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“Much madness is divinest sense to a discerning eye,” Emily Dickinson once wrote. Dickinson was from Massachusetts, not Michigan, and was not known to be much of an outdoorswoman. Still, you get the feeling she would have appreciated the animating spirit behind Moosejaw. Gary Wohlfeill, Moosejaw’s creative director, gave a talk entitled “Moosejaw Madness: Taking the Customer Experience to More Notable Places.” Wohlfeill began working at Moosejaw seven years ago with no retail experience and “realized immediately that this wasn’t a normal company.” His first clue was e-mail from customers, including a confession: “I had to buy from one of your competitors because you were out of stock and my trip was leaving in two days. I feel super guilty about it. It was a one-time thing, and I swear I’ll make it up to you.” Then there were the customer pictures — thousands of them, many dating to the days when taking and sending a picture actually involved effort. “I had never seen anything like this before,” said Wohlfeill. “Somebody would get a Moosejaw hat or T-shirt, take it with them to, say, the Great Wall of China, have a picture taken, and send it in.” Wohlfeill said he “saw some things that Moosejaw was doing that I decided I wanted to be part of,” and a career was born. One of them is great customer service; it takes a lot to make a consumer feel not only guilty but unfaithful for buying from someone else. Another is what Wohlfeill called a unique brand voice — intelligent, eccentric, funny and very well-written. The third, which lies at the heart of what Wohlfeill spoke about, is a focus on creating notable and unexpected customer experiences. “We did things nobody was expecting, and they were things people would literally tell 10 friends about,” he said. “This became a criterion for new ideas: Would I tell 10 friends about this? If not, maybe we should be doing something else.”

The art of having fun When Moosejaw debuted in 1992, the outdoor retailing industry was a pretty serious place — lots of gear with technical specs and a strong emphasis on the right and wrong way to use things, all of which tended to create a certain amount of apprehension on the part of customers. They were nervous about coming into a place where somebody might make them feel stupid. Moosejaw was founded by Robert Wolfe, who was 21 at the time and also had no retail experience. “He treated customers like friends,” said Wohlfeill. “They’d come into the store and he’d throw a Nerf football at them and start a game of catch, or he’d come out not to sell, but just to talk. That, coupled with his personality and intelligence, created a store where people had an experience they didn’t have anywhere else.” Many of these customer experiences are based on what Wohlfeill describes as using innovation in an innovative way. “We’ve done a lot of things that were very on-brand in terms of photography, copy, promotion and so on,” he said. “But we’ve seen great returns when we were able to use an innovation in a way that in itself defined what the brand was about.” Some examples: The naked driver: Moosejaw needed a truck to move inventory between its stores in Michigan. “We could have bought a truck, stuck a logo on it and been done,” said Wohlfeill. Instead, it fully branded the truck as a Moosejaw initiative by putting a sign on the back that says, “Driver carries less than $50 cash and is fully naked.” Packaging: Any given package goes out with up to seven stickers on the outside, put on by the shippers and signed by the people who packed the box. Content of these stickers varies, but they tend to be eye-catching; there are stories of FedEx drivers waiting for customers to come home to see what was in the box. Heartbreak Hotel: Wohlfeill and his colleagues, having challenged themselves with coming up with an original way to get customers to interact with the call center — a fairly humdrum component of most catalog/e-marketing operations — invented the Moosejaw Breakup Service. Through e-mail and web collateral, they asked customers who wanted to break up with someone — but didn’t have the nerve to do it themselves — to e-mail them the offender’s name, contact info, break-up reasons and a few parting compliments. “And then we made the calls,” Wohlfeill said. “We made over 500 calls, some of them fake, I’m sure, but some of them real, breaking up with somebody for one of our customers.”

Looking toward the future The Moosejaw Madness team has come up with similar ways of enlivening its approach to texting, printed catalogs, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. (How do you interact with people on Pinterest? You “cut” a picture of a product into pieces and challenge people to “pin up” the pieces and figure out what it is. The first 10 people to solve the puzzle get a free sample of the product.) The next challenge, according to Wohlfeill, is augmented reality. Moosejaw has already taken steps in this direction with an app version of its printed winter catalog called Moosejaw X-Ray that “works to fulfill every schoolboy’s dream of being able to see through people’s clothing.” People like it. The free app has been downloaded around a half-million times, and tracked sales for the catalog are up 32 percent. “You couldn’t see X-Ray without understanding what we are and what we were going for,” he said. There are three reasons to do something innovative, Wohlfeill said. “You can do it because everybody else is doing it. You can do it because it’s out on the bleeding edge. Or you can do it because it really demonstrates what the brand is, besides being innovative.”

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