Fundamental to the success of any product are vendor relationships and within those, the perceptions of value and satisfaction. A product entering a market, and engaging with prospective customers, faces the evaluation process all customers naturally employ. The retail consumer experience is a good illustrative example.
Considering any purchase in our daily lives, we always weigh the cost of acquisition against the value we receive, or expect to receive, from it. This happens in three phases:
- The consideration phase. Would I be happy with this? Is it worth this price? What if I were unhappy, could I return it? Do I trust this vendor/manufacturer? This is a visualization process that we all go through, and it is the first step in any potential sales transaction.
- Once we’ve bought the product there’s an evaluation period. Am I happy with this? Did I get ripped off? Was this an incredible deal? Am I so excited/disappointed that I want to tell others? Am I going to take it back or try to get more?
- Finally we have a reflection period as the product approaches the end of its utility. The item may now be less a part of our lives — maybe it is something that needs replacement, or perhaps we don’t need it anymore. Was the product useful? Did I get my money’s worth? Would I buy the same one again? What are today’s alternatives to solve the same problem/need/desire?
Through this cycle of consideration-evaluation-reflection we make broad judgements about brand quality, customer satisfaction and repeat-patronage, and weigh specific evidence useful in future buying decisions
Then there are socks.
Other than those who live in a mild climate and spend their days sockless, sporting sandals or feeling the sand between their toes, the rest of us are resigned to having something on our feet to keep those appendages comfortable. Socks bring warmth against our cold winter floors. They soften the impact of our hard-working shoes.
But a big problem results from the buying and ownership relationships we have with our socks. Unlike most products, the vast majority of socks are not branded, nor identified in any way. Sure, there are a few exceptions. A few sports socks or designer models do weave a brand name into the ankle — perhaps an Adidas, Kodiak, Nike swoosh or CK initials. But looking at my sock drawer (or basket actually) that makes up fewer than 5% of my pairs. I’m guessing it’s the same with you.
Applying the concept to your business product offerings – be it a piece of software, a hardware widget or even the development and delivery of an analysis report – we need to apply similar considerations. A logo and a path to contact information are one step. If there are changes either with the customer or you as a vendor, could a satisfied customer find you again? Could the connections be made between support and sales? Is there an avenue to communicate feedback that can aid in improving your product?
In all the phases of our sock-manufacturer/vendor relationships, there are problems. In the evaluation and reflection periods, we have already forgotten which socks were made by which companies, what the prices were, and often, at which store we purchased the pair.
As well, when I go back for replacements and am in the consideration phase again, I cannot attach measures of quality, value, comfort or even vain narcissism (those socks looked great on me!) to the brands I see displayed in front of me. The only solace is that our end-of-life sock-puppets can go unbranded.
From a sock-manufacturer point-of-view, if I make an inferior product, I might be happy that the same consumer might get taken-in by my cheap pricing a second time. But for those genuinely trying to differentiate a quality product in the market place and to compete successfully against inferior socks, this is a problem.
The solution here is clearly going to be technology-based. Manufacturers need the ability to either print or weave branding onto the sock. Tags are of course non-starters, because feet are sensitive things, and wouldn’t that just drive you nuts?
Again, there is the odd pair with a name screen-printed onto the sole or instep, but a challenge there is that wear is intense on socks, and often the brand is illegible after a short time.
Ideally we’d have brand and model identified in some way that would allow manufacturers to get repeat business, and build loyalty, and consumers to have some confidence in being able to weed-out the poor quality products. There aren’t many businesses that have no way to build a loyal following, but sock manufacturers are there, and don’t seem to be making an effort to solve the problem. One wonders if they don’t realize the opportunity they’re neglecting or if they merely aren’t innovative enough employ R&D to address it.
Meanwhile, most of us continue with sock-roulette when we go shopping. One pair lasts a couple of years and still feels comfy and another is in the trash after a month. Who to blame? We don’t know.
Your Business Take-Away
Beyond the retail environment, these issues apply to any business that provides products to customers. For the short term, the issue isn’t very big. If you provide a piece of software or a hardware widget for a business client, getting another order in to you is not a problem. The person who placed the order will remember, and still have the emails and invoices, likely. But given the quicker rate of churn in the modern business environment – are you sure that a year or two after a new person whom you have never met would be able to find you and make a new and bigger order with you? If they have to actively search for you, there’s always the chance that they will find, and prefer, your competitor.
Ensuring that your product reflects its source, and connects back to you could be the key to repeat business, even if your connections occasionally break. As well being able to get constructive product criticism and feedback that gives you the opportunity to demonstrate you are able to responsively improve your product strengthens your operations and your relationships as well.
When it comes back to the lowly sock, I’ve implemented an slightly tedious solution to get more value for my sock dollar. Upon each purchase, I lay the socks out — branding tags still attached, and receipt clearly displayed — and take a photo on my smart-phone. The pic gets stowed away where I won’t look at it again until next time I go sock-shopping.
Until then, we’ll all be making extra sock-puppets. Totally unbranded, and untraceable sock-puppets.