Tell and show and tell some more

We were having dinner with friends when one of them complimented the outfit my daughter was wearing. I bought it from Lands’ End, I said.

My friend shook her head. “Oh, I don’t shop from catalogs.”

You can get Lands’ End clothes at Sears, I told her.

“Really?” She was stunned.

As was I — stunned that she didn’t know Sears had bought Lands’ End several years ago and now carried the product line in its stores.

And then I realized how insular my thinking was — and that of many marketers.

Because I spend my days talking with and about cross-channel merchants, it’s easy to forget that most other people don’t. Likewise, because Website designers, for instance, lavish so much time on the details of their site’s navigation, shopping from the site seems intuitive to them — but it may not be to first-time visitors. That’s why so many e-commerce pros advise online merchants to regularly conduct usability tests to observe how “civilians” use the Websites.

It’s also why some marketers may feel that their audience has absorbed whatever message they’re trying to communicate before said audience actually has. Sears, for instance, may have figured, Gee, we’ve been yapping about how you can buy Lands’ End merchandise at our stores for more than four years now, so surely we can ease back on that message.

Except, of course, that while the folks at Sears have seen and heard every marketing message they’ve created, revised, re-revised, and distributed, the potential customers haven’t. Maybe they saw the inkjet message on a catalog or read a few magazine ads during the past several years, but that’s not necessarily enough exposure to ensure that the message sticks.

Maybe we all need to heed the advice that novice public speakers are given: When creating a presentation, start by telling your audience what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and conclude by telling them what you just told them. To put it another way, it’s impossible to communicate your core messages too often.

Then there’s the advice that novice fiction writers are given: Show, don’t tell. In addition to communicating your message in words, try to get it across in actions. If Sears, for instance, really wanted to let parents know that they could buy Lands’ End children’s clothes at its stores, it could perhaps sponsor fundraising fashion shows at local schools or include Lands’ End newspaper inserts in affluent markets near the stores.

Why am I so eager to see Sears better promote its affiliation with Lands’ End? Well, my friend’s two daughters are older than mine, so their hand-me-downs account for more than half of my daughter’s wardrobe. If my friend remembers that she can buy Lands’ End items at our nearby Sears, my daughter can look forward to more cute Lands’ End outfits.

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