Refining Refine My Line

Having had a bit of time to go through applicants, I should mention there are things that can reduce the likelihood of being featured if found in your website content. The first is inappropriate phrasing to describe your products and the second is inappropriate descriptions of your company. Actually, this goes beyond the Refine My Line series; these things can turn off buyers too so the effects go far beyond RML selection. Here’s what I mean and how to fix it:

Inappropriate company descriptions:
Many new businesses (in any field) describe themselves in terms of what they are not – a position of weakness. You don’t have much going for you if you belittle someone you can only aspire to compete with your competitor (imagine Apple advertising that they’re not Microsoft). Do you really want “least worst” to be what defines you? There was a software vendor at SPESA whose tag line on every piece of collateral was “We are not a PLM!” in huge font. I abstained from reviewing their product because I lacked the means to define their PLM-like product in any other terms. It also brings to mind the old expression, “a weak man compares his strengths to another man’s weaknesses”. If your only strength is that you are not your competitor, you could end up doing your competitor a favor by attracting their mal-contents who expend more grief than money.

In sewn products, it is tragically common for startups to define themselves as not being a sweatshop, not being mass produced (whatever that means), or whatever. It’s a turn off -and a double standard because some mass produced products are evidently okay with people, such as cars, cell phones, computers etc. It leaves the impression one is a wannabe rather than a newbie. Wannabes are universal in that they tend to be deprecating toward an industry to which they claim to belong. It’s better to get rid of this kind of verbiage; it’s not professional.

Inappropriate product descriptions:
Part and parcel of the above are related product descriptions. I visited one site that had the following words used over and over: unique (3x), quality (3x), one-of-a-kind (3x), vintage styling, couture (3x), beautiful (3x), designer (2x), custom and crafty. “Crafty” might sell to the Etsy crowd but for nearly all others, it’s the kiss of death. Quality doesn’t mean anything without context and value. One of a kind and custom is a turn off because buyers want the item exactly as depicted. Unique can mean ubiquitous, beautiful is in the eye of the beholder and unless you’re a syndicate member, it is not couture no matter what you call it.

It is not so much that these are so overused that they mean nothing, it’s that hollow adjectives come at the expense of providing good information. Writing better garment and product descriptions is more useful, precise and lends a finer patina of professionalism. [Ideally, your descriptions could be cut and paste from your collateral onto your retailer’s websites and believe me, no retailer is going to copy anything that deprecates other lines they carry!] Don’t forget, buyers hesitate to place orders from vendors because they fear you won’t make delivery and they fear they won’t know that until it’s too late to fill in that hole in their merchandising mix. Using good product descriptions is one way to convey credibility and viability.

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  1. ginevra says:

    I can see that these type of descriptions appear really unprofessional from a wholesale buyer’s point of view, and I’ll remember that.

    But I’m wondering if some of these DEs are aiming at retail/consumer sales? I know, as a consumer, I have googled “unique” because that description is often used for an aesthetic I like. Some of my friends actively seek out clothes not made in sweatshops so that description might be relevant for a particular consumer target market.

    Could you talk a little more about the confusion between wholesale & retail? And what to do if you want to attract both types of sales (at different price points, of course)?

  2. Jody says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    I get what you mean about overused terms. But, assuming that one’s product is indeed of higher quality that his/her competitors, how do you convey that without using the word? What I’m asking really, is how to convey “quality” in our product descriptions. Do we provide “just the facts ma’am” including the more subtle indicators of quality in our descriptions that consumers may or may not be familiar with (e.g. underlining the whole front of the jacket and interfacing sleeve hems) and hope that they get it?

  3. Kathleen says:

    Ginevra/Jody, you both make very good and thought provoking points. My first thought is to find the positive rather than the negative. Consider:
    Negative: sweatshop
    Positive: fair trade, Made in USA, Made in Canada, Made in Vermont, etc

    Be mindful of confirmation bias. I used “sweatshop” as a search phrase too -but I was specifically looking for less than professional products and the results didn’t disappoint me. What I mean to say is that I don’t doubt people use that term but how many don’t? The people you know using the term confirm your bias because you’re not hearing from the folks who don’t.

    Quality is relative. I only know that the more someone uses that word, the less I believe it. I think the better word is Value. Value requires an explanation, saying quality is a shortcut. I agree it is difficult to describe product attributes particularly if your customers don’t understand why it matters so maybe that is what your company blog should do. Show the care and detail of products in process. Explain what all that stuff is and what you’re doing. Educate your customer as to the norms of your product category and how your products differ -and why you think they should be made this way in a manner that conveys value to the customer.

    You could even have a product that is commensurate in value to other competitors in your niche but by explaining the details of making, the impression could be left that your product is better. You don’t even have to say other products in your niche don’t do X, only that yours do.

    Here’s one crazy example. There’s a denim blog out there (written by an aficionado, not a producer) that would details various effects in jeans. One example I will never forget is the blogger’s discussion of a ropey hem on the pant leg. The guy was embarrassingly clueless but he went on and on about what a great feature ropey hems were (blah blah blah can only be done on rare vintage machines blessed by fairies) and why (totally bogus) and people ate it up. People couldn’t buy them fast enough. Because the site was influential, there were readers who went on to actually introduce this quality defect in their product -on purpose.

    There’s a more famous example of how Reeboks became so popular in the early 80’s. They got a shipment of shoes with wrinkled toes which were sold accidentally and they tried to pull them but couldn’t because they’d sold practically overnight. The wrinkle made the shoe leather look softer at a time when tennis shoes were harder. Anyway, Reebok went back to their contractor and had the defect introduced into all their subsequent pairs. It’s all in how you spin it and of course how the customer reads it but you can never be certain of how they will.

    In your case Jody, examples would be great. I’ve always enjoyed writing product descriptions but haven’t figured out a way to find customers who need the service.

  4. Eric H says:

    In my narrow industrial focus, very few manufacturers refer to their competitors when discussing their products. In fact, most of us belong to a very informal organization which has “Thou shall not badmoutheth thy competitor” as one of its commandments. I think the underlying assumption is that smart people will make the comparisons and then make their choices objectively.

    Apparel marketing is anything but objective. My first thought, though, when to exactly what Kathleen just said: think in terms of positive. Say what you are, not what you aren’t. You aren’t going to win over every customer anyhow, so why not focus on a few smart ones that will do your marketing for you by word of mouth?

    Incidentally, google returns 387,000,000 hits for “unique”. One for every 20 people on earth. I have to link to this video clip as a message to everyone using it.

  5. ginevra says:

    Yes, I fully realise the irony of searching for “unique.” But I’ve found, when combining it with a couple of other search terms, that I get better (more matching my aesthetic) results. “Unusual” works well for me too ;)

    I guess what I was thinking is terminology (& SEO/SEM) to attract consumer/retail searchers is a whole different ballgame to wholesale. The consumers you want might be accustomed to using ‘wrong’ terminology. You can educate them once they get to your site, but it’s important they find you in the first place.

    This is a difficult topic to discuss without actual examples, isn’t it?

    I’ve also seen relatively credible marketing advice to compare your product (favourably) to the market leader. Obviously, again, this is in the consumer market place (I fully understand the wholesale/manufacturing market is different). I remember the example used was a new Japanese car described as equal quality but cheaper than a leading European car – the author argued this description helped the new car became established and successful more quickly. The example was from recent times. But unfortunately I’ve lost the link/forgotten the book. Sorry. I’ll comment again if I remember.

  6. Allen says:

    In addition to all the good comments – what got you into this? To be green? To fill a niche? To make what you could not find / buy? To make cloths the old fashioned way? To be pretty and comfertable? Unusual fabrics? Sadly, forgive me Kathleen, “Not run of the mill” – see how vauge that is.

    Where your talents meet others needs lies your fortune.

    You started down this path for a reason. What ever pushed you this way is also pushing others.

    Just some thoughts.

  7. Eric H says:

    ginevra, I wasn’t referring to your use of unique, I was referring to people who use it in their advertising. “Unique t-shirts!”

  8. Marie-Christine says:

    I totally agree with Kathleen that if I read a product description that’s basically filled with ‘quality’ and ‘ewenique’, I flee :-). And Allen’s suggestion is very good, if only because it fosters sincerity.

    Partly I think here that Kathleen is forgetting to distinguish between descriptions for buyers, and descriptions for consumers. Incidentally, let me assure you that a consumer will get the point loud and clear if you think they’re idiots who can’t recognize quality.. But clearly descriptions for buyers can be, and should be, a lot more technical. What, those guys don’t know what interfaced hems are for?!? What are they doing in that profession??

  9. Kathleen says:

    I remember the example used was a new Japanese car described as equal quality but cheaper than a leading European car – the author argued this description helped the new car became established and successful more quickly.

    The difference in this marketing effort is that the competitor featured the attributes of the European car, they didn’t bad mouth it. They used the comparisons in a positive light and highlighted their proposition which was VALUE.

    Partly I think here that Kathleen is forgetting to distinguish between descriptions for buyers, and descriptions for consumers. But clearly descriptions for buyers can be, and should be, a lot more technical.

    If you read the post at the link I left, you’ll see that some of the descriptions are legal requirements having nothing to do with whoever is buying it (consumer vs buyers). That few realize they are required to do it, much less do it, doesn’t absolve its maker. Whether you do or don’t is splitting hairs because the alternatives are not cheap shot descriptions vs technical ones, this issue is professionalism. When you buy hardware or software for your computer, these things are listed under specifications even tho some customers have no idea what they mean, the maker has to do this.

    I suggest that doing anything less amounts to one of three things:
    1. Tacky (this post)
    2. It insults your customer -or worse.
    3. The possibility that you don’t know “quality” either

    I wrote about #1 already so this is #2, insulting your customer (or worse). Trashing your competitors insults your customer because your defensive posture presumes the customer doesn’t know as much as you do. A great example is when Harley Davidson started selling pans to park your bike on (presumably an HD) to catch the oil. The pans had a Japanese flag. Some of the HD crowd yukked it up, oblivious of the fact that if they’d bought a Japanese bike, they wouldn’t have needed a pan to catch oil because they didn’t leak. From a mechanical and technological standpoint, the Japanese bikes were the better machines. So when a company like HD does this, they’re either presuming their customer is too ignorant to know or the company doesn’t know this themselves. If they don’t know, why would I want to buy their bike? What else is wrong with them because HD didn’t do tear downs and competitive assessments that I don’t know? And if their customers don’t know this, why would I want to be associated with them?

    #3, that the maker doesn’t know quality either is endemic. How many arguments have we had here from people who are convinced that handsewing a work around makes for a superior product? When I did manufacturing bootcamps, one segment was about quality assessments. I had three pairs of some ladies pants in different colorways, a bland style. I had other pants for comparison that were flashier. In no case ever, did any DE pick the quality pant (the bland ones). Rather, they said the style they liked best was highest quality, the one that resonated most closely to their taste preferences. So, this becomes a case of the blind leading the blind. Listing product attributes is a neutral way to itemize the features of a product. Apparel producers resent their products aren’t taken as seriously as other manufactured products but I argue it is partially their fault because they don’t meet the same barre that other producers do -such as software, hardware and cars do.

    For my part, I can’t believe we’re even discussing the pros and cons of this. Any of the three reasons above is reason enough not to slam someone you would aspire to compete with. And if you do it obliquely, I reiterate that you are a wannabe if you’re insulting a profession you claim to belong to.

    If a customer should bring up another brand, the appropriate value neutral response is “not my market”. Often, this will be true. Just because your customer buys tees at Wal-Mart doesn’t mean your ballgowns should be compared in the same light and above all, YOU should not do it. Saying “not my market” implies you’re not qualified to comment because their customer is not your customer and you don’t know the market. And trust me, you don’t know the market unless you’ve made tees and sold them to Wal-Mart.

  10. Marie-Christine says:

    Sorry I missed the first post, yes very clear. I get frustrated when I’m trying to buy a piece of hardware and the specs are missing, or software and the requirements aren’t there. You have no idea what I went through trying to find out real specs on sewing machines, every site was reproducing some badly-translated non-info from the manufacturer (I bought from the only one who added real info). Technical is -not- bad, no matter what the field, even if you’re trying to sell fuzzy-wuzzy, it must be present even if at the end in smaller type. And as Kathleen points out, legally so, so you may as well get it right.

    “oblivious of the fact that if they’d bought a Japanese bike, they wouldn’t have needed a pan to catch oil because they didn’t leak”
    :-) :-). But -snobs- have the right to an opinion too, so there.

    I really like your ‘not my market’ answer. It’s so tedious to get roped into those ‘cheaper at Walmart’ conversations. I often have to bite my tongue not to say that I’d rather be fed alive through the serger before I’d make/sell whatever for them. This is so much more polite. And accurate. :-).

  11. Patricia says:

    I am a little behind in reading this, but I would like to ask an opinion on how descriptions should be written if you have a site that offers retail and wholesale. I can see now that I have a lot to rewrite in both company and product descriptions (boy, do I ever), but should the retail and wholesale be written differently?

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