leadership dot #3409: Honeycrisp

We think that apples come from trees, but they also come from scientists. At the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center, they don’t just grow things, they develop them. Their star product is the Honeycrisp apple, but they also have engineered the Zestar and several other branded apples and grow 316 varieties of pumpkins, squash, and gourds.

In apple development, horticulturalists are striving for a winning combination of three factors: 1) the flavor (which includes color, crispness, sweet/tart, juicy, firmness, etc.); 2) the shelf life (where Honeycrisp shines), and the growing season. Scientists have been able to extend the harvest for apples in Minnesota from August to October, allowing farmers to maximize the use of the equipment and labor rather than having their entire crop condensed into a short window.

It reminded me of the metaphorical “three-legged stool” that we attempted to balance in college admissions: the number of students, their academic profile, and the net revenue that each contributed after scholarships. We could easily achieve two of the criteria, but achieving all three proved challenging. I imagine the same is true of apple grafting.

Organizations often focus on one or two metrics, but the secret is in the elusive blending of attributes. What is the flavorful combination of characteristics you are seeking to attain? Identify the trifecta your organization needs to create its own winning “Honeycrisp.”

leadership dot #3404: trouble

My sister’s motto is “Why be plain?” and it applies to websites as well as signage like I wrote about yesterday (dot 3403).

We’ve all had the dreaded “this page is not available” pop up on our screen, but why does it have to be boring and simply give a 404 Error message? Companies have created a host of more creative options, allowing them to communicate the same message but in a way that is entertaining instead of annoying.

Invest the effort in making all your communication cohesive and intentional. Don’t waste the opportunity to build your brand — even when you’re having temporary trouble with your website.

Thanks, Emily!

leadership dot #3403: communicate

When you think of signs with company branding, often that simply involves having the organization’s logo on display. Companies may give attention to the main marquee or prominent signs, but few pay attention to the details on tangential signage. That’s unfortunate because it is where you can really bring your logo and values alive.

One great example of this comes from the disabled vehicle sign in the Hurt’s Donuts parking lot. Instead of the generic blue, they were able to get their message — and their personality — across in the same sheet of metal.

Are your signs generic — or do they communicate “you”? Don’t waste an opportunity to express something besides information in every sign you post.

leadership dot #3390: place

New Mexico has a lot in common with Disney World — in that seemingly every detail of the environment is intentionally designed. From crosswalks to bridges, signs, highway barriers, ceiling beams, and overall architecture, it all seamlessly blends together to create a profound sense of place. You know you’re in New Mexico when you’re there as even the McDonald’s or banks follow the zoning regulations and contribute, rather than detract, from the atmosphere.

Why can’t every state be like this — using bridges as art galleries rather than ugly concrete structures? Adding symbolism to decor instead of leaving things plain? Creating community standards that define an area instead of letting randomness run rampant?

It would be hard to retrofit a place to achieve the sense of continuity that New Mexico has fostered, but maybe you can achieve it in your own space. Think about every decision and every inch — does it tell a story in addition to serving an architectural function? Opportunity lies in every beam.

Ceiling beams inside the Albuquerque “Sunport” (aka airport)
Crosswalks in Taos
State’s Zia symbol on all their highway signs

leadership dot #3382: pumpkin spice

Think of how many millions have been made because of the flavor pumpkin spice. What started off as a coffee enhancement has morphed into just about every product imaginable: breads, cereals, nuts, candles, soaps, sanitizers — if it is scented, I guarantee that pumpkin spice is an option. I even saw a cartoon that parodied offering “pumpkin spice vaccines” since everyone seems to be attracted to whatever is offered in that flavor!

Can your organization jump on the bandwagon? Even adding some pumpkins to your print subliminally links you to something that is popular with the masses. As the fall weather changes, your offerings might benefit from a bit of spicing up, too.

leadership dot #3349: memaw

Two out of every five grandparents have had a grandchild born during the pandemic! I was shocked at that statistic, and even more surprised that I learned it on a Motel 6 radio ad. In a brilliant positioning move, the chain is targeting the “memaws” who are dying to hold the little loves they have only seen on Zoom. Over 4 million babies were born in the U.S. during COVID, creating an opportunity for all kinds of introductions as pandemic restrictions are relaxed.

No matter what business you are in, consider whether there is a way for you to leverage the pent-up desire for parents and grandparents to show off their babies. Online galleries for alumni grandparents or parents to post photos with their newest child? Introduction parties with your staff to meet the newest members of your team’s families? A post-COVID baby shower to provide toddler resources instead of the baby gifts the new parents missed out on?

As you craft plans for reconnecting your team, remember the losses but also the births that have occurred since you last gathered in person.

leadership dot #3347: wrinkle

When I order clothes online I expect them to come with some creases that set in during shipping but my latest package exceeded my expectations — and not in a good way. The blouse was so crammed into a tiny envelope that it looks like I slept in it.

Does the manufacturer know their product arrives in such condition? Does the seller know that their efforts to reduce packaging result in such an outcome? Do they care?

Laundering the blouse hopefully will rectify the problem but it highlights once again that you are responsible for your service or product through the whole experience, even if you don’t control all the pieces. If the mail is late or the blouse comes smushed, it reflects on you. Be your own stealth consumer and see if you are happy with the end result. Don’t let a wrinkle in your delivery chain crumple your customer’s satisfaction.

leadership dot #3342: consistency

The local grocery store also operates a series of gas station/convenience stores. While they carry the same name and branding, they each operate independently and set their own policies. For example, one store discounts for soda refills while another does not. One location has a punch card that requires 12 punches for a free drink while the others only need 10. I think they have as many differences as similarities.

When I go into a franchise, I expect consistency. Part of the reason people go into McDonald’s is that they know they will get the same thing at any of its locations. Other franchisees strive to achieve the same. Organizations with regional or functional chapters are essentially “franchises” bound to follow the same principles.

Don’t confuse your customers. If you want to function with autonomy you should operate as separate organizations under different names. A franchise — or subgroup of a larger organization — requires a commitment to the whole. If you take the name, you take the entire package.

leadership dot #3325: closeness

If you’re from Chicagoland, you likely know Portillo’s — the home of famous Chicago Dogs and roast beef. Portillo’s is always busy, with multiple drive-through lanes, advance order-takers to expedite the process, crowded restaurants, and lines. The hectic nature of the restaurant is part of the experience and subliminally reinforces the popularity of the brand.

I recently ate at a franchised Portillo’s location in another city and while the food was spot-on, something seemed off about my visit. Then it hit me: the restaurant was too big. This location was designed to accommodate 315 people — and only a fraction of that number were dining that day. There was no hustle, no lines, no scramble for a table. While the food was excellent, the restaurant experience was ordinary.

I think cozy conditions are desirable in many situations. Having people stand as part of an overflow crowd at an event adds more caché. Office desks that are in close proximity have been shown to enhance the culture and create a greater sense of camaraderie. Stores that are bustling generate more energy among shoppers than when they are alone in the aisles.

When allocating space, it is counterintuitive but more beneficial to think small. Closeness is not just a physical attribute but an emotional one as well.

leadership dot #3320: repackage

I did a double-take in the pet food aisle when I saw boxes of candy for the pooches — but on closer inspection realized it was an illusion. Some clever marketer put a small number of treats in a re-branded box to increase the attention the treats garner (as well as the profit margin!).

Of course, the treats are aimed at the owner rather than the pet itself in an attempt to stimulate nostalgic feelings and set the kibble apart from the aisle of others — but I suspect the contents have not been changed.

As I have written before, it pays to take a fresh look at your offerings. The same thing in a different package can stimulate new interest, earnings, and impact.