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What E-tail Account Managers Don’t Know

How to get inside the heads of their customers

January 15, 2013 By Denny Hatch
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The ultimate problem with online marketers is unlike the catalog business—where sending out a catalog in the mail costs a buck or more—the Internet is basically free.

For marketers, that means not only money-free but discipline-free.

As a result, it has spawned a gazillion Web merchants whose young staff members are not trained in the intricacies and the tested rules of direct marketing.

The one guy who figured it out early on was Jeff Bezos, who came up with (among other things) the instant acknowledgment of an order and the "One Click Order," which he patented, thus screwing hundreds—maybe thousands—of online merchants. Patent attorney Lawrence Lessig wrote that this patent was outrageous. It would be like the USPS granting one mailer all rights to the Business Reply Envelope.

Right now Bezos is the 800-pound gorilla, putting book and box stores outta business and is poised to become the last retailer standing.

The Trouble With Non-Amazon Web Merchants
Most of the kids who design websites, write copy and make fulfillment decisions have never been mentored by the great marketers who themselves were mentored by great marketers, ad infinitum.

What these Web marketers do not "get" is the concept that if they do the slightest thing wrong to tick off the prospect or customer—in terms of copy, presentation, price or creating a comfort level—they are a mouse-click away from oblivion.

My Back Brush Problem
Peggy and I have a yoga teacher who is so lithe that she can reach behind her back and touch the nape of her neck.

Alas, I have short little arms. I can just reach the nape of my neck the normal way. Suffice it to say I wanted/needed a back brush with a very long handle.

A number of months ago the back brush in our shower—one with a splendid long handle—was so grungy with mildew that we threw it out.

At a mall store, I found a cheap plastic back brush with a glorious long handle and bought it. It came apart the following week.

On the Internet, I ordered a "far-reaching" back brush, which was sturdy. But with my short arms I could barely get the thing between my shoulder blades. The length was about 14 inches. "Far-reaching" it wasn't.

I do not like shopping, but I decided to spend some time to search the Internet for a back brush with a long handle.

And in doing so, I learned a lot about the people who buy merchandise to sell on the Web—and their copywriters.

Most are bush league.

Imagine You Are an E-tail Product Manager of Bed-and-Bath Products ...
All your competition—dozens of websites—offer back scrubbers for use in the shower or bathtub. If you don't offer one, you've lost a shopper.

What information does a prospect need to make a decision?

  1. Overall length. (Will this thing reach the middle of my back?)
  2. How sturdy is it? (Will it come apart in the first week?)
  3. What are the bristles made of?
  4. Price. (In my case, price was not a factor. I wanted a long-handled back brush that would last awhile.)

As you can see in the five images in the mediaplayer above, I went all over the Internet and found back brushes for all prices—$3.49 to $49.95.

Have a look at the 10 of the brushes I browsed. Most were too short or did not tell me the overall length. In image No. 5 is the scrubber I chose.

An Elizabeth Arden brush at Bed Bath & Beyond was 17" but had no user reviews, so I passed on it.

Takeaways to Consider

  • Web product managers, buyers and copywriters need to be mentored by highly experienced buyers and copywriters who themselves were mentored by professionals.
  • If a product is decided upon, do "Mother-in-Law Research." Ask a family member and/or some colleagues what features they would expect from a specific product.
  • Make a list of those features. This is the "it" copy—what "it" (the product) is.
  • Make a list of what each of the features will do for the buyer. These are the benefit(s). This is the "you" copy—what this thing will do for you, your body, your health, your career, your looks, your pleasure, etc.
  • Pick out the most powerful feature ... or two ... or three. These are your Unique Selling Proposition(s) (USPs)—the thing that makes this product sing out and outshine all the others.
  • Check out the competition. Find the best copy and "steal smart."
  • Order five of the products from the manufacturer or distributor—for your own use and for four of your friends or family in another round of Mother-in-Law Research.
  • In the case of a back brush, overall length is a key factor (unless your market is limited to extremely lithe yoga teachers). If you do not tell the prospect the overall length, one of two things will happen:
    1. You'll sell the poor sucker a "far-reaching" brush that does not reach far enough.
    You'll have a pissed-off customer. If an item of personal hygiene is returned, you cannot resell it. This is a total loss to you. You have eaten a back brush and lost a customer. "Fool me once, shame on you," goes the old saying. "Fool me twice, shame on me."
    2. Savvy non-lithe yoga teachers, who cannot find the overall length, will be gone in a nanosecond.
    When these dropouts find what they want elsewhere, this new "elsewhere" website will be their regular provider of bed and bath items (until the product manager and copywriter screws up).
  • In the images above right, according to product reviews, two of the Bed Bath and Beyond brushes failed to last one month.
    —That Bed Bath & Beyond continues to sell this mediocre merchandise shows what chumps the buyers are and raises the questions about the quality of all other BB&B merchandise.
    —If Bed Bath & Beyond were my company, I would remainder this junk and search out product that I would be proud to sell and would make my customers happy and come back for more stuff.
    —That Bed Bath and Beyond would run these crappy reviews shows what nitwits the catalog managers are.
    —This problem of poor quality would most likely have surfaced during the second round of Mother-in-Law Research period and this ugly episode in CRM (customer relationship misery) would never have occurred. 


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