Mike Rowlands opens his workshop on branding by telling us about how a hotel manager in Victoria BC shot out a window of his hotel with a shotgun.
It’s day two of the Social Venture Institute and I’m sitting with 30 other social entrepreneurs and savvy do gooders in Olatunji Hall
Back to this hotel . . . Their hotel was plagued with low occupancy . . . and pigeons who loved the pond they’d created in the back of their hotel off the back patio. No matter what they tried (e.g. poison, nets etc) . . . they could never get rid of the pigeons. So, finally, in frustration one of the managers brought a shot gun into the kitchen and stood in front of an open window facing the pond and loaded the gun. His colleagues stood watching him, partly stunned but relatively sure it was a joke. Until he aimed out the window and pulled the trigger.
And quickly discovered that the window had not, in fact, been open.
The hotel management hung the shot-out window inside their offices like a trophy.
These people were a little weird.
But Mike Rowlands saw the beauty in that. Sitting in the shadow of Victoria’s grand Empress Hotel, the Laurel Point Hotel didn’t have the option of competing on the old school, colonial charm of Victoria’s most popular hotel.
What Mike saw was how strange and quirky the people running it were. They didn’t represent the ‘old Victoria’ of the crumpets and tea at the Empress, Madame Tussauld’s and the gardens. They represented the ‘New Victoria’ who were younger, outdoor adventurers and local food supporters.
What if their quirk could be lifted up and high lighted and made a core part of their brand?
What if this place could become and embodiment of that. A home for it. What if your business could become a veritable hub of your scene? What if your dream clients saw your initiative as a kind of ‘home’?
And that was the core of the strategy he implemented which had this hotel become the #2 hotel in the city (after the Empress which is a huge historic landmark and will likely always be #1).
After ten years of helping hippies with their marketing, I can tell you this: most businesses and initiatives are dull. They have a generic vibe. No one would miss them if they vanished tomorrow.
The things they brag about are things that no one cares about.
Mike points out that telling everyone about your honesty, integrity and how respectful you are is boring.
Of course you might cynically assume that, ‘of course a marketer is deriding honesty’ but, he’s got a point.
Most businesses are boring. They’re okay. They’re fine. No one hates them, but no one loves them either. They try to hide their quirk.
As a marketing nerd myself, I can tell you that, from the eyes of a customer, telling the truth, doing what you say you will and treating people well isn’t anything exceptional. To tell a client that you are any of those things will never elicit the response of, ‘Oh wow! Tell me more.’ It’s much more likely to get the response, ‘I should hope so . . .’
And any marketing message that gets the ‘I should hope so.’ response is doomed.
Honesty, integrity and being respectful are like the legs of the table. They’re required for the table to be stable so you can enjoy a meal with your customers – but they aren’t the meal. They’re the bare minimum requirement to be in business. Mike asks us to consider trying to run a business on the opposite qualities. Being an entrepreneur who is a lying, sneaky bastard.
The meal itself, the food on the table, gets noticed. The legs of the table do not.
Mike is making the point that our core values as a business need to be something more than the basics of being a decent person. I see it all the time with clients who say, ‘What makes us unique is our quality, service and dependability.’ Booooooo. Boring. Next. I should hope so.
When you’re trying to refine your values, what’s most important to you, we need to think of the food on the table. The more interesting things. Perhaps you’re ‘quirky’ and you value being original. Perhaps you’re ‘classy’. Maybe you value being ‘boldly local’. Maybe you’re nerdy, passionate, bookish, adventurous. This question of, ‘what are your values’ calls on you to do some soul searching and really look at what your vibe is. And to be more true to that. To bring more of you into your business.
And bringing more ‘you’ into your business is never boring.
So many people try to seem professional. Boring.
They try to appeal to everyone. Boring.
Mike makes the point, and I have to agree, that when you build around a solid core set of values like this, that your business will turn some people off (hooray! you didn’t want them anyway) but it will much more powerfully attract the people who are a perfect fit for your business. When you build around your values your business gets a vibe to it and people are drawn to it (and drawn to stay longer) because they love that vibe so much.
Like a café you find and are instantly charmed by (assuming ‘charm’ is a key value of the business owner).
The Joie de Vivre management company created a series of boutique hotels based on popular magazines. One hotel was based on Rolling Stone magazine. People who love that magazine would love that hotel. It was all rock and roll. Another hotel might be based more on GQ. Very different feeling. Very different values. Definitely not boring.
Stop trying to impress people with your sturdy table and start focusing on making the best meal for them you can. They’ll remember and tell their friends. And of course if you have the fanciest meal in the world and then the table collapses hot soup on them, burning them and staining your dress, you’ll tell all your friends too. It’s not that the legs of the table are unimportant – it’s that you know they’re doing their job when they’re not being noticed.
So, focus on the meal. You’ll feel more passionate about your business. You’ll feel delighted as you attract more of your ideal clients and supporters and watch your do gooding initiative grow and grow.
And that’s not boring at all.