Love Your Products If You Want Them to Sell
We had finished analyzing the catalog’s product sales. The unit sales, revenue and square inch reports all pointed to the same conclusions.
“The big winners are those cute resin figurines,” I told the catalog’s owner. “Every time you add one, sales go up. You should add more this year. And the big loser is the expensive hand-signed pottery. Those should go.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve decided to discontinue all the resin. I don’t want resin in the catalog anymore.”
“But why?” I asked. “Your customers love them.”
“They’re tacky. I’d never have them in my house. I’ve signed a contract with the pottery artist. I’m going to carry her whole line. I’ve already bought several pieces for my own home.”
“But the sales reports clearly indicate ...”
“I don’t care. Good taste is good taste.”
The above true story is surprisingly common. It’s a rare catalog owner or manager whose personal taste perfectly matches his or her customers’ taste. But the point is, that difference shouldn’t matter.
You can love a product for what makes it great for your customer. It doesn’t need to appeal to you.
To get great products, you must know what type of people comprise your customer base (it helps to respect them, too). If you don’t already know them, look at more than demographics. Read their favorite magazines and catalogs. Talk to them on the phone. Meet them in person. Then think about products from their points of view. Pretty soon you’ll find some products you really love for the way they benefit your customers. Those products are likely to sell well, too.
(By the way, the cataloger mentioned above did not take that advice. She eventually closed down her catalog.)
Presto! The Hidden Product Illusion
A colleague and I were chatting during lunch.
“The client’s products were so dreary-looking. It was all camping clothing; everything was dull brown and green. Like, who wants to look at dull brown and green? Those pages really needed some color.”
I was confused. I also had a client with brown and green outdoor clothing, but I loved it, as did the client and its customers.
I didn’t think of it as dull at all.
“So what did you do?” I asked.
“We added some bright outdoor scenes for color, and a running model for action. It helped take your eye off those dull, ugly products. The pages really looked great.”
“Did they sell?”
“No. Sales went down. I guess nothing could help those dull items.”
Don’t hide your products. In this true case, the great products were getting lost amidst all the scenic color and model action.
If my colleague had learned to love, instead of hate, those products, she wouldn’t have felt any need to hide them from customers. She apparently didn’t understand the audience, or its needs or motivations.
The funny thing was that these products previously had been selling fine. In fact, similar products sell well for other catalogers. Customers who need them, love them. If you have a good product, treat it like you love it. Focus right on that product, and shout out all the good things about it. Don’t hide or be embarrassed by it, and don’t try to distract from it.
Don’t Call Us
“This copy is just a long list of features,” I said. “What are the product’s benefits? Why would a customer want to buy it?”
Sales had been weak, and I’d been asked to coach the cataloger’s in-house copywriter.
He reflected. “I don’t know much about the product’s benefits or about why customers would want it. I was told to cram as much information as I could into the copy so customers wouldn’t call us with questions.”
This cataloger had reduced product questions all right. But he’d also reduced product orders by not focusing on the great benefits of his products and not letting customers know about those benefits.
He was right in trying to solve contact center problems by reducing product-question calls. But he was wrong to forget about his first priority: selling products. It turned out this cataloger was so focused on operational efficiencies that he had learned little about his customers, their needs or the benefits his products could deliver to those customers. Sales were weak because he had forgotten to focus on what was wonderful about his products and how they could improve his customers’ lives.
“We love our product ... we think.”
The cookie company’s catalog team handed me its product with trepidation.
“The package isn’t much, we guess. We probably need to change it. But our customers seem to like the cookies inside anyway.”
I looked at it. It was a great package, not fancy, but transparent, so it totally focused on the product. You could see the cookies inside. And it was heavy duty enough to protect — plus it was reusable for keeping junk. It obviously worked. It was a bestseller. I told them I liked it, and why.
They looked at me in amazement. “You’re the first outsider who ever liked our package. Every agency we’ve ever worked with has said we should redesign it. We thought we were the only ones who liked it.”
Lesson: When a product sells, there must be something good about it. Don’t let your enthusiasm for a great product be dampened by outsiders who don’t understand your customers or know what those customers buy.
This catalog team actually was on the verge of a complete package overhaul because it had heard so much negativity — all from outsiders — about the “ugly” (but bestselling) product.
Instead, they conducted a small test of a new package, which turned out not to work nearly as well as the plain, old original.
“It didn’t sell, so it must be stylish.”
The young marketing managers rolled their eyes.
“Our customers tend to be somewhat older, and well, let’s just say, not so thin any more. So we’re forced to carry these dated and not too stylish designs.”
“What are these other samples over here?” I asked.
“Those are our fashion-forward designs. We want the catalog to show that our brand is more than elastic-in-the-waistband old-lady comfort wear.”
Trying to forget about my own age and the comfortable elastic waistband slacks I was wearing, I asked, “How are the fashion-forward designs selling?”
“Unfortunately, we just haven’t been able to get our customers on board with stylish designs yet.”
These catalog managers were young and fashionable, and just could not relate to their customers. Their inability to fall in love with their product line was hurting their catalog’s sales.
I couldn’t help contrasting their attitude with another fashionable cataloger I knew ...
“Our clothes are so great,” the catalog owner enthused. “Our older ladies have gotten a little plump.”
She was trim and fit herself.
“So they love our relaxed fit, and our longer jackets that cover those problem areas.”
She had none of those problem areas.
“Our ladies are conservative, so they like our traditional outfits and cute designs,” she continued.
Her own outfit was fashion-forward and sophisticated.
This catalog owner didn’t wear her own products. But she loved them anyway, because she knew they were just right for her audience. She understands her customer’s needs and enthusiastically embraces what her customers like.
Now that sells product.
Susan J. McIntyre is president of McIntyre Direct, a full-service catalog agency and consulting firm based in Portland, OR. She can be reached at (503) 286-1400.