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Main Topic: Learning Consumption at Build-A-Bear and Lack of Localization

Hosts: Clyde Warden , James Stanworth

Build-a-BearBuild a bear workshop, where best friends are made. This brandslogan could just as easily add on to the end, "not bought." Thisproduct is a great example of how young people are socialized intoconsumer behavior centering on purchasing and developing a relationshipwith the things purchased--a stuffed bear, then adding to thosethings--clothes, roller skates, a house. I visited Build-A-Bear as partof our department store coverage, and very quickly I thought this iseverything people hate about marketing. Change a couple words, and asales pitch is a relationship pitch. Stephen Brown has been critical of just how changing a few words doesnot really create the holy marketing relationship, and it may not bewhat consumers really want. The more I looked around, the more I developed this cynical perspective.

G.I. JoeMy daughter, however, showed me just how sophisticated young consumers are.She was not falling for any of the marketing code words--reinterpretingthem to be about social class. Then, a young visitor came into thestore and looked to be really enjoying a relationship with the brand,and all on the terms of Build-A-Bear. Is this any different than what Barbie has been doing for 50 years? The veryfirst Barbie had many accessories and fashion ensembles. In my owncase, I remember my G.I. Joe from 1969 , and I am not the only one.

In this show, Clyde and James talk about Build-A-Bear, itscommercial aspect, relationship building, and how franchises like thisone make fundamental errors when they assume the world is flat andtotally skip localization. Check out the great extended ConsumerCam where we go through the whole shopping process with a young consumer in Taiwan.

Clyde's daughter was happy to go with Dad to the Build-A-Bear store, since she had a friend who had a friend who received one as a gift. Going to the Department store is a standard family outing (see show 45), so Mom approved, and off we went. What is most interesting is the sophistication of this young teen in how she places the products in her social landscape. While everything is cute and attractive, look how little purchasing is considered and how the products themselves are interpreted as symbols of social class.

There is a clear cognitive dissonance between the presentation of soft, cuddly, friends, and the sticker shock where clothes cost more than human clothes. Just a few floors down, to the discount floor, better deals could be had for human clothes. In this tour, Clyde's daughter kept coming back to the feeling that these products are for someone else, some other class. Clearly, there has been no thought as to localization.  Certainly not enough to overcome that dissonance about price. These types of franchises are often highly constrained in what they can do, with their American owners allowing little to no room for localization. I have heard stories of fast food restaurant owners in Asia being threatened by the franchise overlords for moving cooking equipment. Never mind that the floor space is about one fifth of what they have to work with in the US. Just never mind. It works there, so it should work here.

As Liu tells in his book on KFC in China , the home office usually gets everything wrong, and the key to success is localization. Compounding this problem, is the fact that the local franchisee is often simply looking for a way to get a return on investment. Never mind that he/she has never used the product and may actually have no interest in the product or any understanding of the target market segment. It is simply a way to make money. It is sad that this is the way marketing is approached. It is the World is Flat thesis, which is sucked up by business elites who have little to no localized understanding because they are, well, elite. This Build-A-Bear, for example, should NOT be located in a Japanese style department store, and especially not in the young children's play area. It should locate down town, with a smaller store, at a place like Yi Chung Jie . Right where all the teens are hanging out, where all the college kids go. The small streets there would combine with a small store to create long lines as people tried to get in to see the cute products. These lines would attract more attention from passer-byes. Throw in a few local branded clothes, some Japanese figures, and this store would have so much business, it would be swimming in cash. As it is now, they have three employees with nothing to do on a weekend. Well, no problem, the world is flat, that will save us.

Twenty-five year olds here are more like 15 year olds back home, at least in a marketing sense.

Listen To The Show (Audio Only):

Our video camera experienced some difficulties (we sent it for repairs after this shoot), so you may experience some glitches.

Length: 13 minutes. Download MP3 6.01MB (Right click->Save As).

On Location

Watch The Show (Video & Audio):

From Taichung, Taiwan, James, and Clyde .
Length: 13 minutes.

iPod Download MP4 58.3MB (Right click->Save As).
QuickTime Download MOV 47.35MB (Right click->Save As).
Windows Media Download WMV 49.37MB (Right click->Save As).
High Quality mp4 H.264(640x480) Download high quality mp4 99.45MB (Right click->Save As).

Consumer Cam ConsumerCam:

Vid. 1) Visit Build-A-Bear with a young consumer in Taiwan.

Bear Map

Show Links:

Bottom Line:

  • Brands teach young consumers how to consume.
  • Build-A-Bear brings consumers into the store and into the toy creation.
  • The marketing codes are obvious and easy to be cynical about.
  • Building a relationship is the goal, and maybe it works for some consumers, and what is wrong with that?
  • Some small localizations could completely change the dynamic of the product to better fit local perceptions.
Category: Videocasts

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