Be Effective First

As written and seen in Global Retail brands Magazine

Be Effective First

Everything Else Is Secondary

In marketing, customer service and especially own brands, be effective first. Deliver first. Demonstrate your quality first. Because if you don’t, all the stuff you do outside of effectively delivering on your promise is secondary, and at worst, misleading.

This seems like a pretty simple principle, yet we violate it a lot in the retail and FMCG industries.

We violate the “be effective first” principle in customer service frequently, by being “friendly first” and only marginally effective when it counts. I was checking out of my local supermarket recently and the clerk asked me, “is this parsley or cilantro?” Two items later, “what type of pepper is this?” He was trying to get it right, he couldn’t have been friendlier, but he wasn’t exactly effective at knowing what the products were. My Dot.Com purchases recently for Yankees tickets and ski equipment at Backcountry.com were followed immediately by account managers giving me phone calls telling me they were assigned to my purchase and would be there to help me every step of the way. This felt a little “cart before the horse”, as I hadn’t even received my tickets or purchases yet. I was getting inundated by preemptive friendliness while asking myself, “Why would I ever need an account manager? Just deliver the product first.” The Gap usually has three to four people saying “hello” and “can I help you find something”, which is nice, if it weren’t for imperfect service issues when you check out. Friendliness doesn’t make up for marginal or unproven effectiveness.

The “Be Effective First” principle can be extended to own brands too. You have to effectively deliver on the brand and quality promise first, without over-designing the language and packaging around the product. This is a relatively recent phenomenon in own brands where we oversell and over-market the product, and where the product doesn’t live up to the shopper’s expectation. I recently experienced this at my local CVS drug store, with their Gold Emblem “Absolutely Divine” Chocolate Chip Cookies. Wow, this has got to be premium, right, and the back of the package even says, “We are Gold Emblem, our standard is Delicious.” The product photography was luscious and mouth-watering, depicting five beautifully stacked, plump chocolate chip cookies. Let’s just say the product didn’t come close to delivering on the expectation, reiterated by its 3 out of 5 star rating and numerous blog posts saying, “It is a far cry from a homemade cookie and far cry from being Absolutely Divine”.

Great packaging and great copy language don’t overcompensate for sub-par effectiveness or quality.

There is a grocery retailer in the U.S. that uses the slogan “Best In Fresh” (actually more than one), which is branded throughout all of their perishable departments. The problem is they are not best in fresh. They are not second-best in fresh. I think they are about third-best in fresh. “Third-best in fresh” doesn’t sound as compelling, but this is likely how the consumer really thinks of them.

With Millennials being the truth-telling generation, wanting honesty without the pomp-and-circumstance, it is important to be effective first. Never forget that the product or service you are delivering has to pass the sniff test first, before any of the advertising, marketing language or packaging actually matters. Effectiveness and quality are foundational for own brands, for retailers and for our reputations.

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