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In today’s increasingly complex customer experience and customer loyalty landscape, organizations are struggling to differentiate their offerings from their peers in an attempt to increase share of mind and share of wallet. In recent years, customer loyalty programs have increased in sheer numbers, as well as in importance and impact, because they can be effective tools for creating initial customer interest, engagement, and potential repurchase if managed in a proactive, distinct, and holistic manner. However, programs are not the only option, as Michael Scott Cohen, Co-Founder of Harper + Scott, noted in a recent discussion with Loyalty360.
Harper + Scott is in the incentive and reward space, and it is looking to turn this staid industry on its head. The company’s focus includes not just the product it is providing. It is also a design and sourcing studio with headquarters in New York City and Guangzhou, China. The company specializes in branded goods, merchandise and premiums, gifts with purchase, private label and customer apparel, packaging and print, and employee gifts and rewards. Its current efforts are centered on creating differentiation in an increasingly noisy market.
Cohen and his partner Jon Alagem founded Harper + Scott over 5 years ago to disrupt the archaic incentives and reward space and foster uniquely positive client experiences by approaching strategy with a creative eye, which is pretty rare in this commercial sector. “Most people in our industry have one, maybe two, people on the creative team. We have around 14 on our creative team,” said Cohen. “So, it’s not just taking a product and finding a unique imprint method; it’s also catering the product to the client and making it more special by being more retail-focused and a product that you would want to receive.”
According to Cohen, this approach is a necessity given the number of companies doing the exact same thing. “Everybody is coming up with the same exact deck and the same exact product. We’ve seen anywhere from 40 to 50 competitors throughout RFP processes.” Utilizing its creative capacities, the company focuses on custom products and design to meet clients’ exact needs at non-custom costs. In this way, Harper + Scott operates as an extension of a brand’s marketing and creative teams, understanding its audiences and creating custom products.
“Basically,” Cohen said, “our clients say to us, ‘Here’s the product we’ve been getting from everyone else, and here’s the product we’re getting from you. The Harper + Scott bottle is in custom packaging. It’s matched to our brand, and it’s the exact same cost.’ This elevates the experience and makes each product more memorable for clients.”
Harper + Scott is able to turn around custom products so quickly because it has a 16-person team in China. In fact, we are intimately familiar with its speed since the company filled an order for us in advance of the 2019 Loyalty Expo (www.loyaltyexpo.com). We needed 200 branded canvas bags for the conference, and Harper + Scott fulfilled this order within a mere three weeks. It made the bags unique, and we could be proud of that because they had intrinsic value.
“We literally created the bag from scratch and printed out brand new fabric to match your logo and then sent it out in three weeks,” Cohen said. “Nobody in our industry can do that. We work with a lot of companies that do a half a million bags a month, and by leveraging those large orders we can turn things around at a much smaller scale. We really control the production timeline at a lot of factories.”
Cohen explained that this unique offering starts with understanding the client. “We dig deep into brand guidelines and understand what the consumer needs and how we can best represent our clients. We work to be responsive, transparent, and proactive, taking as much off of our clients’ plates as possible so that we eliminate the number of vendors that they need. We put together the best decks that we can possibly do, come up with the best products, and ultimately we’re only charging for the product that you purchase.”
This holistic approach enables Harper + Scott to meet clients’ biggest challenges. According to Cohen, these are seeing the same products and lack of responsiveness. Cohen provided an example of how his company helps clients deal with these challenges. “An agency came to us a little over a year ago on a Friday at 6pm eastern time, and they said, ‘We need 180,000 products shipped to 19 locations, and we need to start shipping on Tuesday.’ So really, only one day business day in between.”
Despite this near-impossible turnaround time, Harper + Scott delivered. “Over the weekend,” Cohen said, “our team worked as hard as possible, calling all of our vendors domestically. Nobody sits on 180,000 items of anything, so we worked with our different vendors to pull together 180,000 silicon card wallets. They started shipping Tuesday to the 19 locations.”
This is an extremely impressive feat. Essentially, Harper + Scott was able to ship a massive order in less than two business days. At Loyalty360, we haven’t heard of too many companies (perhaps any) that can do this.
As the Harper + Scott team has grown, the founders have stressed the importance of being a partner to both clients and vendors. “We hate the term vendor. We’re a partner to both our clients and our vendors. We’re an extension of both teams, serving each in the exact same way. We are transparent and honest and do whatever we can to deliver the best product in the fastest time frame. A lot of our clients wait until the last minute to order promotional products, so traditionally it limits creativity, but our talented creative team figures out a way to make the most boring product, like a pen, or a water bottle, come to life and be more ownable to that brand.”
From all this, we’ve learned that Harper + Scott isn’t your traditional incentive company, nor is it a typical design consultant. The company utilizes its creative resources and acts as an extension of the client’s team to ensure that its products are effectively designed and produced and are shipped in a timely manner. This is unique thinking for the industry and is a huge value to marketers, as we know more and more marketers are looking for ways to differentiate their offerings, as we saw last year during one of our member meetings. This approach makes the brand stand out and creates a better experience. Cohen and Alagem are proud of the team that they’ve built, its clients, and what’s to come for the company.
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