Magnetic Poetry Box
I co-founded the company that helped Magnetic Poetry Kit become the Pet Rock of our generation. You won't see any reference to Found Objects on the Magnetic Poetry Kit web site, but my ex-wife Janet McKean really built the market for the product's launch onto millions of refrigerators.
I learned many lessons on the wild ride that was Magnetic Poetry. The first box Dave Kapell put his xerox copied magnetic words into was a brittle plastic box with those old ball hinges. The hinges were always breaking. The brittle plastic couldn't take a drop, but you could clearly see words inside the box.
Dave hated the first box because we had so many returns, but there was magic in the box too. The magic was that the customer could see the potential of the words right off. There was no wall between seeing the product and creating the mental image of all the cool fridge poetry you could create. Sitting on the counter at Barnes and Noble, took several years to make this sale but that is another long story, the product flew at the door. Currently over three million people have purchased Magnetic Poetry Kit and all of the first sales in those brittle plastic boxes were due to Janet and Found Objects.
One of the first things David did when he got successful was to redesign the box. He went to Charles Andersen, a well known Minneapolis graphic designer, and created a box that besides being hideous almost killed the franchise. You see Charles Andersen's box covered the entire pack. You couldn't see the words. You could read about the words, but you couldn't see the words.
Seeing something is always better than reading about it and David messed with the original box at his peril. That Andersen design must have cost him dearly as it only made it one season before it was replaced with a box that had a peep hole - this is the one they use now.
Over and over I see evidence that what we think we control - our brands and customer experiences - we do not control. Once a product is in the market control passes to our customers should we be lucky enough to have them. Once the customers are in control you change things at your peril. The problem is in knowing what is important. In my first Real Things Matter article I wrote about a restaurant who changed from Coke in bottles to Coke in cans and how that hurt the experience (at least for me). In this case, David and his advisers decide they are in control of their product and get a V-8 smack on the side of the head.
David was in control of those first xeroxed words with the copied label on the top my ex-wife sold to every museum shop in the country. The brittle box may have been a pain in terms of returns, but it was magic when it came to selling millions of kits. Close in the words and you close out the ability for customers to understand the potential, the opportunity for joy and magic included in every box of words. Think of the simplicity of the idea. Put words where they couldn't go before such as the main meeting area in most homes now - the kitchen - and magical things would happen. Brilliant marketing almost by accident. Real things matter.
Do you have a great story of a company that lost its way and found it again? Do you have examples of real things that matter? Share them here.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Magnetic Poetry Box
Monday, February 4, 2008
I am reading a great book, Authenticity by Gilmore and Pine, that made me go back to what used to be a favorite restaurant yesterday for lunch. I used to eat at Carrburritos in Carrboro, NC about once a week, but then they changed one item on the menu and I have all but stopped going.
Carrburritos rates high on the authenticity scale. The food is homegrown Mexican with the best Salsa bar you will find anywhere. The restaurant is hard to get to tucked into a side of a building and doesn't seat more than about 20, but both of those things add to the charm. They used to serve Coke in bottles imported from Mexico.
Now anyone who loves Coke as much as I do knows that bottled Coke is different and better than any alternative. Bottled Coke burns the back of your throat a little when you drink it and you can feel your eyes watering just a bit. Bottled Coke from Mexico was the perfect compliment to Carrburritos hulking burritos and homemade chips. The owner told me that he couldn't easily get the Mexican Coke any longer, so now they have, like everyone else, coke in lukewarm cans.
Since this change I've been back to Carrburritos one time, yesterday, and the experience just isn't the same. The one small ingredient changed the entire feel for me. Food was the same, salsa bar still creative and deep in choices, but the warm cans of Coke fell so far short of what was there before that it was a sad reminder of something that made Carrburritos special and worth the extra effort to eat there and was now missing.
The lesson here is that we do not control our experiences or our brands. Our customers and their reactions, interpretations and judgments control our destiny. When we change a tiny thing here or there we may unknowingly change everything. There is such a delicate balance between success in an over crowded marketplace and dismal rotting failure that it is good to know what makes us special and enhance it. In this case, Coke in bottles is one of the things that made Carrburritos special. Eliminate that and you are less special, less distinct. Doing something so seemingly innocent at a time when there are several large chain competitors is suicide. I hope I am wrong since Carrburritos makes the world more interesting than yet another "Welcome to Moes", but not understanding that Coke in bottles is part of their difference makes me worry for their future.
If you have an example of how a tiny thing changed a brand or an experience for you for good or ill, please share it.