Today, we welcome Nick Armstrong to the RedheadWriting blog. I’ve known Nick for years and when he popped into my inbox one day asking to write a guest post, complete with snarky undertones, how could I say no?
Which reminds me — do you want to be a guest blogger on the RedheadWriting blog? We have thousands of awesome readers and I’d love to see what you’ve got. Just drop me a line at [pitches] at [erikanapoletano] DOT COM. I review every request that comes through and you’ll be hearing from me if I like what you’ve thrown over the fence.
Now…what’s honesty worth in your business? Nick weaves a story about the importance of giving your audience what they want and need…versus what you want to give them. Damn straight. Giant plush banana included.
In a world where size matters – honesty is always the best policy. So I’m just gonna say it: nobody likes a big banana. So why on earth did I put on my sexy face and take a picture with mine?
Let me outline what turned into my biggest walk of shame to date: it’s time for the county fair – and while I hate carnival rides, I’ve always loved the silly 50’s-style date night. So I gathered up my wife and off we went. Walking around with your honey, playing games of skill, winning some silly prize, sharing a milkshake, and a kiss at the top of a ferris wheel? Even Rambo would think it was romantic.
That was the plan. And then I saw folks at this fair walking around with human-being-sized stuffed bananas (even bigger than the one pictured above).
Did I pay attention to how awkward it was to carry around something almost as big as you? No.
Did I pay attention to the ridicule these “lucky” folks were enduring? No.
All I could think was, “Holy hell, that would make for a hilarious blog post some day.” And I was right. But not for the reasons I had in mind.
Like some ADD-riddled 4-year-old spotting the latest Power Ranger, I decided my wife wasn’t going home without one of those gigantic bananas. A banana which for the record, she did not hint at, want, expect, or approve of even in theory (I’m contractually obligated by my wife to add this to any mention of said banana).
So anyway, my wife wants this gigantic banana, right? Because who doesn’t want a gigantic banana?!
With all the slyness of a 13-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert, I suggested we play the Balloon Pop game, the source of gigantic bananas. $10 for 6 darts. 12 popped balloons and you could snag a gigantic banana. 6 popped balloons and you’d go home with a wimpier banana.
The next two minutes would forever change my perspective on business, sales, and gigantic bananas.
“How you doin’ sir?” the carney had found his mark. “Got your eye on a prize? Win something for your lovely wife?”
Looking back I think he had finger gloves, an eyepatch, smoke-stained teeth, and a cockney accent like some 1800’s street dweller. Probably not true, but I like the effect. Stick with me.
“How many balloons do I need to pop to snag one of those giant bananas?”
“This one right ‘ere?” he pointed to the dinky banana. I shook my head.
“This one, then?” I could see my moment of triumph. Arms raised in victory, gigantic banana overhead, handing it to my wife – an amazing kiss they photograph for historical purposes. I was going to pop the sh!t out of those balloons.
“Twelve. Well how about this, then. Hand over your $20 and if you pop six balloons, you’ll have your big banana. Half the darts, twice the prize.”
I’ve never been a man to shy away from risk. Need a business started while you’re $10,000 in debt? Been there, done that. Need milk on the expiration date? Guess who’s sniffing the carton? So there I was, presented with an opportunity to take a risk. A gigantic banana within reach. I knew what I had to do.
I handed over my $20 and the carney’s grimy hands yielded six darts.
The last dart bounced off the balloon and struck the corkboard behind it.
“Bummer, friend. You got five, better luck next time.”
“OK, so I need one more balloon to win, right?” Five balloons down, one to go.
“No, you need twelve. You’ve got five.”
Being a marketer, I’m fully aware of all the underhanded and sneaky tactics available to us at a daily basis. Whether it’s the bait-and-switch or the exploding offer… we can do some pretty crappy things to the minds of our customers.
“How’s that? I popped five, I need one more.”
The carney smiled, “OK, I’ll cut you a deal: $10 for six darts and if you hit every one, I’ll give you the banana.” Begrudgingly, I shelled out another $10. I quickly popped six balloons and the carney handed me the dinky banana.
“Hold up – I was going for the big banana. What’s the deal?”
“You need to pop twelve balloons to get this guy. You have eleven. Why not go for the big one? You could walk now and you’d have your banana, but you’re only one away from the big one.”
“Fine,” I thought. I’m already invested pretty far. “Here’s $10, let’s have six darts. I pop one more balloon and I get the big banana, right? Cuz I thought that was the deal we had last time.”
“That’s right, look you just need twelve – you have eleven. Only one more. You’ve got great odds,” the carney shelled out the darts and I dispatched five more balloons.
The carney smiled and handed me the gigantic banana. It didn’t feel like a victory. I meekly showed my wife the hard-earned prize, our brand new 4-foot-tall banana. And at that moment, I felt dumber than you should while holding a 4-foot-tall banana.
Here I was “providing” like a husband is supposed to do, but in doing so I got taken like some kid who wants that stranger’s candy enough to hop in the passenger seat of the creepy van with the tinted windows.
My wife rolled her eyes and muttered something about never letting me out of the house with a wallet again. There was no epic kiss of triumph. No arms raised in victory. Just the gut-wrenching emptiness of having just been swindled thanks to a combination of tricky wordplay and stupid male psychology.
Which brings me to my point.
Branding is everything in business
What’s the opportunity cost of building an honest system? Only the lifetime value of your customer.
Branding is built from the truth. I’m not talking about the “truth” that marketers create to sell something – I’m talking about the honest-to-God experiences that your customers live and breathe and your staff create day in and day out.
Like the time I walked into Crispin Porter + Bogusky and two employees who were tossing a Nerf football across the huge lobby paused their game of catch to introduce themselves and welcome me to the building.
Or the time I called up the satellite company to ask why my bill went up 50% and two separate customer representatives told me that’s my normal rate.
Or when I went to the Star Trek: The Experience in Vegas during its last week to visit the bridge of the Enterprise and a Klingon followed me around and photobombed me at least twice. (I’m a huge Trekkie, so this is kind of like meeting your favorite character at Disney Land when you’re 4).
Great brands build and encourage honesty in four areas: marketing, pricing, effort required, and the process. Anything else is carney-style jackassery.
Honest pricing and honest marketing are simple enough: tell the truth about your product or service, no bait and switch, no super-special exploding offers, what you get when you pay is extremely clear and there’s no weird asterisks or legal jargon.
Honest effort and honest processes are a whole other animal: honest effort requires everybody gives their 100% when on the job. Everybody from the janitor to the CEO to the folks just playing football in the hall.
Did I know I’d see a Klingon when I went to The Experience? Sure. Did I think he’d hang out with me and talk about his crew? No way. But he did – this wasn’t marketed as a “feature” anywhere. It was just an employee making an honest effort to bring something totally unique to the process.
Honest processes require that the rules be crystal clear and be responsibly waved when they cause a conflict with an honest customer.
How often do you suppose I shell out $40 for a gigantic banana that I thought would cost $20? I’m a lot more cautious about where my gigantic bananas come from, now. You might think I’m an easy mark – I’m normally not, but I was in a good mood, on a date with my wife, in an environment where my guard was down. The stranger had just the right kind of candy to strip me of $40 and my self-respect that day.
My carney friend doesn’t have to worry about the lifetime value of my business – he’s gone after a week, probably on to some new racket or sweeping chimneys or starring in a musical saying things like “Pip pip” and “Cheerio”.
Everybody else, though – you’re on notice. Those of us with hard-earned big bananas that nobody likes, we’re watching you.
Nick Armstrong is unapologetically awesome at explaining difficult-to-grasp marketing and technology concepts regarding the web. In his day-to-day work, he helps small business owners swear less and profit more through kick-ass marketing.
For the last 3.5 years, Nick’s business WTF Marketing has amassed a large number of happy clients, among them Fortune 100s, solopreneurs, and everything in between, including three distinct $2M+/year businesses. Leveraging over a decade of web design experience and eight years of hands-on, knee-deep community building and marketing.
He founded the Digital Gunslingers in 2009, teaching $5 classes on social media and marketing concepts and donating all the proceeds to charities in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Here’s where to find him online: