What A High-End Boutique Can Teach A Product Manager About Marketing

by drjim on January 9, 2012

Just because you are a boutique doesn't mean the big boys can push your products around…

Just because you are a boutique doesn’t mean the big boys can push your products around…

So there you are, a happy product manager creating and delivering products that meet your customer’s needs. All of a sudden (but you should have seen it coming) a big box competitor with tons of selection and low, low prices shows up in your backyard. Oh, oh – what’s a product manager to do now? It turns out that we can learn some lessons from the world of women’s fashion. Boutiques have been dealing with this very situation for awhile and they have a thing or two to teach us…

How Boutique’s Stand Out From The Crowd

So you’ve got to picture the scene: there you are, a hard working luxury boutique who’s just found out that a much large competitor has moved into town. As though having the extra competition wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that they are going to be able to offer things that you can’t.

What can they do that you can’t? Basically a lot of product related things that are associated with having deep pockets: brand selections and generous return policies. Oops, I almost forgot to mention that both of you have another competitor: online retailers who always seem to be able to sell for less than you can. This is exactly the kind of thing that can cause an account manager or a business development manager to start to tear their hair out. However, product managers need to play it cool.

This brings up the interesting point product manager: how can you make your store / product stand out from the crowd that does a lot of things better than you will ever be able to do? Christina Binkley has been looking into this and she’s found out that some strategic management is called for here. The first thing that you need to learn from the luxury boutiques is that your customers have grown resigned to living in a world where everyone is treated the same. It’s not that your competition is going to treat your customers badly (sorry, nothing is ever that easy), but rather it’s that they are going to treat them like they treat everyone else – just good enough.

This open the door for you. If you can take your customer care up not one, but several notches than all of a sudden doing business with your boutique is going to be an experience, not just a purchase. You’re going to want to offer your customer not only perks that they can only get with your product, but also a level of personal service that they can’t get anywhere else. Now that’s something that you can put on your product manager resume!

How To Attract And Hold Onto Customers

Getting a customer is great, finding ways to hold on to that customer is fantastic! How are you going to do that? One way is to remain in frequent and direct contact with your customers. This allows you to find ways to offer perks that no other supplier can offer your clients.

One way to hold on to your customer is to reshape your product for your customer. If you are running a luxury boutique, then this means custom tailoring garments to fit your customers perfectly. It also means coming to where your customers are located (instead of making them come to you) in order to do the product customization for them.

Ultimately, your ability to hold on to customers once you’ve got them is going to come down to your personal knowledge of your customers. Once you have this level of knowledge, you can always be thinking of your customers and you’ll be able to identify ways to solve their problems that they may not have even thought of. When you’re able to do this, then you’ll have gotten a customer for life!

What All Of This Means For You

In a perfect world, your product would have no competition. The reality that all product managers face (turns out that it was listed in your product manager job description) is that not only does your product face competition, but it can face a competitor that is much bigger and better equipped than you are.

Luxury boutiques have faced this competitive situation for a long time and product managers can learn a great deal from how they have adapted to it. Boutiques work very hard to stand out from the competition. Frequent and constant direct contact with customers is one way to do this. This also allows boutiques to offer perks that larger competitors can’t match. Once they have a customer, boutiques hold on to them by using their personal knowledge to better meet their unique needs.

As the world becomes a more complex place with more and more competition, product managers need to make sure that their products are the ones that customers look for. Luxury boutiques can show us how to do this and not only allow our products to survive, but to grow and thrive.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there is a limit to the number of customers that you can support using luxury boutique techniques?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When I was first out living on my own, the arrival of the latest copy of the yellow (and white) pages was a big deal. Since my parents had always received these huge volumes, when I got mine I felt that somehow I was now a “grown up”. Fast forward to the 21st Century and man have things changed. There still are Yellow Pages®, but is it possible that owning this product is the worst product management job ever?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

brian piercy (@brianpiercy) January 10, 2012 at 10:58 am

OK, I finished the article. For the most part I agree. Improving the experience, customization, deep customer knowledge – it’s all motherhood and apple pie. It’s the “constant contact” aspect that has some potholes.

In the consumer world, OK. Getting a steady stream of new catalog offerings and upcoming sale notices isn’t bad. Not that I pay much attention to them, but manageable.

In the B2B world, especially high-tech (the bulk of my experience is in semiconductors), there’s a noticeable antipathy towards drip campaigns. Social media tools receive special scorn from engineers as an unneeded distraction. Thus far I’ve attributed this to the early days of Twitter et al. (Tweet: “I fed my cat this morning. Woot!”)

If you’re going to engage a distracted B2B audience, you’d better bring an easily digested nugget. That’s why I’ll *sometimes* listen to a 2-3 minute audio podcast – but never watch a 20 minute videocast. It boils down to how much time will I devote to an new diversion of dubious value.

(I’ll step off my soapbox & listen now.)

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Dr. Jim Anderson January 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Brian: Ouch! You are, of course, correct. What you point out is that a B2C solution isn’t something that you can just turn around and reapply to a B2B situation. Instead, you need to evolve (somehow) from being viewed as a supplier / vendor to becoming a true partner. This means that you need to provide your customer with the type of information that they need, when they need it, and how they need it (no 20-minute videos)! This is all easy to say, but very, very hard to do…

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