I collect fountain pens. For the 98 per cent of the population that writes with disposable ball-point pens, that might sound ridiculous. But for us 2 per-centers, fountain pens are pieces of art that you can write with. They range in price from $50 to $300,000. That’s right, $300,000. Exotic pens are created from expensive, gem quality materials like jade, and encrusted with precious stones, like diamonds and emeralds. The best nibs (the part you write with) are either 14 or 18 carat gold. And no two pens write exactly the same. The subtle differences are, for me, a large part of the allure of writing with a fountain pen. It’s a seductive, tactile experience. So to most of you I’m nuts. I’m OK with that.
I recently attended the annual fountain pen show in Los Angeles. Lot’s of exhibitors, displaying their wares on open tables and selling hundreds of Brands to a few thousand people, slowly shuffling from booth to booth like some oozing mud slide, looking, talking, testing various pens, studying, asking questions, doing a little negotiating; and buying– selectively, purposefully, and emotionally.
At a conscious and unconscious level, everyone there was having a series of Brand experiences, me included. Many of the pens displayed and sold were internationally known names (at least to pen collectors). The exhibitors were a combination of pen company employees and independent pen dealers who owned individual pen stores scattered across the country. But a few exhibitors were different – they were small, independent pen manufacturers who travelled the country selling their pens at various pen shows in a dozen or so cities. Practically no one has ever heard of their Brands.
How can they sell against nationally advertised, elegantly packaged, well-represented “household name” pens? The answer is personal engagement on a level that elevates customer interaction to a tactile, hands-on, engaging, compelling experience. These “independents” succeed by creating relationships, on the spot, and the natural outgrowth of those relationships is the sale of pens.
I had that kind of experience with one of those pen makers two years ago at the same pen show. I was browsing at his exhibit table. He introduced himself. I told him I had never heard of his Brand. He patiently told me about his little company, located in a small town in the Mid-West and how he lovingly made his pens. We then naturally progressed to a writing demonstration and I wrote with several different nibs, each producing a slightly different writing experience. He told me how he would further customize the writing feel of any of his nibs, should I choose to buy one of his pens. And he demonstrated with one of his own pens. I was hooked. $300 changed hands and I had a new pen. That pen held more than ink. It was infused with a story of how it came to be, of a small pen maker’s passion for what he crafted and for the joy he felt in sharing his passion and knowledge with me. The pen came to life, it had a style and personality all its own.
So when I attended the show last month, I was happy to see him at his table, in the same spot he had two years ago. I intended to buy another one of his pens. I walked up to him, smiled, re-introduced myself and told him how happy I was with the pen I bought two years ago and asked if he remembered me. “No, I don’t think so,” he said flatly. Then he turned away and began a conversation with his wife, who was seated behind his display table.
I walked away. I didn’t bother to look at his pens. I was no longer interested.
I encountered two radically different Brand experiences with the same guy, selling the same product at the same place, for the same price. The first one a resounding success for everyone involved; the second a disaster from the outset.
His Brand, what he delivered and how he delivered it produced predictable results in both encounters.
What kind of Brand experience do you deliver?