Published on: September 25, 2012by Michael Sansolo
Given all the changes in marketing these days, it was hardly surprising when a new catalog arrived featuring some interesting goods. Inside were specials on soft drinks and candy, snacks and cereal, cleaning products and simple appliances.
The catalog reminded me that prices listed inside would be frozen through December and that I could easily find "savings, selection (and) convenient delivery," with free shipping for any order totaling more than $45. Plus I could order on line or by phone.
At this point you are probably thinking, “Wow, Michael got a paper catalog from Amazon.com.” Of course, you would be wrong.
All of these offers came from a brick and mortar retailer that, frankly, would never have come to mind for any of those product choices: the office supply superstore, Staples. Interestingly enough, not one page of the catalog featured the stuff I would usually buy at Staples, such as paper products, computer needs and office supplies such as paper clips and, yes, even staples.
In short, it was a catalog of products that Staples was clearly identifying as useful to business customers that might be buying these supplies from wholesalers or clubs. That last point was made without subtlety on page 2, which urged me to "skip the trip to the wholesale club. Staples offers: a larger selection of top brands; your choice of pack sizes; no club fees.”
Apparently I got this special brochure because my wife, who buys all the supplies for my little business, uses Staples quite a bit and Staples was thinking that there might be some more sales to grab from Sansolo Solutions LLC. And in all honesty, if I decide we need a rotary waffle maker (like they have in hotels) or multi-language yellow floor signs to identify dangerous spots, I might well buy them at Staples.
But for the moment, I am just kind of stunned. Because while the blurring of lines in retail is really old hat, I still find it kind of amazing that a company I know for a specific type of products is so aggressively merchandising in a whole new area. I might never have seen it unless I was buying office products; and you might be missing it too.
Plus, you might be missing other things.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once made a fabulous comment about problems both seen and unseen in the wake of the more-challenging-than-expected invasion of Iraq. Rumsfeld said, “There are known knowns; things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns; things we do not know we don’t know.”
Politics being what it is, Rumsfeld’s comments were widely ridiculed. I’d argue that the quote should be widely shared and discussed.
Because in the world of competition the unknown unknowns - things that we don’t know we don’t know - can always kill us. That could include completely unforeseen shopper changes, emerging technologies or office supply stores suddenly selling a wide array of food products.
That’s why we all need our eyes open on the usual and the unusual. It is why we need to understand that Twitter or Pinterest matters even if we don’t get it. It’s even why we need to consider why a video craze like “Call Me Maybe” or “Gangham Style” might tell us something entirely unexpected about how the world is behaving.
In the meantime, I’m going to be watching those catalogs a lot more closely to see what new markets they may be exploring. At least, that's what I'm going to tell my wife if she catches me reading the new catalog from Victoria's Secret.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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