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By Marilyn Heywood Paige
The world of TV home shopping is brilliant and brutal.
From 2004 to 2008, I was a product spokesperson for the Instant Flower Garden (IFG), a company that presented its products on QVC, the number one televised shopping service of that time.
Presenting a brand in front of a live TV audience was markedly different than the world of books and in-person events at Barnes & Noble from which I came. QVC uses visual and verbal storytelling to convey a product's value and sell billions of dollars worth of merchandise.
Live TV presented new challenges for me as a marketer
On TV, there are so many touchpoints of which to be aware. And as the brand spokesperson, I became part of the brand. My face, wardrobe, speech, and gestures all became brand elements. Whereas I had always been in arenas where the product’s features and benefits were important, now, being likable and credible could make or break the brand’s sales. This was a new world.
And it was baptism by fire. In much the same way that brands were forced to adapt to communicating and persuading on social media when it first arrived in 2006, I found myself in the unique world of TV home shopping without much knowledge of how best to leverage the mediums' properties.
TV home shopping was an intriguing, sometimes scary new world with new rules and norms
My background as a child actor and early modeling experiences helped me as a spokesperson. I knew the fundamentals of presenting myself, learning scripts, and working with a director and stage crew. But live TV was a different animal entirely. There was no audience. QVC sound stages are quiet. There wasn’t a crew operating lights and sound. There weren’t even cameramen. The control room operated everything on the broadcast stage remotely. On the set, it was just me, the host, and the IFG production crew.
And unlike acting in plays, this work was unscripted. I had memorized dozens of brand talking points related to the features and benefits of the product, but it was live television and the host controlled the segment. I had to walk a fine line between following the host wherever he or she wanted to go while still hitting all the brand talking points upon which my employer insisted. Often, what the host wanted and what my boss expected did not align. Balancing conflicting objectives live, in front of a million people with a smile on my face was difficult and stressful, but I never let ‘em see me sweat. (It was great training for my next career move into marketing consulting.)
Live TV Means Real Time Sales Feedback
I wore an earpiece so I could hear producer cues when I was on air. The producer would say things like, “We got a spike on that. Say that again.” That meant that whatever I had just said (or sometimes gestured to) made the phone lines ring or the online orders increase. The audience response was that quick and they could capitalize on what worked in the presentation in real time. QVC was using data analytics to optimize its sales long before most people even knew what those two words meant.
What you see in front of the camera is a fraction of what's going on
In each segment, I was running a checklist in my mind of talking points I had to hit while keeping the audience's needs and what is most important to them in my mind, all while demonstrating the product, answering the host's questions, and getting feedback in my earpiece from the producer.
The host had to keep the segment moving. He or she was under pressure to keep the guest on track and sales climbing. They were some of the most skilled individuals I ever worked with.
QVC is a high-stakes, high stress world
Being on-air is fun, but also stressful. If a brand doesn’t sell the number of units the QVC planners expect in their scheduled showtime, the producers will abruptly end the segment and put on another product. Air time is worth too much to tolerate low margins. There are too many other products that will sell to accept ones that don’t.
We could spend weeks or months preparing for an hour show and 30 minutes into it, be pulled off the air if our sales dipped too far below expectations. The IFG team was so skilled at creating sets and knowledgeable about presenting products that it rarely happened to us. But it’s an uncompromising, grueling arena to the unprepared. I saw a few companies ruined because they had spent so much time and money to get on QVC but didn’t know how to present their product well. QVC cut their segments short, pulled them off the air, and didn’t ask them to return. They lost their shirts.
Brand words matter
I already knew the value of getting words right in marketing communications from my work at Barnes & Noble, but my experience at QVC made it overwhelmingly clear. When a word or phrase can influence buyers to buy or not to buy (and I get to either keep my job or get the boot), I learned to be very intentional and deliberate in all brand communications.
QVC taught me the importance of every brand message and demonstrated in real time the consequences of getting the brand messaging wrong. It instilled in me a sense of urgency and a meticulous evaluation of every word choice. I bring that sensibility into all the work I do now as well as a continual evaluation of the audience and their needs.
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