Ibex is another company that clearly understands its customers, or “tribe,” as Seth Godin would say. I discovered this Vermont-based outdoor wool clothing company a few years ago when I was looking for a better quality vest than the ones on display at REI.
My older brother put me onto Ibex. I not only enjoy wearing their products (I refuse to share my ultrasoft, wooly hat with anyone), but I see them as a great example of a company that’s taken pains to know its customers and integrate its brand – “durable, evolving, active and modern” – into everything it does.
Their Web site (http://shop.ibex.com/) exemplifies what I mean:
- They openly involve and display their tribe. Ibex has a client base of dedicated outdoor enthusiasts. Each product features “verified customers” who have posted their ideas, opinions, and product reviews, even the rare negative ones. Ibex knows that their best advocate is the existing customer, not their own company copy. They have the confidence to let real customers speak for them. Not something you see often. AND they have Google+ and Facebook Like buttons for all their products so rock climbers, runners, and back country skiers can share their passions for fine wool wearables.
- They gently educate their prospective customers. With only four main navigation elements, the site is clean and modern. The pleasant surprise comes when you mouse over one of these (Men’s, for example). Try it. Not only do you see the product breakdown, but you get a primer on their clothing lines (they call it Ibex 101). Their site navigation doubles as a dictionary! Phenomenal experience for a first-time visitor.
- They reinforce their identity and engage their visitors with compelling content. Ibex does content marketing as well as anyone. They include high-quality video (including “The Art of Wool” on their home page), informative articles, and Instagram shots of their own employees wearing their products. Not overwhelming and enough to help bolster their brand. By far my favorite section is “Dogs Matter,” a jaw-dropping assemblage of the best dog photography I have ever seen. I’ve bookmarked this page and visit when I need an easy smile.
Sure, my own career (and the careers of many friends) is bound to business-to-business (B2B) marketing rather than business-to-customer (B2C) retail. Yet examples like Ibex are inspiring all the same. I only wish that the head of marketing had responded to my interview request for this post. It seems an odd miscue for a company that so clearly uses its customers as a tool in their sales process to ignore a customer request that would bring them positive PR. A broken process? Lack of staffing? Disinterested in small-time online media? High on maple syrup? I’ll never know.
Perhaps they are too busy trail running with their canine companions through the picturesque woods of Vermont…
Like the Hobson’s Choice, here’s another adage you may find useful for spicing up the occasional cocktail party (or industry conference, board meeting or weekend with the in-laws). Years ago, when I was remarking how our workload never seemed to ease, even in the draft of increased staffing, my wise coworker Fred clued me in on Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
This was first humorously articulated by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in a essay published in The Economist in 1955. Hence the naming rights. And I’ve seen this Law in evidence for most of my professional life. Purchase a new CRM tool to streamline the sales and marketing process? Instead of freeing up time for market research, you’ll find you’re just processing more data in the same amount of hours. Decide to hire an assistant to offload some of your responsibilities? Your schedule is guaranteed to be no less dense. The demand for your time increases with the availability of that time.
Interestingly, Parkinson’s Law comes with some clever corollaries:
- If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do. (Stock-Sanford Corollary)
- Data expands to fill the space available for storage. (for computers)
But don’t confuse this Law with Michael Pollan’s “Snackwell Effect,” which is based on the self-defeating phenomenon where people eat more low-calorie cookies (like the Snackwell brand) than they would eat regular-calorie cookies. The same applies for agave nectar, which as a replacement sweetener should actually be used in smaller amounts than the equivalent honey or sugar. In these cases, I believe the stomach expands to fill the available notches on your belt.
Has anyone else noticed how every pricey light bulb now has a life span estimate? From a marketing perspective, I do love the concept: invest more up front, but save on energy and materials costs over the long run. Seems like a win-win situation. But is it really?
When one of our kitchen ceiling halogen floodlights expired last spring, I decided to play consumer reporter. I replaced it with a $13 GE energy-efficient 1+ Year Life 60W Indoor Outdoor Floodlight. The box (see to the right) promised a “1.4 Year Life,” based on 3 hours of use/day. To remember exactly when I installed the bulb, I hid the packaging and receipt on the soffit near the fixture.
A Life Cut Tragically Short
Fast forward to mid-September. I turned on the kitchen lights, and bang! the bulb died with a definitive, percussive pop. I pulled down the box and ran some quick calculations:
- GE Promised: “1.4 years of life” = 511 days * 3 hours/day = 1,533 hours
- Our Usage: Let’s be generous and say we run our kitchen lights for an average of twice the number of hours a day (6). Ignoring any complicated issues, such as increased heat and bulb stress for running longer hours or surges in the system, that suggests is should still last half the promised life or 0.7 years. That equals 255 days, or roughly. 8.5 months. Remember as well that this was inside use, well away from any inclement weather.
- Falling short: I screwed in the bulb on April 7, and it left the worldly plane on September 23. That’s 170 days, or only 2/3 of our more conservative estimate. Certainly a lot less if our average daily use was more like 4-5 hours.
So why does this bother me?
“Larry, Larry, Larry,” you soothe. “Why get incensed over a light bulb? Chillax. Don’t you and the world have bigger issues?” Well, okay, yes we do, but the results of this little energy experiment continue to disturb me for several reasons:
- An Absence of Value: I’m trying to lower my energy footprint, and GE Lighting is all about energy savings; they even host a calculator on their Web site to see how much energy you will save with their products. Given the truncated life of my purchase, I’m sure I saved no energy – and no money – at all. I suggest they drop the price by a third to align the cost with the actual life span. Or maybe add more realistic environments to their testing facilities.
- A Failing of the Brand: If I decided to take my issue directly to GE, I’d be SOL. The box has no standard customer satisfaction or contact information, nor any form of guarantee that the bulb will actually last the promised extended life. GE Lighting puts itself out there as a trusted lighting brand, so why make a claim it won’t stand behind? I bought into GE’s spin, but I’ll think twice the next time around.
- Not an Isolated Instance: You’re thinking at this point that maybe I bought a lemon, one of the 2-3 defects out of 1,000,000 promised from GE manufacturing’s reliance on Six Sigma methodologies. But you’d be wrong! I will now reveal <drum roll> that I bought TWO of the same bulbs on April 7, 2013, and that I installed the second bulb in our kitchen ceiling only a few days after the first! And wouldn’t you know it, but nearly one week after the first flamed out, the second bulb also bit it, perhaps in sympathy for its lost incandescent brother.
So yeah, I’m a little hot under the collar. I’m left doubting the quality GE manufacturing, its energy efficiency claims, and whether a bulb can even save me money. Perhaps the only true way to win is to follow the exhortations of parents (including myself) to their children everywhere : “Turn out the lights when you leave the room! You’re wasting energy!”