Picklefest 2013

The timer just went off, signifying the wind down of my fourth annual Picklefest, the summer tradition wherein I convert tens of pounds of gherkins to sweet and dill pickles. This year I canned 22 quarts, just shy of my 2012 record of 26 quarts. Whew!

You ask: why labor away in a sweltering kitchen in the hot summer?

picklesFirst, because I can. My contacts at Miller Farms, our CSA (that’s Community Supported Agriculture, or farm share), are kind enough to give me a crate of gherkins each year. I sweeten the deal by slipping them a couple of quarts as payoff at the end of the season. Keep that between us.

Second, the task satisfies four urges: creative (honey, I made something!), technical (canning requires tools and a process), conservatory (thou shalt not waste foodstuffs), and philanthropic (pickles make great gifts). I relish the feel-good satisfaction it brings, a emotional uptick that far outlasts the nicks and burns of production.

But today, as I draw the last quarts from the steaming water bath, it dawns on me that canning is a great metaphor for marketing as well. Here are four connections:

1. Start by finding a mentor.

Botulism is never appreciated in a house gift. Proper, non-lethal canning requires that you truly understand food prep and sterilization. So seek out a pro like great aunt Betty Sue or your retro-hippie friend Paisley Windstorm. Then spend a day assisting her latest project, sponging up the “knuckles & know-how” learned through years of mistakes and success. You’ll probably even score a share of the final product. Sweeeeeet.

I’d say the same for any new marketing campaign, automation tool, or content format. The surefire path to avoiding rookie mistakes is to find that expert at or outside of work who can guide you. Suck up your pride, become the student again, and then stand on the  shoulders of giants.

2. Act as the opportunity presents itself.

Fresh produce makes the best preserves but is short lived. When it lands in your hands, you have to act quickly. At the first Picklefest, I waited too long to start canning and woke one morning to a partly moldering crate of pale green veggies. Imagine how much fun it was sorting the remaining decent gherkins from the semi-liquid white ones. Ugh.

Same goes for marketing leads. Research shows that the longer a lead sits without action, the staler it gets. Forrester Research suggests that companies that nurture leads generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost (from the Marketo Web site). So…entice them with your newsletter, ask them to subscribe to your Tip of the Week, or send them the piece of content that advances their work. Interact and connect. Just don’t leave them sitting alone, getting old, fuzzy and unusable.

3. Document the entire process.

Unlike baking, canning requires only rudimentary equipment: a large pot, small strainers, a lifter, and lots of jars, lids and screw caps. But just as crucial is a notebook to write down your ideas, mistakes, and insights as they occur. Canning is seasonal, and without notes, you’re likely to forget the best lessons by the time the next crate appears in your kitchen a year hence.

In my experience, marketers rarely make time to document a campaign process or even perform a decent post-mortem beyond a simple ROI analysis. It may seem like overkill, but if you create and complete a standard work template, no one forgets the details and everyone benefits. Add as much color commentary as you can while you remember. Do it for yourself, your team, and those who will one day inherit your role.

4. Know your customer, even if it isn’t you.

Truth be told, I’m ambivalent about pickled foods. I prefer half sours, but I seem to be alone in this; when I survey my family and friends, they tell me they’re most passionate about other varieties. So I am not my customer, and since I can mostly for others (re: the philanthropic urge), I take time to suss out who likes the dills and who likes the sweets, who likes them whole and who likes them sliced. Then I deliver what I know they want.

Before getting too deep into marketing, always remember you must first understand the customers’ needs. My agency friends are experts at this when working with new clients. Don’t (1) fool yourself into thinking that you are the customer, or (2) make assumptions you can’t back up with data. If at any time you begin to be too confident in your assertions, stop yourself, ring a few of your best customers and reconnect with their stories and their language. Then use that knowledge – not your own preferences or predilections – to pitch your prospects.

Otherwise, you may end up with a cellar full of unwanted pickles. Which hasn’t happened to me yet.

Do You Suffer from “Vicarious Goal Fulfillment?”

A few weeks ago, the Sunday New York Times featured a fascinating article: “Why Healthy Eaters Fall for Fries.” I say fascinating because it opened my eyes to exactly why I seem to regularly sabotage my own intent for a healthy diet. Apparently, like most every other human on the planet, I am susceptible to a phenomenon referred to informally as “vicarious goal fulfillment.”

Here’s what happens: You go to a restaurant intending to make a healthy choice, say a garden salad. When you find the item on the menu, you recognize this option as desirable and healthy, and your brain delivers a blissful feeling of goal fulfillment. But…while you’re all pumped up on that wave of positive reinforcement (nice decision!), you then allow yourself to select a double cheeseburger and fries for your actual meal. Your biochemistry has duped you into justifying the worst choice.

This phenomenon of vicarious goal fulfillment (let’s call it VCF) has been verified in several recent studies where fast food restaurants attempted (vainly it seems) to offer more nutritional options. Receipts show that calorie counts and healthy menus made customers’ choices worse, not better. One scary conclusion: “health-conscious eaters are the most susceptible to picking unhealthy items when the menu also has healthy ones.”

At least now I know why, following a healthy breakfast of oatmeal with fruit, health-conscious Larry actually feels fine skipping over the veggies, brown rice, and hummus and choosing a meal of leftover mac & cheese and frozen birthday cake. I justify my bad lunch choice by having already made a good one. Thanks for nothing, VCF.

Sadly, the NYTimes article offered no solutions to vicarious goal fulfillment. Perhaps the first, best step is to simply acknowledge its existence. I wager that we can also finger VCF as responsible for other, less-than-salutary habits. Ever contemplate a refreshing jog, then end up watching “The Shawshank Redemption” for the umpteenth time? Pull out that Nabokov novel, only to find yourself watching cat videos on YouTube?

I thought so….

When and Why to Place Your Web Site

It’s now pro forma for organizations to include their Web domain on just about everything: stationary, email signatures, flyers, business cards and the tchotchkes you give away at tradeshows. Even tattoos.

And why not? The text doesn’t take up much room, it’s handy for prospects and customers, and it reinforces your organization’s name and brand. But before you go overboard placing your URL on every little thing, I recommend that you step back and see just how much more you can make of the opportunity.

Case in point: Recently, I was drying my hands at the airport (avoiding the use of a paper towel), and there, right before me was the name and Web site of the dryer manufacturer:


Spare, well spaced, and obvious. Nice work, marketing team. Check that one off the list. Probably thousands of people a day see that message in that one airport restroom alone.

But what’s the purpose here? Perhaps the marketing department requested the placement full knowing that, at some magical time, a restauranteur, contractor or titan of industry would make the instantaneous connection between the high quality of the hand drying experience and the immediate need for 15 hand dryers for the new building. Connection made, sale complete, ring the bell!

Not so fast. Two obvious problems here:

  1. There’s no way for a marketer to trace the sale to the source. The link is to the company’s home page, where the most Web traffic lands, and
  2. There’s no obvious reason or incentive to motivate a user to visit the company Web site in the first place. Where’s the Call to Action??????

My Recommendation

I see this happen all the time. Actually listing the Web site is a good first step. But why not take the opportunity to add a tagline/teaser and a unique URL? Add some character and verve to the space. Ideas off the top of my head:

  • FUNNY: Hands not completely dry? So sorry! Visit our Web site for your money back: www.website.com/wethands
  • CARING: How do your hands feel now? Soft and dry? We want to know. Share your experience: www.website.com/handsfeelgood
  • ADVANTAGEOUS: Are you a contractor? Find out how easy it is to buy and install our hand dryers:  www.website.com/contractor

And so on. Why not run multiple campaigns, each with a unique URL and call to action? Sure, those dryers will be in place for a good, long time, and you’ll need to like what you stamp there. It may even be costly or difficult to get the engineers and production line to adopt these changes. But you’ve got the full attention of your audience in the 15-20 seconds it takes someone to stand still and dry his hands.

And it’s the creative use of the moment that sets apart the savvy marketer.

The Perfect Process

In my recent monthly Webcast, I was honored to have Bill Demidovich of Lean Ohio as the guest presenter. A consummate process improvement professional and polished speaker, Bill spent the hour walking through the guiding philosophy of LeanOhio and revealing the details of several excellent case studies of broken – and then fixed – state government processes.

The audience loved the examples and the exchanges between speaker and moderator (myself). The post-event “fan mail” as I call it was entirely positive and appreciative. Overall, an excellent example of content marketing: we entertained and informed the audience while simultaneously gathering and qualifying training leads for the sales team.

Although we’d walked through a dry run with Bill a few days earlier, I was surprised and inspired with a single statement in the live Webcast. In reference to the many labyrinthine government processes his team was asked to fix, he explained: “Your processes are perfectly designed for the results you get.”

I surmise that this is something we all innately understand – yet consistently deny. When our business processes fail our expectations and the expectations of our customers, we often look to a single point of breakdown: “The paperwork was late because of Barb in HR” or “No one noticed how low the inventory was.” In reality, as processes evolve and organizations grow, plenty of these missteps and unnecessary decision points actually become baked into the process. It’s the “new normal” process.

One of my favorite of Bill Demidovich’s slides (the presentation and slides are available to the public on the MoreSteam.com Web site) was the one that showed the “actual process” as a dashed line and the “idealized process” we expect as the straight solid line:

processRather scary, eh? Seem familiar?  Alas, it’s not until someone has the courage to recognize and address the “invisible” problem that you can begin to show that the process is operating exactly as it was designed (and redesigned and amended and branched and modified and whatever else). You’re very lucky if the someone who faults you is an internal stakeholder who means well, not a valuable customer.

As for marketing and sales, I recommend you:

  • Take a look at your own internal processes (e.g., how timely are qualified leads are delivered to the sales team?),
  • Use any available data to determine if it’s operating within your specifications (e.g., days to completion),
  • Keep an ear out for anything that your team may just smooth over with a despondent “that’s the way it’s always been,”
  • “Walk” the process, and map and describe it,
  • Reveal it to everyone who needs to understand it isn’t working,
  • Begin to resolve the issues you find and redesign your process.

That’s when the improvement can begin. Until then, well, congratulations. Your process is imperfectly perfect.

Put the email down and step away

Over the past 4.5 years, working as a remote employee, I’ve become involved in an intimate (and sometimes torrid) relationship with Outlook. Don’t tell my wife, please. Actually, she probably knows this already.

Outlook seduces me with her alerts and dialogues. “Check out the InBox,” she coos every five minutes. “See how important you are,” she purrs, “Let me show you how much people want you and need your expertise.” Trollop that she is, I cannot quit her.

What I really need instead is to focus on is writing and marketing strategy.  So I’ve been experimenting with turning Outlook off for the whole morning, though that’s difficult since I use my email as a de facto archive, which I am sure many of you do as well.

The result: I’ve learned that, if I can go for 20 minutes without the urge to check email, it subsides and my brain is able to reach clarity around whatever task I’ve set for myself. I know that it’s becoming vogue to take a Digital Sabbatical, but I wonder if shorter breaks, more frequently taken might result in a more consistent, enduring mental benefit. Let’s call them short-term moratoriums, or STeMs.

So – time to take a STeM. See you soon.