Where have all my customers gone?

Barnes and Noble is trying to revive their brand by redesigning their web site. If you are familiar with Barnes and Noble online (BN.com), tell me (in your mind), why don’t you order at their site?

No matter what reason you just gave in your mind, I’ll venture a guess that it was not, ‘because their web site looks outdated.’ No, I don’t think that would even make it into the top 10, maybe not the top 20, reasons.

But, that is what the CEO of BN.com seems to think. I think he has a bad case of ‘marketing myopia.’ Myopia, when referring to eye health, is the inability to see far away, such as to the horizon. If you have myopia you are said to be nearsighted.

Daniel P.B. Smith

Daniel P.B. Smith

You can only see what is close up; if it isn’t right next to you, you just can’t see it. Of course, this is a big problem because you need to see both near and far to function properly.

Marketing myopia is the inability for marketers, or anyone involved with the brand, to see beyond the familiar things they already know about. It’s the business equivalent of ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ Which is certain death in fast paced, forward looking, consumer markets. Trends always go forward, never backward. This is why yesterday’s solutions won’t solve today or tomorrow’s problems.

Redesigning their web site is myopic because the executives are so familiar with the brand, with the way things have always been done, that they only see things from their perspective. An architect thinks the problem is with the design, a real estate agent thinks the problem is location, a plumber thinks the problem is bad pipes. We specialize and our solutions usually revolve around our expertise. So, business executives think the problem is with the equipment they normally use.

But, we are forgetting a crucial cog in the retailing wheel – the customer. If I were to poll a sample of online book buyers, my guess is that more than half would say the number one reason to order online is price. Boom! That’s it. Price – and BN.com almost always has the higher price. Sometimes it is the actual item price, sometimes it is the added shipping cost which drives total cost up. A close second is convenience.

Convenience could be related to the fact that almost everyone in the civilized world already has an Amazon account, many have the Amazon app, and we are so familiar with Amazon that it is a regular part of our lexicon. When we go into a restaurant we automatically ask for a Coke, when we shop online we ask for Amazon. It’s that simple.

But this creates a huge uphill battle for other brands such as BN.com. If they want to overtake (or simply carve a piece out of Amazon’s pie), they need to fight the battle with consumer weapons, not necessarily with familiar, myopic weapons.

What do customers want? Low price and convenience. Period. Ok, maybe selection, but that’s a given on both sites. Could BN.com find a way to improve logistics so that they can improve both price and convenience? Yes, it is not an unsolvable problem, but it will be hard.

When you sell a commodity (e.g. books, music, movies, etc.) like BN.com and Amazon do, you must compete on things you can control and that are meaningful to customers. If I am selling ice cream, I can make it super premium, or put it in fancy cups, or change the flavors. But, if I’m selling books, I’m selling the same books everyone else is selling. Location has dropped out of the equation because I’m online, so trying to get my stores in the tony neighborhoods doesn’t matter. Coffee bar, a non-issue.

On second thought, maybe BN.com could offer a tiny packet of Starbucks ground coffee with every order. You might not be in the physical store where you can get a cup of premium brew, but it might be a differentiating feature (until Amazon copies it).

Bottom line, if your brand is failing, ask yourself why. Then, look beyond your comfort zone for the answers.

Greg L. Lowhorn

To read another post on marketing myopia, click HERE.

Snelling Chart by Daniel P.B. Smith, shared under license.

How to End Service Myopia

Banquet Table

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org

I recently read a blog post by Seth Godin in which he wrote about banquet tables. Yes, banquet tables. According to Seth, it seems that banquet tables are the epitome of efficiency, designed to hold ten guests with plenty of space for table service, food, and elbows. However, the inherent weakness is that banquet tables are not conversation friendly. If a guest talks to his neighbor on the right, his neighbor on the left is left out. If he wants to connect with the neighbor across from him, he must shout, destroying conversational intimacy, to say nothing of privacy and discretion.

The problem is this, banquet tables were designed by people who put on banquets, which is to say people who need to seat plenty of guests and serve plenty of food. But what about the guests? First, it is inconvenient to reach into the center of the table or ask others to “pass” things. Second, it’s horrible for conversation, and good conversation is one of the benefits of having dinner with friends. So, it seems that banquet tables are designed to accommodate the banquet servers, not those being served. There is something wrong-headed with that kind of thinking.

Usually, it is left to those in ministry to design and deliver the ministry, and that is the problem. When we only see what is close-up we get ministry myopia. If we are not careful, we develop the opinion that ministry is about those who serve, not those whom we serve. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it approach. After all, we are sacrificing and we are serving; suddenly, before we realize it, His ministry has become OUR ministry. God’s people become my people. God’s glory becomes my glory.

I am familiar with a new church plant that recently rented a building for their growing congregation. One of the first things the members did was add two nurseries. It would have been much simpler to have only had one nursery, but many children in the same room means more noise, more stress, and less personal attention for the children. At first, the nursery directors were working 9 out of 12 services a month and some volunteers were working 4 services a month. Over time, the directors asked more volunteers to serve and the load was reduced for each individual worker. Also, during that time dozens of volunteers worked painting the building, installing lighting, building walls, repairing plumbing, cleaning the facility, and doing countless thankless tasks, all without complaint.

When the time came, the church hosted its first community outreach and over 20 visitors came. The hard work was put in so that the building would facilitate worship, not hinder it. Yes, they could have made do with what they had, but it would not have been as effective in reaching the community they wanted to serve. That’s when the church members decided to forego their ministry and exalt God’s ministry. I think Jesus was pleased.

Read my related post about an organization that missed an opportunity to serve. Read it HERE.