retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

In a world of value, where bigger, larger and more seem always to work, is it possible that less can be better? I think we recently got an easy and powerful lesson in just that concept, not to mention how more can sometimes be too much.

Think back for to the recently completed World Cup soccer tournament and ask yourself this: Do you remember the vuvuzela?

I’m betting you do. For even if you caught only a second of a single game, you heard the vuvuzela. They are those annoying horns you heard buzzing loudly in the background of every broadcast. Apparently a single vuvuzela played properly can produce a somewhat pleasant sound. When tens of thousand are played together at a soccer game the effect is as obnoxious as if huge swarms of bees were buzzing next to your ears.

In other words, too much of a good thing can turn music into noise. More can be less. Now, remember that when it comes to your store, your services, your products and your customers. Too often, in our zeal to be special and please, we do everything possible. Every product is special and every service is stunning. But the effect can be like the vuvuzela. Too much can simply be too much.

It’s so easy to see this in a store. So many today emphasize virtually everything, which can pack far less impact than retailers thinking critically about the handful of areas that really create differentiation. It’s hard to imagine a retailer who wouldn’t be better served to think about the products, services or attributes that would get a customer to pass another store. Remember, you can better play up those things that are special by turning down the noise elsewhere.

We all know how nice it is to have one associate tell us to have a great day or offer to help. The effect falls apart when 10 people in a row ask me the same question. It ceases to be special and becomes somewhat annoying. Likewise, price specials can always pack a punch. But too often we see aisles featuring miles of price “special” tags that suddenly look anything but special. Emphasis is what stands out; overkill defeats everything.

My son, a student of classical music, is constantly educating me on how to be a more educated listener. (It’s a long, uphill struggle, but I’m trying.) One point he always talks about is the intensity of music. Many times what we think is loud is actually just intense. That is, the note is set up by a quiet period to build drama, attention and emphasis. If all the music received the same power, we’d miss the key phrases because there would be no key phrases.

It’s easy to see the parallel in business - points of distinction get buried unless there is some quiet around them. And the vuvuzela helps provide that lesson. None of us who watched those games had any appreciation for the noise. I have a gut feeling that many people watched the games as I did, with the sound turned way down to eliminate the buzzing. Of course, since I don’t know soccer all that well, it also meant I couldn’t hear any commentary, which might have helped my enjoyment. (And I can’t imagine how players coped with all that noise game after game.)

The bottom line is that without quiet, music becomes noise. Without quiet, the points that are special disappear. In short, less is more. But skip the cliché and simply repeat the following: remember the vuvuzela!

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
KC's View: