November 17th, 2012 — Customer service, Marketing
Packing tape and portfolio from my Container Store shipment
My wife loves the Container Store. She has a closet full of Elfa components and various other elements that roll around or sit under shelves. Recently she bought four big stacking wire baskets to hold mittens, hats and other snow gear, one for each family member. The box arrived (several days before the promised date, by the way) and it was as big as a steamer trunk. I’d assumed that shipping, an unhappy necessity for those who don’t live near a store, was similar to what they charge at Ikea—an arm and a leg. Not so; this was shipped at a flat rate of $19.95.
Before I knew this I had opened the package and became somewhat intrigued by a couple of its features. First, there was a special heavy-duty fiber tape used to seal the box which had CS’s “7 Foundation Principles” printed on it in an endless loop. These can be found on the website along with lots of comments and inspiring videos. CS is consistently voted one of the best places to work in America and its employees are fervent in their mission. To me the dialog seems a bit cultish but that’s just my perspective and I do not begrudge the employees or their customers their enthusiasm.
Second, the bill of lading was packaged in a little blue portfolio including a thank you from the President. It was at this point I decided shipping must be REALLY expensive so I peeked inside and there were no prices on the receipt. Then I went online and discovered how reasonable their shipping actually is.
Bottom line, this is a great fulfillment effort that extends the Container Store brand right into the home as the package arrives. The cost of the special tape and the card-stock portfolio are not insignificant but my guess is they haven’t been tested against a generic approach. Container Store felt this is the way to communicate with their customers, and that’s the end of it.
The whole experience puts to shame mass produced efforts like Lands End, from whence your coveted fashions arrive in a plastic sack and a return label is printed on your shipping document as if they assume you’re already having second thoughts. Amazon with its non-recyclable receipts, in which the UPC code for the package is printed on peel-off paper and then switched to the outside of the package leaving a blank spot on the receipt, isn’t much better. Not as bad as Applebee’s decision to just throw it in a box, but not great.
Fulfillment is the last mile in your relationship with your customer. There may be sound economic reasons that you can’t be as effusive as the Container Store. But consider their example, and learn from it.
April 10th, 2012 — Marketing, Words and writing
- Got to love an all-copy cover!
In my copywriting class I use the Lands End catalog as an example of great catalog copywriting. They are unexcelled at building on details about a fabric or a tailoring process until it becomes irresistible. The story may be about a buyer’s obsessive desire to solve a fitting problem, or about the scientific process by which a synthetic fleece can be light yet warm. Often it’s accompanied by personality profiles of a tailor or a happy wearer.
If you are used to seeing Lands End catalogs in the mail, you probably have no idea what I am talking about… because in fact the examples I use are well over a decade old, before Lands End was acquired by Sears. Recent Lands End catalogs are pretty much like any other midrange fashion retailer’s.
Which is why I was so excited by the spring Men’s book in the mail last week. The cover and the first six pages are all about Irish linen. “We could bring you assembly line linen at a lower price but wouldn’t you rather have the real thing? Here’s the very best, the linen of knights and kings, fearless RAF pilots and world famous rogues.” That’s the headline of the opening spread and I’m already reaching for my credit card even though not a single product is sold here.
The sell begins comes on the next spread, which educates us about the fabric: “Linen comes from long, golden fibers encased inside the woody stalks of the flax plant. Extracting them takes months, which is why fine linen is so prized. The basic steps have changed little from the time of the pharaohs…” Note that these are generic descriptions of linen, but because Lands End takes the trouble to research and tell us its story, the fabric becomes uniquely theirs by default.
The next spread is about linen pants and it has a little repetition, making me wonder if they hired some superstar copywriter and could only afford a few copy blocks, which were then cut and pasted to create new ones. If so, I hope it’s one of the old crew lured out of retirement.
If you received this catalog, take a close look at it… there’s much to be learned. (And order from it, so Sears will discover hard sell is not always the best sell.) If not, I’m delighted to find there’s a continuing feature online called “Anchors of Style” (terrible non-descriptive title incidentally) in which part of the linen story is currently available here.
March 4th, 2012 — Marketing
splashy march cover from jcp. The jcp logo in the shirt collar has been Photoshopped out but a loose thread at the botom right of the shirt remains.
I’m not a JCP customer nor prospect. I didn’t watch the Oscars so didn’t see the Ellen ads though I just now YouTubed them and thought they were great (unlike the majority of the TV audience apparently). Thus, like a lot of folks, my first exposure to the “NEW” JCP was the insert in today’s Sunday paper. If you have one, pull it aside before your partner or spouse puts it in the recycling because it’s worth a study.
JCP’s competition in my local mall includes Target, Old Navy and Kohl’s, all value brands that are trying to look cool and hip (Kohl’s less so than the others) while maximizing floor space. What’s going to make me take a fresh look at the “new” JCP now that former Apple (and Target) guy Ron Johnson has had a few months to get settled in?
How about an opening spread that announces the new “Fair and Square” pricing and uses a universal commodity, like polo shirts, to illustrate it? Red is everyday, white is month long values, blue is a markdown. Got it. So let’s show one example of each. Let’s also make a great offer to get people back in the store, like a free 8×10 family portrait with no strings attached.
This isn’t what happens. The opening spread sells nothing except the picture of a mom in heels (presumably purchased at JCP, but with the intent of looking like Manolo Blahniks) who is gearing up her toddler for a splash in their inground pool visible through the open doorway. Goofy, yes. JCP customer, no. We do get to the polos but not until the next spread, and without the pricing explanation. Further, they’re not on models and they’re still shots, wrinkled. Questionable choice since JCP’s new image seems to focus on “fun” people and models work very well later in the book while also showing off the product with bright hide-no-detail lighting.
I actually sat down to talk about the copy though. I wrote retail fashion early in my career and it’s hard. But at the core of the “look” there is always a human benefit to be found. The book title, “splashy march”, simply doesn’t make sense unless it’s an in joke about “merch”. The double meaning instinct moves into high gear a couple of spreads later: “when we say we’ve got you covered we really mean it… talk about a spring break!” (As in price, apparently. But wait a minute. Doesn’t JCP’s new positioning focus on the fact there is NOT always a sale going on?)
Adult supervision finally arrives at the soft goods section in the back: “This shower curtain is not only washable, it also resists mildew. What is it about spring that makes you want a fresh, clean start?” On message and it sells. What’s so hard about that? Watch and learn, JCP fashion copywriter.
And that free portrait offer? It’s here on the inside back cover (actually a hot spot that’s one of the most-read spreads in a catalog) but buried next to a wacky family portrait that again will probably make the JCP customer feel uncomfortable vs thinking “those are my peeps.”
I kept thinking about the great Lands End catalogs of yesteryear, before they were acquired by Sears. Great selling and great stories hand in hand, with the latter used to showcase the former. That was what JCP could have used here.
UPDATE: since this post we’ve seen three more Sunday flyers from JCP. The “mandarin orange” fashion issue was great. The home store this week not so much. Also, the binding was different: saddle stitched for fashion, loose pages for the home issue. What’s happening is a lot of territorialism between different creative directors and the different departments. For a messaging re-do like this to work, you really do need to have buy-in across the board.
October 2nd, 2011 — Copywriting 101, Marketing, Words and writing
A money-back guarantee is essential to any web or direct marketing offer. It takes care of an enormous concern on the part of the buyer: I can’t see this product before I order… so, what if I get it and I don’t like it?
That’s the simple and unequivocal answer to a question you may be asked by your clients: “Do I need a guarantee?” Yes, of course you do. The next question is how generous is your guarantee, and how scrupulous will you be in honoring it?
One of my early bosses was a master of deception… I don’t think he would mind me referring to him as such because it was a point of pride to him that he could persuade people to buy products at much more than their true value. He tried to show me how to insert wiggle room in the guarantee so it would never need to be honored. But even as a naïve young marketer I knew this was not a good idea.
The people who intend to take advantage of you will find a way to do so. They’ll claim the product was damaged or simply never arrived. They’ll protest their credit card bill. Defending yourself against them is futile and by trying to do so with a miserly or weasel-worded guarantee you’ll cause yourself far more damage among the majority of honest customers who will now be less confident about ordering from you.
At one point in my career, I wrote a lot of promos for investment newsletters. The standard guarantee was “a prompt prorata refund of your subscription cost for all unmailed issues”. What hokum. The cost of the physical issues was negligible and the real product was intellectual property; if the reader no longer values that product why force them to pay for it?
We were able to change the standard wording to something like, “100% refund of your entire subscription price even if you cancel on the very last issue” and guess what? Refunds did not go through the roof because most subscribers do not make a mental note that okay, I can game the publisher a year from now and get my money back. Rather they make a decision about whether or not the product is for them based on their first experiences with it. A generous guarantee simply removes the roadblocks in this decision process.
My favorite guarantee is still Lands Ends’ “Guaranteed. Period.” It’s gutsy that the uncompromising language has been maintained since Lands End was acquired by Sears, but when you think about it this guarantee simply puts in writing what most retailers would offer their customers. If you don’t like it and you take the trouble to bring it back to the store, we are going to give your money back regardless of whether we think it’s justified because we don’t want an angry customer roaming the corridors.
So, copywriters, always include a guarantee—and tell the art director to put it on a fancy safety-paper background to make it look valuable. Maybe your client will protest that “we don’t actually have a return policy” to which your answer is “you should, and you do now.”
Excerpted from my new book, Copywriting that Gets RESULTS! Get your copy here.
February 11th, 2011 — Copywriting 101, Marketing, Words and writing
Testimonials can be a key element in your marketing copy. They help attract new customers by showing that others have had a satisfactory ordering. They help bond existing customers by demonstrating that you’re a “real” organization with real consumer relationships. And, if you’re a new or little-known company, they show that you actually have customers.
In order to work well for you, the testimonials you use should have these characteristics:
They should be specific. I remember a Land’s End testimonial in which the customer says she’s been shopping “since way back when you sold sailing equipment”. Jackson & Perkins used a detailed anecdote about the customer who put his roses through a torture test in a Texas Panhandle winter. Specifics sell. These testimonials are believable, and make interesting reading in their own right…as opposed to generic one-liners or one-worders (“outstanding”, “excellent”) which seem contrived.
They should be realistic. Never correct your customers’ grammar or edit phrases to fit the King’s English. Write like they talk. (I do, however, correct spelling errors. No reason to let your helpful customers embarrass themselves.)
Resist the temptation to crop and consolidate. Leave in the rambling, off-the- subject asides; these provide the veracity you are seeking. Use ellipses sparingly and only when absolutely necessary (for example, because the quote isn’t understandable without this editing).
They should be relevant. A business-to-business client gave me a series of “testimonials” from dealers who said they were happy to be selling the product. This is not what the customer is looking for. Testimonials should be about the buying process (how easy it is, or how a problem was solved) or about their personal experience with their purchase.
They should be signed. Testimonials followed by initials and no address appear to be faked…even where they aren’t. Whenever possible, I include a full name and city in a testimonial from a consumer; name, title and company for a professional. If you must use initials to protect the customer’s privacy, include the city and state to retain believability.
THE RIGHT WAY TO GET TESTIMONIALS: Some categories, like gardening and other hobbies, seem to generate floods of unsolicited positive comments from customers who want you to know how well they’re doing with your merchandise. If this situation applies to you, you’re lucky. Much more likely, you’ll have to ask for testimonials.
Start with a customer service survey (something you should be doing anyway). Follow up with phone calls to promising responses. When you talk to them, have a mental list of topics you’d like to touch on and gently lead the conversation into these areas. Try to elicit case histories or other specific comments and examples. Before you hang up, ask if it’s okay to use the comments in your advertising. (Don’t push it if the answer is no.)
My next step is write up a transcript of my call notes, followed by a sanitized version in which I try to make the comments more coherent and cogent without editing out the customer’s personality. At the bottom I write:
[Company name] has my permission to use the above quotation in its advertising and promotional material [ ] as is [ ] with changes.
In the olden days I would send this self-contained authorization form to the interviewee, via fax or by mailing with a self-addressed stamped envelope. In almost every case, I received it back right away and with no changes. Today I’d be comfortable using email and using their reply as proof of consent. I’m not sure this would stand up in court, but if the customer objects to the use of their name you’re going to withdraw the testimonial anyway, right?
And speaking of legal issues: the above approval language was written without the help of a lawyer. Your legal department might want to add some “hold harmless” verbiage. Resist. The more mumbo-jumbo your customer has to sign his or her name to, the less likely you are to get an OK.
In closing, here are two ways not to get testimonials. Don’t invent them and then sign the name of a willing friend or co-worker. It’s smarter, and not much harder, to get the real thing (assuming your company has at least one satisfied customer, that is). Second, sometimes a well-meaning customer will offer to compose a testimonial for you. Never, never accept. The customer will write what they think you want to hear—and the result will be about as hokey as you can get, but you’ll feel obligated to use it to avoid hurting the customer’s feelings.
I recently ran across several articles I wrote for Catalog Marketer, a newsletter published by the late Maxwell Sroge. I’ll be sharing them in updated form over the next few weeks in the Copywriting 101 section.