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No matter what reason you just gave in your mind, I’ll venture a guess that it was not, ‘because their web site looks outdated.’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.

Doing research the old fashioned way


Credit: Anna Langova

Bob Bly has a great article in the Jan/Feb, 2015 issue of Target Marketing on using “old school” methods when researching a writing assignment. Mr. Bly writes mainly about doing research for writing copy for ads, fund-raising letters, and such, but his suggestions are well taken for any kind of writing.

At first blush, some readers may be surprised that copywriters need to do research. Yes, at its most fundamental level, research is just discovering what has already been written about a topic. No need to reinvent the wheel, but also no need to restate something that has already been stated, perhaps in a clearer and more concise manner.

The part of Bly’s article that piqued my interest was his admonition to do some research the old fashioned way, by actively reading print copies, browsing library stacks, or just thumbing through magazines at hand. Often, you will find gems of wisdom – and a treasure trove of ideas – seemingly by accident. For example, I was recently flipping through a volume of essays by Wendell Berry (one of my favorite commentators on man’s place in the world) and I came across an essay on the life of Nate Shaw, a quite remarkable man of integrity and uncommon wisdom. From that essay, I gleaned several good ideas, which produced thoughts that were later developed into points in a college lecture I gave on making good economic choices.

If I had not carved out time to do some “leisurely” reading, I would never have come across this material and my lecture would have been lacking. Writing, lecturing, or speaking of any sort, is intellectual work and must be built with intellectual material. Acquiring that material takes time and effort but it is well worth the effort. As a writer or speaker you are not wasting time browsing through libraries, bookstores, or the stack of magazines by your chair. The logger must fell some trees before the miller can saw them into lumber and the builder can build the house. As a producer of intellectual work you must be the logger, miller, and builder – which is sometimes exhausting but worth it if it is a labor of love.

NOTE: You can read Bob Bly’s original article HERE.
Picture Credit: publicdomainpictures.net

Who Says? It pays to check sources.

Abe Lincoln Internet

Credit: memegenerator.net

I enjoy reading Denny Hatch’s Blog, a regular feature of Target Marketing Magazine, a respected trade magazine in the direct marketing industry. Denny is pointed, direct, insightful, and sometimes irreverent but most of the time he is “spot on.” Granted, he is somewhat of a curmudgeon, but curmudgeonly advice is sometimes the most profitable.

In his January 2015 article he decries the lack of persnickety fact checking found in all kinds of written work. He singles out Wikipedia as a frequent source of misguided information but is harder on the lazy writer who quotes Wikipedia and other sources without checking the facts.

Frequently, I remind my students of the importance of not plagiarizing. In a day when information can be sourced so easily on the Internet it is tempting to copy and paste an assignment.

However, there is a world of difference between sourcing information and creating content. Creating content involves sifting through information, discerning what is good, better, best, or not worthwhile at all, and then bringing it together in a coherent, convincing piece of prose. Copy and paste is a commodity (and moral hazard), but creativity is a specialized good. More value will always be found with intelligence and creativity.

If you would like to read Denny’s original article, you can find it HERE. He gives some great advice but is also a gifted wordsmith. Just remember, when reading a work with quotes or other source attribution, it pays to check it out. With the reader, like the consumer, caveat emptor is an apt warning.

It’s like Abraham Lincoln once said, “you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”

Greg L. Lowhorn