Posts Tagged ‘Chris Rock’

I read a story in Harvard Business Review this week about Patagonia’s “Buy Less” campaign, in which the outdoor apparel brand is actually encouraging customers to cut down on their purchasing of Patagonia products. HBR explains:

To put its buy-less idea into action, Patagonia recently partnered with eBay to enable consumers to resell their used Patagonia apparel via the Common Threads Initiative within eBay. In addition, consumers will now be able to resell their used Patagonia apparel on a new Used Clothing & Gear section on Patagonia’s website. The company wants to influence consumer buying behavior as part of its corporate mission. Patagonia (and other sustainability pundits) views individuals’ consumption as a considerable drain on natural resources. And with the global population forecast to swell to over 9 billion by 2050, left unchecked, this drain will become significant.

HBR’s story tries to determine whether this initiative, which it calls “genuine and borderline heroic,” will ultimately increase Patagonia’s revenue. But I’m more interested in how an idea like this affects the customer. When I read about the “Buy Less” campaign, I thought of an old Chris Rock bit:

“The government curing AIDS? That’s like Cadillac making a car that last for fifty years… and you know they can do it! But they ain’t gonna do something that fucking dumb! Shit! They got metal on the space shuttle that can go around the moon and withstand temperatures up to 20,000 degrees. You mean to tell me you don’t think they can make an El Dorado where the fucking bumper don’t fall off?”

If a company makes a product that lasts too long, it’ll be a while before they’ll see any repeat business.

In 2009 I was in the market for a new PC. My Dell Dimension, which I’d received as a Christmas present in 2000, was on its last leg. I consulted my tech-savvy friend Gil about which brands other than Dell I should consider. I was really down on Dell after some poor customer service experiences and was ready for a change. But then Gil made a good point. “You know,” he said, “your last Dell computer lasted you nine years.”

And he was absolutely right. Sure, it took some of Gil’s magic to extend its life—cleaning out viruses more than once, adding new virus protection, and installing new memory—but a nine-year shelf life for a PC is unheard of. Not long after that conversation, I bought another Dell. (FYI I still think the customer service stinks, but the computer works fine.)

But if I called the CEO of Dell and told him that story, he might not be thrilled. After all, between 2001 and 2008, I didn’t buy a single Dell product.

Now imagine if Dell called me up in 2002 and said, “Mr. Calise, our records show your Dell Dimension is two years old. We’d like to buy it back from you. Oh and by the way, Dell now has several new PC models you may be interested in if you’re looking to upgrade.” Well, that seems to be the direction Patagonia (with the help of eBay) is headed in:

It sounds strange to say that encouraging customers to buy less new apparel could actually lead to increased sales volume for Patagonia. Yet this scenario is possible. Two types of customers could be more inclined to buy new Patagonia apparel as a result of Patagonia’s efforts: customers who make decisions based on sustainability considerations and customers who can now sell their used Patagonia apparel for cash to buy new apparel. Indeed, John Donahue, the CEO of Patagonia’s new business partner, eBay, suggested this might be possible: “Patagonia is extending its customer base and increasing it. People who are selling it are likely to turn around, take the money they got, and buy the new Patagonia products.”

For the record, I’ve never bought or owned a Patagonia product. But by encouraging me to Buy Less, Patagonia might actually persuade me to Buy More.

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Michael Lewis’ baseball-book-that’s-not-really-about-baseball, Moneyball, has gotten plenty of attention in recent weeks since it’s been made into a feature film starring Brad Pitt. The book suggests that it’s statistical data (and hardcore crunching of that data) that allows us to make the best decisions–not our gut instincts, strong as they may be.

Moneyball ruined, or at least changed, the way many baseball fans enjoyed baseball. We could no longer praise our favorite player for being a dynamite fielder or a clutch hitter when the game was on the line, because if we took a closer look at the newfangled stats we’d realize our perception was nowhere near reality. It was like having a favorite restaurant but knowing that if you went into to its kitchen and saw something gross, you’d never be able to eat there again.

But it also taught us not to take things at face value. That before we make a decision based on what the supposed experts say, maybe we should see what the data says, too. Or, as John Cusack says in High Fidelity, “I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.”

Oddly enough, my thinking about Moneyball the last few weeks had nothing to do with the hoopla surrounding the movie. It was actually another author, Gary Vaynerchuk, in his book The Thank You Economy. Vaynerchuk, a wine expert and social media guru with a book deal, stresses the importance of  about caring more about your customers than your competitors do as one of the biggest keys to any successful business venture. (And this is done largely through social media channels.)

At conference last year, an audience member asked Vaynerchuk what he says when someone can’t get past the fact that the efficacy of social media isn’t really quantifiable. His response: “If you do not understand what the monetary, financial value of having a relationship with the customer is, you have no fucking idea what business is about.”

Great answer. In his books, Vaynerchuk says lots of stuff like this. You can’t measure how much you care about your customer, same as you can’t measure the emotional impact that caring has on the customer, but you just know it works. Great business practices, he says, produce great business. Makes sense, I guess. But as I read on, I got to thinking. Vaynerchuk is an undoubtedly progressive thinker. However he’s also suggesting we trust our instincts, not the numbers. How un-Moneyball-like!

Steve Jobs was once asked about how much market research went into the iPad.  “None,” he said. “It’s not the customers’ jobs to know what they want.” Arrogantly but correctly, he purported to know more than anyone else what was best. Same as Vaynerchuk, Jobs trusted his gut more than the data.

The other school of thought, as suggested in books like Peter Sims’ Little Bets, is that if you can cheaply and quickly test an idea, it’ll allow you to tweak a good idea until it’s great or rule out a bad idea all together. An example Sims’ uses is comedian Chris Rock, who practices his new stand-up material in small nightclubs rather than assuming it’ll be funny simply because he’s Chris Rock. Some of his new jokes are OK, some are really funny, but many of them stink. But by the time he pieces together an act using the best material from his “market research” and shedding the rest, he’s got the whole room laughing again.

There is, of course, no right answer. It’s hard to argue with the methods of anyone who’s reached the top of their field–they obviously knew enough to have gotten there in the first place, right?

Each of us has to do a little research (or not) to find our own style. What’s yours?

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