If you name it, they will come

Lagoa des Sete Cidades, Sao Miguel, Azores by Cinty Ionescu via Flickr.com, (cc) some rights reserved

Lagoa des Sete Cidades, Sao Miguel, Azores by Cinty Ionescu via Flickr.com, (cc) some rights reserved

I'm heading out on vacation soon, which naturally prompts friends and colleagues to ask, "Where are you going?"

If I told them "Maine," it would be easy for people to paint a picture in their heads. Same for Florence, Beijing, London or even Reykjavik, in recent years.

But I'm going to the Azores and that destination is a blank slate for most. The name is sort of familiar, but little else, so I go on to explain...

"It's a group of nine volcanic islands, nearly 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal. Pretty cool, because it only takes about four hours to fly there." 

While this gets a few polite head nods, it still doesn't make flashbulbs go off. So last night I tried a different tack: "It's the Hawaii of the Atlantic." And, while that's a Barnumesque fabrication, it generated an entirely different response:

"Wow, that sounds so cool!" 

That's because we open our minds to new things by comparing them to other things we already know. And when you name that thing, it makes it easier to spread the idea to others. 

For example, my friends at Jet.com had a hard time explaining their business model until someone said, "it's like a cross between Amazon and Costco," a catchy idea that is easy to understand—and even easier to catch on. 

See you soon, everybody. I look forward to sharing more Mental Shavings with you when I return from my trip. When it comes to hot travel destinations, I hear the Azores are "the new Iceland." (Or maybe I just made that up.) 

Famous Old Ad Needed Updating—So I Did

Pick up any old copywriting book in a used book shop and you're sure to stumble upon this famous McGraw-Hill Magazine ad. 

It ran for years, reminding advertisers to—well—advertise in McGraw-Hill publications. 

Decades have past and it seemed like the message needed serious updating, so I did. 

Hat tip to Kamyar Adl for posting the photo of the texting girl on Flickr.com with a Creative Commons license, (cc) some right reserved. 

Please Buy Carol A Cup of Coffee

Carol (not her real name) lives alone.

She didn’t plan it that way. She moved to the U.S. from Bangalore to live with a friend, and to obtain costly medical treatment for a virus she contracted from a blood transfusion many years ago. 

But Carol's friend was diagnosed with dementia and now lives in a nursing home. She no longer recognizes Carol when she visits. And that makes Carol even more lonely. 

I know all of this because I drove Carol to her treatment yesterday and bought her a cup of coffee afterwards. My all-in cost: Two bucks and two hours of my summer.

But the payback was so much more. Because I learned that Carol has a Ph.D. from the same university where I teach, was one of the first female scientists in her field, and has a lived a rich life filled of family, friends and a dog and a cat, all of whom she misses—madly.

There are millions of older people like Carol in this country, living alone, with stories to tell, and with enormous wisdom to share. And all we have to do is listen. 

Do me a favor and buy a cup of coffee for the next Carol you meet. I'll even pick up the tab, if you send it to me. 

Because unlike so many other maladies, loneliness is a disease we all can cure—and it doesn't cost a fortune for any of us to do so.

Beagle Lovers Make Better Marketers

Part beagle, part basset, all love—my best pal, Roger (circa 2007). 

Part beagle, part basset, all love—my best pal, Roger (circa 2007). 

I'm enjoying my second week of a work/play visit to Toronto.

Among the unexpected delights: the friendly and engaging nature of the people here. A simple "hello" often evolves into a heartfelt conversation. 

Today, walking back from lunch, I saw an older woman walking a puckish beagle, so I called out playfully, "I love your dog!" 

I've done the same thing many times back home but rarely get more than a smile and a "thank you." Sometimes people are suspicious—or even affronted.

But, instead, the Toronto woman asked me a curious question: "Oh, have you had beagles before?" 

"Yes, in fact, two," I responded. And 10 minutes later we were still talking, finding connections neither of us knew we shared—and exchanging stories both of us could relate to.  

Marketers spend far too much time promoting when they should be engaging customers in conversations instead.

It's amazing what you will learn if you just ask the right questions. 

What Kind of Restaurant Are You?

Do you mind giving me a hand? I'm in Toronto this week and I need help picking a few eating and drinking spots. 

I walked past all of these places (photos above) on my stroll through the neighborhood this morning. So where do you think I should go if I'm in the mood for: 

A. A tofu scramble and green goddess smoothie?

B. An ice-cold local brew and juicy angus hamburger?

C. A clubby place to meet Lisa after work tonight for an overpriced cocktail? 

D. An authentic Italian bakery with crusty breads and savory biscotti?  

Too easy, right? That's because we intuit all of this information without even thinking, just based on the name of a restaurant and its logo. 

But there's more to it than that: Successful restaurants know that they can't be all things to all people. They have to choose who they are and the menu they'll serve, even if that means turning away customers who are in the mood for other cuisine. 

Unfortunately, many businesses—particularly professional service firms—don't operate on the same principle. They'd rather position themselves broadly, so they can stay open to whatever work or clients come their way. 

Not so coincidentally, those are the same businesses that have a hard time picking a name or logo that means anything, because they don't stand for anything either. (Duh.) 

Great marketing starts by making tough decisions not only about what you do—but, often more importantly, what you won't do. 

So, what kind of restaurant are you? 

(Actually, this place looks like it has my name all over it.)