If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

I’m one of those folks who avoids brick-and-mortar shopping like the plague during the holiday season. If I can’t get it via catalog or the Internet, forget it.

You can imagine, I’m sure, the piles of catalogs that our unlucky postal carrier drops at our house most days in November and December.

And I keep an eye out during the holidays for new and interesting websites that might offer something a little special or off the beaten path. Well, last week brought a slew of food catalogs – chocolate, nuts, and other delicacies – all at gourmet prices, described in glowing terms that no doubt warm a copywriter’s heart. Now, I do like to send food gifts. Most of the people we know don’t need more junk in their lives. They always enjoy a treat, though, especially if it’s not something they can get every day.

But ordering food items from a catalog or a website always seems risky to me. The last thing I want to do is send some run-of-the-mill gift basket that’s been sitting around since last year, full of stale, cheap ingredients, delivered late THIS year. And, I really look for meaningful descriptions of the products. You can’t just say the chocolate’s delicious – before I order it for my mom, I’ve gotta know – milk or dark? Any coffee-flavored fillings? (That’s a no-no).

So you may be as surprised as I was when I tell you what’s NOT in most of these catalogs:

First, very conspicuous by its absence…almost NO customer compliments about:

1) Delicious, tasty products
2) Speedy delivery
3) Truly friendly customer service
4) Quick resolution when something goes wrong
5) Repeat business

Also missing in action: information about the business that makes you want to do business with it:

1) how they make sure products taste great, arrive on time, etc.
2) a little personal info about long-term employees and their importance
3) the company’s good works in the community

Amazing, isn’t it? Seems so basic. Surely they have at least some happy customers with something nice to say. Or are the folks in charge of sales and marketing so disconnected from actual customers that they never hear the really important stuff? (A strong possibility, I think.)

And including information about the business itself is a no-brainer. Anything that helps potential customers feel like they “know you” is a good thing.

The one exception I’ve spotted so far is an outfit called Sunnyland Farms in Georgia that sells various nut products. Let me confess upfront that I’ve never ordered from these guys (too many health nuts, no pun intended, on my gift list!).

But…they’re the first place that pops to mind when I think about making a gift of food to someone. I’m absolutely convinced that they have great products and great service.

Here’s why:

1) Their catalog feels personal. I read it just because it’s such a “feel good” experience.
2) Enough personal information about the folks running the business that you feel like these are folks you’d go out of your way to do business with (by the way, that’s our definition of a loyal customer).
3) Pictures of employees who have been with them for years.
4) A clear message that quality matters — not just lip service
5) Product descriptions that really help you picture what the item would be like.
6) Glowing and sincere testimonials from customers on practically every page.

You just know YOU’d be a happy customer, too. Now, the website isn’t nearly as compelling. But that catalog is a work of art.

It’s made me think about our industry’s wellness businesses a little differently.

I’ve been noticing how many wellness-related firms miss these same basics. A yoga studio near my home proudly lists all their services in a brochure they’ve been distributing everywhere over the last couple of weeks.

The first black mark: it’s loaded with terms most consumers wouldn’t recognize (energy training and brain respiration, among others).

And guess what else ISN’T in the brochure:

1) Quotes from happy clients
2) Enough personal info about the instructors that you want to get to know them
3) Nothing about instructor credentials or experience to increase your confidence
4) Meaningful descriptions that help you picture what the class would really be like

The problem is that too many wellness businesses market to the customers and clients they have. These customers know the vocabulary. They know what the services are. They know the instructors or staff. (They know that the bite-sized nutty crunch is peanuts covered in milk chocolate, and that Ethel in customer service can handle special delivery instructions.)

But these wellness businesses SHOULD market to the clients they DON’T have, but WANT. THOSE potential customers aren’t familiar with the lingo. They need reassurance about qualifications so they feel safe and secure. They don’t know what to expect in a class. Tell them. They worry about being taken advantage of. Customer testimonials reassure them.

The new yoga studio’s probably a great place. But I bet they start off 2006 wondering why the brochure didn’t win them more clients.

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