leadership dot #2935: tiny

Cedarburg, Wisconsin is one of those quaint little towns with a main street of boutiques that attracts people from the region and one of the “must-go-there” shops sells gourmet caramel apples. Not just any apples, mind you, but apples on steroids, coated in their luscious chocolate and a variety of toppings.

It’s hard to select one when your choices are macadamia coconut, patriotic sprinkles, s’ mores, wild hibiscus sea salt, butter pecan, rocky road, Oreo, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, Reese’s Pieces, Butterfinger, Heath, M&M, Snickers, strawberry shortcake – covered in white chocolate or dark – plain or decorated like a bride or groom or teacher’s apple – it just keeps going on.

These apples aren’t cheap, mind you, but they were so big that we had to cut them into sections and eat them in multiple sittings because they were too rich to savor all at once. Worth the price and angst in deciding!

Here is a tiny store in a tiny town that has a tiny product line – and yet makes itself a destination. They have taken one item and done it better than most, continually evolving their products to make them even more desirable and unique.

Take a lesson from Amy’s and imagine how you can keep your offerings small enough to become a big deal.

leadership dot #2913: pup cup

If you want an example of knowing your audience, Dairy Queen’s Pup Cup may be it. The local establishment sells ice cream, of course, to owners of dogs who want to provide a treat for their canine “kids.” But to make the item special the DQ includes a Milk Bone on top.

That bone is not there for the dog; it’s there for the human. It’s not as if the dog is asking for either the dessert or the treat, but by catering to the pet parents Dairy Queen can generate additional business for itself from those who want to spoil their companions.

Think about who your true influencer is. The dog may be the end user, but the human is the one handing over the cash. Whose tail should you try to make wag?

leadership dot #2907: don’t

In yesterday’s dot, I recommended adding smell to the repertoire of tools you use to shape your brand or environment. But some brands have taken it over the top.

My personal (least) favorite: McDonald’s candles. Who thought it would be a good idea to have a candle that smells like bun, onion or beef? The six scents are meant to be burned together (another crazy idea) with candles of ketchup, pickle and cheese to replicate a Quarter Pounder. No thanks!

The New York Times issued a candle that had the scent of newsprint and ink – something that may need to be preserved for future generations and Peeps allows you to fill your space with the “fragrance” of Marshmallow Chicks. Many other brands have unofficial candle options crafted by those on Etsy.

Having people love your brand enough that they want to experience it in many forms is admirable but for most companies, having your own candle scent is nonsensical.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Just don’t.


Thanks, Meg!

leadership dot #2900: Mr. Bubble

You may not have heard of Harold Schafer but it’s likely that you know the product he sold: Mr. Bubble. Schafer was a door to door salesman that eventually ran a major corporation, the Gold Seal Company, which at one point had products in every home in America.

But Mr. Bubble not only made Schafer a rich person, it created an entire industry of products. In the 1950s, bubble baths were considered a luxury only for movie stars. Schafer wanted to capitalize on the 600 million baths/year and expand the use of products beyond just soap. He insisted on fun packaging for Mr. Bubble and the rest is history. Bath products now account for $325 million in sales and bubble baths are an affordable option for everyone.

Schafer did not invent the process of taking baths, bubble bath or the use of products in the tub rather he saw an opportunity for more people to enjoy something that was, at the time, only for the rich. He made millions on products that only cost a dollar or two by making them ubiquitous in every home.

You may not achieve the success of Harold Schafer but you can learn from him and see gaps between what is and what could be. Why can’t bubble baths be for kids? Why couldn’t high-end mixers be used by ordinary cooks? Why aren’t home security systems affordable for everyone? Rather than focusing on inventing new products or services, reimagine the audiences you serve.

Source: Mr. Bubble – The Harold Schafer Story (movie)

 Thanks, Mark!

leadership dot #2885: common sense

Along with the candle in a Bath&Body Works bag came a 5” x 10” piece of cardboard with “Important Candle Safety Information.” This sheet outlined such items as a WARNING that candles were a fire hazard and that you should NEVER burn candles on or near anything that can catch fire. I wonder what lawsuit compelled the company to spend its money on something that is so patently obvious to virtually everyone.

Where do we draw the line and leave people to discern evident behaviors for themselves? Milk doesn’t come with a WARNING: Refrigerate or your milk will curdle. Doors don’t say CAUTION: If you leave this equipment unlocked you could be burglarized. Computers aren’t plastered with stickers reading DO NOT IMMERSE IN WATER. Glasses aren’t imprinted with CAUTION: this will shatter if dropped.

Resist the urge to over-explain instructions and to excessively compensate with warnings. Save your money and the trees. No placard or caution sticker is going to change the behavior of those who are oblivious to the apparent and commonsense use of an everyday item.

leadership dot #2864: for anything

How do you enhance your customer service game when your responsiveness is already legendary? Well, if you’re Zappos you morph your call center into “Customer Service for Anything” and encourage people to call you – for, well, anything as their ad proclaims:


“Have you called our Customer Service Anything line yet? Because we’re still here for you, 24/7, for whatever you need. Whether it’s help finding a new recipe, a new series to binge, or a suggestion for entertaining your kiddos, give us a call. We’re waiting to hear from you – no purchase necessary.”


I’ll bet they have stories to share of the requests they receive – making the work more enjoyable for those performing it and building brand loyalty during a downturn in business. It is a brilliant adaptation of resources as well as a fun marketing gimmick.


Maybe they can help you brainstorm ways to tailor your organization’s resources to this crazy set of circumstances.

Text: 833-927-7898

Call: 800-927-7671 x3


leadership dot #2837: error

Those who work with web pages know that the dreaded 404 Error will occasionally pop up, alerting the user that a “page is not available.” Des Moines Area Community College prepared for this inevitability and opted to use it to its advantage – by advertising its IT classes on the error page.

“Interested in fighting the evil 404 error as a career? Gain this and other super skills with our powerful line-up of technology courses at DMACC. Join the Department of Incredible Things and Find Your Super IT Power,” their ad reads. I have no computer skills but it makes me want to sign up!

You can predict some of the things that will go wrong. Capitalize on this opportunity to reframe the message and give your client a smile, if you’re temporarily prevented from providing what they were originally seeking.

Thanks, Emily!


leadership dot #2816: misstep

The original Crocs plastic shoes are, in most people’s eyes, just plain ugly. Their incredible comfort has earned them a loyal clientele that overlooks the frumpiness, but even though the brand has come a long way in improving its style with other designs, few are wearing them for their looks. There are more memes making fun of Crocs than there are with almost any other footwear.

So, it seemed like a mismatch to me when I saw an ad with model Priyanka Chopra Jonas wearing one of their ugliest shoe styles in a fashion pose. Were they making fun of themselves – along the lines of the Milk Mustache campaign – or did someone actually think it was realistic to promote Crocs as a fashion statement? The other taglines on this ad – “Come as you are” and “Make it a Classic” seem to fit with their choose-comfort-over-looks vibe, but a fashion model?

There is not a product or service out there that appeals to everyone. Find your niche and embrace it, while letting the others go. Crocs + fashion are out of step.

leadership dot #2809: caution

The Dominican Republic is known for its gorgeous beaches, luxury resorts and abundant sunshine. My trip to Punta Cana from years ago was dreamy and I can see why it’s a destination for thousands of U.S. travelers, brides and tour groups.

But after a series of well-publicized deaths and mysterious ailments, the new Punta Cana ads focus on something besides the ocean: safety.

The Punta Cana Promise proclaims “Safe Dominican Republic Hotels” – saying that they strive to ensure safety and service standards are not only met but exceeded.

Safety is a precarious claim to make – I’m sure that the hotels where the illnesses occurred would have also said that they tried to ensure it. So much about safety is out of the hotel owners’ hands, such as weather calamities, terror, coronavirus, or theft. Hotels fall down, catch fire or become home base for active shooters – none of which were easily preventable.

The more you promise, the higher the expectations are that you will deliver. I think the Dominican would be safer sticking with its beautiful ocean message and your organization should use caution before promising things you cannot control.

leadership dot #2795: cheeky

If you have a product that was released in 1941, you can do two things to keep it refreshed: change the ingredients or modify the packaging. M&Ms has certainly extended their brand by adding peanuts, peanut butter, hazelnut, mint, almonds, etc. and now they have created a new campaign strictly around how the candy is packaged.

M&Ms released 36 different bags for their “share” size, offering both serious and tongue-in-cheek messages for a variety of occasions. The packages include saying such as: “You’re lucky to have a friend like me,” “I love being socially awkward with you,” “I miss your face,” and “Congratulations on that thing you did.” The packages are colorful and fun and had me wanting to take several bags home with me.

If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive way to boost the morale of your staff or a way to acknowledge a colleague or friendship, the M&Ms message bags may be just the way to do it. And even if you don’t purchase the candy, think about the lesson it can teach you about how to alter your packaging to boost your appeal. What product or service do you have that could benefit from a cheeky new look, even on a temporary basis?