Although of different scales, each is facing the same catastrophic pullback in consumer spending that has resulted in each company reporting some of their worst results in years.

How each deals with the gloomy outlook in 2009 will be interesting to watch, and I expect to see some innovation in their marketing strategies that will help them ride out this tough economy.

As we’ve written here before, Best Buy is one of the leaders in the adoption of social media in the retail industry. Its CMO, Barry Judge, has started blogging and has taken to Twitter. He’s very transparent in his exploration of conversational marketing in interviews like this one. But probably the best overview is a video we posted here last month that features an interview with Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson, who clearly is behind its use of social tools and techniques.

Target, in contrast, is opaque on all things social, and its CMO, Michael Francis, seems from the corporate model of a brilliant planner, not innovator. Although the company has been involved in conversational marketing — I recall meeting blogger Robert Scoble some three years ago after a day of meetings at Target — its efforts to date have been mixed. A well-planned Facebook campaign was marred by controversy. And there was that episode with bloggers who took issue with a billboard in New York. Not the kind of case studies you would want from a company who clearly is a leading force in retail brand advertising.

So I will be tracking each company and its marketing efforts over the next several months and posting highlights here. If past is prologue, my gut tells me we’ll be seeing a lot of innovation from Best Buy, particularly in their use of social media. But the folks at Target might also surprise us. In these difficult times, the more innovative will likely win.

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