Are You Championing Your Products?

[published in the November/December 2012 CCCC KidsBiz Newsletter]

We’ve heard it time and again: “the customer is king.” But thanks to what can euphemistically be called a “sluggish” economy over the last few years, too many retailers and manufacturers have decided to let shoppers call the shots. The result is a marketplace that looks defeated, offering safe products instead of innovation. Rather than newness, we’re getting sameness because everyone’s afraid consumers won’t give new ideas a sporting chance.

But as any good athletic coach will tell you, the idea is to play your game—and by doing so, make your opponent play it as well. Obviously buyers and consumers aren’t your opponents—in the best circumstances, you’re all on the same team—but the strategy holds true in the world of wholesale and retail. You should be setting the plays. Think back to the days of those ridiculously infectious Gap commercials. Those fresh-faced models dancing to Christmas jingles was the chain’s way of saying “Hey you, you need this!” And we obliged.

Now I’m not saying retailers and vendors don’t need to listen to their customers, but you also need to lead to what’s next. Just like a sports team scores by equipping its best players with aggressive plays, you’ve got to use enticing promotions to boost key looks at retail. It’s not enough to simply stock the shelves to see what happens. These days, customers—both wholesale and retail—are skittish. There needs to be a strategy for getting goods noticed.

Buyers, shoppers—we’re all busy. Short on time and bombarded by choices, we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. Before we consider buying something, we have to “get it.” But before we can get it, you’ve got to bless it: give it the most prominent real estate in your store, dedicate an eblast to extolling its virtues or alert the media that you’ve got something special. By showcasing your product in this way, not only will you get more people looking at it, you’ll have more of us recognizing its key characteristics.

Sometimes creating a winner is as simple as committing fully to it by buying deeply into a particular product. For instance, this fall it was impossible to step onto the contemporary floor at Saks and not fall in love with a pair of coated jeans—at least momentarily. The store placed them on every table and every other mannequin. The abundance of this product alone served to make shoppers feel hopelessly dowdy if they were wearing anything else.

While tried and true methods like that work, these days it also helps to use a bit of creative marketing muscle. About six years ago, I had a DKNY shawl-front cardigan that I loved because you could wear it in lots of different ways. Then a few years later, I started noticing DKNY touting something called the Cozy. Turns out, it was my beloved cardigan. Apparently upon seeing the success and possibilities this item offered, the brand took the ball and ran with it. They gave it a fancy moniker, created how-to videos and trumpeted it on social media. Since then, the Cozy has become a “thing”. There are endless versions and an equally large number of fans. DKNY decided to make my cardi “happen” and it did, using a combination of creativity and timing to boost the product’s momentum.

Supporting a product in this way gives it perceived value. And with perceived value you can transform a good seller into a homerun. Think about it, if creating perceived value weren’t a winning strategy, the luxury segment wouldn’t exist.

In what ways could you be championing your products better? —CC

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