People Want the Story

They want the hero, the villain, the boy who meets girl, the girl who meets girl, the love, the loss, the hurt, the pain, the twists, the turns, the ups, the downs, the happy ending, the moral, the lesson, the learning, and ultimately they want the LIFE.

They want to connect. They want to fall in love and to feel loved.

Sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes, as a marketer, all you have to work with is a tire sale, on Tuesday, it’s 15% off. It’s difficult to help someone fall iTire Adn love with that.

Unless, like Michelin, you tell a story about what’s riding on their tires. Then, all of a sudden: there is life, there is love. There is making babies, and protecting those babies. There is a story.Michelin

Other times it is hard, because, well, we feel a little embarrassed. It’s easier to keep it light, focused on the basics. Strictly first date stuff: When? Where? How much? How is this one better than the one across the street? What are the features and benefits? Is it Gluten Free? And we may tell ourselves that this is all our customers want to know, everything else is just fluff.

That’s probably what most banks think. We’ve got better service, or more aggressive rates, or a wider set of products. Let’s go with that message. Again.

Or, you can be like HSBC and realize that your product is really just the subtext to the tapestry of life’s journey

Watch Lift by Grey London.

Lift

HSBC Lift

Not a word is spoken, or written, and yet, we come away a little changed.

What’s your story?

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Food Truck Your Brand

IMG_2084

Every Friday night in the summer, where I live in Burlington, VT, it is Food Truck Friday. Some twenty trucks gather in a too-small parking area behind some cafes, and a madhouse ensues. This is happening in every city in the country. Granted, it’s a social scene as much as a food experience, but why are people so enthusiastic about it? Why are they willing to wait in very long lines and pay fairly high prices for a small delicacy served to them by a sweaty, bearded, and tattooed proprietor – and then have no place to sit down to eat? Because, it is unquestionably, and empirically authentic. You know this guy, or this gal (less the beard), is the real deal. Why else would they be hunched over in a tiny, humid kitchen with about the same floor space as an intern’s cubicle, making change for wadded up twenties, and frantically trying to keep from setting the whole operation on fire? Answer: they are foodies of the first order, and they have a gift for creating amazing, original food – else why subject themselves to this?

People want real. They want trust. They want a story. They no longer want factories directed by the suits following formulas. That’s why McDonald’s has a lot more problems than just simplifying their menu (though this will undoubtedly help). Big food manufacturers from Hormel to General Mills are rapidly buying up small brands with a story like Applegate Farms and Annie’s, hoping to catch a little bit of this real food mojo.

How can you food truck your brand?

  1. Find what’s small. Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs sells their brand up and down the East Cost. They are a reasonably large brand by this measure. But all of their partner farmers (the independent farms that contract to raise the hens) are small, family farms with maybe one or two free-range organic barns each. That’s the story Pete & Gerry’s shares with consumers because they can relate to that scale, and they trust that each farmer is as committed to their craft as the guy in the food truck.
  1. Tell your story. Show them your story on your packaging and in your ads. Be yourself. Let them see the real you, warts and all (which can’t be as bad as that tarot card tattoo that the food truck sushi burrito chick had on her forearm last Friday). King Arthur Flour has been selling their flour for 225 years and they make sure you know that. You don’t need to have been around that long to tell your story, however. KAF also makes sure that you know that this is the story of bakers. Not people who bake from occasional necessity (birthday cakes), but people who bake for joy. They are not all professionals either. The experiments are part of the learning and the joy. That creates a shared connection with the people who care most about the quality of their flour, and who go through the biggest quantity of flour as well.
  1. Simplify – Food trucks define simplicity for people as they can see the entire operation from start to finish right before their eyes. The menu is simple too, maybe 5 items. People like simple. They trust simple. It makes decisions easier, and who doesn’t need that? Does your brand list 17 different product benefits from “gluten free” to “fair for life” on your label? These are all nice things perhaps, but they get in the way of the essential truth about you and your product. Heady Topper, the wildly popular Double IPA from Vermont, has just three things on their label, the brewer name and location, the varietal name, and a drawing that captures the essence of this whimsical, yet intricate, craft ale. Your brain can take it all in in an instant, and you don’t need to have ever heard of the beer before to have a pretty good idea of what it is all about. Once you taste it, then you can read more about their story and this brew on the back of the can, when you’re actually receptive to the information, and not before.

HEADY-TOPPER-LABEL

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Tom’s Utterly Incredible Egg Sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices bacon
  • Ciabatta roll
  • 1 slice cheddar cheese
  • 2 Nellie’s Cage Free Eggs, lightly beaten

Directions:

Preheat broiler. Fry the bacon in a skillet or in the oven. Slice the ciabatta roll in half and dip both sides face down in the bacon grease. Top bottom half with cheese. Place halves face up under the broiler until golden brown and cheese is melted. Scramble eggs while browning roll. Top roll with eggs and bacon and enjoy.

Great Addition: Tomato or avocado.

Great Substitution: Try cream cheese instead of cheddar. But add after broiler step.Egg Sandwich

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Good to Be Green

Free Range Water

Free Range Water


I’m an environmentalist. But like all modern Americans, it’s easier to preach than really practice. I drive a hi-mileage car, but wish I drove a Porsche. I yell at the kids to turn off lights, but we have a 50 inch plasma TV. Life is better when my wife is happy (and warm), so we have a hot tub too. But I’m always looking for ways to do better. This year it was the Rain Barrel project. The concept is simple. We water a lot of plants in the summer, so rather than draw from the well, why not catch nature’s bounty off of my roof and into a barrel? Free water! So sensible. And unlike solar panels, it seemed straight forward enough. Or so I thought.

My town advertised that they had barrels for sale. Free would have been better, but I figured they must be cheaper than buying new. That was wrong. I paid $40 for a giant piece of molded plastic with a faucet in the bottom. In terms of color choice, my new barrel came in one: traffic cone orange. So it basically blends right in with our house and yard. But I wasn’t done. I had to buy a downspout diverter which is the thing that taps into your rain gutter pipe and allows you to fill the barrel. This required quite a bit of research online, and another $30.

Now, I had to find the right spot for it. I proposed to put it next to the downspout that collected the lion’s share of the roof’s water, but that was also the one right next to the street. My wife Lori, who still retains a modicum of dignity and pride at this point in her life, objected to the curb appeal of a massive pumpkin colored cylinder in front of the house. So I had to settle for a much less productive spout in the rear.

Following instructions, I went after the gutter pipe with my hacksaw, which took about an hour of patient sawing to finally cut through. With a 3 story house, my downspout is roughly 30’ long and it turns out that when you sever such a tall, thin piece of metal. it becomes extremely flimsy. The pipe, formally flush to the siding, immediately began sagging away from the house in a decidedly slipshod fashion. And the copious amounts of duct tape needed around the mid-section to attach the diverter hose to it contributed to the overall sense of unprofessionalism.

Still, I was making progress. Free water from the skies was nearly in my grasp. It was then that I discovered that with the faucet at the very bottom of the barrel, which was resting on the ground, I couldn’t put a thimble underneath it, much less a watering can. So now I needed to raise the barrel.

The first attempt to do so involved a milk crate draped in a piece of black cloth that I hoped would make it look less like an orange rain barrel teetering on a milk crate, but in fact just looked stupid. Worse, it was not what we engineers like to refer to as “stable.” So with the first rain, and the exciting promise of stored water, the barrel became top heavy and fell heavily into the side yard, ripping out hose, diverter, duct tape and yanking the downspout even further from the house.

But I would not be denied. I was off to Lowe’s for $25 in paving stones with which I constructed a more stable rain barrel podium that looked slightly less crappy than my milk crate version.

And with that, success! For just $95 and three or four hours of my time, we are now saving about 79 cents in water every summer!

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Get the Playbook

My book on the cutthroat world of youth sports is now available here! (or here if you’re a Kindle kind of guy or gal)

I strongly recommend/insist that you buy this book for everyone you know to help them navigate through this Machiavellian minefield. They will thank you, maybe.

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Clusterfun in Boston

I like to brag that I’ve driven all over the world. And it’s kind of true. I’ve driven a stick shift in London which entails doing just about everything you’ve ever learned backward, while navigating some seriously narrow and high speed traffic scenarios. I’ve driven in Prague where the road signs are written in some sort of foreign language that uses squiggles and math symbols instead of letters. I’ve even driven in Thailand, which is in South America I think. So it always strikes me as odd that the place I find most confounding, most confusing, and most difficult to drive in is in my own backyard. I am of course speaking of Boston, Massachusetts. The roads were famously laid out on the original cart paths that meandered through the city before the automobile, but wouldn’t that more or less apply to every city in the world except Vegas and Orlando? Apparently, Boston’s oxen and cows were very drunk. And the city planners, being Irish themselves, just went with that. I estimate that I have driven in Boston about 60 times in my life, and I’ve gotten lost every single one of them. Even on milk runs straight down the freeway and under the bay to Logan Airport will inevitably involve a construction detour to say, Pennsylvania and back, on side streets.
The civic engineers in Boston have strict rules. All intersections in Boston are required to have at least 5 and preferably 9 roads converging at them and no road may retain its former name past said intersection. The guys responsible for signing Storrow Drive clearly had a sense of humor. They combined a high speed limit with exit sign vagueness (bordering on the criminal) that was guaranteed to deposit hundreds of people shooting for Cambridge into the Back Bay, and visa-versa, every hour.
Perhaps the most maddening thing about driving is Boston is that there are absolutely NO comebacks. If you drive past your destination, even a few hundred feet, as in “oh crap, there’s the Starbucks I was supposed to meet them at but couldn’t see because I was trying to survive a roundabout that is really a polynomial mating with a wildebeest “ you’re toast. You cannot turn around at the next light and just come back. If you take a right, you will be on a one-way that leads into the bowels of the Big Dig, or possibly Hades. Turning left won’t work because the road has suddenly become a divided highway with no exits until Medford. Even if you could return via the same road, there would be no way to turn left across the sunken viaduct and against the angry Masshole cutting you off with his Beamer.
“Sorry, kids, that was the turn for Aunt Mabel’s hospital, but by the time I get you back there, I’m pretty sure she will have passed.”

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Blogging about Blogging

Well this New Yorker cartoon stung a little bit. Particularly since I had been planning to write a post about my should be famous cheese sandwiches, thus falling into another of the previously escaped pie wedges of blogging boredom. In my defense, you would not believe these cheese sandwiches. But now it is going to be harder knowing, as I do, that I’m failing to maintain an ironic detachment and absurdly original level of creativity as I had been secretly hoping. Or maybe, cheese sandwiches are so comfort food retro that they are now totally uncool, again, and therefore I’m back on the indie outsider cool tack by writing about them? Hmmm, might be overthinking this too.

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