Nobody Likes a Big Banana

nick-armstrong-big-banana

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.

Pop.

Pop.

Pop.

Halfway there.

Pop.

Pop.

One more.

Thunk.

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 ArmstrongNick 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:

Twitter
Facebook
Google+ (yes, people use this shit)

49 replies
  1. KillianMIck
    KillianMIck says:

    Well written.  
    But I think, instead of “pitches @…” you need to change it to “bitches @…” since we are all your bitches!

    Reply
  2. Tinu
    Tinu says:

    Love it. I wonder why it’s not the norm to just do Great and market THAT. Seems like a no-brainer. I love the way you told the story and laughed out loud at the Klingon photobombs.

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      Tinu You’d be surprised how many folks think “good business” is snagging as much money as they can from their prospects and running like hell. There’s also a whole slew of “old school” business owners out there who believe that the best policy is that the company is always right, because the customer is too little to argue.
      And then there’s the businesses who are mostly run day-to-day by the owner, and usually these folks haven’t learned how to delegate yet… so when an opportunity to do something truly amazing comes along, they miss it!
      Are you a Trekkie? Gotta love the Klingons.

      Reply
      • Tinu
        Tinu says:

        WTFMarketing I’m repeatedly astounded that those people exist due to my own sheer laziness and sense of self-interest/preservation. I’d rather have my handful of happy, repeat customers and clients than have to go chasing after new people every month due to a high suck-age factor. 
        If New Generation counts, yes, I’m a Trekkie. I love all the original movies too, but didn’t start watching most of the episodes from the original until I got Netflix. And I was unreasonably happy for several weeks when William Shatner circled me back on Google+ because I ADORE him. Adore.

        Reply
        • WTFMarketing
          WTFMarketing says:

          Tinu Ooo… I haven’t even had that happen yet! Sheesh. I’m jealous, now! 😀
          Next Generation definitely counts, as do Voyager, Enterprise (haters gonna hate), and Deep Space Nine. Picard is the man, probably my favorite with Janeway being a very close second. Netflix is a total productivity thrasher – so much Star Trek, so little time…

          Reply
        • Tinu
          Tinu says:

          WTFMarketing Right place, right time I think. The only one of those I never got into was Deep Space Nine. And yeah, I had to put myself on a rewards system because of Netflix and my Roku.

          Reply
  3. laurieny
    laurieny says:

    Getting to know Nick through Prosperity’s Kitchen the last couple of months has been a hoot! And this guest post follows in the same vein. Admittedly, I do worry a little for his sanity, but I trust that his wife will keep an eye on more than his wallet. Re: The Star Trek Experience, I framed the crew photo I had taken there several years ago. Not THAT was worth the forty bucks.  😉

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      laurieny The other voices in my head assure me that there’s nothing to worry about, Laurie.
      I treasure the photo of me sitting on the bridge, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.

      Reply
  4. CarolLynnRivera
    CarolLynnRivera says:

    You had me at “big banana” and I just laughed my way through the rest. Good timing, too, as I’ve just engaged in (another) “but my last web company swindled me so now what”” conversation with a prospect. It’s shocking how many companies think that marketing is some shell game. While we’ll never erase the swindlers, what we CAN do is make sure that we reward and do business with the people who are honest.
    And don’t feel bad… I got swindled out of $40 for some tree-stump bookends while vacationing on a Caribbean island some years ago. (omg honey, they are soooo cute and authentic and like, local!) Still have them, to prove that… well, that sometimes you’re just going get swindled out of 40 bucks 🙂

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      CarolLynnRivera The banana sits patiently in the corner of my office for the next chance to mock me 🙂
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂 And to your point about marketing being a shell game – in the age of the internet, it’s so easy to sound like you know what you’re talking about when really you have no idea… So it becomes about asking the right questions LIVE so you can catch the hucksters before they strike.
      Even so, I’ve rescued maybe 10 projects a year from huckster victims. Sad.

      Reply
  5. SL Clark
    SL Clark says:

    Nick, this was awesome!
    For two weeks every summer my father’s
    business goes slack, except for the carneys needing their rigs
    repaired. Year after year they come back because he treats them
    honestly. Irony or Karma?

    Now I’m wondering just how many big bananas are won by women? -Steve

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      SL Clark Haha, thanks Steve!
      I’m not sure – I saw plenty of people wandering around with them, but it wasn’t clear who was winning em.
      Good karma can take you a long way in business!

      Reply
  6. rebeccacorley
    rebeccacorley says:

    This was a hilarious post and I can’t wait to read more! I have one question: the example about the cable company was included after what I thought was the segue to good business practices. Are you saying it’s okay that your bill went up as long as the company was consistent with the information? What am I missing?
    Great post though, really really. Big banana

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      rebeccacorley My point about that one was that, of all the people I talked to – not one of them had copped to the fact that they had raised my rates. That’s what it had always been – at least from what they were willing to tell me. Which, when you’re holding a bill to the contrary, is just bone stupid! 🙂
      Thanks for the note! 😀

      Reply
  7. tsilvestre
    tsilvestre says:

    I’m SO glad that you at least got to write this kick ass blog post for Erika. That’s $40 bucks *not* wasted in my book. Especially since you also now have the ability to take unlimited strange photos with the Big Boy. THAT is just good marketing karma, Nick. And it also shows that I made the right choice in hand-picking you as my co-host at Prosperity’s Kitchen. Sparkling wit, funny stories and a killer sense of what makes for bad ass marketing.

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      tsilvestre I’m honored that Erika invited me to her blog! 🙂 I can tell you that I had *no* idea that I’d be writing this post that day, but I did know that the banana was wildly entertaining. So I am glad that I have it. I sense a calendar shoot in my near future.
      Storytelling is an art; I think it’s the heart of marketing, and so I like to stretch those muscles every chance I get.
      Thanks for your comments, Tea! 😀 Glad to work with you, as always.

      Reply
  8. KimberlyMaeLoSavio
    KimberlyMaeLoSavio says:

    OMG I laughed so hard my drink almost came out my nose! Why?? Because I was a carny victim at age 14 o.O — $46 to go home with 2 glass budweiser pitchers and 2 large glasses. My best friend and I were googly eyed dumb asses at the county fair — but we were cool dumbasses with our awesome Budweiser beer pitchers 😀 Buuaaahahahaha So I feel for you, my friend! Oh and thanks for sharing 😀 It was so funny I read it to my 19 yr old daughter. It was a giggle fest! too funny!

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      KimberlyMaeLoSavio Haha, thank you Kimberly, sorry about your drink! Were you drinking it out of your Budweiser glasses?
      Anyway, here’s to kindred spirits, as Tea Silvestre pointed out – everything turned out just fine, and here I am on Erika’s blog, talking about it with all of you in some sick and twisted form of small business public therapy.
      Always glad to share an embarrassing tale if it helps folks a) laugh or b) learn.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  9. Walker Thornton
    Walker Thornton says:

    Love the story and all the unstated stuff about you and your big banana!  Great way to get the point across about marketing–and a reminder that I still need to call my cable guys and complain about the recent increase. 
    Will stay tuned for the Calendar Shoot!

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      Walker Thornton Haha, thanks Walker! Yes, do that – I was once banned from doing business with our local cable company because I’d negotiated too many deals against too many new customer support reps.

      Reply
  10. Reticula
    Reticula says:

    Love the big banana story! What a great hook — fresh and entertaining, and it makes a point we can always stand to hear again. When I take clients or friends out for lunch or coffee in my small city, I tend to take them to locally owned establishments with hands-on owners and staff who are invested in the success of the business. Places where they remember my name, what I like, and take time to schmooze me a little. Kind of like Cheers, only without Sam and Diane. It makes for comfortable, relaxed business meetings, and i look like a cool kid to my clients. In return, I bring in new customers who will go back with their friends and family because they had such a friendly experience when they went with me. Everybody wins and we go away with more than a $40 banana.
    Thanks for entertaining me today.

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      Reticula Thanks so much for stopping by 😀 
      Now that you mention it, something that’s always bugged me is the receipt tape that most restaurants (and other businesses) dole out. Granted, there’s a certain “accounting” weight to it, but this is the LAST touch-point that your customer gets. Why make it something super cheap and forgettable?
      I always take clients to places that have similar profiles to the client’s business. That way I can show actionable examples of what’s worked and what hasn’t on site. Thanks for sharing your great thoughts! 😀

      Reply
  11. NicoleFende
    NicoleFende says:

    Oh Nick, this banana story ROCKS.  I will never forget the quote “I’m more cautious about where my big bananas come from now.”  I’m also very jealous of the Klingon photo bombing.  Did he have a bat’leth?  
    On the more serious side it is a great reminder to avoid word games, over deliver, and be sure you clients not only get what you said they would, they also believe it and are satisfied.  For me every time I hear a client laugh while talking numbers I feel like I won the big banana and got the epic picture 🙂

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      NicoleFende He did not have a bat’leth, but he did have a d’k tahg, which is a kind of Klingon ceremonial blade (one-handed, had the three prongs on it and everything).
      Heck yes – satisfy the heck out of your clients, make sure they know what they’re getting, what’s being delivered  and that there’s a “meeting of the minds”.
      High five for making people laugh! 😀

      Reply
  12. SandyMc
    SandyMc says:

    Nick you are such a story teller.  I couldn’t wait to find out if you got that damn big banana.  But I felt too, the heaviness and the hollowness of the win at the end.  
    This line is so true: “Honest effort and honest processes are a whole other animal: honest effort requires everybody gives their 100% when on the job.”  To which could I add the client?  Too often in servicing business, we give the the whole animal, but it’s not always reciprocated.   And perhaps that’s because first it’s not seen as a partnership, and second we aren’t solving their real problem, which may not be a new marketing plan or website (a big banana none the less), but a  purpose, or a even whole new life!

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      SandyMc Sandy, haha, I do try! I’m glad I gave you a banana-sized cliffhanger. At the time, it was pretty hollow for a win.
      One of my favorite sayings is, “Let’s earn or manufacture some victory today” – meaning that, even if you try your best and you don’t succeed – you can still find something to celebrate. Of course, it’s easy enough to allow this to become the battle-cry of the lazy, entitled victory whore.
      Oh lordy, you so read my mind on the “honest effort requires everybody gives their 100%” — Seth Godin just wrote this great article on “I’ve got all the Ping, but they’ve got no Pong”… it’s amazing in that, I’ve been espousing for months to anyone who would listen the value of an in-house (@ client) champion when you’re a solopreneur. If you don’t have an ally, or an in-house champion inside the client, all bets are off as to how much you can get done.
      I see it a lot with both web design and marketing – folks will just hand something off with the hopes that if they throw enough money at it, the problem will just disappear. Fat chance!

      Reply
  13. MelanieKissell
    MelanieKissell says:

    Hey Nick
    Your post is both fruity and fruitful! 😉
    Am I to understand your wife does NOT like your big banana? LOL!!
    Loved and leaned in on every word.  Remarkable story and very worthwhile marketing/branding lesson.  You Shine … big time!

    Reply
    • WTFMarketing
      WTFMarketing says:

      MelanieKissell Bwahaha, nice one Melanie! 😀
      My wife -does not- like my big banana, and nobody can believe it less than me!
      Thank you so much, I appreciate you stopping by! 🙂

      Reply
  14. SandyMc
    SandyMc says:

    Why is it Seth who comes up with the lines that were surely just on the tip of my tongue??   Guess it’s cause it is he.  I got all the ping, but they’ve got no pong is a beaut!

    Reply
  15. kastylephotography
    kastylephotography says:

    First off I want to say You are the shit Erika! I was just introduced to your blog today by <a href=”http://www.celiamilton.com/”> Celia Milton</a>. Shes a fan. She linked your Rethinking Unpopular video in a thread on a pro forum; wedding industry.  After watching it I have been stalking your blog all day! We are so much alike. I have the same 39 year old eggs screaming too! hahahaha  I still tell them to shut up! I realized in my early 30’s it was time to not worry about being “unpopular”. At this point I will blog about you! lol

    Now after stalking Erika I find you WTF! Now Im going to stalk you too! What a great read. I wanted Spock ears so bad as a kid and a Pink Panther banana seat bike!! I was swindled by a carney for a plastic gold framed 80’s hair band picture… oh my. hahaha

    Reply

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