Harvard Business Review Gone Wrong: When You No Longer Preach What You Teach

Last weekend, while perusing the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble, I noticed that they were now selling full magazine subscriptions to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). I was surprised to see that the in-store price at B&N was only $69.  Last time I checked, HBR was usually north of $100 so this seemed like a great deal.

I didn’t pull the trigger at the time, but left thinking that at $69 it was too good a deal to pass up.

I had subscribed to the HBR in the past so it was no surprise that later in the week I received an offer in the mail to resubscribe to the magazine.  What was a surprise was the rate.

I was being offered a “corporate discount” that was the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW” for the bargain price of $79.

Really?

Technically, the $79 offer did include a free “bookmark” and “leadership guide” but why wasn’t the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW” the same or better than the in-store offer?  Why didn’t they offer me an option without the gifts for the same $69 price?  Oh, and as far as the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW”, right now Amazon is offering the same HBR  subscription for $79.

The fact that HBR would offer a total stranger, who has seen not been a subscriber, a better deal, at a much great cost to them (when you take into account B&N’s margin), makes no sense at all.

While I really did expect a different experience coming from the Harvard Business Review, as a marketer, I do understand the challenges of aligning the different market channels – web, retail, direct mail, etc.

Creating a customer experience across channels is hard work and I would say requires maniacal discipline.  Adam Richardson (writing on one of my favorite blogs, the Harvard Business Review Blog) talks about this challenge and why so few companies deliver when it comes providing a great customer experience.  Adam comments,

Crafting a great customer experience requires enormous amounts of collaboration across groups in a company that often work independently and at different stages of product development. In many cases marketing, product design, customer services, sales, advertising agency, retail partners must all be working in concert to create even a single touchpoint.

I wouldn’t say HBR lost me as a customer, but I don’t feel like their marketing channels are aligned and I am definitely not feeling special.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Published by

  • Tim Johnson

    This also illustrates the challenge of channels. HBR can’t set prices through their channel partners nor can they collude with them to say “don’t go lower than X.” But they still need to be aware of what their partners are charging before they come up with statements about ‘the lowest we can go’ otherwise they will look silly and unprofessional.

    • Really good point Tim – it is easy to forget that once your partner with a channel partner, you are losing some control of your product. You may find that if you don’t establish agreements up front (if you legally can), you may not like the positioning and pricing that your partners ends up using. nnThanks for the comment!nnJoshnJosh

    • Why can’t they “collude” with them? It happens all the time. Ever tried to buy a Rolex? Or a piece of McIntosh audio gear? They can, and do control prices at their dealers.

      • Brandon,nnThanks for the comment. I do think in some cases, you can strike agreements with your channel partners so they can’t undersell other channels. nnIn my experience with retail, the major players will not enter into this type of agreement and reserve the right to “clearance” the merchandise. I think the publishing industry is different and suppliers are often required to take returns on unsold goods.nnBrings up lots of interesting questions on your strategy.nnThanks again,nnJosh

      • Brandon,nnThanks for the comment. I do think in some cases, you can strike agreements with your channel partners so they can’t undersell other channels. nnIn my experience with retail, the major players will not enter into this type of agreement and reserve the right to “clearance” the merchandise. I think the publishing industry is different and suppliers are often required to take returns on unsold goods.nnBrings up lots of interesting questions on your strategy.nnThanks again,nnJosh

  • Tim Johnson

    This also illustrates the challenge of channels. HBR can’t set prices through their channel partners nor can they collude with them to say “don’t go lower than X.” But they still need to be aware of what their partners are charging before they come up with statements about ‘the lowest we can go’ otherwise they will look silly and unprofessional.

  • Tim Johnson

    This also illustrates the challenge of channels. HBR can’t set prices through their channel partners nor can they collude with them to say “don’t go lower than X.” But they still need to be aware of what their partners are charging before they come up with statements about ‘the lowest we can go’ otherwise they will look silly and unprofessional.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Harvard Business Review Gone Wrong: When You No Longer Preach What You Teach -- Topsy.com()

  • Here’s another issue from a marketing perspective. Why is HBR cutting their price any way? They are the “luxury brand” of business publications. Don’t act like People magazine. Stand tall dude.

    • Thanks for brining up an excellent point Mark! With their luxury and academic positioning, it shouldn’t but about coming up with the best deal anyway.nn

  • Mouth….meet sour taste.nnThe very reason why I, as a consumer, hate subscriptoin based businesses. As a business person we are told subscription based business models are the bees knees – but I despise the way the biz model creates immediate perverse incentives to do everything you can to acquire new business while assuming all existing business will pay forever.nnI could go on an on about this at length…but won’t. 🙂

    • Sean,nnThanks for the comment. Great point on the business model and the danger to try and win short term business. If you sign up for the deal price, there is no way you are going to stick around if they raise prices next year. What type of deal are you going to have to offer next year to get the renewal?nnOnce you start competing on price with a subscription business, it is a downward spiral.

  • Sarah McConville

    Josh,n nYour blog post highlights an HBR experiment to test different offers and sales channels for our print magazine subscription. Like most other magazines, HBR is always testing variables to our offer, whether itu2019s source of sale, pricing, or combinations of print/digital/bonus collection material. In this case, the $69.50 Harvard Business Review offer that you mentioned was a test with Barnes & Noble to see if we could encourage gift subscriptions to HBR via the retail channel. This was a limited time promotion for the holiday season and the first time weu2019d experimented with selling subscriptions through a book retailer. At $69.50, we felt the gift price provided good incentive for someone who wanted to try giving HBR as a gift, but preserved our premium position because itu2019s still a much higher price point than many of the items available for sale at B&N. It looks like you then received a direct mail notice from us in early January — this is a typical marketing piece for HBR, advertising our base rate of $79.00 for a print subscription to the magazine. True, the product offers are similar u2013 both are print subscriptions to HBR for one year u2013 but one is a limited time special promotion gift offer in the bookstore, the other a direct to subscriber offer with a bonus collection of articles. I understand your reaction to seeing the two different prices and questioning why weu2019d post u201cLowest Price Allowedu201d on the direct mail piece. Unfortunately the two promotions unintentionally overlapped. Our plan was to have the direct mail, advertising what is typically our lowest price allowed, reach potential new subscribers after the holiday retail promotion had been taken off the shelves. But in practice, that isnu2019t what happened. To your point, we didn’t provide you with a great customer experience and I apologize for that. We’re working on improving the coordination of our promotions so that we can deliver a better customer experience in the future.n nIn your blog post youu2019d mentioned that youu2019d been an HBR reader in the past and had considered the idea of a new subscription when you saw the Barnes & Noble offer. We completely redesigned the magazine last year and I think youu2019d really like the new HBR if you gave it a try. If youu2019re still interested in seeing what HBR has to offer, Iu2019d be happy to extend that $69.50 promotion to you and get you started with a one year subscription to HBRu2019s print magazine. Let me know if youu2019d like to try us again.nnI appreciate your sharing your experience with these promotions and again, I’m sorry that we didn’t live up to your expectations. Your post has given us an opportunity to look into the situation and take steps to improve what we do in the future. nThanks, Sarah McConville, VP Marketing, Harvard Business Review

    • Sarah,nnThanks for the reply and the explanation on the marketing promotion. That does make more sense and I can relate to having promotions unintentionally overlap. nnI really appreciate the fact that you took the time to reach out and gave such a thorough update. Mistakes happen and it feels so much better when you hear the full story straight from the source.nnConsider me a major fan of HBR and a soon to be subscriber again!nnJoshnnn