Tag: St. John Knit

Compassion Core for Fan Brands

Compassion Core for Fan Brands


**Image Pier Madonia for the International Red Cross**

One topic that I have written about extensively in this blog is consumer relationships with brands and, in special cases, Brands Worthy of a Weekend (BWOW).  When I started writing about BWOW, it was still a relatively lofty  bar – a brand for which you care so deeply that you would spend a weekend away from your family to connect with other people who feel the same way about this brand, learn more about the “inside” of the business, meet the people who make the magic happen, etc.   With the seismic shift in the blogosphere, however, brand “weekends” have become more and more common, but with a major difference – they are largely designed for influential voices versus passionate fans.   In the mom blogger space in particular, these events are happening in rapid fire succession with some players covering  multiple per month.  While these executions absolutely hold water as communications strategies – at least for the time being – they are no longer about “passion”.  I would argue it is very difficult to be truly passionate about more than a handful of things.

Enter compassion.  I’d never stopped to give compassion much thought, but having begun work on a project that centers on compassion, I am now hyperconscious of it in the world around me and there are a lot of business applications.  While we expect compassion in/from our fellow human beings, we don’t expect companies – with their one-size-fits-all policies and protocols for front line reps – to want or choose to show compassion.    But upon further reflection,  a lot of brand fan creation stories have an act of compassion at their core.  A couple of examples:

  • This weekend, the waitress at Inside Park at St. Barts who came outside (where I was exiled with my toddler-gone-wild) to chat with me, suggest some places where I could entertain him, and take my order on the go made me a fan.
  • My St. John Knit fan creation story is ALL about a VP of Customer Service reading my letter and breaking the rules to help a desperate bride (now customer for life).
  • Every Twitter/online customer redemption listening story – from @comcastcares to the Dell outreach team or non-tech areas like the Vermont Teddy Bear Company reading a complaint I had made about some spam affiliate marketing and correcting the problem (that turned me into a supporter of their sister venture Pajamagram).

The first step in codifying compassion into your business or brand as witnessed above is listening.  You can not understand “the other” or “walk in their shoes” unless you pause to try to understand and consider an issue, opportunity or problem from their point of view.  In the examples above, “listening” took the forms of watching a situation visually, reading a letter from a customer, and blogosphere monitoring respectively (note: great post on active listening from John Bell here).

The second element is trusting those human beings who do represent your brand with the power to act.  Ritz Carlton famously gives front line reps a budget from which they can do whatever they need to do to correct any problems in a customer’s stay and send them away happy.  That not only creates customer evangelists, it proves that the brand trusts the human beings that they have selected to embody the brand.

So, next time something happens that turns you into a positive-WOM machine for a company or a brand, think about the role compassion plays and whether or not you are in turn entrusting your team with the power to pass it along to your own customers.

St. John Knit’s Caviar IS the New Black

St. John Knit’s Caviar IS the New Black

I received a letter from Marie Gray, CEO of St. John Knit at home this week.

I assumed it would be about the economy.  That’s why we hear from CEO’s these days, right?

It wasn’t.  It was a 5 paragraph letter about a major change in the staple color of the staple fabric of the classic clothing line: the black Santana knit.  For various reasons including the environmental impact of dyes, the fabric color dying process has changed over the years.   Marie Gray writes that she had noticed that recent “black” collections had a bluish cast and had migrated far too close to their navy blue color.  So, they innovated.  They created a new process that would use less water and energy and produce a truer black that will be called “Caviar”.

Why does this matter to loyal customers like me?  In short, your old stuff won’t match the new stuff.  Part of the beauty of the items is that they last forever and you can mix and match items from lines and years.  It is garanimals for grownups.  The letter mentions that all stores and consultants have been armed with swatches of old black, navy, and new caviar for people to compare for themselves and prepare for the changes.  It also reinforces St. John’s commitment to craftsmanship at a time when other brands are focused on discounting which re-reinforces why this is a brand worthy of of a weekend – as well as my loyalty and respect.  While I wont be making any big purchases any time soon, the swatch compare will drive me into the store on my next NYC trip and who knows, maybe caviar will be hard to resist.

Don’t Leave Home Without Them…

Don’t Leave Home Without Them…

Thanks to Jake for tagging me on this particular assignment. It is particularly apropos as I have been commuting back and forth to DC for the last 5 weeks and have become an expert packer. Here are the items that always make the cut:

Cash – I know, I know, its old fashioned, but there are still some situations that simply require cash and I don’t want to be the person trying to convince the cabbie to take plastic.

Bose On-Ear Noise Canceling Headphones – whether you want to listen to music, drown jet noise, watch a movie or just say “don’t talk to me” to the person sitting next to you, these do the trick. These were a wonderful “first day of new job” gift from my husband.

Magazine-I-Would-Not-Be-Caught-Dead-Subscribing-to – The mental equivalent of comfort food, trashy magazines are my travel indulgence. If you encounter me on the road, chances are there is an OK!, People, or Life & Style hidden somewhere in my bags. When not traveling, I get my fix via Jen whose motto is “I read US Weekly so you don’t have to”.

pashminaPashmina Shawl – The pashmina is the world’s perfect accessory. Made of a cashmere wool derived from goats in the high Himalayas, these shawls are very warm while also being very thin & light. It can be easily stowed in a purse or laptop bag and emerge to serve as a scarf with your winter coat, a shawl over evening wear, or a pillow or blanket for the freezing plane. They are expensive, but pennies a use.

St. John Knit clothes – These are well covered on the blog but appear here, because I don’t ever want to iron in a hotel room again. Ever.

Reservation for a Kimpton Hotel – If a city has one, you can bet I am trying to stay there. I am in their “Inner Circle” and today the front office manager of the Rouge greeted me as if I was a rockstar and had the room waiting with the snacks and bottled water I requested when I strolled in at 9pm. They know that what frequent travelers want is to be welcomed home and they overdeliver every time.

John? Spike? Minjae? What’s in your bags?

St. John Knit Cont. – Why I’m a Fan

St. John Knit Cont. – Why I’m a Fan

5 years ago, I decided that I wanted to look at little different when I got married. This largely stemmed from the fact I am 6 feet tall and sturdy and I knew that wearing any variation on the typical strapless meringue princess dress was not going to work. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia where St. John Knit was spoken of in hushed, reverent tones and worn by some of the most elegant women I knew. I somehow got it into my head that a St. John evening gown would be a distinctive choice.

Of course, this was some years ago and I didn’t have funds to pay full retail, so I bought a white and gold gown on eBay (never worn, with tags). It was perfect, except for plunging neckline which was decidedly un-bridelike. I went to a St. John Outlet, where I had purchased some other items, and asked them how and where I should get it altered. They pinned the dress and sent it to St. John HQ in California for the alterations to be done. It was returned unchanged with a note explaining that they refused to do the alterations because they would ruin the integrity of the design.

I was shocked and crushed. I loved this brand so much that I wanted to be wearing one of their gowns on my wedding day and they wouldn’t alter it so I could? I wrote a very upset letter to CEO Kelly Gray, mailed it, and forgot about it as I started brainstorming what I was going to do for Plan B.

St. John DressI didn’t have to think long because less than 48 hours later, I received a phone call at work from the Vice President of Customer Service. She apologized profusely, gave me her personal mailing address and proceeded to walk the dress through the alterations studio at the St. John mothership and FedExed it immediately back to me. Like so many loyalty making moves, this cost the company nothing beyond care and effort. This act of listening and engaging has increased my lifetime customer value to the company by many multiples. Pay attention to the squeaky wheels – the people who make the effort to tell you when something is wrong have the potential to become your most active evangelists.

How St. John Knit Creates Loyalists

How St. John Knit Creates Loyalists

Note: This is the first of the “Brands Worthy of a Weekend” series. These are, quite simply, brands that some find inspiring enough that they would make the personal sacrifice of a weekend to spend time learning about the company and meeting other enthusiasts. St. John Knit is one of my selections – today I’ll cover how they create enthusiasts and tomorrow I’ll share my personal story of fan creation. Please go to the Contact or comment her to share brands that you would deem worthy of a weekend.

1960’s St. John KnitThis year, St. John Knit is celebrating its 45th anniversary. Kelly Gray, daughter of the founders, former face of the St. John ad campaign (before being replaced by Angelina Jolie), and former CEO of the company, was at Neiman Marcus in Houston greeting the faithful this week. One of the women waiting in line to meet her confessed to owning 200 outfits from various St. John lines. That is a fan. And, potentially, someone with a shopping addiction, but a fan nonetheless. St. John Knit has proven itself as a company that can inspire loyalists. But how do they do it?

Product – Despite the wild meanderings of fashion since its founding in 1962, you can identify a St. John item no matter its age because of its basic silhouettes and completely unique fabric. St John is not just a design house, but a manufacturer who spins, dyes and weaves its own blend of materials to make their signature knit. The advantages of the fabric include the way the garments hold their shape for decades, are completely wrinkle-free, and rarely show signs of wear. Another unique element of the cloth is that a qualified dry cleaner can use a product called “blocking” to redistribute the knit in such a way to size them up or down – thus allowing them to grow or shrink with your figure through the years.

Angelina 2006Ownership Experience – While St. John does produce certain more “editorial” pieces with each collection, their bread and butter remains classic silhouettes of their signature fabric, accented with their elegant enamel buttons. Because of the easily recognizable looks, fans can easily spot each other and know they share certain values and taste. I think the recognizability of the garments is a key component in the ownership experience. One doesn’t need to wear logoed items (a la Coach or LV) for others to recognize that they are a part of the St. John brand promise and who wouldn’t want to live the promise of beauty and success promised by Angelina Jolie in this shot?

St. John is also known for its remarkable customer service, but I’ll expound on that when I share why I’m a fan tomorrow.