What I’m grateful for this year

When my wife and I got married, we pooled our resources and bought the cheapest can opener we could find. It was $1 at the Dollar Store.

It wasn’t long before we realized how lousy a lousy can opener can be. Within weeks, the blade dulled. Within a few months, we’d ever-so-slightly bent the grippers, making it impossible to use the crank to cut the can open. We were left to use the can opener more like a set of wire cutters, clipping cans open all the way around the lid. This took some muscle and a certain amount of finesse. If you didn’t do it right, you weren’t getting those cans opened.

It took about a year and a half, but we finally broke down and bought a new can opener. This time, we splurged on an $8.99 model, nearly nine times what the original cost us.

But we love it. Each time we open a can, we appreciate the opener’s sturdy construction. We appreciate the way the handle cradles in our hands. We appreciate the silky crank that lets us cut lids off like soft butter.

Corny, I know, but that’s what sticks in my mind. We notice it now.

This year, I’m grateful for things like this, like the original can opener, that help me notice the nicer one.

I remember learning to take a selfie

My grandma – GraMelissa – had this green, disposable camera. Remember those?

We were taking pictures, and she said, “Here, let me show you something.”

She pulled my face together with hers, turned the camera around, held it out at arms length, and snapped a photo.

Whoa, you can do that? I thought. How do you know what your picture looks like? What’s if it’s a bad picture? Then you’ve just wasted that shot. There are only 24 in that thing.

I grew up frugal. I don’t remember having a lot of disposable cameras. Taking photos itself was a novelty. Turning the camera around to snap a photo of ourselves, a photo we couldn’t see until it was developed, seemed terribly risky.

But that’s why it was fun. I’d never done that before.

Now you take a selfie and turn the camera around to look at it immediately. You just delete it if it’s no good.

One-to-one before one-to-many

Lately, I’ve been working on setting things up to help market my band, Hunchback Whale.

In the process, I’m realizing more and more this lesson of one-to-one before one-to-many communication.

I heard this podcast a while back where they talked about the early days of Airbnb. The founders, at the time based in Austin, TX, we’re asked by one of their advisors where their customers lived. At that point, most if the customers lived in NYC. So the advisor asked, “Why are you still here?” The founders took that advice and began commuting to NYC each week. They started meeting with their first customers, asking them a bunch of questions, and learning how they could help them better with their Airbnb product.

The lesson was that while they still only had maybe a few hundred customers, they could talk with them one in one and get insights from them that would be much harder to get in a larger customer base.

In the context of our band, there are all these tools that allow us to automate the process of communicating with fans: mass email programs, social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and so many others, even our own website. The goal of all these tools is to allow us to communicate to fans or potential fans without us having to actually talk with them directly.

Or that’s how it seems.

But what if instead of using these tools for one-to-many communication, we used them for one-to-one communication many times.

That’s where I think social platforms like Snapchat win. They almost force their users to communicate one-on-one.

For someone who naturally wants to leverage the least effort for the most impact, it’s tempting to be like all the marketers out there who just blast out information to the most people possible.

Taking a page from that early stage Airbnb advisor, it seems like the better plan would be to use all these tools to interact as directly as possible, purposely eliminating as much auyo.ation as possible. Gary Vaynerchuk used to say that our grandparents are better equipped for business in this modern age than we are. They understood the importance of building relationships one person at a time, as opposed to the mass marketing generation that just believes in getting in front of as many people as possible.

For Hunchback Whale, here are some practical steps I’m thinking about:

  • Instead of sending out a bunch of tweets, maybe we send out a bunch of @replies directly to people in the platform.
  • Instead of sending out a bunch of email newsletter blasts, maybe we get into a bunch of separate email conversations with fans individually.
  • Instead of trying to gather a bunch of email addresses in the beginning with a auto-responder series to start them off, maybe we ask for their phone number and call each one of them individually to see what they’re up to and what they’re into.
  • Instead of trying to play shows and get people to come out to buy CDs and T-shirts, what if we got our band together and then personally visited some of these people and got pictures with them.

I suspect we could do both.

It’s more a mindset shift. Use the tools to help us be more efficient, but start with and focus on individual communication instead of blasting away at crowds that don’t care because they don’t know us and we don’t know them.

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