As part of my work with Newsagents, I occasionally visit the Australian Newsagency Blog and recently read an article (Are newsagents getting left behind in the shift in stationery?) that seemed to imply that Smiggle, typo, Kikki.k, etc. were redefining “stationery”. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this idea, and this morning (two weeks later!) I realised why.
Smiggle, Typo, kikki.k are not redefining what “stationery” means. They are redefining what “customer” means.
During a conversation this morning with my father-in-law I mentioned “Smiggle” and my daughter, who was eating her breakfast nearby and paying no attention, immediately shouted “I LOVE SMIGGLE!”. “Love”.
She didn’t say “Smiggle products” or “Smiggle stationery” or even “my Smiggle [thing]”, just “Smiggle”. Like many 8yo girls, writing, drawing and colouring-in are high on her list of favourite past-times. She has a LOT of stationery, only a relatively small amount of which is Smiggle. She hasn’t been to a store in months, rarely mentions it (unless prompted) and yet she explodes when she hears that name. My daughter is a “fan”.
Smiggle deals with “fans”, not “customers”. They are, fundamentally, an experiential brand whose sell souvenirs to people who visit their stores, currently in the form of stationery. This is why they can (must?) replace their range every month – their fans aren’t relying on them for anything other than the experience.
Giving a Smiggle fan a “social stationery” product from any comparative brand is like giving a Collingwood fan a Geelong jersey (the same could probably be said of Lego and its alternatives). Functionally and aesthetically, these products are virtually identical, but, like the Uncanny Valley, it’s possible that the closer the replicas come to emulating Smiggle, the more repulsive the Smiggle fans will find them.
The fact is that it is virtually impossible for any product-centric approach to compete against Smiggle. Any competitor who tries risks highlighting what makes Smiggle so popular and alienating themselves from customers in the process. Retailers in this space can only compete through establishing their own fan base by creating an experience that is uniquely “un-Smiggle-like”.