Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Community forms in all the right places - and my found $5 bill finally finds the right home.

After a little over two years in my safe keeping, the $5 bill I found randomly tucked into the rim of a baseball cap in the Life is good store in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport has finally found its rightful, deserving home.

About 4:15pm on an overcast and not particularly nice Monday afternoon I headed out for a walk to clear my mind. I passed a gangly teenage boy with his bike, struggling to make the tape on a cardboard sign stick to a streetlight post. It read, “On Sidonia Street – LEMONADE”. Red felt pen on a piece of cardboard, hard to read for sure, never mind at 50mph. But at my pedestrian scale and pace the message was clear.
The tradition of the summertime lemonade stand lives on. But it took on an even deeper meaning. Here was this kid on a Monday, 4:15pm, overcast, with his lemonade stand fully 500 feet back, and even up the crest of a hill further away from his sign, with zero sightline from the road, putting in his time and ideas in the hopes of making money of his own. #entrepreneur

I altered my planned walking route, turned around and picked up the pace home, hopefully before the last glass of the day was poured, to retrieve my $5 bill. I’ve carried that bill on probably 50 trips since finding it. All over the country, to Canada, to Mexico and to Japan last month, looking for the right reason to pass it on. Today I found it.

Meet Noah, on the right, holding his $5 bill. He’s 15. And that’s his buddy Charlie on the left. He’s 13.

Noah, on the right, with his $5 bill

I told them the story of the $5 bill, where and how I found it, and what it meant to me. I told them the responsibility I felt to give it away to just the right person. They told me today was their first day in business, and it was a dry run for a busy sunny Saturday or Sunday when they’ll serve more people. They had to work the kinks out. And they described their market area a.k.a. community. "It's a great street," said Noah. "Lots of people walk here and everyone is really nice". 

I asked how sales were. “We’ve been open about 30 minutes before you got here and we have $3 so far. Now $8,” said Noah. Then he volunteered, “I know, our sign is in the wrong direction and it’s hard to read.” I handed him the thick black Sharpie pen I had brought as well, so they could make their message more readable.

And for $5 I had the best glass of lemonade ever. They were serving 2 choices, a small white cup, or a larger red cup, and the choice of regular or pink lemonade. Noah poured me a big red cup of pink lemonade, complete with ice. 

Best pink lemonade, ever. 
As he slipped the well-travelled $5 into the plastic money box on top of his lemonade stand his shy smile said it all. He was proud of being in business and doing something on his own. And to me, Noah was not just an excited new entrepreneur, but a metaphor of a positive future. One Noah at a time, doing what he does, with pride and commitment builds community.

I left knowing the $5 I found two years ago was finally where it was meant to be. And it truly made my day. Maybe my week.

Read about how I first found the $5 bill here: http://tstinkthink.blogspot.com/2014/07/paying-it-forward-shows-up-in.html

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Slower Growth Demands Creating New Demand

Just read an article by one of my favorite futurists and big thinkers - J Walker Smith, of The Futures Company and it made me think and embrace the role marketing has in driving business growth. It's less about projecting and pro-formaing annual increases in appreciation for products sold by the business. It's less about financial modeling and those equations. That is the traditional strategy for success in a high growth economy - when there is an expanding pool of more people able to pay a higher price for your products sold. Modeling and projecting volume and velocity of increases. That worked in a high growth economy.

The article makes a powerful case that the slower growth we are seeing is not a down cycle soon to rebound, or a "slower than expected recovery". J Walker Smith and team lay out how and why the economy has been shifted to a lower set point that will persist, and any cycles will go up and down around this set point. Enter marketing, and the huge job of creating new demand. Slower growth is a consumer disruption of demand. Growth won't come from more people willing to pay more for what we sell. It will come from expanding our product and business offerings within this bounded, constrained market a.k.a. from creating new demand, not following previously predictable economic trends and projecting aggressive growth rates. 

Our job is to rethink and reshape markets constrained by the cycle of slower economic growth reduces consumer spending - weaker consumer spending reduces economic growth. 


  • Look at the demographic shifts in who has money today, shifts in social values and impacts of technology - it's at the intersection of these and other factors where new pools of potential can be created
  • Look at the cultural edges - it's here where leading edge consumers live and are doing their part shifting cultural and social values - and in so doing changing what customers judge as a value proposition. That shift can create seismic new product opportunities. 
  • Look at the disruptors - outside your industry - for the risk-takers disrupting other industries, and not just for entertainment, but as inspiration to change your business model. And then change it! 

The full article is here, http://thefuturescompany.com/defying-gravity-sources-of-growth-in-a-slower-growth-global-economy/ and worth the read. It's one of the best my marketing mind has read in some time about what we all seem to be referring to with phrases like, "The economic recovery has been slower than we projected", or "we projected higher increases in the recovery than we are seeing", or "we're still not back to the normal markets before the crash", or "the new normal". 

It's a siren call to marketing types in all industries to use your powers of observation, your ability to connect disparate pieces of information and find the "so what factor". Find a way to ask "how might we" when you see a glimmer of new potential demand. And, take the hill. The future of business depends on it. We can count and model money all day long. It's going to get more difficult to make it. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dear World.

Dear World.
Tears drip from my fingertips onto my keyboard tonight. #Dallas. 12 officers shot. 1 civilian. 5 dead. It has to stop. There are only so many times Facebook profile pic badges can honor the senselessly lost. 

Dear World.
It used to be horrific events would happen rarely and infrequently enough that I would remember where I was at the exact moment it happened. The Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, I was in the tunnel at Carleton University, first year Journalism student. Oklahoma bombing, it was my brother's birthday, April 19th. Columbine, I was just finishing a press check on a brochure for a client. 9/11, I was starting my day at my marketing agency and client/friend, Stephanie was on her way to the airport in Vancouver and called me to tell me why her flight was cancelled and to turn on the TV. Virginia Tech shooting, I was checking into my hotel in Raleigh and the front desk clerk told me. Sandy Hook in Newtown, I was at work in San Diego. Boston Marathon, I was on a conference call with the Tampa team, in my office in San Diego - it was a sunny day. 

Now there is an event as awful as this it seems once a week. Charleston, SC. San Bernardino, CA. Paris nightclub. Roseville, OR. Orlando, FL. These are the ones I remember from the past few months. NOT the ones I can never forget. The balance has tipped. What once was a rare, shocking occurrence has become a shockingly common one. 
This week aloneTurkey airport. Bangladesh coffee shop. Baton Rouge, LA. Minnesota, MN. And now Dallas, TX.

I will walk into the office tomorrow, past colleagues who will be staring unemotionally and blankly at the big screen TV on the wall as they wait for their coffee to brew. Some will ignore them and walk past. Others will stop and engage, and pass judgement and predictions about why this happened and who's to blame. 

One of our co-workers is in Dallas tonight, with her son in a national fencing championship - he came in second in his age class. They are staying a few blocks from the Dallas events. I texted her to check in. She was calm, trying to get her son who was very upset ("My son is flipping out. I need to play it down because he's a mess") safely back to their hotel after enjoying a baseball game. No mother should feel that. No child should feel that fear. No mother should lose their child (and 5 did so far tonight) to the violence we experience daily. 

Dear World. 
Please resist the cause-effect flawed equations. Please resist placing blame, and inflaming the anger that is so prevalent. Please resist drawing conclusions to reinforce a position, or god forbid make it a political statement in this crazy time. As leaders - and all of us are leaders in our own way - whether as a parent, a business owner, a manager of people in an organization, or just someone the guy at the local coffee shop talks to, we need to change the discourse. There is far too much anger, hatred, judgement, and just pure frenzy. 

As leaders, we need to speak, teach, and act tolerance, compassion, kindness, patient, love. Anything but the spread of judgement and hatred so much a part of the dialogue today. 

Dear World. 
It has to stop. Make the screaming and pain and violence stop. We are much better than this. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Your Market(ing) Has a Blind Spot

It's embarrassing to admit it has been almost two years since my last post. I'm now inspired, and I can't promise what will or won't come of it. The world of marketing continues to evolve at vapor speed. Two years ago Instagram was just catching on. The notion of native content was foreign to most of us. And we still talked about the "awareness-interest-evaluation-trial-adoption" funnel. This model was old then, and today it's prehistoric. Recent history (and in the discipline of marketing that means about a year) dictates we should be more concerned about the multimodal, multi-path, customer journey and not just getting our awareness (or number of FB likes) up.

There's no correlation between awareness and market share. It's just the first stage in the "customer choice chain". And they will make many of them all along their path to purchase. Few companies (mine included) have conducted rigorous analysis of customer choices across segments and markets, and what we can do to earn that choice. Part of the sweet spot in all of this is finding the "values fit" between your brand and your customers' needs. Doing that well can turn that choice into conviction and that's what moves the needle.

So, on this first post in two years (the first of many more to come) I challenge you:
- How do you pay attention to what your customers are telling you about their values?
- How do you capture that intel to earn your customers' choice?

Check out this great example from #converse that shows how they did it.
Brand connections are found in all the right, and sometimes very strange places.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Small-scale Public Art Makes a Big Statement About Place

I stay sane (somewhat) when I travel by walking every morning , no matter what city I am in. Some I visit more often than others. Sometimes there are great gaps between visits and it’s fun to see the changes and evolution, either good or bad, these places go through. This morning it was Tacoma. It was my first time back in almost a year. The changes were evident, and not just because the economy has improved. There were still a number of downtown storefronts that were empty, vacant for what appeared to be some time.

The University of Washington has committed to a campus in the downtown core, with 5,000 students attending. The result is a plethora of shops, restaurants, renovated and re-gentrified downtown urban residential, from old character homes subdivided into suites, to tired and largely uninspiring vanilla apartment buildings with signs advertising, “Completely new interiors!”, to new hip urban lofts over retail. This didn’t all happen in the less than a year since I last took my early morning walk along Broadway Avenue. Clearly.

Last visit I was inspired by the very public display of public outreach the city went to in order to collect input on what to do with the downtown. On the side of an old building were large black chalkboards, inviting residents to complete phrases like, “DOWNTOWN to me is …” and “I live DOWNTOWN because …”. Very cool, and some surprisingly thoughtful input. And gutsy to be that wide open in seeking input.

But back to the empty, distressed retail spaces. They still exist today, but the City of Tacoma has embraced this reality, and rather than hiding from it, or relegating it to some form of expected urban blight, they’ve found a powerful way to celebrate it. There are storefronts turned into art galleries. Large, expansive window displays, spanning near full city blocks, filled with art, sculpture, prints (part of the hipster culture in Tacoma, with a print made for many of the independent bands that are the lifeblood of the region’s local music scene), each one curated and narrated with the care given to the works of the Great Masters. I’m not that awake at 5:30am when I walk, so I found myself working to shake off the grip of the sleepy cobwebs in my brain to enjoy the display.

I saw connections everywhere. The printmaking culture, and the shop advertising barely scented soap, and purveyors of other local handmade goodness. The “green” culture so prevalent in the NW, and the sign in the local brewpub window advertising “Bike to a Business Thursdays” and get 10% off. The slip street with the yoga studio, music store and one of those galleries suggesting you uncork your creativity by sipping wine as you paint, and the name of the street, Opera Alley. By about 20 minutes into my walk I am wide awake and these connections are popping out at me at every turn.

A bus stop-like structure rising from the sidewalk interrupted my pace – the Tollbooth Gallery. Billed as the “World’s (or at least the South Sound’s) Smallest Art Gallery” – put in place with a vision to create site-specific experimental art, it was a simple and brilliant idea. If it can withstand the rains of the Northwest and still function, with both audio and video intact, I’m thinking this has potential everywhere. The exhibit on display today in Tacoma explores the evolution from film to video and celebrates the short format. The film being shown was simply about a stump that washed up on shore in Commencement Bay and the role trees, and pulp and paper have had in the evolution of the Northwest’s identity.  
This act of slowing down, and looking up from the small iPhone screen in my hand at any given moment, made me see the potential for connection, and the power of this simple interactive format, as a way to bring to life the rich traditions and cultures of different communities. Long live independent small-scale public art I say!



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Paying it Forward Shows up in Unexpected Places

And maybe that’s the point. Like tucked in the rim of a Life is good ball cap in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. When shopping a week ago for an inspirational pick-me-up for my brother Richard, who’s going through a tough time, I discovered this $5 bill tucked in the rim of a mustard-colored hat displayed on a hat holder. Not one that was on the table and more likely to be picked up, but the one on the display rack, placed there intentionally. I checked it for size, pulling back the rim, and viola. The folded $5 bill fell out into my hand.

Finding a $5 bill there was so incongruent it made me think. But it was clear within moments that this was an intentional random act of kindness, or an example of someone paying it forward. Like when you pull up to the window at the Starbucks drive-thru to pay for your drink and the barista tells you the driver in front of you bought your drink. Someone had left this to be found, and I was the one to do so.

The responsibility I feel for that $5 bill has been with me all week. Clearly it must be passed along, but where and how? Leaving my hotel room in Dallas a few days ago I was greeted by the housekeeper, a woman with the most glorious ear-to-ear grin who wished me a great day, authentically, not just obligatorily. So I thought, maybe it’s meant for her! Then I remembered my travel habit of always just leaving the key to my room on the desk when I leave the final time. So, no chance to go back in and plant it somewhere she would find it. Must mean it’s meant for another time and place.

I feel the power of the gift I am now required to leave. And the energy, emotion and the mystery of the giver who placed it in the rim of that cap in Seattle. It’s already travelled from Seattle, to Kelowna, to San Diego, to Dallas, and now back again to San Diego since being in my protective possession. Where it will end up I don’t yet know, but I hope the small act of placing it somewhere to be found by a total stranger will have the impact it has had on me. You don’t get to know when or where kindness will show up. And when it does? Breathe it in, and pass it along.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fourth of July - an intersection of community

As a Canadian living in the US the first week of July is always a great experience. July 1st is Canada Day, the day my home country achieved independence from England (in 1867), and July 4th is of course, well July 4th, or as I hear most people refer to it, simply "the 4th". Both holidays share many things in common. A day off work. Fun outdoor summertime food and drink. National anthems. Flags hung on front porches. Parades. Fireworks. Friends and family getting together. 

But behind all these traditions, these holidays provide a platform for spontaneous creation of community. Last week at The Vine, a conference on the nature of community, held the day before PCBC, one of the morning sessions introduced me to Nina Simon, and her work on audience participation in cultural institutions, specifically the work she has done at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, www.santacruzmah.org. She made me think about "participation" in community of all kinds.

Take the events that many will share this weekend. Community will be formed in large groups and small, all over the country, as people come together and celebrate with people they know, and others they have never met. I'll bring my tomato-mozzarella-basil skewers, you bring your famous family recipe potato salad, and we'll put both on paper plates next to our BBQ brats. Nina shared stories about these intersections in life where we come together with others not like us and share a common experience.

July 4th is an iconic example of a participatory experience, where strangers come together with friends and positively interact with each other, leaving this experience with hopefully a new bit of insight, or appreciation for those they shared it with, the recognition that this is what really makes community.

Happy 4th everyone. Keep your eyes and ears open for new intersections. Take risks. Create collisions. Experience your community in its fullest form.