August 7, 2004
There’s something to be said for imperfection…
At the age of 8-9 Jim learned how to buy newspapers at discount and then re-sell them for full price. He dropped out of school at 12. That alone, if you listen to all the hype about what it takes to get ahead today, would have set him on the road to failure. But, Jim was one of those people who knew how to find opportunities where others were quick to throw up their hands and walk away. The lessons he learned have sparked success for countless entrepreneurs.
Among his many ventures, James raised apples and sold them by mail order. From all accounts he did pretty well. But one year, there was a violent hail storm. The hail bruised and scarred the skins of his apples so badly that James knew he was in big trouble.
Those apples looked terrible! James knew if he didn’t deliver as promised he was headed for sure disaster. His customers, after all, relied on him to deliver top quality fruit.
Did he give up? Quit the apple business? Get out of mail order? Not at all!
Jim, knew that the damage was purely cosmetic…the skins were scarred and discolored but the fruit was still fresh and wholesome. So he decided to go right on with the season’s marketing. But this year he included a note to his customers with every order. In that note he honestly told his customers that the apples were scarred. He assured his customers that this scarring was proof that the apples were mountain grown in a climate where extreme cold causes hailstorms. And, he assured his customers that, due to the weather conditions, this year’s crop of apples were firmer and sweeter than ever.
It’s said there were no returns on orders that year. In fact, the next year Jim’s customers specifically requested scarred apples.
What can we learn from this? Well, for starters, people understand imperfections and limitations. But, they don’t take well to finding out, after the fact, that they’ve gotten something different than what we’ve promised. Hype and unsubstantiated promises destroy credibility and trust. But, if we -- willingly and openly -- point out the limitations in our product or service and show how those limitations do not detract from its real value, buyers will appreciate what we have to offer….and will come back again because they know they can count on us to deliver on our promises.
James Webb ‘Jim’ Young, who dropped out of school at the age of 12, returned to school years later as a professor of the University of Chicago, became a key influence and one of the greatest copywriters at J Walter Thompson, successfully managed a dozen various businesses and wrote two books that have inspired advertising professionals.
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