Marketing That’s Anything but a Gift

Employee Count
: 1,191
Total Store Locations: 258

Sharper Image
Employee Count
: 2,500
Total Store Locations: 0

Ah, the holidays. ‘Tis the season for back massagers, key locators, and electronic tie racks. You know, the gifts for people who “have everything” or are tough to shop for. Sharper Image and Brookstone are often associated with these stocking stuffers, but their marketing isn’t exactly merry and bright.

Shane Ginsberg, SVP of corporate development for digital agency Organic, says both companies’ websites feel like “the tiredest brands in the world.” The accumulation of products and offers, particularly on Brookstone’s site, leaves consumers feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to act, he says.

“They don’t have a particular sense or focus,” Ginsberg says. “It’s the equivalent of walking into a bazaar.”

Ben Gaddis, chief innovation officer of creative agency T3, agrees that Brookstone’s multiple navigations leave his eyes beleaguered. “You could literally scroll down for minutes,” he says about the brand’s list of product categories. However, he disagrees with Ginsberg about Sharper Image’s site, which he describes as “simple and easy” and applauds the brand for its delayed email capture pop-up.

“When you land on Brookstone’s site for the first time, at least for me, they had an overlay that asked me for my email address, which I thought was a little presumptuous because I had just gotten there,” he says. “Whereas with Sharper Image, after I clicked through quite a few different things, then [the overlay] popped up.”

Though Noah Ross, executive creative director and partner of full service agency Launchpad, agrees with Gaddis that Sharper Image’s site is clean and organized, he dislikes the layout. To Ross, Sharper Image’s site is “just a wall of stuff” that is “purely functional” and “poorly designed.” And unlike his peers, he appreciates the categorization of products on Brookstone’s site, pointing out that the brand makes good use of its calls to action and seasonal backgrounds.

Additionally, Ross thinks that navigating Brookstone’s site was significantly easier than navigating Sharper Image’s. “The Brookstone site [doesn’t] make me look for [a product],” he says. “[It] hits me in the face with all of the use cases and all of the big promotional messages.”

Ross also praises Brookstone for its seasonal email marketing. From summer emails highlighting hammock packages to spring emails comparing cleaning products, Brookstone’s relevant seasonal content creates consistent experiences that give consumers reasons to communicate with the brand and remain engaged, he says. Ross also commends Brookstone for its email layout, particularly including product prices, customer quotes, and social channels at the top of the email.

By contrast Sharper Image’s emails, Ross says, aren’t as well thought out. The product offers, prices, and social calls to action are buried too far down in the email, so customers may delete the email before seeing them, he notes. And although Sharper Image also has seasonal themes, the brand focuses more on getting customers to buy its featured product rather than getting them to engage.

T3’s Gaddis disagrees. He thinks that both brands use event triggers well, but that Brookstone’s creative feels a bit “used car-salesy,” while Sharper Image’s email grid is simpler and easier to read.

The experts also disagreed on which company had a better Facebook presence. For Ginsberg, Sharper Image completely outshines Brookstone. Sharper Image highlights its products while evoking a sense of personality. For example, Ross cites a Sharper Image post featuring miniature toy men trying to blow up a grape, with the caption, “So much easier to make a fruit smoothie with this” and a link to one of its smoothie blenders. He also applauds Sharper Image for responding to consumers’ comments. On the flip side, he says Brookstone uses Facebook the same way it uses its catalog: by featuring pictures of its gadgets with a “buy my product” tone.

“[Brookstone] doesn’t seem to be using social for the purpose that it was designed [for],” Ross says.

Yet, Gaddis found Sharper Image’s Facebook posts to be “kitschy,” and says the brand is trying to be “too cutesy.”

“I think they could have done what Brookstone is doing, which is put up a really cool image of the product, tell what it does, and why it might make sense for your life,” he says.

But when it comes to Twitter, the creative chiefs all name Brookstone the clear victor. All three agree that the brand primarily uses Twitter as a customer service tool. For example, a consumer tweeted Brookstone asking if a certain product was still available. Brookstone tweeted back and asked the woman for the product number, looked up the item in question, and informed her that it was no longer in stock.

“The Brookstone Twitter community is much more of a two-way channel, while Sharper Image is just pushing out messages,” Gaddis says.

And while each social channel serves a specific purpose, none of the creative experts could identify the purpose behind the brands’ e-catalogs. “Why would you go and build a digital version of a print experience?” Ross asks. “If I wanted a print catalog, I would just call Sharper Image and request a catalog.”

Ginsberg adds that each catalog is filled with missed opportunities. For example, Gaddis notes that both brands could have elevated the e-catalog experiences by including interactive elements such as videos or product reviews. He also points out that both brands’ websites already fulfill the purpose of the e-catalog.

Sharper Image’s attempt to make the print catalog more interactive with its Catalog Click mobile app also falls short, according to our analysts. Shoppers can download the app and then hold their iPhone over any image in the print catalog to learn more about the pictured product. The app serves up content like videos, customer reviews, and alternative images. Customers can then either save their items or purchase them. Ginsberg commends Sharper Image for creating a video on how to use the app; however, Gaddis says the app is more bothersome than beneficial.

“The idea of having to download an app to look at a catalog, take a picture, and then get some product information sounds really interesting until you go through the entire process,” Gaddis says.

The experts also had a few qualms when it came to Sharper Image’s mobile website—or lack thereof. Ginsberg says Sharper Image’s mobile site is just a palm-size version of its desktop experience.

And while Brookstone’s site is at least mobile optimized, Ross says the experience felt “generic” and “uninspired.” However, Ginsberg appreciates that all of the casings are within the radius of a consumer’s thumb and says that he prefers Brookstone’s mobile experience.

When put together, Sharper Image and Brookstone’s marketing is a lot like their product lineup: a little random, somewhat functional, but not necessarily something you’d want to have yourself.

Brand Champion

Innovation was missing from these two gadget gurus’ marketing. However, Brookstone edged Sharper Image out of first place with its mobile-optimized site, customer-service Twitter channel, and seasonal emails. And while Sharper Image pulled ahead with its website and Facebook page, it wasn’t enough to secure a victory.

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