Customer Perceptions & Going Off-Brand

Over the holidays, I bought a few things for myself, (shocking, right?!) some of which were from The Body Shop. The company was founded by activist Anita Roddick and based on “the pursuit of social and environmental change.” The Body Shop was about being ethical and green, using natural, sustainable ingredients and “reducing dependency on inappropriate and expensive modern pharmaceuticals.”

body-butter-sheaSo imagine my surprise when several days after using them I happened to read the full ingredient list and find Methylparaben and Propylparabenin in there. Parabens are used as preservatives in lots of cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. The thing is, they are somewhat controversial because they may play a role in breast cancer development so many people are making concerted efforts to avoid products that contain them.

The Body Shop carrying products that contain parabens seems way off-brand. You just don’t expect a company that is all about natural and healthy to include such ingredients. It’s like finding partially-hydrogenated oil listed on any food sold at Whole Foods or being asked to bus your own table at Spago Beverly Hills.

It’s troubling from a consumer standpoint because such a finding calls into question everything the company supposedly stands for and has spent almost 40 years building. Sure, they didn’t outright lie by advertising they don’t use parabens, but the brand and reputation they’ve created implies that they wouldn’t.

Pay attention to the brand are you consciously creating as well as the extraneous attachments your customers may logically apply to it on their own. Of course you can’t control what other people think, but you do need a level of awareness around what clients expect from your brand. For best success, you need to deliver on those expectations.

Want more examples of companies going off-brand? How about when Harley Davidson created a cake decorating kit, Hooters started a commercial airline, or Barbie-themed clothing and accessories in adult sizes. Yes, all these were attempted.

By the way, I returned the paraben-containing items to The Body Shop. They quickly shared an already prepared list of their products that don’t use parabens (so clearly they’re aware people have issues with these ingredients) and then they kindly allowed me to exchange.

Sales & Discounts: A Service or Disservice?

Ever since Black Friday, I’ve been thinking about this question. Is it a service or a disservice to offer deep discounts to customers? As a customer, I love being able to take advantage of a good discount and save money. Who doesn’t?

On the other hand, seeing such crazy price cuts and knowing that even with the markdowns, stores are not selling at a loss, makes me think these retailers must have pricing really jacked up in the first place. And that makes me mad – for a couple of reasons.

As a consumer, if I pay full price and in a next week it’s on sale for 50%, I feel like I paid too much. Even if I go back and the store gives me the price difference, how much time and effort will that take? Time is valuable too, so probably not worth it.

As a business owner, I can see how these practices condition customers to expect and wait for sales. Sometimes, seeing all the 20%, 45% and 70% off promotions around me encourages me to think about putting my products on sale too. But unless there’s a very good reason, such as it’s at the end of its shelf life or you need to clear out a particular package, discounting cheapens the value of what you’re offering.

Have you noticed that Louis Vuitton, Rolex, MAC and Under Armour never go on sale? Sure you can argue that LV and Rolex are luxury items and their target market can afford them regardless. The other two brands are not considered luxury though, so that logic doesn’t work too well. Furthermore, I saw an article earlier this month in which Louis Vuitton Chief Executive Philip Corne was quoted as saying, “If we never go on sale, then we never undervalue the product. This consistency is well-recognised by the consumer.”

Right on; there’s the key. It’s not about the cost – it’s about the VALUE (which gets into a whole other blog post, to be written soon. In the meantime, watch this Bob Burg video clip).

If what you’re providing is of real value, then offering it at a discount seems to be more of a disservice to your clients. Your thoughts?