Poor at Presenting

Written by Bill Tanzer


“Failure to communicate” is possibly the best known expression used for when problems arise. According to Andy Lopata and Peter Roper’s book on business communication, And Death Came Third (2006), about 81% of organizations are poor at verbal communication, from networking to public speaking. The effects of miscommunication are negative, to put it mildly, from making hapless errors to just plain old losing the deal. Poor packaging, in turn, is also poor communication.

Why? The results of effective communication are immediate. Take infomercials which fill a need, and fast. More than 75% of calls and sometimes even 95% of calls are made within 30 minutes of the commercial airing. Very few consumers write down the toll free number with the intent of calling at a later time. It’s pretty quick – when they see a product they want, they make the call to buy.

Presentation is persuasive. In a blind taste-test, wine drinkers would not necessarily know the variances between expensive vintages and cheap knockoffs if not told otherwise. Sometimes, tasters can’t even distinguish between types. Served in a specific glass however, taste testers notice big differences among the chardonnays and burgundies. Why? Because the mind is now pre-determining what the wine is supposed to taste like.

Presentation is not everything however. Something must be behind the package. Back in the 1870s, would anyone have bought “Snake Oil” if the concoction was sold in a clear, glass bottle, and no one around to sell you on its contents? At the time, original Snake Oil tonics were actually pain-killing opiates mixed with non-essential ingredients. Half a million pounds of opiates were sold annually, so it was pretty popular. Similar, competing tonics even offered swigs of alcohol with every sip. Then travelling carnival barkers began selling inferior, useless potions. Since carnivals blew into and out of town, angry customers weren’t able to alert potential customers from being swindled. Now, Snake Oil is a term used to describe something fraudulent, a product that will never live up to ridiculous, over-the-top claims. Outright lies will always seal the fate of a useless product.

Presentation also has to be seen. It can’t hide waiting for someone to notice. Many companies frequently lend products and attire to celebrities. Why? These wealthy celebrities certainly can afford to buy such items on their own. It’s to build or maintain brand value by association, a theme that is also prominent in films. James Bond wouldn’t be caught dead driving around in a minivan or spotted wearing outlandish and unfitted shirts. Everything about Bond is specific, evoking class and sophistication.

For many parity products, meaning that items are similar to others on the market, you cannot change what the product is, but what it means. Vodka, which tends to taste the same no matter who manufacturers it, relies on packaging to capture an audience’s attention and imagination. How do perfumes advertise without offering samples? By selling an image associated with the scent, a storyline and an appropriate package. Some sneakers are not popular solely because of the style, design or material but because of the endorsing athlete. (A conundrum for companies when that athlete goes astray or gets arrested.)

Packaging is not everything but it is a pretty big something. Back in 1987, Forbes magazine tried offering readers a box of Marlboros, sold at half price. But the cigarettes were presented in a generic brown box.  Only 21 percent responded. That’s a terrible response rate. So remember, presentation, presentation, presentation.

March 27, 2011

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