Work/Life: Honesty vs Oversharing - the Fine copyline

Undeleted email of the day … View PDF

In a nutshell: a company called REMO asking its community very directly to help them continue to stay viable,  by buying their product.

In the fuming pile of spam I pooper scoop each morning, this got momentarily retrieved when I saw "SOS" in the subject line - why, it could be a friend in need, or my employer yanking me back to the office, and it doesn't sound like the Treasurer of a Nigerian Bank either ... 

The company, a hip, urban purveyor of quirky t-shirts and other stylish stufforama, is telling me it's hit a cash flow problem. It's inviting me to be part of the solution – just stockpile their t-shirts.

It's a fascinating case study in blurring that line between customer and vendor. What's appropriate? What's honest? What's oversharing?

The owner himself steps up to the till:

Q: So, what's happening on the business front? A: We're low on cash ... and we need some in fairly short order. We're not due to receive any more investment money until July, and an extended bank overdraft (how most retailers would generally trade through the quieter part of the year) is not an option for REMO until it's strongly profitable.

Q: When will REMO be profitable? A: Soon. We're still growing into our business model. There's a minimum cost of doing business and a level of expense below which we can't deliver the sort of CustOMER experience that we're committed to deliver. Our backers understand this. In any event, see the chart. Last year our sales grew by 85% ... but our expenses for the year only increased by 29%. It's not hard to see that we're on the right track. The trend line is strongly positive. We're projecting 60% to 70% growth for 2008 (year to date, it's tracking at 65%). That would actually deliver us a small maiden profit for the calendar year. Of course, most of the action happens in October, November & December, and we need to manage our cash carefully until then.

Ahhhh, suddenly, I'm not just a customer. I'm a fly-on-the-wall - no, a participant - in their shareholder meeting. They even bare their bar charts to show break-even and historical sales data. Read on ... 

Q: What would you like to say in summary?: Growing this business without access to significant capital continues to challenge all involved ... BUT we're heading to a happier place. We firmly believe that. … Back in 2005 when we last turned to CustOMERs for help with our cash flow, some of you obliged with very large orders indeed. THAT FELT GREAT.

Clearly, this strategy worked, or at least REMO told me so. I received this email the next day:

REMO | SOS SALE | You took advantage ... and we had a server meltdown!
29 May 2008
How ironic. Such was the CustOMER response to this week's emailed announcement of our 25% to 50% SOS SALE, that our server went into a tailspin, ultimately melting down ... and denying MOST of you access to the website and its bargains for much of the day. Ironic because the CustOMER response to our SOS triggered a real technology SOS! Anyway, we learned something about ourselves ... and our capacity to accommodate many browsers and orderers simultaneously. Despite this, plenty of you are managing to get your orders into our system ... lots of BIG ones from all over the world. THANK YOU! For the others of you who were less successful with your response, please come back and try again ... NOW and/or over the weekend. This follow up email is being sent out in dribs & drabs over the next couple of days. So, hopefully you won't crash into each other this time around. Meanwhile, we're on the case with our IT service providers to upgrade our systems ...

Whew! This is conversations with REMO 109. Could pillow talk like this help your business?

The benefit of building a community, rather than just a database, isn't new. It's about next year's sale. When you show your soft underbelly, you bring people closer - they'll cut you slack when the wrong shipment comes in. They'll forgive your goofups, your moments of  inexcusable tardiness, and rally to make sure you stay around. You got their sympathy vote.

But it's not a given. Merchants have a harder time  than bonafide charities; evangelists (religious or otherwise) have the hardest time of all. It's even harder on the web, where a con artist can look legit, and where a mere homepage typo has the psychological effect of "this product must be junk." 

I once saw an ad by a company which, by their own admission, botched up bad year after year. The mea culpa to their shareholders was a page tabling their annual snafu's, each "year" splattered with an overripe tomato. Fortunately, the final year was spattered with a noise maker. It was pitched exactly right, down to the not-too-stylish choice of typeface.

Just after 911, Bike Friday had to do a similar thing. When you make a travel bicycle that goes in an airline checkable suitcase, and planes start crashing and burning courtesy of human insanity, customers are bound to get cold cleats. We wrote an email thanking customers for their support over the years, and somewhere mentioned that "if you've been twisting the arm of someone in your family to get a Bike Friday, now's a good time to do a Full Nelson." I can't say it was Booker-Prize winning, but we didn't have to lay anyone off that year.

Back to the REMO example. Not comfortable that level of disclosure? You can dial down the sharing, letting people choose whether to sleep with you naked or in PJ's:

Confession time. We'd be over the moon if you buy a bunch of t-shirts from us right now, so we're making you an offer too good to refuse. Click here.
We'd rather not overshare the reasons why, but if you r-e-a-l-l-y must know, click here.

Here's are more thoughts on Honesty and Authenticity, thank you Taylor Ellword:

That's all for now, from the wide, wide world of wordsmithing ...

Cannes-award winning copywriter and Customer Evangelist the Galfromdownunder has been known to hang out her dirty CoolMax from time to time in the name of authenticity – she's since removed the multimedia link to the poledancing course she did with her 70 something mother. You'll just have to go Google it yourself.

UPDATE: Selling the Story, not the Stripey Thing The Gal makes peace, love and understanding with REMO

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  • Lynette Chiang

    Since I'm in Sydney til end of July you're cordially invited to ambush me and pelt me with green eggs and ham over a chai latte (unless your customers beat me to it and egg me and my folding bike). There's nothing quite like communing with people who take creative workshopping in their stride - in this way we take bigger than expected steps for mankind ...

  • Remo Giuffre

    Thanks Lynette. Have enjoyed the discussion. FYI ... Sydney Morning Herald blog re our CustOMER SOS HERE and we pointed to your Fast Company blog from our latest CustOMER update HERE. Blogging the blog!

  • Lynette Chiang

    My last reply was too damn wordy, like my article, so consider this a revised REMOrk. Thanks (Remo) for basically getting where I was coming from - no sinister intent as your concerned pal Adam thinks; it's obvious why you earn the big bucks. Maybe showing people your bar charts is a pioneering move, a bit like taking marketing to the nth degree by living under customers' roofs ... Meanwhile, the proof is in the eggs and ham and your flock appear to be socking it away. Thanks for providing a piece of blog-provoking copy - hardly surprising coming from an award winning DM copywriter ...

  • Adam Dennis

    Lynette, I appreciate your thoughts on this matter, and would have been happy to read them if you'd posted them on the REMO website. You signed up to be a member of our community, which gives you every right to initiate and participate in debate about the values of that community. In practice though, you've snuck away to criticise from afar with faintly mocking tone and probable ironic smirk.

    Internet communities came along at a time when collectively we needed to rediscover the value of connection with like-minded people. REMO is such a community, with a love of design and fun and yet an unabashed commercial flavour. Is it perfect? Certainly not! We have robust conversation on the site, often positive but on many occasions healthily critical. That debate takes place in our 'home', where we've all slipped off our shoes and can enjoy the play of ideas in comfort. Do you truly belong to a local community? How would you expect them to respond if you critiqued the beloved cafe's menu here on your blog? They might gently suggest you could've aired your concerns with them first, no?

    You seem to disapprove of honesty from REMO because it's a business. But there's nearly 20 ads on your page that demonstrate you're part of a business also - does that mean you wouldn't criticise any of those advertisers? There's a disturbing thought.

    Aside from all that; in Australia we're supposed to have a certain value of not kicking a guy when he's on the canvas, even if he's likely to get back up and punch your lights out. I don't see how Remo could have more effectively communicated that the business was down ... and yet you donned your pointy boots and got to work. I'm puzzled by that, wondering what you're hoping to achieve from your efforts - I'd like to understand more about your motivations.

    Finally, there's a certain irony in your intellectual fingerpointing, when you didn't take the time to remove the unique code from your published link. Anyone who clicked on that link would've been logged into REMO as you. Nevermind, I'm sure none of your regular readers will write about it in their blog.

  • Remo Giuffre

    Dear Lynette,

    What's your address? Do let us send you that Green Eggs T Shirt!

    But seriously ... I was sympathetic with your point of view until you suggested a less direct and more opaque approach. After all, that's the whole point. Honesty and authenticity are more binary notions for me ... although I agree that the ways of communicating the truth are far more nuanced. But back to the central message ... you either tell people the real reason for your actions, or you don't. Lots of people think we're crazy, or at best a little bit odd e.g. "Why not just call it an end of year clearance like everyone else, and hope that it achieves your result?" The answer is ... we don't want to be sneaky. We just want to call a cash flow problem a spade ... by way of justifying discounts (and the subsequent erosion of our precious margins). The CustOMERs who appreciate this uncompromised candour (and we've always behaved this way as a brand) do so with such passion that it far outweighs the effect of the CustOMERs who feel discomforted by the insight. Similarly, not all CustOMERs agree with the position we've taken on various social issues e.g. check out the low rating CustOMER comments HERE ... but also read the CustOMER comments in response. Finally, I'll admit that the use of the letters "SOS" was a tad contentious (my wife Melanie was not completely in favour) ... BUT it did stop you from deleting, and that was also the point. Not sneaky though, just the truth. Best, Remo (the person, not the brand)