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Being Consumer-Focused

We’ve been writing a great deal lately about issues such as the use of cartoon characters to sell more product. And indeed, the use of effective marketing and promotional devices is crucial in selling effectively, yet, it can also be a distraction.

I’ve never met a marketing expert who didn’t make clear the preeminence of the product and the value proposition that is presented to the consumer.

Used properly, marketing is the way by which we demonstrate to the buyer the legitimate desirability of the proposition on order.

The fundamental problem with putting a cartoon character on a food is that it doesn’t fundamentally change anything about the offer. So Brussels sprouts or Limburger cheese won’t taste any differently just because we slap Scooby Doo on the package.

If you want an example of the way marketing should work, let me introduce you to Steve and Barry.

Some of you may remember Steve Shore, as he was the very first sales manager for the Perishable Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS when he was fresh out of college. Others will remember Barry Prevor, my brother, who worked along with me in my family’s long-established produce company headquartered on the Hunts Point Terminal Market.

While I fell to journalism, my brother rose to extraordinary heights as one of the master retailers of his day. When the history of retailing is written, I’m confident his name will be written about in the same chapter with names like Woolworth, Roebuck, Wanamaker, Macy and Walton.

If you want an example of what makes a marketer great, take a look at this two-minute video clip of an interview with New York Knicks’ point guard Stephon Marbury, which describes Steve & Barry’s recent introduction of the Starbury One line of ‘kicks and threads’ — that is shoes and clothes if you are not that hip. Even better, look at the web site for the Starbury One line, available exclusively at Steve and Barry’s University Sportswear.

Stephon Marbury saw a need that kids should be able to buy clothes, not just any clothes, but clothes that are ‘fly’ for reasonable prices.

A pair of Air Jordans from Nike retail for around $170 a pair. The Starbury One, not only stylish but of sufficient quality that Marbury will wear it on the court, is available exclusively at Steve and Barry’s for an incredible price of $14.98.

But it is more than just offering a good deal. It is really worth watching the various videos that are on the Starbury web site where Stephon Marbury explains that if you can keep the price reasonable, kids can be expected to earn money to buy their own clothes and that actions like this are what help kids grow up and be responsible.

Marbury grew up in a public housing project in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. And although his point applies to everyone, he is thinking especially about the kind of kids he grew up with.

Of course, Marbury’s vision wouldn’t mean that much if it wasn’t executed. My brother started in the import department at my family’s company and grew to become perhaps the world’s leading authority on the intricacies of designing clothing to deliver everything the consumer wants while constructing the clothes in such a way that they can be imported economically.

Long before Steve and Barry met Stephon Marbury, they shared the vision of bringing high quality, stylish clothing to the people for affordable prices. What Marbury has added is street cred. Nobody would have believed that their basketball shoes were as good as ones costing ten times the price without Stephon Marbury.

There is a lot of marketing going on — with the web site, the video, a big press conference, Marbury doing appearances, etc. — lots of talent and expertise is going into this launch. But, at its core, the entire enterprise is geared around an idea, a value, a vision — that the world will be better if poor kids who worship basketball stars could reasonably be expected to buy the clothes they want.

At virtually every food industry conference, there are 20 speakers who all repeat, like some kind of mantra, that we have to be consumer-focused, we have to serve the consumer, on and on.

Yet in actual execution, I find that consumers are generally ignored or viewed in a very limiting way. I don’t think it has to be that way. How do we sell better, healthier, more life-enriching foods to the people of the world? How do we help people with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other illnesses? How do we help people fuel themselves with high energy food so that they can live their lives to the fullest.

It is asking questions like this that really defines being consumer-focused.

We may only sell food, but these guys only sell sneakers.

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