RadioShack's Function Follows Form? - InformationWeek

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RadioShack's Function Follows Form?

RadioShack wants consumers to call it "The Shack" and, starting today, will spend many millions on branding to associate its 4,450 stores with the idea of a cool and hip lean-to hovel. It makes no sense.

RadioShack wants consumers to call it "The Shack" and, starting today, will spend many millions on branding to associate its 4,450 stores with the idea of a cool and hip lean-to hovel. It makes no sense."The Shack" is not a technology outlet, it's a tear-down without running water, let alone electricity. It's a beachside restaurant in Playa del Rey, or a Christian adventure novel published last year. When RadioShack's top marketer says "The Shack speaks to consumers in a fresh, new voice and distinctive, creative look that reinforces RadioShack's authority in innovative products, leading brands and knowledgeable, helpful associates," it's hard to imagine what he's even talking about.

Beneath the forced-hip ads and PR stunts (people talking to one another across the US via giant 17-foot laptops!), the reality of the stores remains the same as it was in the days when it was called "Allied Radio." Back then, that's where we'd test our vacuum tubes; like Blockbuster's rental business, this recurring need drove repeat traffic, and created opportunities to sell other stuff.

Today, RadioShack has a similar driver for frequent visits, in that it's where you go to get cords, batteries, and all the sundry gazintas that make and keep your technology products working.

So where's the recognition of this function? Why doesn't RadioShack have the knowledge and equipment in-store to make any configuration of products work? Couldn't it offer to fix stuff bought other places (like its own extended service contracts)? What about tune-ups for DVD players or computers? Why not an exchange program of some kind, to keep consumers up-to-date?

RadioShack could let the big box retailers fight the deathmatch with online sellers, and focus instead on being the go-to destination for all the technology, support, and care that only it could provide. It could understand and serve customers more thoroughly -- and more locally and regularly -- than its competition.

Then, it wouldn't matter what it called itself...form follows function, according to the architectural truism. Function matters first and foremost, as McDonald's, Hyatt, or most any consumer brand illustrates. It's no different for technology: you can call something "X," but people will buy it because it does "Y." Form alone says nothing, aside from what the branding experts want it to mean.

RadioShack is looking at words instead of deeds in the hope that it'll find a way to compete. So far, "The Shack" suggests that it hasn't found the answer.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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