HOW THE HECK DID THAT HAPPEN, PART II
In last week's screed, "How the Heck Did That Happen," there was talk of personal brand, ownership of a business by an employee, and making the customer feel welcome and comfortable.
To recap, I was on the road from the Uintas to the Ozarks (that would be Salt Lake to St. Louis if your geography is airport-centric), and was analyzing all of the customer-service touchpoints in that experience, from curbside at SLC to barside at a major chain hotel.
In conclusion, some of the day's experiences were excellent, others were fleeting and unmemorable.
But it had me thinking about something that impacts the way each of these people treated me during that day.
I had asked my surprising and interesting server in the bar, "What is the one way you want your core customer to feel about your business?"
She said, "I realize that my customer has been traveling, and I want them to feel comfortable and welcome."
Ultimately, it left me with a new question.
WHAT'S MY PERSONAL BRAND AS A CUSTOMER?
As a customer, what is the one way I want my service provider to feel about me?
This seems especially significant in light of the uniquely 21st century challenge of air travel.
Once, air travel was an idyllic and puffy-cloud land of women in pencil skirts and white gloves and men in hats and ties.
The experience has devolved to the level of bus travel.
People love to hate airlines.
They hate hate hate airlines.
And maybe it's worth starting this tale at my front door.
Last week, before I left for the Ozarks, a friend came knocking.
HE WAS THERE TO BORROW SOME DRIED BASIL
Yes, we have that kind of neighborhood.
Friends come around to borrow ingredients.
This fellow who came for the basil has an interesting personal brand.
Speaking superficially, he is the Jerry Garcia of high-school biology teachers.
He has long hair and a bushy beard, and wears a lot of tie-dyed clothing.
That's really the only resemblance to the late leader of the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia was a juvenile delinquent who grew up in San Francisco and was sent to the army for stealing his mother's car, and died of a heart attack while in an addiction recovery facility.
My friend grew up on an army base in rural Utah, is science-minded, and is dedicated to shaping young minds for tomorrow in the face of great odds.
THE HIPPY-ISH FAÇADE BELIES A DISCIPLINED AND RESPONSIBLE CHARACTER
So when he came knocking, dressed in a tie-dyed T-shirt and olive hiking pants, his long hair pulled back, I opened the door, he looked at me, and he said, "Fancy."
I had on khaki pants, loafers and a dress-shirt. I said, "I'm flying."
He said, "I know. I do the same thing when I fly."
Apparently, he understands that if he gets on a plane looking like a hippy, he will not experience the best service.
We both try to dress a little better than the rabble. In surveys, flight attendants admit that they treat passengers better if they're dressed better. And neither of us wants to be one of those people who gets on a plane wearing pajamas.
THERE MAY BE NO BETTER PLACE TO EXAMINE CUSTOMER BRAND THAN IN AIR TRAVEL
In a business that is hated by a great number of the people patronizing it, I have learned to enjoy it.
That's because I've learned how to do two things.
1) How to control the experience to my benefit.
2) How to be a desirable customer (even though people who know me may consider it an act).
And it really doesn't take that much.
Controlling the experience requires trying to always be early, understanding your options, and making a modest investment. In many respects, air travel is cheaper than ever. By paying a little more to obtain the conveniences, it's easy to mitigate the unpleasant, mass-transit aspects of the experience. TSA Pre-Check, Clear, purchasing certain upgrades, getting credit cards that afford benefits like premium lounges and early boarding, it all helps mitigate the stress.
BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, THING ONE INFORMS THING TWO
Not controlling the experience leads to stress.
Resistance is pain. Especially if one approaches air travel as an antagonistic experience, it can end up being antagonizing and painful.
Imagine walking into a retail store and saying, "I hate this place! Serve me now!"
How inclined is anyone going to be to serve you?
Just for fun, an exceptionally skilled salesperson may try to win you over.
Most will just try to stay away.
IMAGINE WALKING INTO THAT SAME STORE DRESSED IN PAJAMAS AND BEDROOM SLIPPERS, CARRYING A PILLOW AND SUCKING A PACIFIER
Yes, I've seen it.
And it sends a message.
Yes, I might sound elitist.
But in an overcrowded, over-busy, overbooked environment, snap judgments are inevitable. "Hey there, uncouth slob, what can I do for you?" You get what you give. When you're George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic, you can travel first class looking like a rainbow-haired wild man and people will love you. I've seen it happen. The rest of us? We have to work a little harder.
By going in dressed well (and that doesn't mean being dressed expensively or being over dressed, just dressed in clean, business casual or smart casual), a customer doesn't allow for anyone to make the same snap judgments as if one was dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt with a profane message about your mother.
By smiling and returning smiles, a rapport happens. Sure, there are times when it doesn't work. Gate agents can be nasty. Trying to win over those pissy people can be a challenge worth taking.
AND ULTIMATELY, ACTING LIKE YOU BELONG THERE SCORES BIG POINTS
Not acting entitled, acting appreciative, and making it clear that being locked together in an aluminum tube for 5 hours will be a pleasure, one becomes the Desirable Customer.
Yes, this probably sounds very Norman Vincent Peale.
So what? It works more often than it doesn't.
My core customer service professional is someone who works hard, is underpaid, and tries to keep a smile on her face despite enormous odds in an environment that is ever more like working in an urban bus station.
What is the one way I want my core customer service professional to feel about me?
That I'm going to make her job easier and more enjoyable.
YES, YOU'VE HEARD ME ADMIT TO BEING A CURMUDGEON
Yes, I can be a cantankerous lout.
I am able to wear a mask!
But, the Fabulous Honey Parker?
She is an ace at this.
She makes people love her.
One time, she got out of her seat to go to the lavatory.
She was gone for about 20 minutes.
When she finally returned, she was clutching a dozen little bottles of bourbon to her chest.
Seems she'd made friends with the flight attendant in the galley.
AND HEY, FREE BOURBON
The bottom line: both Honey and I have worked in service industries.
Maybe that gives us empathy for the people who serve us.
Yes, we both have the capacity to make a customer service agent cry.
But guaranteed, even if we do, neither of us will never be that person you see at the customer service counter yelling, "Do you know who I am?!"
Because nobody wants to know that person or who they are.
It's a brand that everyone has experienced, and feels one way about.
And it's never the good way.
Fly big. Fly with fun. Fly with a smile. And you become a customer brand that professionals enjoy serving. Or over-serving with a dozen bottles of bourbon.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
HOW THE HECK DID THAT HAPPEN?
I've left the mountain west and have traveled to the heartland.
I'm here to see a client.
I'm in the bar of a famous hotel chain.
It's a Saturday night, and the place is about half full. It's not long before a server comes over, welcomes me, and the next thing I know--
She's sitting on the arm of the chair next to mine, we're deep in a conversation, I know what her fiancé does for a living, and I'm having a great time.
I DON'T EVEN HAVE A DRINK YET AND I DON'T CARE
We'll call this woman Enid.
That's not her real name. But like her real name, it is unusual and it contains various letters.
Of course, eventually, Enid needs to get back to her actual work, and I need to place my order.
So, we do that.
And over the course of the next hour or so, she pops back periodically to check on my adult beverage needs.
And during those brief conversations, because it's part of what we do here at Slow Burn Marketing, the subject turns to personal brand.
I remark upon hers.
I say, "We define brand for the small business owner as the one way your core customer should feel about your business. So, what's the one way you want your core customer to feel?"
ENID DOES NOT MISS A BEAT
She is definite and concise.
She says, "I realize that my customer has been traveling, and I want them to feel comfortable and welcome."
Feeling comfortable and welcome means different things for different people.
I could've been a road warrior who showed up with a laptop, digging into my CRM software.
I could've been a family on vacation.
I could've been a team of reps here for a sales meeting.
She attenuates her degree of hospitality accordingly, for the person or people she's serving.
She knows how to read not only the room, but each table in it.
AND I'M WILLING TO BET THAT SHE GETS THE TIPS
It's hard to imagine anyone spending five years working in an airport hotel bar if it doesn't pay well.
But there's also another quality at work here, something I did not address with Miss Enid, but seems a significant quality so often missing in the workplace--especially one with a transient customer base.
Enid owns this bar.
Not on paper. This gigantic international hotel chain does not have a written agreement with her conveying rights, tenure and title to the bar.
NONETHELESS, WHEN SHE'S THERE, SHE OWNS THE JOINT
This is her bar and welcome to it.
Enid is one of those people The Fabulous Honey Parker and I enjoy stumbling upon: Someone we'd love to hire if indeed we had a business that actually hires people.
We don't have that. Honey is Slow Burn Marketing's President For Life, she keeps me around, and I do not get a salary.
Few employees would be willing to endure such an arrangement.
Nonetheless, "I'd Hire That Person" is a game we play.
And people with a passion and a commitment to their work, a joy for the job, and a strong sense of personal brand (regardless of whether they actually understand it in those terms or not) are huge and valuable.
THIS EPISODE IN THE HOTEL BAR ALSO GOT ME THINKING ABOUT THE ENTIRE TRAVEL DAY
How many different people did I interact with during my day?
How many service employee touch points did I go through?
There was the harried customer service agent in the airline's self-check-in area
There was the impersonal and efficient bag-check agent behind the counter.
The courteous, efficient hipster millennial working the Clear kiosk.
The big, goofy, smiling and happy TSA agent making sure nobody in the Pre-Check line was packing water.
YES, THERE ARE EVEN GUYS AT TSA WHO ENJOY THEIR WORK
In the premium lounge, there was the odd and grinning desk agent who may or may not have been on opiates.
The happy and efficient bartender in the premium lounge.
The frustrated and sweaty gate agent who laughed as he apologized over the PA for the failure of the fan in the over-warm gate area.
The first-class flight attendant who remained funny and engaging despite having to keep running and jumping through multiple hoops. (I high-fived her on the way off the plane.)
The hotel shuttle driver who pulled up to the exact spot where I was standing at the curb, opened the door, and laughed when I said, "See how you knew?"
The hotel desk clerk who was bubbly and fun after only five days on the job.
AND THEN, THERE WAS ENID
A server I don't know who plopped on the arm of the chair and started a conversation that led to this random blather about personal brand, ownership, and making the customer feel welcome and comfortable.
There were dozens of customer service touch points throughout my travel day.
Each of them was with the representative of a particular brand.
Some of them did better than others.
Some of the experiences were fleeting and unmemorable in the grand scheme of things.
But it now has me thinking about something that impacts how each of these people treated me during that day.
And it's my personal brand as a customer.
What is the one way I want my service providers to feel about me?
That's a whole other screed of a very different kind.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHO KNEW LITTLE JOSEPH LEVITCH WOULD BECOME WORLD FAMOUS?
He would also become a fixture in American households on Labor Day weekend.
But first, he'd have to get past that childhood illness.
It's hard to know what the illness was.
He would never speak about it.
All we know is that, repeatedly abandoned by his parents during his childhood, he was left in the care of his Jewish grandmother.
And grandmother's cure for the mystery illness has nothing on traditional Jewish penicillin.
INSTEAD, SHE PLIED HIM WITH BACON
Who knows where the long lost Jewish bacon cure has disappeared to, or when we lost it.
But as an adult, he admitted that in an attempt to ward off whatever disease it was that was attacking her grandson, grandma would cram little Joseph's mouth full of bacon.
In a different place and time, this might have led to a career as a professional eater.
"Megatoad" Matt Stonie holds the world record of 182 bacon slices in just five minutes. Six pounds. About 11 full packages of bacon. That was 2015 at Daytona, smashing the standing record set in 2010 by "The Human Vacuum" Mark Lyle, which was just 54 slices.
But Joseph didn't seem to have much interest in a career as a professional eater.
But he kept up his bacon regimen.
One celebrity friend, interviewed in GQ Magazine back in May, says he'd seen the guy sit down to breakfast, order 24 slices of bacon, and eat them all.
PROFESSIONAL EATING ASIDE, JOSEPH FOLLOWED IN HIS PARENTS FOOTSTEPS
The reason they left Joseph with his bacon-wielding Jewish grandma was because they had an itinerant lifestyle.
They were vaudeville performers.
Mom played piano.
Dad was a song and dance man.
Sometimes, little Joseph would appear in the act. At age 5, he launched his performing career singing, "Brother, Can you Spare A Dime."
But mainly, his parents left him with grandma.
It made him very insecure.
AND IT LED TO A MONUMENTAL PERSONAL BRAND
Determined not to be left behind, Joseph became ambitious and driven.
He began developing his own stage act.
As the spotlight continued to shine upon him and his fame grew, he was very shrewd about controlling his career.
Unlike so many in his profession, he kept a tight rein on the direction of his career and the ownership of his material.
He ultimately became a multimillionaire.
His energy could be frenetic.
He was endlessly creating.
When he was living in Los Angeles, his celebrity neighbors would find themselves drafted into impromptu film performances right in his living room.
The man who had once been insecure, bacon-stuffed little Joseph was very candid about his fame.
"I'VE HAD GREAT SUCCESS BEING A TOTAL IDIOT"
Yes, he said that. He called himself a total idiot.
Hard to know when or where he said that, exactly, because it has become pervasive.
It has even turned into an internet meme.
But it's impossible to argue either the success or the idiocy. At one point during his career, he was called the monkey to his peformance partner's role as the organ grinder.
But the "total idiocy" that built his success was fueled by tremendous insecurity.
It's probably one of the reasons that in his act, he was big and broad and usually playing to the back row.
He had eccentricities. Besides the bacon, that is. He never wore the same pair of socks twice. It's been reported that he'd change them four times a day.
AND HIS FANS LOVED HIM
At the same time, his critics hated him.
None of it changed the fact that he also cast himself as a great humanitarian.
For his humanitarian work, he was even nominated for a Nobel Prize.
In France, he was awarded a Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, the highest order of merit that country can bestow. It's essentially a knighthood.
The French have lionized him as an auteur.
When you see someone with this kind of raging success, it's hard not to think, Wow. They have it together, don't they.
BUT AGAIN: A CAREER FUELED BY INSECURITY
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I have a friend who grew up in the northeast. He went to prep school and spent time living in New York.
At one point, he became friends with Joseph's adult son.
They visited dad backstage in his dressing room at a performance.
It seems they were sitting there, waiting for dad to appear, fresh form the stage.
Our friend describes the door opening, and being engulfed by a whirlwind of narcissism and insecurity.
He described it as overwhelming.
Meeting this world-famous multi-millionaire, all he can remember experiencing was the man's self-doubt, harsh self-analysis, and his need for affirmation.
BUT WHEREFORE LABOR DAY?
The holiday that spawned this train of thought.
For a quarter of a century, Labor Day was the day that this man would launch a crusade to help children for whom the secret Jewish bacon cure was not enough.
During his tenure as Labor Day's ringmaster, he helped raise over two and a half billion dollars for children in need of more than bacon.
It was a cause that he took personally, and to which he dedicated himself annually.
EVENTUALLY, THAT STAR WAS EXTINGUISHED
Bad press, accusations, criticism, outdated attitudes, fragmentation of TV viewership--many things contributed to the death of the Labor Day manifestation of the cause.
But for 45 years, The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon was a fixture on American televisions.
But like the arc of little Joseph Levitch's career, it was a huge success that eventually became the punchline to a joke.
And little Joseph Levitch, whose stage name became Jerry Lewis, built a stellar career on the foundation of a personal brand infused equally with talent and insecurity.
If you didn't see the news, Jerry Lewis went to the great telethon in the sky just a couple of weeks shy of Labor Day, on August 20, 2017.
He was 91 years old.
SO WHAT ON EARTH WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SMALL-BUSINESS BRANDING?
Funny you should ask that.
I was asking myself the very same thing when I stumbled upon the mystic Jewish bacon cure.
I wanted to know more about the childhood malady that Josephs' grandmother fought back with bacon.
Can I use it?
Will it help me?
I'm very pro-bacon.
But the more I searched, the less there was about the illness.
But the more there was about the carefully built brand that was Jerry Lewis.
The environmental conditions and the family dynamic that led to his success as a one-man comedy empire were fascinating.
And it got me thinking about how often the quest for perfection shoots a small-business brand in the foot.
"DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT"
That adage comes to us from the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
And it shines a laser onto the hot spot that so often prevents a brand from ever getting off the ground.
Throughout my career working with small businesses in branding and advertising, it's impossible to count the number of branding efforts and advertising campaigns that have been derailed by fear.
Yet in Jerry Lewis, we have the sky-high success of a one-man brand founded upon and driven by fear.
Some might argue that the Jerry Lewis brand is built on cruelty and megalomania.
That's an easy, pop-psychology way to explain it.
It's also ignorant and dismissive.
NOTHING IS EVER THAT SIMPLE
But if you start peeking into the life that was Jerry Lewis, you see a flawed human being who built a quintessential small-business brand that eventually became world-famous.
He did it without venture capital.
He did it without a logo.
He did it without advisors or gurus or email marketing or sales funnels.
He did it purely through intellectual investment and sweat equity.
And, perhaps, bacon.
What's in your wallet?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.