READY TO LEARN SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT SMALL BUSINESS IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE?
It's December 26.
It's the day after Christmas.
And I came to wish everyone happy Boxing Day!
Happy Boxing Day, everyone!
Of course, there's one small problem.
In the United States, from whence this screed originates?
WE DON'T CELEBRATE BOXING DAY
Yes, we were once part of the British Empire. That's apparently a common denominator for countries not of the UK that celebrate Boxing Day.
For what it's worth, Boxing Day is generally recognized as a day when postmen, errand-boys, and servants expect a Christmas-box from their respective employers. That info is just a click away!
Nonetheless, to this day, despite our heritage and the globe-spanning nature of the electronic climate in which we live, you say, "Boxing Day" to one of your fellow Americans, and you get a blank stare or a monosyllable like, "Hanh?"
Then again, due to the globe-spanning nature of the electronic climate in which we live, this screed has fans all around the world.
The thing is, I can't tell you where the screed's readers are other than the US and Canada. I'm not privy to that information.
So, to the Canadians, we can say, "Happy Boxing Day."
However, as for the podcast?
THE PODCAST ALSO HAS LISTENERS ALL AROUND THE GLOBE
Interestingly, according to the stats available from my syndication service, despite there being fans of the screed there, none of the podcast listeners are in Canada.
But one of those listeners is in the UK.
So, Happy Boxing Day, Mr. or Ms. UK Podcast Listener.
The podcast has more listeners in China.
But since China was not part of the British Empire (unless you count Hong Kong), China does not celebrate Boxing Day.
But let's not discount Hong Kong.
Hello Hong Kong! If you're listening, Happy Boxing Day!
SO, THAT'S ABOUT THREE POSSIBLE PODCAST LISTENERS WHO CELEBRATE BOXING DAY
Here's where it gets interesting.
You know where the most listeners to the podcast version of the screed are, outside of the United States?
Drum roll, please...
Happy Boxing Day to all our listeners in Botswana!
You heard me.
Hot Shots has a fan base in Botswana.
Didn't see that one coming.
BOTSWANA USED TO BE A PART OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE
I did not know that.
My history of the British Empire is somewhat shaky.
So hello, Wikipedia!
Since its independence from the UK, Botswana has had one of the fastest growth rates in per capita income in the world.
Formerly one of the poorest nations in the world, it is now a middle-income country.
There's a high level of economic freedom.
The government maintains sound fiscal policy and a tiny amount of foreign debt.
Human rights are protected under the constitution.
AND, SMALL BUSINESS IN BOTSWANA IS A THING
Search "small business in Botswana," and Google does not disappoint.
One website (which looks like 2017 and not 1997) has an article called, "5 GREAT BUSINESS IDEAS FOR YOUTH IN BOTSWANA ."
They suggest Custom Made Clothing, Arts and Crafts, Magazine Publishing, Fast Food Franchise, and Baby Sitting Services.
An article on the top 20 reasons to do business in Botswana include everything from political stability, safety and security and lack of corruption to low levels of taxation, great technology and infrastructure, and a literate and skilled population.
LET'S START A BABY-SITTING BUSINESS IN BOTSWANA! WHO'S WITH ME?!
Kinda quiet out there.
Well, anyway, Botswana sounds like a Southern Africa garden spot.
So, to you in Botswana who are paying attention on this Boxing Day (which we understand you celebrate), Happy Boxing Day!
AND IF YOU'RE INCLINED TO SHARE, I'D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR BOTSWANA SMALL-BUSINESS SUCCESS STORY
Just send an email to submissions at slow burn marketing dot com.
To everyone else here in the US where Boxing Day remains largely a mystery, if you've got a small-business success story you'd like to share for possible inclusion here in the screed, feel free to use the same address.
Hope your Christmas was merry, your Hanukkah was happy, your Kwanzaa is capital, and if there's any other holiday that you celebrate, here's to that one as well.
See you again in the New Year.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WILL YOU FIND IT AS HAUNTING AS I DID?
The images are etched into my memory.
The images are vivid. Rafts. Life jackets. Tears. Fear. Anguish. Relief. Men. Women. Children. Old folks.
The refugees clamor out of the rafts.
One youngster has an inflated inner tube over his head and under his arm.
You can hear waves, and you can see them rushing for the rocky beach.
They scramble and splash and hug and cry.
WHICH TELLS YOU ABOUT THE POWER OF THE HUMAN MIND
It can fill in the blanks.
It can make motion happen, and remember sounds that were barely there.
60 seconds. 70 fleeting still photographs. One voice.
"I see fear, I see desperation, but I also see hope.
"Thousands of people are arriving every day.
"Just think about how bad it must be in their country, that they would pick their families, their children, put them on a raft that barely floats, risking their lives to find a place to live, and find a place to be accepted.
"When you find it you recognize it, and that's when you really start pressing the shutter.
"I feel it's important to take photographs that are gonna make a difference.
"I'm Tyler Hicks, photojournalist for the New York Times."
It actually gives me a chill just seeing those words on the page.
WELCOME TO "THE TRUTH IS HARD TO FIND"
This is one of two TV commercials from the Gray Lady's anti-fake-news campaign that ended up on ADWEEK's list of "The 10 Best Ads of 2017."
If you were here last time, we looked at ADWEEK's #10 entry on that list, a sinister, brand-unfriendly creep show of a commercial for Halo Top called. "Eat The Ice Cream."
It was haunting, alright.
But not in any way that makes you say, "Hey, let's rush out and get some Halo Top!"
Instead, it leaves you with an unsettling feeling that robots are going to sequester you away in a sterile room and force feed you some fake, vegan approximation of ice cream.
HEY, THERE'S A COMBINATION FOR WINING FRIENDS AND INFLUENCING PEOPLE
On the flip side, this commercial for the New York Times is haunting in a different and more productive way.
In the week since I first viewed it, it keeps coming back to me.
I keep seeing video footage that doesn't exist.
I keep hearing sound effects that do exist--but for only a scant four seconds at the very beginning.
The 60-second commercial is a montage of 70 still images, most in sequences of three consecutive photos. There is lots of black screen in between the image sequences.
The only audio is the aforementioned four seconds of sound effects, which is waves breaking on a beach and agitated human voices. Then, during the voiceover by Tyler Hicks, there is the muted sound of a camera shutter clicking away as the images click past your vision.
THIS IS SOME EXTRAORDINARY FILMMAKING IN THE SERVICE OF THE BRAND
The filmmaker is Darren Aronofsky.
You might know him for his theatrical efforts, like the Jennifer Lawrence psycho-thriller, Mother!, or the Academy Award-winning Natalie Portman psycho-thriller, Black Swan.
I'm always reminded of his 1998 feature debut, Pi. (Yes, the mathematical constant, not the baked dish with a pastry-dough casing.) Featuring themes like chaos theory, the golden spiral, non-linear dynamics, complex game theory, Jewish mysticism, the Quran and, ultimately, insanity, Pi is an unsettling, black & white mind-bender made for a budget of $68,000, and which thrashed the competition at various film festivals, and has grossed about 5,000% of its production budget.
Doesn't sound very much like this TV commercial, does it?
But there is a glimmer of a parallel in Roger Ebert's comment about the movie Pi, which he awarded three and a half stars. He bashed cookie-cutter Hollywood thrillers that follow a predictable playbook, that they are not thrilling, and said of Pi, "I am thrilled when a man risks his mind in the pursuit of a dangerous obsession."
THIS COMMERCIAL IS ABOUT PURSUIT OF AN OBSESSION
Mr. Aronofsky said in a statement also published in ADWEEK, "Photojournalists risk their safety, their minds and often their lives in order to capture what is really happening in the most tumultuous parts of the world. They rush face first into war, disease and human plight to capture the horrors that are unfolding on and to our planet. Many of their images end up changing us and how we treat each other."
An obsessive dedication to finding and presenting the truth in a hostile climate is a worthy goal for a newspaper brand.
And for a heritage brand long considered the nation's newspaper of record, this Aranofsky-helmed message about the pursuit of truth certainly raises the bar on the tagline, "All the News That's Fit to Print."
IT ALSO DEMONSTRATES THE POWER OF YOUR MIND TO CHANGE THINGS
I defy anyone watching this commercial to not remember motion and sound that doesn't actually happen.
The four seconds of sound effects in the opening of the message, accompanied by a black screen, is a powerful cue.
In some ways, it demonstrates the power of radio. There is no literal picture. But right away, you know something important is happening on a beach.
Then, you see still images of something important happening on a beach.
You also see lots of black space, where your mind gets to further fill in blanks with images that aren't there.
There's the sound of the camera shutter.
There's the voice of the photojournalist.
AND THERE IS PLENTY OF OPPORTUNITY TO INSERT YOURSELF INTO THE VIDEO SPACE
And why not?
After all, this message is not about the New York Times.
It's not about how hard it is to be a photojournalist in the wild.
This is a message about you.
It's about you, the customer, and your relationship to the truth.
It's about the one way you should feel about the brand.
THIS MESSAGE IS ALSO ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
It's a little bit about the seasonal brand being peddled right now.
No, it's not about Christmas. Not on the face of it. Heck, it first aired in April.
But Mr. Hicks, the photojournalist, says, "I see fear, I see desperation, but I also see hope."
In an age when the Christmas brand has become about consumerism run amok, it's nice to find some small reminder of what the Christmas brand really is about.
And the Christmas brand, with its story of wise men seeking a baby in a manger, is ultimately about one thing: It's about hope.
Finding this commercial on the ADWEEK website was like a little Christmas present come early.
CALL ME A COCKEYED OPTIMIST
The Fabulous Honey Parker does.
This commercial is good enough that it gives me hope for advertising.
It gives me hope for my country and its people.
It gives me hope that we will all come to our senses.
And it gives me hope that you might get to share a little hope this holiday season.
Whatever holiday you celebrate in the season of hope, here's wishing you a merry, merry, happy, happy.
To see "The Truth Is Hard To Find - Tyler Hicks" visit https://youtu.be/zs4-rb0f7HI
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
ARE YOU HUNGRY YET?
AdWeek has released its list of "The 10 Best Ads of 2017."
I thought, this should be good. These kinds of lists always give the small-business owner a great lesson in what to do--or not to do, depending on the particular advertisement.
And the first ad shown, the tenth of the 10 ads represented, is one heck of a "how-to" lesson in advertising.
The very first thing that anyone who's ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey thinks is, Hey, that's the neoclassical bedroom from the end of the movie.
And it is. It's an actual recreation of that set with the furniture removed. But the room is still unmistakable in its antiseptic starkness and its under-lit white-tile floor.
BUT DR. DAVID BOWMAN IS NOT THERE
Instead, an elderly woman with short, white hair sits slumped in a chair in the middle of the room, wearing a white hospital gown. There is an odd, orbiting device above her head.
Who is she? Why is she there? What is the odd device above her head? Why does it look like a series of concentric lampshades, and what do the lampshades do as they slowly spin on their axis?
A creepy song plays, discordant and metallic sounding, a cheery voice singing disturbing words about ice cream.
A robot rolls into the frame. Its mechanical, emotionless voice says, "Good morning. It's time for ice cream." Its arm thrusts forward a spoonful of white ice cream.
She tastes it and says, "Oh, it's good! What's--"
"Eat the ice cream," says the robot.
IT FEEDS HER ANOTHER BITE
She takes it, then says, "Where am I?"
"Humans require ice cream."
"What is this place?"
"Eat the ice cream."
"I don't want any more!"
"Eat the ice cream."
"How long have I been here?"
"You're so hungry for delicious ice cream."
THE ROBOT CONTINUES THRUSTING THE ICE CREAM SPOON AT HER
"Get that away from me!" She knocks the spoon to the ground.
There's a shot of the spoon clattering on the floor. One vaguely recalls a similar image in Kubrick's movie.
She says, "Where...where's Steven?"
A door in the front of the robot's body opens, almost with apprehension.
Hesitation. Then, an arm slowly protrudes from the dark space within, holding out...
An ice cream cone.
It slides towards the woman. She regards it with trepidation and recoils ever so slightly.
THE ROBOT SWIVELS ITS HEAD TO ONE SIDE
"Everyone you love is gone. There is only ice cream."
The camera pulls back.
The woman begins to sob.
She slumps her head.
There is a dark and dissonant swoosh and "whump."
Following is a product shot.
The product is Halo Top ice cream.
PUTS YOU RIGHT IN THE MOOD, DOESN'T IT?
This is perhaps the best produced, hilariously dystopian, grimly satisfying, un-motivating advertisement for a food product ever.
And here's the one thing I really do appreciate about the reportage around this commercial.
I've read several stories that say basically same thing.
"Wow that's funny.
"And it does the product no favors."
Yes, earlier I did say that this ad would offer one heck of a "how-to" lesson in advertising.
The lesson is how to not do it.
NEVER COMMIT SACRIFICE
Never sacrifice your message or your product--or your brand--to the self-pleasuring comedy of a message driven by creative ego.
I've seen it constantly in small-business radio advertising.
But not like this epic horror.
Understand, this commercial was greenlit by the CEO of Halo Top.
It was also produced to play in movie theaters before Stephen King's It.
For that latter tactic, you can almost excuse it.
Except that, it lives on in YouTube land.
And plenty of people are seeing it.
And viewer reactions are things like, "That's hilarious. I'll never eat ice cream again."
The Fabulous Honey Parker, who came away from her career in big agency advertising with good rules, and good ways to break rules, has a simple rule about food advertising.
"YOU HAVE TO WANT TO EAT IT"
I showed her this video. She did something I've never seen. She watched with her mouth agape.
Her reaction was something like, "Oh, my God."
There is nothing tasty about the old woman in sinister limbo being tortured by a robot with a spoonful of ice cream.
Where it should be the hero, the product becomes evil.
Granted, "Got Milk" commercials cast the product as the hero absent. But nobody needs to be sold on milk being tasty. They merely need to be reminded to buy milk.
In those stories, the protagonists who were too careless to not buy milk end up paying the price. The lesson is, "Don't let this happen to you."
And it was hugely successful.
Except with the Spanish-speaking community.
Hispanic mothers found nothing quite as insulting as the idea that they would forget to buy milk for their families.
THERE WAS AN EMOTIONAL DISCONNECT
"Got Milk" was a huge failure with that demographic. Which is why Goodby-Silverstein launched a campaign called, "Familia, Amor Y Leche." Family, Love & Milk.
It reversed the emotional disconnect inherent in the sardonic message, "Got Milk?"
But the emotional disconnect of "Eat The Ice Cream" is stunning.
The product is malevolent. It is an antagonist. It is threatening and dangerous. Abandon all hope, ye who eat the ice cream!
Since the video does not appear on the Halo Top YouTube channel, it's safe to assume they really don't want it out there and that it was a publicity stunt designed to create buzz.
But the take away for the small-business advertiser: play to your core customer's needs, wants, desires, or even fears. But do not make your product fearsome and loathsome and sinister. It doesn't pay off.
To see "Eat The Ice Cream" and revel in its dysfunctionality, visit https://youtu.be/j4IFNKYmLa8
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
IS BUD LIGHT STILL THE REAL BREW OF GENIUS?
Because beer always makes you smarter.
The Bud Light Real Men Of Genius radio campaign went away in 2008 after 7 inspired years.
It was epic, it made the brand a market leader, and was parodied endlessly (and badly) in small-business, local-radio advertising.
Since then, But Light has not had such a juggernaut--but today, they may be on the brink.
This morning, I was confronted with a video of a town crier standing inside a craft brewery in Minneapolis. He was reading a "Hear ye! Hear ye!" to everyone in the place.
It was a cease & desist letter from Bud Light to the craft brewer.
So, I thought, "Hold my beer. Watch this. I'm going to find out more."
The story is interesting, and it's a useful brand advertising lesson--even for the small-business owner.
Have you heard that? Have you said it?
I hadn't until this morning. I haven't been watching a lot of commercial TV lately.
But it seems that Bud Light and their agency, Wieden + Kennedy, is drafting off of the zeitgeist. In this particular case, it's the mania around Game of Thrones.
They've done it with a commercial that shows a royal banquet room, and a line of subjects paying obeisance to the king. As people step up and offer sixes and cases of Bud Light to the king, the king raises his own Bud Light and proclaims each person, "A true friend of the crown! Dilly, dilly!"
And everyone in the banquet room responds by raising their own Bud Lights and crying, "Dilly, dilly!"
This happens a couple of times, and then another gentleman steps up and offers a large brown bottle, without a label, and sealed with red wax. He puts it in front of the king, who says, "What, um, what is that?"
"This is a spiced honey mead wine that I have really been into lately."
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A LONG, UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE
Then, the king says to the gent, "Please follow Sir Brad. He's going to give you a private tour of the Pit of Misery."
The hapless fellow is hauled off while everyone happily toasts, "To the misery! Dilly, dilly!"
The announcer chimes in over a shot of the Bud Light logo rendered in rice, barley, hops, and the head of a beer: "Here's to the friends you can always count on. Bud Light, brewed to be America's favorite light lager."
Oh, boy. Ya know what's going on here?
This is an attack ad.
Very funny. Really well produced.
But it's an attack ad.
IT'S TAPPING INTO THE GAME OF THRONES ZEITGEIST AND ATTACKING CRAFT BREWING
If you don't know, craft brewing has become HUGE.
It's huge enough that there are now three fundamental problems.
One, craft brewers are having a hard time competing with one another because there's so much competition and a limited market.
Two, consumers are suffering from FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. When they look at a wall of craft beers in the liquor store, they become anxious and don't know what to buy, fearing they may be missing something better than what they'll choose.
And three, craft brewers are eating into big brewers' market share.
And I've got to be honest, as a guy who's been a fan of craft beers since they began bubbling up in the 1990s, even I'm over it. There are plenty of great beers out there. But the preciousness and the overtness and the slam-you-in-the-face-ness of so many of these beers is out of hand.
AND YES, I'M THE GUY WHO LAST WEEK THREW LAURELS TO A NANO-BREWER
Mad Fritz, the Napa Valley nano-brewery, is a brilliant brand.
It's not precious. It's intelligent and arcane and balanced and specialized and scarce.
But so many craft brewers are so clever and working so hard for people who are so pretentious about their beer.
I get it. This is the pendulum swinging the other way after decades of mega-brewery domination.
So...where's the attack?
One, the subject presents a precious bottle of spiced mead (which, if you don't know, is a honey wine).
Two, he presents the bottle with the cliché qualifier, "That I've really been into lately."
And three, the announcer says, "Here's to the friends you can always count on. Bud Light, brewed to be America's favorite light lager."
A POX ON CRAFT BREW HEADS!
Long live the light lager!
Can you imagine any big brewer even five years ago using a line like, "America's favorite light lager."
They'd say, "Beer."
They'd use modifiers like, "light," or "crisp," or "refreshing."
They might say something unqualified like, "Beechwood aged!" (I once read an article by a reporter who called Budweiser to find out what "Beachwood aged" actually meant. The reply from the person at the other end was essentially, "Well, you know, beechwood. It's beechwood aged!")
Beer has been a commodity product.
AND NOW, COMMODITY THINKING IS BEING UNDERMINED BY ARTISAN THINKING
Regardless of how you feel about craft beer (I feel it's a good thing), it's not hard to see how this happened.
A landscape of fizzy yellow beers was infected by variety and flavor and choice and surprise.
Yes, craft beers are surprising. Not always in a good way. A top-fermented, dry-hopped ale that tastes of rosebuds, garlic and old gym socks may not be a good surprise.
Nonetheless, it has become a pervasive threat to the market dominance of brands like Bud Light, a brand whose core, die-hard fan is intolerant of things like craft beer. I know people like this. They are single-beer fanatics and they are angry at craft brewing.
Bud Light is shooting fish in a barrel--and being really funny.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TOWN CRIER?
Back to the brewery in Minneapolis.
The brewery is called Modist. Not sure how you pronounce it.
Modist very recently released a brew called, "Dilly Dilly Mosaic Double IPA."
Mosiac is a strain of hops. It is known for its complex and broad aromas backed by a clean bittering. If you care.
Modist put this brew in their taproom only. They did not release it widely.
They created a logo that said, "Dilly Dilly" in a blatant rip-off of the Bud Light swirl logo.
ON NOVEMBER 28, THEY ANNOUNCED IT ON THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE
They posted that they were releasing it on December 1.
The same day they released it, they posted a video of the town crier standing in their lobby, reading the cease & desist "proclamation" aloud.
The town crier's message included a request to make sure this ale was a one-time-only occurrence, and offers the brewery two free tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
They next day, Modist posted a picture of the town crier's scroll and the "Dilly Dilly" ripoff logo, with the message, "Come drink this beer before we rename it 'Coat Tails.'"
I smell a publicity stunt cooked up by Anheuser Busch, whose parent company is not known for being so kind with its C&Ds.
Nonetheless, it's fun, it's well-crafted, it bears retelling, it's good advertising, and a good stunt for the press.
WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY FOR YOU?
One, no business of any size is too small for a publicity stunt. I've done it with a tiny business, getting them coverage in a major metropolitan daily. You need to be creative, relevant, and interesting.
Two, your business can be a threat to the bigger market leaders. You just need to understand how to be different and resonant and offer your core customer a better reality.
And three, never discount the value of making the prospect feel the right thing. "Here's to friends you can count on." That is a simple, unsophisticated, artless sentiment--and it's going to sell a lot more beer than it deserves. It's also part of the Famous Among Friends conceit that Bud Light has been using for over 30 years.
BUD LIGHT APPEARED AT MODIST WITH GREAT ALACRITY
The town crier was on the scene so quickly, and Modist was so on top of the situation, that it smacks of benign collusion.
And the fact that Bud Light is acknowledging Modist in this way (and likely partnering with them) demonstrates that they probably aren't as down on craft beer as their advertising might imply.
Instead, they could be preparing to invest in Modist, if not preparing to buy them outright.
Tell that to craft brewers Goose Island, Blue Point, Breckenridge, Golden Road, Four Peaks, 10 Barrel, Devils Backbone and Karbach--all of whom have been acquired by Anheuser Busch.
Your brand is also never too small to be acquired by a giant.
For a peek at "Dilly Dilly," Click here: https://youtu.be/D8Cb5Wk2t-8
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHOSE BREW IS THIS, ANYWAY?
As the Fabulous Honey Parker and I continued our trip through the Napa Valley and up into St. Helena, we continued making grand discoveries.
One of these discoveries involved a Michelin-star restaurant, a lovely and generous wine-making couple, and a brand of beer you will probably never know unless you are extraordinarily lucky.
This all happened as part of the CoupleCo tour, in which Honey and I are interviewing couple entrepreneurs of Napa for the CoupleCo podcast (launching in January). In this case, we sat down with a dynamic duo who have deep roots in California winemaking. She was even born into a winery. It's in her blood.
WE MET THE TWO OF THEM IN A ST. HELENA RESTAURANT THAT WAS A REVELATION
It's called The Charter Oak.
They bill themselves as "a celebratory, family-style dining experience, with simple, approachable, and seasonal food," including produce from their own farm.
Talk about simple and approachable. We had a Michelin-star cheeseburger there. It was good.
We talked to this couple, Nile and Whitney, about life, the universe and everything as it pertains to being a couple who've branched off from winemaking to open a nano-brewery.
YES, THEY OWN A NANO BREWERY
What is a nano brewery?
It is a commercial brewery that is so small, it can barely be seen with the naked eye.
It's a commercial brewery that is so small, it can reasonably be run by one guy.
In this case, the brewery is run by Nile and Whitney, and an assortment of guys who seem to pop in as they can.
But being a nano brewery isn't all Nile and Whitney are doing. They have gone further down the rabbit hole of craft brewing.
They are treating brewing as one would treat small-batch winemaking, and are even producing single-origin beer.
And if you're a devotee of the buy-local movement?
THIS MIGHT INTRIGUE YOU
Nile, who is obviously a beer geek's beer geek, is the brewmaster (among other things). And he makes a really good point about so-called "local beer."
Most of it is not at all local.
Yes, it might be made locally.
But most of the ingredients came from someplace far away.
The grains, the hops, any of the ingredients that go into that brew, probably came from someplace else. Someplace not local.
So, typically, "local" refers only to the act of actually brewing and fermenting the beer.
SINGLE-ORIGIN BEER IS SOMETHING ELSE
Nile has not been merely brewing locally, but sourcing all of his ingredients locally.
And sometimes, if not necessarily locally, all from the same, single locale.
This is all part of what Mad Fritz calls their Terroir Series.
If you're a wine fancier, you know about terroir. It's all of the environmental factors that contribute to the character of a grape crop, and by extension, to the character of the wine. In wine, terroir is everything. In beer, Mad Fritz is doing the same thing.
For instance, Mad Fritz is in Napa. But for the Terroir Series, they've made a single-origin Sonoma Ale. It took three years of growing, sourcing, malting and brewing--but at the end of those three years came an ale 100% "of" Sonoma County. The hops, the barley, even the water, they all came from there. It's even aged in wine barrels instead of tanks.
And the result?
A "pale ale of sorts," it's a stunning beverage that has balance, veracity and complexity and (dare I say it?) joy.
"EEGAD, MAN! HOW ON EARTH DOES ONE TASTE JOY?"
I can understand how you might ask that.
And here's the thing: this is an artisanal product.
It's not a commodity that gets sold by the case in supermarkets across the country.
It has been crafted as a labor of love.
And it is sensational--IF you are open to new experiences and ideas that transcend mere commodity thinking.
THIS BEER MAY NOT BE FOR YOU
We have a friend who is adamantly and firmly committed to Budweiser In Cans only. No bottles! No other beer!
He will drink nothing else.
This beer would be an insult to his palate.
None of it is fizzy and yellow and made with rice.
If you are a voracious hop head, you might be confused by these brews. None of them are savaged with hops in the way that makes you wince.
In fact, here's how non-aggressive Mad Fritz brews are.
Honey is not a fan of overtly hopped brews. Double IPAs, which are typically muscular and bitter in their hopped-up flavor, do nothing for her palate.
We drank a Mad Fritz double IPA, and Honey found it a joyful experience.
THESE BREWS ARE ON SOME OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE MENUS IN THE NATION
We already talked about having lunch with Nile and Whitney at Michelin-starred Charter Oak.
You know simply by the Michelin star that the place is not cheap.
Mad Fritz is on the beer list at Charter Oak. They even have a custom brew, available on draft only for them, that is made with acorns.
It is delightful.
Mad Fritz is also on the beer list at the world-famous French Laundry. Thomas Keller's fabled Yountville eatery has three Michelin stars. No less an iconoclast than Anthony Bourdain (whose personal brand has been discussed here in the screed) has called the place, "The best restaurant in the world, period."
French Laundry came to Mad Fritz and asked to have a brew produced exclusively for them.
You can't buy this brew unless you're already buying dinner at over $300 a head. How's that for rare and hard-to-get?
MAD FRITZ IS NOTHING IF NOT A LABOR OF LOVE
It's an effort by two people who clearly love each other, and who produce a product born of a love for the land, the soil, the earth and the air, a love for balance, brewing, farming, sourcing, a love of finding and then finessing what nature provides into a finely crafted product that delights and inspires.
As the CoupleCo tagline says, "It's business...and it's personal."
And Mad Fritz may be the most intensely personal coupleco we've ever seen.
The business is even named for their children, Madeline and Fritz.
(Apparently Fritz, who is in elementary school, thinks having a brewery named for himself is really cool. That might sound like a recipe for having family services knocking at the door. But you also have to realize that in Napa Valley, people eat, breathe and sleep fruit and fermentation. It's all part of a life in harmony you will experience no place else. I've been to several other wine producing regions around the world. Napa is uniquely glorious.)
IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, THE BALANCE HERE IS ALSO ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
It's about having a vision and remaining faithful without compromise.
Mad Fritz has a dynamite name and an excellent product.
It's a killer brand.
They could compromise on their mission, produce more beer, become more widely available, and make more money.
And they would end up on the slippery slope towards a commoditized product.
One of the fathers of craft brewing in the United States is Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company, whose Samuel Adams Boston Lager changed the face of US brewing.
But they've become so big that the beer hounds regard them as a commodity product--despite the fact that, in many ways, they remain faithful to their craft roots.
BUT SAM ADAMS BEER IS NO LONGER PERCEIVED AS SPECIAL
Which is unfortunate.
Because it is a brand with integrity and legacy and heritage and commitment.
Samuel Adams is presently spending a whole bunch of money trying to make themselves desirable to the craft-beer devotee.
Their TV commercials showing hopster hipsters blind-tasting their beer and remarking how good it is are almost sad.
Social proof, yes.
But one can infer a hint of desperation.
MAD FRITZ REMAINS SPECIAL
It is scarce, and rare, and unusual, and it has caché.
Those are the kinds of things that get your brand on the list at a foodie Mecca like French Laundry.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that Mad Fritz, while they may get bigger than their current nano size, will never get so big that the specialness evaporates.
Being special and being scarce have their place.
So does forging ahead without compromise.
And, especially in light of those things, you're going to require something else that keeps the fire going, and that's a relationship with the most important person in your equation: your core customer.
Maintain that relationship of specialness, and you can become legendary.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
SO, HOW MUCH WINE CAN YOU SELL OUT OF A GARAGE?
Answer: Not a lot.
But that's what Ryan was doing.
He was making wine in his garage. He was selling a few hundred cases a year. Legally. His landlord let him have the garage bonded as a winery by the Feds so it was all above board and he was paying his excise tax.
And understand, this is the Napa Valley.
Stories like this one are not that unusual.
Here's the problem: even if it's really good wine, nobody gets rich on a few hundred cases of wine a year.
IN A WAY, RYAN WAS THAT FABLED GUY WHO WOULD PERFORM BRAIN SURGERY ON HIMSELF
He just had to figure out how to stay awake during the operation.
That is one of the classic definitions of an entrepreneur.
The driven guy with the hyphenated job title who does it all himself.
Winemaker, Chief Bottle Washer & Brain Surgeon.
However, it seems that Ryan was not the egomaniac who insists on staying the brain surgeon.
One day, at a wine event he was running, Ryan met Crystal.
Crystal is a dynamo.
When she met Ryan, her career was vibrant and vigorous. She was getting on jets and going places. She was moving and shaking and making stuff happen for big companies.
CRYSTAL AND RYAN ALSO KNEW THEY HAD A CONNECTION
But they didn't hook up right away.
After the event, the Napa winemaker and the corporate shaker went their separate ways.
But that didn't last long.
Geography couldn't keep them apart, and good wine brought them together.
Crystal became the yin to Ryan's yang.
They married, and she joined the winery in the garage.
Fast forward to today. It's no longer in a garage. It's in a huge cave.
With Crystal's help, Ryan gets to focus on the winemaking instead of the brain surgery, so to speak. He focuses on the science and the art of turning grapes into liquid poetry.
Meanwhile, Crystal works a different kind of science and art: that of winning friends and influencing people. She handles the sales and marketing.
AND IN THE PROCESS, SHE DEVELOPED ANOTHER KIND OF POETRY
She has created the entrepreneurial poetry of building a desirable cult brand.
Through a combination of evocative personal touch and scarcity, she has helped attract legions of dedicated followers.
She also made it happen by doing something that would scare the pants off of a lot of business owners.
While Ryan began making more wine, and the hundreds of cases turned into thousands, Crystal made that wine harder to get.
No more retail.
No more restaurants.
Sales direct to the customer only.
And preferably, through a club-membership model.
YES, MEMBERSHIP DOES HAVE ITS PRIVILEGES
Make a better product.
Make it harder to get.
Make it available on a monthly subscription.
And you know what happens?
By cutting out the middleman and selling the product for what it's worth at retail, you double your margin. And boy are these wines worth far more than the retail price. Phenomenal.
By making it rare, it's made more desirable. They don't even sell it on their own website for the most part. As Crystal likes to say, "It feels like you need to know somebody to get it."
By making it available on a club basis, the worth of each sale is far more than just a single accidental retail purchase.
And by winning friends and influencing people, you create a steadfast and enthusiastic group of supporters who are there for you. Your die-hard fans help keep you in business and love your product.
THIS IS A FAMILY BUSINESS WHERE THE CUSTOMERS ARE LIKE FAMILY
Yes, it sounds like a cliché.
A cliché that yours truly has railed against.
Fortunately, in this case, it's true in the best way possible.
This was very much in evidence in the wake of the Napa fires.
Crystal says that she handles all the customer service, which means she handles a whole lot of email.
With the fires, the amount of email was overwhelming, all of it inquiring about the health and welfare of the family.
Crystal, who typically expedites such things, said that it was taking her weeks to catch up and let everyone know they were OK.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE IS A LOVE FOR THE BUSINESS MADE INDEED MADE MANFIEST IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE
Talk to Ryan, and it's clear that he has a love for people, and for the science and the art of making wine.
He also has a word for the kinds of wines he likes to make: "Balanced."
In an age when it seems like vintners are trying desperately to show the world they can make wines that punch you in the face with a particular quality, he's making wines that invite you in and seduce you.
Talk to Crystal, and it's clear that she has a love for people and for sharing her husband's craft with them.
Talk to Crystal and Ryan together, and it's clear they have a love for each other. It's also clear that the business is a labor of that love. And it has balance.
Ryan has another word, this one for the reason why the business and the brand work.
THAT WORD IS: "RESPECT"
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I interviewed the two of them for the CoupleCo podcast.
And more than once in previous CoupleCo interviews, the husband has said, unsolicited and in no uncertain terms, the reason why the relationship and the business work is because of respect.
Ryan was just the most recent.
Also, something else happens when we're recording these podcasts: Honey and I get the best seats in the house.
We get to watch two people who never expected to be hearing the things they're hearing, about their business and their marriage, from each other.
It has been revealing.
It's also humbling. As Honey repeatedly says, "It makes me want to be a better couple."
And the thing about being a better couple in business together is it makes for a better business.
WHY IS A COUPLE LIKE CRYSTAL AND RYAN SO FASCINATING?
We've been pondering this.
And we think the answer is in something another one of the CoupleCo couples said in their interview: "It's not just your business. It's your whole life."
And the woman who said that is dead on.
It's one of the reasons we've found couplepreneurs so interesting to interview, and why so many people who aren't in business with a spouse are enjoying the test podcasts we've given them.
It's not just about being in business together. It's about risking everything.
In a culture where the marriage ideal is to live happily ever after? Running a business together throws all of that into question.
Because it IS your whole life.
IT'S ABOUT TWO PEOPLE WANTING TO MAKE THEIR LIFE EXACTLY THE WAY THEY WANT IT
And the odds seem enormous.
The deck is stacked in the other guy's favor.
And if a husband and wife business goes down in flames (or up in flames, as has been happening in Napa), what does that mean for life, the universe and everything?
Looking at Crystal and Ryan, and the fabulous business that has grown from a rental garage a decade ago, there's fortunately no need to answer that question.
They've survived the fires, this epic challenge, and their business is as strong as ever.
It's pretty cool.
If you want to know more about Crystal and Ryan's winery, visit www.waughfamilywines.com.
And if you want to visit Napa right now, the place is open for business. Honey and I spent an astonishing week there.
While you can see what the fires have done, you can also see the majority of the place, which is untouched and glorious, a joyful and thriving place full of entrepreneurs like Ryan and Crystal who are happy to welcome you.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
A CAUTIONARY TALE OF TWO BRANDS
This week's visit to fire-ravaged Napa is an anti-climax. That is, if you're looking for evidence of what the fire has ravaged.
We've been here for just about 24 hours. The place does not stink of smoke. What little we've seen is very much a normal, everyday, business-as-usual rural town.
However, we did have a poignant experience last night that serves to remind one what a brand really is all about.
We've long banged the drum for the fact that a brand as not a logo, a color, a font, a tagline, a website, or any other manifestation that one usually associates with a brand.
Nope. A brand is Thing One: Your brand is the one way your core customer should feel about your business.
GET THAT PART RIGHT, AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW
Conversely, you can get the other stuff right--the logo, the color, the font, the tagline, the website--and if you haven't figured out Thing One, it's all for naught.
A great example is last night's foray into town.
We'd asked someone for a recommendation for a good, local's kind of joint. The kind of place where you meet the real people who make the community happen.
We took the recommendation, and followed it up--encouraged by the establishment's website. It delivered all kinds of glowing, simple language about how they're steeped in history, how they do so much so well, and how they're fun, friendly and down-to-earth.
The rightness of Thing One seemed to be in evidence.
MARKETING, MEET REALITY
The place had all the right accoutrements.
It was an old building with an old bar, lots of natural wood and plenty of historical funk.
That's where the authenticity ends.
Off the bartender's New York Giants jersey, The Fabulous Honey Parker says, "Wow, Giants? You a Giants fan?"
"What? Oh. No. We were told we had to wear football jerseys. Someone gave this to me."
As a Philly native and an Eagles fan, Honey faces a lifetime of disappointment. Being able to commiserate with a Giants fan over the latter's tragic record this season would have been a natural opening to conversation, rapport, service and eventually, a tips
It didn't work out.
We tried to have some conversation with the woman. She was borderline helpful and disinterested.
IN FACT, EVERYONE WORKING THERE SEEMED BORDERLINE HELPFUL AND DISINTERESTED
Everyone working there seemed to have other things on their mind.
There was someplace else they'd all rather be.
The house-brewed beer was mediocre. The menu was uninspiring.
This was not the local's joint that we had hoped for.
Nor was it the fun, friendly place the branding elements had promised.
They got the down-to-earth part right, if you take that to mean "ordinary."
But they had ultimately failed at Thing One.
NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELTY DIFFERENT
Understand, this is Sunday night in Napa. Things are not exactly jumping.
We left exited the hall of disappointment and turned left.
Across the street was a block of restaurants.
We stumbled across one that looked different and better than the others. A tapas joint.
It was appointed in dark hardwoods with soft, amber lighting. It looked and felt comfortable. A few people were dining.
We stepped inside, ambled back to the bar and took a seat.
Our bartender was welcoming and gregarious.
He was ready and willing to make conversation--despite being the busiest guy in the place. He had other customers at the bar and was also the service bar for the wait staff.
IN THE KITCHEN, A CREW OF FOUR WAS SHUFFLING AND CLANGING AND MAKING STUFF HAPPEN
It was a well-practiced improvisational ballet of small-portion cuisinieres.
We knew we had found our place.
We asked questions. He made recommendations.
We asked about his story. We got details.
A fifth-generation Napa-ite, he is a career food service guy.
When he started quoting Bukowski, it was evident the party had started.
By the end of the evening, we had moved to the end of the bar. A couple from Chicago had sat down next to us.
THE BARTENDER HAD BECOME OUR MASTER OF CEREMONIES
He was making smart recommendations.
He was letting us taste unusual wines.
He was involved in the conversation just enough.
He was the Thing One incarnate.
And he was a raging profit center for that tapas restaurant.
He knows how to make his customer feel welcome, knows how to engage and entertain, and knows how to figure out what next.
He was tipped well.
SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED WHILE WE WERE THERE
The place became packed.
It was alive and jumping.
The waiters were always moving through the room.
The kitchen was in constant motion.
People were waiting for tables.
All this on the slow night in Napa.
And you know what this restaurant's website promises?
None of this.
THE WEBSITE MIGHT AS WELL BE A BUSINESS CARD THAT SAYS, "FOOD"
It makes very little in the way of promises.
It says very little about what they serve.
It says nothing about who started it and why.
It doesn't say, "We're a fun, friendly, down-to-earth place where you're going to have a great time with our bartender who's been in the business for 35 years."
The website is just not good. It is in no way a reflection of the Thing One that's going on in there.
But without the branding accoutrements that help make for a solid manifestation of the brand's message to the world, it still has a better and more competent brand than the place that has a good website and makes all kinds of promises that it can't live up to.
A BRAND BENEFITS FROM BETTER MARKETING
A good logo and an engaging website and marketing that gets attention and drives response--all of these things are good for business.
But without Thing One, without the foundation of a good, honest and authentic brand behind it all, those other things are for naught.
As David Ogilvy famously said, nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.
We left a place whose advertising was loaded with brand promise that it failed to live up to.
Going online and reading the reviews for that place, it's clear that our experience is not unusual.
WE THEN WENT TO A PLACE WITH NO BRAND PROMISE
It delivered beyond any reasonable expectation.
Going online and reading the reviews for that second place, it's also clear that our experience at that restaurant is not unusual.
The difference is that the general manager isn't having to routinely apologize to customers who've left lousy reviews--as happens at the first place.
It's possible that the first joint will never be ruined by the lack of brand integrity. This is a bar and restaurant in a tourist town in a location with a lot of foot traffic.
It may well survive.
But it will never be great.
It simply isn't all that interested in how the customer feels about the place.
Be Thing One. Everything else is just stuff.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
DOES THE NEWS MEDIA REALLY MEAN TO UNDERMINE A BRAND?
Yes, you heard the news.
The biggest brands in U.S. wine country, Napa and Sonoma, have been destroyed by wildfires.
Wineries, gone! Hotels, gone! Vineyards, gone! All gone, gone, gone!
Up there in California, it's like the dark side of the moon.
Maybe you've seen the news photo of the Malaysian gentleman who'd been visiting Santa Rosa.
He was staying at the Hilton Sonoma. In the photo, he's walking past a pile of charred rubble that used to be his hotel.
Gone! The Hilton is gone!
Who ever heard of losing a Hilton?
DEVASTATION, MAYHEM AND DEATH!
Yes, there are problems in Napa and Sonoma. Businesses have been destroyed. People have died. It has indeed been tragic.
And that's exactly why the Fabulous Honey Parker and I were planning on staying away.
We had business up there. We were planning on driving the CoupleCoach to Napa to interview couple entrepreneurs. We were gonna go all Charles Kerault on 'em.
We had delayed our plans in order to avoid hitting everyone during the harvest.
Then the fires hit. We saw the news. Oh, boy. We thought, Wow, let's just leave everybody alone. We'll go next year after they've cleaned up.
THEN, WE RECEIVED WORD THROUGH FRIENDS WHO ARE DEEPLY CONNECTED IN WINE COUNTRY
We were told in no uncertain terms, "Get up here!"
The person saying this has a business that supports tourists visiting wine country.
This person has lost all of her business. Visitors have cancelled their plans from now through February.
Because the news media in this country is vast and busy and immersive.
The 24-hour news cycle saturates the populous with ongoing stories and endless images of unimaginable devastation.
So what do you do?
You cancel your vacation to Devastation Land!
EXCEPT THAT, LIKE SANTA CLAUS, DEVASTATION LAND DOESN'T EXIST
"Despite the fires, the majority of businesses in both Napa and Sonoma remain open."
That quote is courtesy of the award-winning experiential travel magazine, AFAR.
It comes from an article they published online about two weeks ago. It's called, "What You Can Do to Help Wine Country Now--and Later."
Among their six tips, "Plan a visit."
And it made Honey and I say, "Of course. What were we thinking?"
It reminded us of the year that we changed our spring travel plans.
We are regular visitors to Jazz Fest, that immense and sonorous party on the New Orleans fairgrounds during the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May.
IN 2005, WE HAD DECIDED TO TAKE A HIATUS
We had an immediate about-face.
What better way to support a town we love, whose major industry is tourism, than to come back as a tourist and bring tourist dollars?
The welcome we received was extraordinary.
Never have we been any place where people were so happy to see us.
We were even exhorted to take a Devastation Tour in order to understand intimately what had happened there.
SO, WHAT IS THE NEWS MEDIA BRAND IN THE INFO-SATURATION AGE?
It seems that the one way we're supposed to feel about it is we're getting the absolute horrifying truth at any minute of any day.
Here's the problem: it's like a microscope.
The news focuses narrowly on minute details without the context of the larger picture.
Hilton Sonoma destroyed!
Man visiting from Malaysia loses everything!
You know what else?
Seven wineries in Sonoma destroyed!
You know that that means?
Approximately 418 more wineries in Sonoma are still standing.
THINK THERE'S STILL A PLACE TO TASTE WINE?
Two hotels in Santa Rosa were destroyed, one of them the Hilton.
Cursory research shows at least three more in the area are closed.
Trip Advisor lists 75 more hotel options in Sonoma.
Think maybe there are a few other places to sleep off a day's wine tasting?
The 24-hour news cycle is largely about spectacle.
The spectacle of flames, destruction and death play to the old journalism adage, "If it bleeds, it leads."
Ironically, there are plenty of stories about how California wine country needs to lure tourists back to Napa and Sonoma.
WOULD THESE SUBSEQUENT STORIES BE NECESSARY IF NOT FOR THE FIRST ONES?
And those stories don't bleed.
They certainly aren't going to lead.
There just isn't much news value in, "Most everything's OK! Whoo!"
It seems that one of the best things we can do for our sanity is to avoid 99% of the news.
It just isn't worthy.
I have preferred news sources, they are time-honored and reliable. They go in-depth and tell you all of the what, where, when, how and why.
There are details and context.
When the superficial news media are reporting things that leave me scratching my head, my preferred news sources fill in the blanks so the stories make sense.
IN THE MEANTIME, WE'RE GOING TO WINE COUNTRY
Honey and I will be on location for Hot Shots and for CoupleCo, and we will return with stories.
With any luck, you'll enjoy them.
They will be about the brands and the people behind them.
There will be no devastation, mayhem and death unless it's relevant.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with a teaser for CoupleCo.
It's fun, and the risky subtext of mayhem and devastation is certainly part of the allure. The stories these people tell are about how a business and a brand can survive--along with the marriage that launched it.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
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
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.