HMV has hit a wrong note with its corporate stance

Retailer HMV has decided to ask staff to cover up any “prominent” tattoos and body piercings in a bid to improve shoppers’ experience. In what must count as the final nail in the coffin of HMV’s rock and roll reputation, the company says it feels a more “consistent approach” to staff appearance will meet the expectations of customers who have to be at the “heart of everything” the brand does.

Ruth Mortimer

I can imagine the grumblings on the workplace floor. Actually, I don’t need to imagine. I have several (tattooed) friends who work at HMV and have made their feelings on the company’s stance very clear to me. They work at HMV because they are the super-fans of life. They love music and technology and want an occupation where they are surrounded by it all the time.

Ironically, my friends feel they totally sum up the ethos of putting customers at the heart of what they do. They pride themselves on knowing ridiculously obscure facts about the latest death metal band. They see the difference between the service they offer and the often cheaper alternative of online stores, such as Amazon or, as this knowledgeable customer interaction.

It can be no coincidence that HMV’s much more corporate stance comes as it gains a new chief executive. Trevor Moore used to run Jessops and held roles at HSBC and Whitbread. All businesses that have good track records in understanding customers, but none that are known for being hip.

You can read some of our readers’ responses and a passionate defence from the HMV marketing director on page 4. But perhaps HMV needs to take some marketing inspiration from the two candidates in the US presidential election. With the campaign trail reaching its final few weeks, we look at what brands can learn from the tactics displayed by President Obama and his adversary, Mitt Romney. Although Obama’s digital marketing campaign received a great deal of attention back in 2008, that’s a story from four years ago.

In 2012, the candidates are using a variety of sophisticated marketing techniques - both online and offline - and we talk to a range of brands who are putting the same ideas into action on a corporate scale. Good marketing is obvious, after all, wherever you find it. HMV would do well to learn some of these valuable techniques that engage customers, rather than putting the focus on tattoos and piercings when customers really just care about service.

Readers' comments (10)

  • The author may have friends who work in HMV, but she clearly doesn't go in there much. They sell classical music and box sets of "Last of the Summer Wine" as prominently as rock and roll. They sell children's games for the Wii as prominently as Call of Battlefield games. Hello Kitty themed products and Disney Blu-ray movies are not known to be aimed at the tattooed

    If anyone has got their brand intelligence wrong its Marketing Week.

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  • I actually have to cover my tattoos at work and I wear Ink Armor sleeves to do it: I don't mind hiding my tattoos at work but was very surprised to hear that a music store would ban visible tattoos. It seems like one place where they would be cool.

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  • Have to agree with Ruth Mortimer on this one. It is 2012 - even the prime ministers wife sports a tattoo.

    Also didn't some police forces start to allow officers to display tattoos in an attempt to break down the barriers.

    Tattoos, piercings, modifications etc are becoming a social norm. HMV should be the coolest brand on the high street, not trying to reposition itself as a technology store with clean cut staff like Dixons in 1988.

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  • Everyone is entitled to their own opinion...
    Surreelscoop - I think you are missing the point of providing great service to all customers. Whether they are buying a Wii game or a Slipknot album, tattoos or piercings will not affect that.

    I am interested to hear what "the tattoo classes" means. Wouldn't want to be generalising people.

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  • Misfire for HMV. I wonder if the brand also has a stance on branding?

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  • SurrealScoop - Define for us, if you can (hint: you can't) "the tattooed classes".

    We're dying to know from which walk of like only certain "class" of people are tattooed.

    I mean, you DID meant to lump Samantha Cameron with Hell's Angels and "adventurous" teenagers in Aiya Napa together (all are, as you are no doubt aware, known for their tattoos) ....didn't you?!

    Surreal indeed.

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  • If Trevor Moore wishes to improve the company's fortunes he would do better by cutting in store prices so that his turn over and proffit increase---50% proffit on a £5 sale is useless---25% of a £100 sale is a lot more

    Sort out the shoddy web delivery

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  • SurrealScoop - what you have got right is that HMV does sell far more than music these days. You're right - DVDs, games, headphones, electronics, they are all part of HMV's offering now. So it isn't just a specialist music retailer now.

    What you are wrong about is me spending no time in HMV. Apart from the people I know who work there, I work several doors away from an HMV store and was in there buying a DVD last week (it was too late to get it cheaper from Amazon). So I see how customers are treated quite often.

    My point was that HMV has intense competition for everything it sells, particularly online. DVDs, classical music and kids' games are among those products that you can generally buy cheaper online from other retailers.

    So what differentiates HMV? Surely it has to be a detailed or expert knowledge of its stock that stands out for customers. Surely it is the people who are fanatics about popular culture who tell you why it's so much better to get product X than Y - something that is missing online.

    Do tattoos or piercings mean a worse customer experience? No, not in my view. I just think the brand would be better off tackling the bigger issues rather than potentially demotivating staff in this way.

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  • Potential shift to 'force' employees out the door? Seems to be a devious plan to cut the wage budget. HMV has just lost their smile instore. I can't understand why HMV just seem to be giving up? So much potential!

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  • Bad news for HMV staff, so gone are the days where HO staff we advised that it was mandatory to wear jeans and trainers... HMV are morphing into their former colleagues at Waterstones?

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