As a merchandising and branding strategist, I abide by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s profound axiom: “A product has a job to do for your customer.”
In addition, I remind my clients their products (or services) either enhance their brand or detract from it. Right now, I am in the midst of finishing my upcoming book: “ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Your Merchandising Muse,” and I am living in a verb-saturated world, contemplating all the ways a multitude of products and services from a vast collection of industries live up to Christensen’s advice. Just how well do these individual products/services that surround us in—stores, on tablets and on phones—actually support, amplify and play to their brands’ promises? It’s a provocative question to ponder.
I am swimming in examples of positive product role models. Products and services that go to work for their brands every day. It has been a fun and fruitful journey of discovering product developers and service providers who go the extra mile to both woo and wow their customers.
It also is a reminder of the rigor it takes to turn brands into Lovemarks. You may remember that it was Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts who coined this term. It is simply defined this way: “Lovemarks are brands that reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without. Ever.”
Well, in researching my book, a strange thing happened. I became pestered by examples of products that do just the opposite. Products and services that stop short of living their brand promises.
I am purposefully choosing not to name names here. But I do encourage you to make a list of the products and services you experience in your own life that simply let you down, and look at that list carefully for lessons for your own brand.
Why does this happen? I am certain it is unintentional. In all my years of merchandising, I’ve never known a merchant to start out making a subpar product offering, yet it happens all the time. Perhaps any number of marketplace factors might be at play:
- busy brand ambassadors charging ahead too quickly
- short-term thinking
- not taking time to listen to your customers
- organizational strife
- unwise cost-containment pressures
- not thoroughly evaluating the competition for meaningful, oppor- tunistic gaps
- lack of internal communication and/or collaboration—silo battles
- forgetting to do post-mortems and taking the time to observe, clarify and integrate the marketing lessons
- and, perhaps, the very lack of a purpose-driven strategy from the get-go!
These reasons all create an unnecessary obstacle course for your product lines. Having to maneuver and jump over too many of these hurdles sets up a series of nuanced product/service diminishments that ultimately weaken your brand.
So how can we stop these brand-sabotaging behaviors? I’d like to suggest one simple first step. Compile a “STOP DOING” checklist. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” taught me about the power of “Stop Doing” lists. Collins advocates clearly articulating what you don’t want to be spending your resources on (your time, energy and dollars) as a way to clarify and perfect what you do want to be investing in. It’s wise advice for all areas of life. I’d like to bring his concept into the discipline of product development and take it just a step further.
The A-Z List of Stop That! Behaviors
As I researched hundreds of products and services, I came up with my own ever-growing A-Z list of verbs that counteract Christensen’s wise business acumen. Here’s an edited version. Why not take this checklist into your next brand meeting and spend time looking objectively at your product/service offering through the eyes of your customer.
• Addle: Have an outsider look at your product—is there anything that is at all confusing about it that would keep a customer from making a buying decision about it?
• Bombard: Are all the line extensions really necessary? Are they filling a real purpose? (Think of a potato chip aisle in the grocery store: Are all the options carrying their weight/earning their shelf space—chips with crinkle-cuts, ridges, salt, vinegar, BBQ, jalapeño, salt and pepper, plain?)
• Complicate: Have you allowed any “feature creep” to occur?
• Disappoint: Did your “pushing the envelope” of product innovation stop too soon?
• Exacerbate: Anything at all irritating or annoying in some small way about this product?
• Exaggerate: What about your product have you oversold?
• Frustrate: Are all instructions/product copy crystal clear?
• Grapple: Imagine your product listed on a search/placed on a shelf next to your top two competitors. Will your customers see it as the hands-down winner, or are you giving them reasons to ponder?
• Hinder: What is keeping your customers from fully experiencing all your product has to offer?
• Inconvenience: Have you fully appreciated your customers’ time and attention when designing this product?
• Jam: Your customer is in a jam and is quickly running into the store and in need of your product (think paper towels: Brawny vs. Bounty vs. generic store brand). Did you create yours to be the one she pulls off the shelf intuitively?
• Kill: William Faulkner challenged writers “to kill your darlings,” meaning sentences they were not very objective about. That’s also good advice for product developers, at times. What are your blind spots in relation to this product?
• Lull: What about this product makes your customers want to nod off? Banish boredom!
• Misunderstand: As the product developer, do you somehow have to add commentary in person to make something better-known about this product? How will you fix this?
• Neglect: What’s missing that is crucial?
• Overwhelm: What is just too much?
• Puzzle: Have you solved your customers’ decision-making dilemmas? Think about eggs: If you are Eggland’s Best, are you clearly selling the benefits of your egg over the customers’ other two choices—the higher-priced organic option or the cheaper, store brand version?
• Question: What about your product raises doubt in the minds of your customers?
• Reconsider: What if you could wave the magic product development wand and change one thing? What would it be?
• Subtract: For cost-cutting rea-sons, if you had to eliminate one thing about this product, what would you delete?
• Trivialize: Have you minimized any of your customers’ concerns about this product?
• Underwhelm: Have you left your customers with a compelling story to tell about this product?
• Violate: Did you overstep your customers’ perceived price/value/quality wallet connection for this product?
• Waffle: Are you and your company fully standing behind this product?
• Yawn: Have you missed any opportunity to create a Lovemark?
• Zig or Zag: Did your competitors go in one of these directions? Have you taken the road less travelled, or is this a “me-too” product?
No doubt, you have more verbs and questions to add to your own list. But go ahead and use this as your ThinkAbout springboard and get started now. Stop those brand-sabotaging behaviors before your customers stop buying from you!
And, please look for this column next month as it transforms into the “Brand Matters” blog at Marketing’s Best Blogs. I’ll have 26 additions to this checklist, and I’ll be most interested in learning about the behaviors you STOPPED!
Andrea Syverson, author of “BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants” is president of IER Partners, a strategic consulting company specializing in innovative brand and merchandising directions. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her upcoming book, “ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Your Merchandising Muse,” will be published this summer.