One of my favorite brand slogans is Columbia Sportswear’s: “Trying stuff since 1938.” It’s not only a corporate philosophy, but it also speaks to the ethos of many of their customers.
I also love what J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler recently said about his brand’s nascent re-entry into the Chinese market: “I don’t consider this a huge risk at all and if, in fact, we didn’t succeed in Hong Kong, life goes on. We’ll figure out alternatives.”
What’s embedded in both statements is complete acceptance that growth does not spring from the relentless pursuit of perfection. They realize that you don’t require a complete and crystal clear view of all the next moves before you make your first. Innovation is an iterative process and, more often than not, he who hesitates is toast.
But for many of us–and our organizations–a brutally honest slogan might go something like this:
“Too afraid to try anything because I might look foolish if I’m wrong.”
“Waiting to see what the competition does before I do anything.”
“I never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
“Treading water since grad school.”
“Enjoying the action from the sidelines.”
Compared to those maybe “Trying stuff since yesterday” doesn’t sound so bad?
A powerful component of customer engagement is providing scarce, exclusive and relevant experiences that reinforce your brand positioning.
“Members Only” or “By Invitation Only” marketing programs can be compelling messages that tell your customer that you truly appreciate their business. For years leading luxury retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s have feted their best customers with private lunches, exclusive parties or access to fashion designer “meet and greets.” More accessible retailers like J. Crew and Nordstrom use their loyalty programs to reward members with unique privileges such as free alterations, early notice of new merchandise arrivals or special shopping hours. In all cases, the customer is granted access based upon some meaningful qualification, typically spending level or loyalty.
But another kind of marketing seems to be gaining momentum, and it’s best illustrated by the flash-sales sites such as GiltGroupe, HauteLook and BeyondTheRack. These businesses are growing dramatically–RueLaLa recently reported that their sales doubled year over year–and one of their hooks is that their low prices are for “members only.” So what does one have to do to qualify to be a member? Having a legitimate e-mail address is just about all it takes.
In the early 1980’s “Members Only” jackets quickly became all the rage. If you wanted the world to know how cool you were, a “Members Only” jacket gave you quick access to an exclusive club. But it wasn’t long before just about everybody had one and what propelled the brand soon eviscerated it.
There is ample evidence that, for a while, you can get away with hooking customers with faux exclusivity. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Deep levels of engagement and loyalty are not built on smoke and mirrors; rather they are built on forging relationships rooted in respect and trust.
Does your marketing look more Members Only or more “Members Only” Jacket?
Last holiday season I coined the term “surgical shopping” to describe the highly precise way many consumers were purchasing. While the panic of late 2008 and early 2009 subsided, consumers were only gradually opening their wallets, focusing primarily on needs vs. wants and often trading down to brands that gave very clear bang for the buck. By the time the numbers were in for the 4th quarter, it was clear that business was better, but not particularly good.
As an economic recovery struggles to gain traction, this “surgical shopping” behavior remains rampant, and in my opinion is not likely to change any time soon.
This behavior is evident on the lower end of the market, as private labels (or more accurately “private brands”) gain market share. And it’s apparent on the higher end, as accessible luxury brands such as Coach, Nordstrom and J. Crew beat their more exclusive and expensive rivals. Even at the absolute luxury tier, brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermes outpace the competition as they emphasize their heritage of investment quality craftsmanship to win over flash in the pan, mostly pure image brands.
This is now the Hangover Market. Waking from the intoxication of too much marketing and societal hooch, consumers are now shaking off the cobwebs and dry mouth of excessive, superficial spending. And while it’s always difficult to predict future consumer behavior, many consumers are not going back to their old reckless spending habits. For some, this will be out of economic necessity. For others, this will be values based, as they become more discerning about the quantity of what they buy and the price they pay for certain items.
So what does this mean for business leaders and brand stewards?
Tangible, obvious value wins.
Being remarkable wins.