leadership dot #3764: number

Most companies commemorate anniversaries on an even number or multiple of twenty-five, but for Binney and Smith, it made perfect sense to celebrate 64 years. That’s because the famous crayon maker is known for its package of 64 crayons — thus the number is one that has special significance to them.

If they look closely, all organizations have “a number” that is aligned with their brand. Heinz should celebrate its 57th year, Baskin Robbins its 31st, and as they do, 7-11 offers free Slurpees on July 11th to mark “their” date.

Whether you have a number that is as obviously linked to your organization as the ones listed above or you create your own, there is a benefit to linking a message to a numerical reminder. One organization offered prizes whenever a member spotted the team’s goal number out in the world and shared a photo with the team (eg: as an address or on a sign). It was a fun way to keep the goal at the forefront of people’s minds.

Think about the digits that have significance for your organization and find ways to keep “your number” alive. It’s another way to cultivate belonging and help focus your team on the metrics that matter.

leadership dot #3763: competing

Our local grocery store makes a big deal out of its Health Market offerings. They have dieticians on staff, provide samples or recipes of how to cook healthy food and dedicate a large amount of shelf space to organic and ingredient-sensitive foods.

And yet, as part of a recent remodel, the same store has also created a Candy Shoppe — prominently featured in the main aisles — that tempts shoppers with candy in special displays. It seems to negate all their Health Market efforts and create confusion as to what really is a priority for them (profit?).

You can highlight any aspect of your organization that you wish — just don’t pick two competing interests and think consumers will believe you stand for either one.

leadership dot #3758: cocktails

When you think of Girl Scout cookies, you likely think of a young girl selling Thin Mints. The Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts realized that it is important to get the adults excited about cookie sales as well. So, to launch their drive they are hosting “Cookies and Cocktails” where local chefs create treats from the cookies (as if they aren’t delicious enough on their own) and signature cocktails with cookie themes. Of course, there are categories and prizes — the whole evening sounds like a wonderful way to kick off the selling season and raise some funds in the process.

We often limit ourselves by thinking of only one audience for our product or service. Follow the example of the Girl Scouts and think broadly about who might have an affinity to what you offer. Cookies and Cocktails is a 21+ only event so the Scouts themselves are not even involved, but It’s never a bad idea to spread your awareness and enthusiasm to tangential audiences.

leadership dot #3736: to a T

For much of my executive career, Talbots was the place to shop for professional clothes. It was the store with classic style, quality, and attire that would outfit you well in the board room. Today, as much square footage at Talbots is dedicated to their new “T” line of activewear as is utilized to display career clothes, and there is not a suit to be found.

Talbots has created an entire line of fleece, knits, leggings, hoodies, and “everyday stretch” that pairs as well in the yoga studio as it does working from home. Their whole focus seems to be on comfort — a far cry from the Talbots of old.

Like many other clothiers, Talbots has evolved to meet the pandemic/post-pandemic demand for more casual attire. They have reworked their product, image, marketing, and audience to adjust to new realities. Interestingly, they still maintain their tagline of “modern classic style since 1947,” acknowledging that what constitutes “classic” in 2022 is quite different than it was when they were founded, or even in 2019.

How can you take a lesson from Talbots and rethink how to deliver continuity with your core while making adjustments to acknowledge changes in your environment? What Talbots has done suits them to a “T.”

leadership dot #3701: hitch

Over the weekend, I was able to see the Budweiser Clydesdales. Having lived in St. Louis, I have seen them many times before, but they never fail to thrill me. Such stately, magnificent animals!

It’s obvious that Anheuser Busch/inBev invests millions into this operation as there are three traveling teams, each with three custom semi-trucks, a team of six handlers, customized pens, and even branded manure pails. The Clydesdales scream Budweiser because everything around them reinforces that message.

The horses did not make their first public appearance until 1933 when they paraded down the street with the beer wagon to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition. It was such a hit that Busch, Sr. sent a hitch to New York and the horses made a tour of New England, including a stop at the White House. Since then, the teams are on the road 300 days/year and Budweiser and Clydesdales have become synonymous.

There is nothing that inherently connects a hitch of 2000-pound horses and beer, but the novelty, repetition, and intentional reinforcement of the brand for close to a century have created a promotional symbol that is recognized the world over. My takeaway from seeing the Clydesdales (again) is to stick with it. Too often, we change logos, looks, or campaigns because we get tired of them. Instead, hitch yourself to a symbol for the long run and build the instantaneous recognition that endures.

You can see Gus and Bud the Dalmations in the pen next to Jeff. Dalmations were originally part of the team to guard the wagon and horses when the driver made deliveries, so they continue to ride on the wagon today.
“Bud” — 19.1 hands — 2200 pounds!

leadership dot #3691: brew

I know that dogs are humans’ best friends, but this new product takes it a bit too far. Anheuser-Busch has developed a new Dog Brew product, a tasty bone-in pork butt broth specifically made for canines. It’s a pricey concoction, $15 for 4 cans, but presumably serves to promote healthy digestion and provide extra nutrients to Fido.

What I suspect is truly behind the brew’s development is a way to utilize byproducts from the making of actual beer. It’s a risky move, in my opinion, as the similarity of packaging could confuse humans and lead them to drink the product (yuck!), or, worse yet, lead people to think that giving real Busch to dogs is acceptable when alcohol is toxic to pets.

Category-jumping may bring in some revenue but completely strays from Busch’s core business. Don’t risk your reputation by grabbing at any bone for a buck.

leadership dot #3688: raincheck

Our local grocery store is running a week of daily specials and I went to purchase my bargain-priced butter — only they were sold out. I asked if they were offering rainchecks and the answer was “we stopped giving them out at 5:00.” This arbitrary decision didn’t sit well with me, so I asked why. The clerk said: “That’s what management told us to say if customers asked.”

What?! I wonder how the clerk felt as he parroted back this ridiculous line.

The situation made me think of the Harvard Business Review article that I quote often in my supervision sessions. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones surveyed employees to determine what characteristics made up the “best workplace on Earth.” One of five answers: “Stupid rules don’t exist.”

Employees don’t want to deliver BS excuses to customers and see them infuriated because the policies don’t make sense. They want to be the “helpful smile in every aisle” as they allegedly were hired to be.

Don’t put your staff in the position of being the bad guy. If you determine that an undesirable policy is absolutely necessary, communicate it widely to help set customer expectations, make it universal, and have someone with authority available to enforce it. Throwing in an apology, regret, or an ounce of compassion wouldn’t hurt either.

Stupid rules are just that — stupid — and cost more in ill-will for everyone than they save.

leadership dot #3687: potatoes

If I asked you which state grew the most potatoes, I’ll bet most could correctly name Idaho. But what’s your guess for what state is number two or three?

Until this weekend, I would have had no idea, but through a very clever partnership, I learned that Wisconsin is the third-largest grower of spuds in the U.S. (Washington State is number two.) The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association helped create this awareness by sponsoring a touring music and dance troupe, the Kids from Wisconsin. The Kids travel the state and perform almost daily for two months, reaching 120,000 people. They end the first portion of the show by having the audience sing along to a little jingle about Wisconsin potatoes, they capture it on an iPad, and I’m sure that someone will post it on social media, reaching an even larger audience.

It seems like an unlikely pairing — kids between ages 15-20 and locally-grown potatoes — but it is actually a smart vehicle to increase recognition among the hundreds of adults who watch the Kids perform. The first step toward changing consumer behavior is raising awareness and the Growers certainly achieved that goal with an ad in the program, t-shirts, and most importantly, active participation by both the singers and the audience. Follow their cue and forge a partnership with a source that can engage your potential users in a tactical and unexpected way.

leadership dot #3685: simplifying

Nestled in among the surf shops and souvenir stands that line Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is a different kind of store — one that rents bridal gowns. It makes sense that many destination weddings occur on this piece of paradise, so Something Borrowed minimizes the bulk that brides-to-be need to carry.

Something Borrowed rents gowns ($300) and suits ($200) with their hassle-free “rent, wear, return” policy. While the low price may get you in the door, in addition to the rental boutique, they also offer wedding planning services where you may spend a far greater amount. Their coordination encompasses as much or as little as you are willing to pay for — everything from proposal planning to a photo tour to wedding week coordination ($4500). Their full-service plan will handle the smallest of details and orchestrate everything so you just have to show up.

Think about whether you can “borrow” part of the Something Borrowed business model and handle the details that could come easily to someone who does them all the time but may be overwhelming for one-time users (think funerals, a baby, or a new pet). If you simplify a complex transaction for someone, there are people out there who will accept your proposal and say “yes.”

leadership dot #86a: care by example

One of our service offices had a temporary table set up this week to handle the opening-of-school rush. The person working had made a handwritten sign, on a piece of notebook paper, with the loose leaf “fringe” still attached.

Another employee walked up to the table and removed the sign, replacing it with a typed version. “We’re better than that,” he said as he crumpled the original paper. 

I did not witness any of the above, but it made such an impression on someone who did that he retold the story to me and, no doubt, to others. Little things do matter. First impressions do count. 

Kudos to the employee who acted to improve the situation, instead of just complaining about it. Rather than just shaking your head, let’s follow the example to take those extra few moments to make something a bit better in your organization. 

Originally published in modified form on August 26, 2012