I’m sitting in Kansas City, MO, in an empty banquet room at the bottom of the great Hotel Phillips waiting for a shuttle that won’t arrive for an hour, in a secret room, all mine. It’s next to a prep kitchen and I can hear the distant sounds of a kitchen in the background. The ornately carved walnut paneled room reeks of regal splendor from days long gone by. The walls sing of times when liquor was illegal and flappers filled its space with laughter. A quartet of magnificent fixtures – the kind they only made a hundred years ago, dimly light the space. There are exactly two small round tables – with cloths so white they emit their own light sitting on the burgundy patterned rug in this huge, empty, dimly lit room.
It’s the perfect space in which to decompress after a fantastic and inspirational three days with some of the best people on earth – my fellow Duct Tape Marketing consultants. Greatness, decency, ethics, kindness, sharing, all those great traits, always start at the top and no organization exemplifies it better than this one. Our annual Gathering is over, the last chicken Ceasar salad eaten, the last hugs delivered, the last tearful goodbyes said. As I sit here in the dark stillness, remembering the events of the last few days, it occurs to me that it’s also a great time to set the record straight on something I’ve thought a lot about since I first heard it as a kid.
Tortoises do not beat hares. I know rabbits and I know turtles. That story might work on city kids, but not on me! If I built a track 100 feet long and 5 feet wide, stuck a carrot – which both animals eat, at the other end, and put a tortoise and a hare in there, who do you think would get to the other end first? My hard-earned money would be on that hare every single time. I always thought that the fact a story to the contrary has been told and retold for centuries means there must be a few lessons to be learned in there somewhere – and I’ve found a lot through the years.
For starters, it clearly shows that it’s possible to make one teensy tiny little mistake under a unique set of circumstances that will make any blind believer snicker forever after. That rabbit isn’t the only victim. Think of the cow that kicked over the pail that knocked over the candle that burned down Chicago. She’ll never live that down. Nobody will remember her for the fact she produced four gallons of 3% butterfat milk a day. No, she’s going to be remember for all eternity for one misstep.
It’s so so so – so – very hard to build, and so easy to tear down. Just because of Aesop, hares, all hares, now, centuries later, are considered slackers. You need your customers, clients, or patients to trust you. Don’t ever give them cause not to. No matter how much it costs you – be a man or woman of your word. I promise you, it will cost you a whole lot more to not be. You can dump thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into acquiring new clients, patients, or customers, then waste all that money, all that time, and all that effort, with just one small misstep when that misstep damages trust.
It pays to understand is that if you do one little thing wrong, everyone will know. You can do an enormous amount right for a very long time, and it will often times go unnoticed. The human brain is wired to find fault. It’s always looking for things that can hurt the body that protects it. It pays very little notice, on a comparative basis, to things that it doesn’t perceive as potentially hurtful. So, besides not making a mistake or having an accident, you need to create great PR to make sure the message of all that good gets spread around. Then, should something go wrong, and since people are, well, “human” it will, you’ll have something to counterbalance it. Oh – and don’t forget to say you’re sorry – whether you are, or not. You can ask most politicians and Tiger Woods about that one.
Another lesson to be learned is that taking a contrarian position often delivers big results because it makes you stand out. People love to bet on the underdog and they love happy endings. Find ways to use these uniquely human quirks to get your point across.
“If you snooze, you lose.” That’s clear. While snoozing recharges the body, and I’ve been told by some that’s necessary, the world keeps moving while you’re snoozing. You have to always be aware of your surroundings, stay on top of the trends, and get out ahead – and you can’t do that while you’re sleeping. I suppose I need to acquiesce to the fact that some sleep is necessary. Staying on top of trends to make sure that when you wake up, you’re still in the game becomes doubly important.
Assuming the hare did have one misstep in one race, for the reasons Aesop gave, I know exactly how that rabbit felt. I was on the web in the early 90s when none of my family, friends, or clients, were. I bought a little shareware and tried to talk to geeks who were so far above my level I could barely reach to tickle the bottoms of their feet. For the most part, I just hung out there, bouncing the ball against the virtual pavement, taking an occasional shot at a cyberspace free throw, all by myself, waiting, waiting, waiting, but it wasn’t much fun. Eventually I left. When I finally went back, the playground was full, the roster was full, and there was no room for me in the game. Get out ahead, do whatever it takes to stay ahead, and if you get so far ahead that nobody else comes for a decade, make sure you stake a claim so when the rest get there, they know the race has already been won and, at best, the leader of the pack comes in second! You might want to also set up an alarm system so when the others start arriving, you can easily come back to claim your turf.
Bragging is bragging and fact is fact. If you’re going to brag, make sure you can live up to it. Then it isn’t bragging. It’s simply a statement of fact. Had Aesop’s hare planned better, his words would never have been described as “bragging”, there would never have been a fable, I would never have blurted out, in my conference, that my AhHa moment was about a much maligned hare, and I would not be sitting in the quiet stillness of this magnificent room contemplating the implications of the fable of the tortoise and the hare in the world of marketing.
If Aesop’s story is to be believed, the realization one comes to is that the tortoise had a strategy – a system – to simply proceed slowly and steadily, doing the right thing continually, until he finished his race. When the goal is to get to the finish line, speed is not as important as actually finishing. The only possible hope that tortoise could have had was to have a great plan, execute it perfectly, and hope for great luck – and it should not be to anyone’s surprise, that’s when great luck is most likely to come your way. The rabbit, on the other hand, had only a tactic – run really fast for a while. He never set a goal. He didn’t have a strategy. He didn’t make a commitment to himself to win the race. Execution of a tactic without having a strategy always means lost time and lost money.
As we teach in Duct Tape Marketing, strategy always has to come before tactics. You can’t win something you haven’t defined. Once defined, you have to have a plan, a strategy, to reach it. So much of marketing – almost all of marketing, except for Duct Tape Marketing, is all about tactics. Give a referral, build a website, set up camp on Facebook, send out a post card, buy a pen, start an email campaign, place an ad . . . Those are all tactics – nothing more – and they’re like shouting into the wind that whistles through skyscraper canyons without the framework of a strategy behind them.
Finally, as marketers, our job is to listen and ask questions. There’s always a back story. If you get the back story, you’ll be working with facts, not fables. You don’t want to base perceptions on one mishap in spite of the fact that one mishap will get so much press that it will seem to everyone like it’s the norm. Way too many people base decisions that are way too important, on way too little information, because that information showed up on the evening news. Don’t. You’ll get it wrong every single time.