Is that Junk in Your Trunk? Lessons from the Antiques Roadshow
Thursday, October 2, 2008
My wife and I recently moved to Atlanta, purging in the process a quarter century of bric-a-brac to make room for our daughters’ plush menagerie and a growing empire of Disney princesses. I’ll muzzle the rant over sacrificing my memory-laden artifacts to their marketing-laden geegaws and turn to the catharsis brand we entrusted to haul away our history: 1-800-Got-Junk .
1-800-Got-Junk can learn much from Antiques Roadshow, the traveling appraisal program on PBS. Roadshow experts visit convention centers across the country, helping citizens discover the provenance of their family heirlooms and rummage sale finds. The show is pure story-telling: the appraisers’ vast knowledge of antiquity rivaled by the owners’ own anecdotes of colorful ancestors, inheritance battles and fleamarket bargains. At the core of the program’s success is an understanding that regardless of intrinsic value, the things we carry evoke powerful stories.
So, too, do the things we cast aside.
These stories are missing from the marketing strategy of Got Junk, which promotes its service as mere trash disposal. Its relationship with clients is transactional, and its prices are calculated by volume. There is no connection between brand and consumer, and therefore no real loyalty. The company fails to realize that if it’s all just junk, whoever is willing to haul it away for the lowest price will likely get the business.
While Got Junk adds value by tacking on loading and cleanup services, the path to brand meaning may just be those stories. To the customer paying hundreds to remove remnants of a failed relationship, the possessions of a deceased relative, or the hubcap collection of a previous homeowner, the service is more akin to an exorcism. It’s a removal of bad memories, or those no longer worth remembering. It’s the first step toward a new beginning. Acknowledging the bittersweet (or just plain sour) history associated with their cargo would at the very least inspire an interesting approach to company advertising.
Got Junk might also benefit by another powerful theme found weekly on Antiques Roadshow: the diamond in the rough . Not an episode ends without a tearful owner discovering her mother’s perfume bottles are worth tens of thousands of dollars , or his grandmother’s Navajo blanket s a national treasure . Got Junk employees know these stories well, and occasionally they stumble across these gems. One worker, after some initial hesitation, shared the story of a legendary coworker who had once discovered in his truck a first edition Twain worth thousands. Would customers be willing to pay a small premium for assurance they aren’t discarding a valuable heirloom?
Admittedly, providing such assurances adds a layer of complexity to the business model, but such a layer might also protect Got Junk from a price war with would-be competitors. Partnerships with local antiques dealers could provide the necessary expertise to quickly screen items before removal, and an ad campaign featuring Got Junk customers and their newly discovered treasures could tap in to some of the story-telling that drives the PBS staple. While only a percentage of customers may be interested in such a service, building the brand upon the expertise of Got Junk employees would be a valuable step toward differentiation.
Other business opportunities could follow. In an era of mass-produced décor, the curio of past decades has new value. Might exclusive access for Got Junk clients to brick-and-mortar (or online) warehouses of unwanted trinkets and baubles provide new revenue opportunities and a unique incentive for the very customers needing to rid themselves of items others may find desirable?
Regardless of whether or not these particular suggestions can or should be successfully operationalized, the Got Junk brand is missing an opportunity to leverage the complex relationship people have with their storied possessions, especially items that toe the line between crap and keepsake. The most compelling stories for the brand to tell will come not from the pens of its marketers, but from the mouths and memories of its customers.