Sometimes great minds think alike, don’t you think?

As my clients can attest, I have become obsessed with the story of corporate-marketing-executive-turned entrepreneur Susan Nethero.

During her years working at Xerox, Time Inc. and other companies, Nethero grew tired of the fact that a product she absolutely needed – a product that manufacturers knew she needed and would pay (a lot) for – was never available with the characteristics and benefits she wanted.  That product was the bra, and Nethero eventually became dependent on European offerings because they came in more sizes.

But then she did the magic trick of turning observation into insight, realizing that millions of other women must be as frustrated as she was. Nethero’s chain of Intimacy stores opened in 1992 and, today, she has 15 stores and $36 million in annual revenue.  

Because many women walk around in the wrong size bra (like Nethero had), the key to the entire Intimacy experience
is the professional bra fitting required in all the stores. Why is it not optional? Because the right fit is the brand’s vital differentiator… allowing Nethero, among other things, to charge $90 when the typical department store bra is around $45.

If that sounds like a lot, it’s not.  Any woman will tell you that – compared to working out or plastic surgery – it’s a small price to pay to look younger and 10 pounds lighter. “There is no way that a brand can easily compete in the high-end market without something uniquely special,” says Marshal Cohen.   “With intimates, comfort and fit are way up high in the chart, and price is a lot less sensitive.  In other words, you want to remove price from the equation.” When Nethero went on Oprah – who promptly instructed her fans to get professional bra fittings in 2005 – Intimacy’s business exploded.

So what if a newbie tries to screw up that equation by turning down a fitting?  What happens, you ask?  What happened was that Nethero took the locks off the dressing room doors.

She took the locks off the doors!

This blew me away. Think about it.  Nethero overruled a customer’s express wish, because Nethero knew something that a prospect doesn’t know yet: that a fitter will make her look and feel fantastic.

I guess they don’t call her the “bra whisperer” for nothing.

How many marketers have you known who had such confidence in their brands’ ability to deliver that they would go up against a customer in order to do so?  What would our bosses say about that? Isn’t the customer always right??

Not if the marketer has 100% confidence that specific aspects of the brand experience are vital to brand performance and ultimate customer satisfaction.

And just as I was pondering this thought, I discovered two esteemed friends and great marketers doing the same.  In “The Customer Isn’t Always Right,” Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland, warns that a marketer must listen to the voice of the customer “with discernment” and offers up three instances when “you might want to think twice” about reacting to customer feedback.

The first is the point proven in the Intimacy story:  customers can’t know.  Henry Ford was a big believer in this one.

Second is a situation in which the customer can’t or won’t say what he wants – as in a B2B sales scenario where a prospect plays coy.  And the third is when a customer won’t stop asking.  McKee is sure that Target’s management firmly believes in the chain’s slogan, “Expect More. Pay Less” – up to some point before the chain goes out of business.

Similarly, Stephen Denny, author of the new book, Killing Giants, writes in a blog post that “it’s your job to do your job.” In a world where total strangers seek out each other’s opinions online (in reviews that might not even be real), you are still very much responsible for what you do and who you are.  Brand managers at Nike, Apple and others are “pretty firm that their brand is their business – they own it, they manage it daily and they know it’s important work.”

In one week, the three of us were studying the same angle on what makes a brand a great brand: knowing that – sometimes – you as a marketer must have the gut-level knowledge that your choices are the right ones.  After all, consumers voted for New Coke, and those who saw the Sony Walkman didn’t think it had a future.

Think about the brands you manage and those with which you have a personal connection.  Chances are that at least one of them wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people who believed in it, protected it, grew it… and ignored a lot of focus groups along the way.

P.S. CTPB = Contrary to popular belief.

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A version of this post was originally published on the Marketing Executives Network Group blog, MENGBlend.

 

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