#174 Blog Post - Wednesday, 16 November 2022
Posted by Denny Hatch
Don't Let Your Lawyers
Castrate Your Guarantee
L.L. Bean, Granddaddy of Niche Catalogs
Leon Leonwood Bean (1872-1967) was a passionate outdoorsman. In 1911 he invented the "L.L.Bean Boot, made in Maine since 1912." He figured out how to combine a comfortable waterproof full-grain leather upper with a waterproof rubber bottom that keeps the foot absolutely dry.
Based on his remarkable invention he founded the business in 1912. Over the years, L.L. Bean expanded into summer and winter stylish, sturdy outdoor and indoor casual clothing and sporting accessories.
It was in 1916 that Bean came up with the simplest, most powerful and deeply personal guarantee in the history of direct marketing:
Why This Guarantee Is So Powerful
And How It Was Wrecked by Lawyers
It's the ‘I’.
"The most important word in direct copy is not ‘you’ — as many of the textbooks would have it — but ‘I.' What makes a letter seem ‘personal’ is not seeing your own name printed dozens of times across the page, or even being battered to death with a never ending attack of ‘you’s.’ It is, rather, the sense that one gets of being in the presence of the writer... that a real person sat down and wrote you a real letter." —Richard Armstrong, direct marketing copywriter.
Okay, Bean's 16 words are not in a letter. Rather they are in the form of a simple blurb that can appear everywhere—as a small card or "lift piece" in a direct mail package or an ad in the catalog—all the way down to a label sewn onto an article of clothing. Note it starts with "I". It is signed by L.L. Bean himself, founder and owner of the business.
"Don't overlook the importance of your signature. Your signature is your handshake."
Danger: The Era of "Catalog Bandits"
Bean's Guarantee was operational for 96 years—from 1916 to 2018.
"A classic catalog bandit is the woman who has been invited to a formal gala evening. She goes to her favorite catalog source of dress clothes and orders three gowns. She tries them on in front of a full-length mirror and decides on which one to wear to the party. She receives compliments throughout the evening. The next day she packs up the three gowns, returns them to the cataloger for a full refund." —Bob Doscher
A Letter to L.L. Bean Customers
Since 1912, our mission has been to sell high-quality products that inspire and enable people to enjoy the outdoors. Our commitment to customer service has earned us your trust and respect, as has our guarantee, which ensures that we stand behind everything we sell.
Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales.
Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy. Customers will have one year after purchasing an item to return it, accompanied by proof of purchase. After one year, we will work with our customers to reach a fair solution if a product is defective in any way.
This update adds clarity to our policy and will only affect a small percentage of returns. It will also ensure we can continue to honor one of the best guarantees in retail, with no impact for the vast majority of our customers. To learn more, please view our full return policy at llbean.com.
L.L.Bean has stood for quality, service, trust, and getting people outdoors ever since my great-grandfather founded our company over 100 years ago - and that will never change.
Thank you for being a loyal customer and we look forward to continuing to inspire and enable you to Be an Outsider.
Sincerely, Shawn O. Gorman
L.L.Bean Executive Chairman
The Current L.L. Bean Guarantee
Where This Current Guarantee Fails
• Obviously a CYA effort written and approved by lawyers.
• "OUR GUARANTEE"... "We stand behind all our products..."
• A faceless group ("We" and "Our") can't guarantee anything. Only one real person can—a live person you can write to or call with a complaint. Clearly the Bean company is full of weasels where nobody has the cojones to use his or her real name to take responsibility of standing behind their products.
• "For details, please refer to our Return Policy."
• Uh-oh. Clearly this is not the 16-word no-nonsense promise of old L.L. himself. It smells of disclaimers and complications.
A Quick Update on L.L. Bean's History
• L.L. Bean assumed room temperature in 1967.
• He was succeeded by grandson, Leon A. Gorman (1934-2015).
• Leon was succeeded by great-grandson, Shawn Gorman, in 2013.
• Shawn was succeeded by Stephen Smith, in January 2016
• Stephen Smith is the fourth president and CEO of L.L. Bean in its first 110 years.
• Today L.L. Bean has 57 bricks-and-mortar stores nationwide including its Freeport, Maine headquarters open 24/7 that welcomes three million visitors a year.
• L.L. Bean's net revenue at close of 2021 fiscal year: $1.8 billion.
• Adding to is retail reach Bean mails 200 million catalogs per year.
A New, Modern Guarantee Created
By Denny Hatch (Just for This Post)
Takeaways to Consider
• "Why is Ben and Jerry’s causing
meltdowns in the sale of other ice cream manufacturers? Because everyone knows
that these two guys not only make the stuff themselves by hand, but also
personally examine each scoop.
"Why is L.L. Bean the envy of Macy’s? Same reason. Because everyone knows that old L.L. not only sews the shoes himself, but also sees that they fit.
"The two basic tenets of selling are that (1) people buy from other people more happily than from faceless corporations and (2) in the marketplace as in theater, there is indeed a factor at work called 'the willing suspension of disbelief.'
"Who stands behind our pancakes? Aunt Jemima. Our angel food cake? Betty Crocker. Our coffee? Juan Valdez. Anyone over the age of three knows that it’s all a myth. But like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, the myths are comforting."
—Bill Jayme, Legendary copywriter
• Note Steve Smith's line: "If you are not 100% satisfied with a purchase from L.L. Bean...." Obviously your transaction is in the L.L.'s computer.
• Never demand "proof of purchase." It's a pain in the neck. What's more you might find yourself in a nasty fight over a Chinese counterfeit product.
• Make sure the guarantor uses his or her real signature in blue or black—not a phony-baloney, sanitized computer font. Your signature is your handshake.
• "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." —Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2.
Word count: 1119
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