Consistency is one of the keys to success in many areas of life, especially marketing and branding. For luxury furniture maker Herman Miller Inc., their brand is rooted in quality and convenience. The brand was built by founder D.J. Depree who named Herman Miller in honor of his father-in law (and because of the fact that the company was failing and Herman Miller had a good reputation in the business community of Michigan and this was D.J.'s last chance to save the company and kiss his dad's butt all with one fell swoop).
Herman Miller's newest product, the Embody, is an office chair made for techies (you know who you are, super skinny arms, scronny legs and you swallow your noacetol pills with a swift swig of Mountain Dew or a Starbucks frappucino). Well the Embody is made for you because you have no muscle tone, are too fidgety in your current office chair (likely a Herman Miller Aeron you bought on the cheap from a failed dotBomb startup off of eBay). Embody's comforting and stabilizing features were crafted to boost idea generation and improve efficiency by eliminating interruptions to your stream of thought. Do you buy that line? I'm not sure if I do.
Herman Miller describes the thorough creation process behind Embody:
Throughout the development of Embody, over 30 professionals contributed a range of expertise. Physicians and PhDs in the fields of biomechanics, vision, physical therapy, and ergonomics helped test hypotheses, review prototypes, and conduct studies that helped guide the development of the first health-positive chair.
Herman Miller successfully (we won't know how successful until Embody sales replace Aeron sales - give or take 10 years on that one) applied those concepts of convenience into its product, but not the purchasing process. Embody has plenty of positive publicity on blogs and major reviews from sites such as CNN Money. You can read review after review to learn about the chairs great features, but there's one main problem- you can't find a single place to buy it online! A store locator tool on Herman Miller's Embody subdomain site produces a list of vendors in your area, but none of them list Embody on their site. In order to find out if any of them carry the chair, you'd have to pick up the phone and call each store yourself. BTW, don't waste your time calling a local Herman Miller retailer because none of them have the chair in stock, on their web sites or even have the ability to place orders for the chair! Is that a joke or what? Jason says...
I find it extremely frustrating that the chair has been reviewed by every A and B list gadget blogger online and Google is full of those reviews but not a single blogger answers the biggest question surrounding the chair, where can you buy one. Much less where they actually procured their chair!
The sad irony about the ordeal is that the entire essence of the chair (and more importantly - it's marketing) is convenience to keep your thought process flowing, but you can't possibly maintain a single line of thought while attempting to order the Embody chair. You only get one chance to make a first impression- Herman Miller left a lot to be desired from the my first interaction.
What's more inconvenient than jumping through all of the hoops of an automated ordering service over the phone? Potential customers don't want to call, they want to order their product online, for the sake of convenience and for the sake of getting to the end of their stream of consciousness! (Sound familiar Herman baby?)
To find ordering information, Jason had to register on thoughtpile.org - (a site dedicated to the chair, a microsite if you will) then post a comment on thoughtpile, a forum where each user submits a question or idea,and each idea is voted on. Each week,a chair is awarded to the random,esoteric idea or question with the most votes, but Jason's question was pretty simple and straightforward:
"How the heck do we buy a Herman Miller Chair? "
Within 20 minutes, Herman Miller replied to his inquiry.
Thanks for your interest in Thoughtpile and the Embody chair. You can purchase an Embody chair at wired.com/promo/wirestore
Herman Miller Brand Marketing
From: Jason Dowdell
Date: Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 9:30 AM
To: Herman Miller Brand Marketing
Hi Mktg Dept ;)
Thank you for getting back to me so quickly, that was quite remarkable. I would like to know how long it will take, once I place my order, to receive my chair. I'm about to enter my Amex info on the order form from the Wired Store but I'm hesitant to do so because it doesn't give me any info on shipping times. Can you please provide some information on how long I should expect to wait once I have placed my order?
Herman Miller's response time to our post was impressive,but the 4 to 6-week wait for shipping was yet another disappointment. For a company that boasts innovative ideas and revolutionary concepts, it's ironic that you have to call a vendor to place your order.
All that being said, guess what, Jason ordered an Embody chair! Yes, even though he didn't know how long it would take before giving over his credit card information, he ordered the chair. His reasoning was simple, the HumanScale he's sitting in is uncomfortable on his back and he didn't want to buy an icon of the dotCom Bust (the Aeron) and the Embody seemed like the perfect chair... all that being said, I highly doubt our idea will win us a free chair this week but it sure would be nice :)