Brand reputation and micro management

One of the holy grails of brand reputation management has always been consistency of the product. You want the McDonalds hamburger in one store to taste the same as in other stores. Some local variations are allowed (I remember how McDonalds french fries tasted different in Thailand because they used different cooking oil).
But, as a recent Washington Post story on gas prices points out, that can lead to a tight reign rein on local stores:

Jerry Daggle owns five Exxon stations in Northern Virginia, and even though they have different competitive conditions and prices, “Exxon magically lets me make about 8 cents a gallon” at each one, he said.
He said micromanaging extends to the snacks sold at Exxon’s On the Run convenience stores. The company uses a “planogram” to show dealers where to put candy bars and soda. “If I want to put Coke on a different shelf, I have to get special permission,” Daggle said. Recently he was reprimanded for selling mulch on the perimeter of his award-winning Gainesville station; the mulch, though popular in the neighborhood, wasn’t an approved product.

This micromanagement wouldn’t be such an issue in the old days of the Industrial Age. In fact, it was de rigueur. In the I-Cubed Economy of customization (‘just-in-time; just-for-me”), it can be a major problem. At the very least, it can mean lost opportunities by allowing hot selling products — like mulch in Gainesville. As worst, it can mean retail failure as the product mix doesn’t match the local demand characteristics.
The trick is how to simultaneously maintain the basic characteristics and quality of a product which underlie the brand’s reputation and embrace local variations. Notice that I did not say “balance” these two objectives. They should not be seen as opposites to be traded-off. Years (and years) ago, this was described by Peters and Waterman (In Search of Excellence) as “simultaneous loose-tight.” Maybe companies need to resurrect that concept for the I-Cubed Economy.
PS – for a nice take on the continued relevance of In Search of Excellence, see “In search of …?” by Mike Johnson (head of Futurework Forum).

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