Sweating the Small Stuff

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I caution catalog marketers and merchants to sweat the small stuff. Too often we get absorbed in the loftiness of business - planning and forecasting, strategic thinking and implementing the next big thing - that we overlook attending to many of the small details regarding our products and offers that are really top of mind for our customers.

There certainly is a place for visioning, but there is an equally important place for detailing - that is, paying attention to small things that matter most to customers.

Consumer trends forecaster Faith Popcorn is a proponent of the "everything matters" philosophy. She encourages companies not to hide behind their brand names and logos but to have a "maniacal attention to detail." Business revolutionary Tom Peters agrees. He states simply, but emphatically, "details matter."

Who in your organization sweats over the details that concern your customers? Might you need to appoint a director of details or supervisor of small stuff to reinforce the importance of caring about the little things? Take a look at details that savvy marketers prioritized on behalf of customers:

Convenience. Williams-Sonoma always has done an excellent job of bringing the right goods to its audiences or creating new markets. What is most admirable is how it continues to raise the bar of customer-centricity.

The premiere issue of Williams-Sonoma Home dedicates an entire foldout spread to showcase the 65 fabric selections that constitute its "quick custom upholstery program," guaranteeing delivery in 45 days. Most home décor catalogs encourage customers to "call for a fabric swatch," but that makes the customer take one more step between the dream, the order and the delivery stages. The Home catalog does that, too, but it also clearly and succinctly shows colors and textures at a glance for convenient planning purposes. And the 45-day delivery beats even local retailers! These are details that matter to its customers.

One goal of L.L. Bean's Traveler catalog is to make trip preparation easy - just what a busy, on-the-go customer appreciates. With details like travel tips in the footers as well as bursts that mark which clothes are wrinkle resistant and which suitcases are carry-on acceptable, L.L. Bean shows that it understands its customers' needs and values its customers' time. Example: "Try the scrunch test: To test a garment's wrinkle resistance, grab a corner, squeeze for 30 seconds, then release it. If the wrinkles shake out, it's good to go."

Editing. Lands' End gets women. The company realizes most women are busy with matters more significant than their wardrobe. On its recent autumn cover, Lands' End highlights "5 Brilliant ideas ... the keys to a more beautiful Fall," which explains the trends for this season in an abbreviated fashion. It dedicates pages in a magalog style with mix-and-match ideas to help the audience edit all the fashion news and put it into practical application. These details not only give customers personal shopping assistance, they let customers know that this is one company that is concerned with making their lives just a bit simpler.

A Common Reader is another marketer that takes the editing process seriously. This is the premise of its entire business. The company realizes that customers come to it for expert advice on selecting "books for readers with imagination." Before A Common Reader says a book is a "must read," it has been screened to pass the test of "belonging to that class of books one is eager to pass on to a friend." Does your product fit chart edit with that level of detail in mind? Are all the products in your line ones that you know your customers would be eager to give to their like-minded friends?

"Wow factor." Is there still "wow!" in your "wow factor?" Would your customers agree? When is the last time you had one of your products shipped to your home and examined how it arrives - the box, the packaging, the product itself, the extras inside? Is this aspect of your offer still appealing?

Does your copy still entice customers to stop what they are doing and place an order? Coldwater Creek sweats over copy details. Its mini headlines for each product pull readers in and make them smile. Examples: "Icing on the cake," "Oh you flirt" and "Berries jubilee." These are the kinds of details that make catalog shoppers take notice. Retailers cannot compete here.

Almost all multichannelers have gift certificate programs. These were one of last year's top sellers for the holiday season. Can your program compete with Cabela's? When you send someone a gift certificate from this company, they get a beautiful, oversized (like a Hallmark card) embossed holder in addition to the gift card and catalog.

Have you detailed your offer lately? Gone over it with a fine-tooth "customer lens" comb looking for areas to improve? Why not hold a strategic detailing session with a multi-departmental group of employees and discover ways you can pay more attention to what really matters to your customers? Ask customers what they like best about your company (ask for nitty-gritty specifics) as well as things that bug them. You'll be surprised to hear the answers.

William Feather once cautioned, "Beware of the man who won't be bothered with the details." I caution, "Beware the company that doesn't think that everything matters."


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