The Boston Globe published an interesting article about L.L. Bean's efforts to attract a younger demographic with its new Signature line of products. The paper reports that L.L. Bean's average customer age is 50 years old. One can see why L.L. Bean has chosen to launch a product line aimed at customers in their 20s and 30s.
This article stood out for me, though, not because of L.L. Bean's new product line, but for the way in which an enterprising young college student named Charlie Carey and his friend, Charlie Hale, have become ambassadors for the company. Carey, a Bates freshman, contacted L.L. Bean when he discovered the new product line. He had some ideas for how to promote the line to college students. The folks at the company headquarters did not dismiss this young student's inquiry. Instead, they invited Carey and Hale to headquarters to meet the marketing team. Company managers took notes as the two college students offered ideas on how to appeal to young people. Soon, they had signed on to be brand ambassadors, receiving free clothing in return for their marketing efforts on behalf of the company. According to the article:
"The students created a code name for their preppy endeavor — “Bean in the wiL.L.d’’ — and developed a private online forum where they plan to write updates for L.L. Bean on how the clothes are fitting, what styles are working, and post photos of the outfits they put together. L.L. Bean will use this feedback, along with other customer input, to drive style, marketing, and price updates for the collection."
What's the lesson for other companies? Let's begin by asking: Would my company respond so enthusiastically and openly to such a customer inquiry? Would we be open to collaborating with customers in this way, particularly if they are young people who are not our core customers traditionally? I would argue that most firms would die to have such dedicated, loyal fans... yet, many companies might dismiss such an email from two college students without much thought. How would your firm react?