Howies vs. We-We

I’m fairly new to marketing. I’ve been to only a couple of seminars and read only a few of the myriad websites, blogs and magazine articles that rush before my eyes. There are a hell of a lot of words out there…

A lot of it makes a lot of sense. A lot of it is common sense dressed up in fancy words.

And some of it is bullshit posing as common sense, hoping that no-one sees through the disguise.

I went to a seminar about email marketing. There were many buzzwords. Lots of jargon. Each time the guy running the show came out with one of his killer points, most of his audience nodded appreciatively.

At one point he mentioned the We-We Test. Everyone nodded. “Never ever talk about yourself when emailing a customer!” proclaimed the marketing guru. “Customers hate it. You must always tell them about how their needs and their lives will be improved by your product. Go through your marketing copy and count the number of times you say ‘we’. Then reduce it as much as you can.” He didn’t need to insist; everyone accepted this as an unquestionable truth.

One of the strongest brands I know is howies, the clothing company based in south Wales. They do a superb job of marketing their (not inexpensive) products by selling the idea of themselves, their experiences and their culture. Their website is full of their thoughts and opinions. It’s great.

howies’ emails talk you like a friend, and tell you how excited they are about their designs. Their blog (they call it a community) is a constant babble of their people’s daily ideas, jokes, trials and wisdom.

howies’ copy hardly ever talks to ‘you’. It is too busy talking about ‘us’. What ‘we’ are thinking, how far ‘we’ have ridden our bikes and what music ‘we’ have been listening to.

A randomly picked page from their site is made up of an alarming 87.5% We-We, according to this online test. By the apparent accepted wisdom of the ‘We-We Test’, Howies are abject failures.

But they are a roaring success, expanding all the time and recently announcing a partnership with Timberland. And howies continue to command a hefty premium for their clothes. Partly because they are very good clothes, but largely because of the perceived fun and honesty of their brand and the intimacy we feel when we read about their surfing, dog-walking, tree-planting, cake-baking, t-shirt-designing lives.

I want to be part of their gang, so I will happily read about what they’ve been up to and what they’ve been thinking. That is far more exciting than boring little me.

But I still can’t afford their jeans.

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