What I Learned on my Summer Vacation

Just got back from Vermont (we go every year) where I spent a week kayaking, canoeing, sailing, bike riding, etc.  Here’s what I learned:

1) I need to “invest” in one of those pen-on-a-rope gizmos.  What’s the use of realizing you’ve solved some massive problem, like say, world hunger while sailing if you forget your great idea before you reach the dock?

2) It’s amazing what constitutes a tourist attraction — all you need is a concept and a brochure and tourist parents will round up tourist kids and visit your “visitor center/cafe” in droves.  Yes, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, I’m talking to you.  I was envisioning coffee-scented Mecca with a factory tour and coffee roasting explanation, and instead I got a cute little railroad station, a nice enough cafe, a paean to your good works and an explanation of Fair Trade.  OK but not outstanding.  Want to hook my kids on your brand of caffeine early?  Take a lesson from Ben & Jerry’s just down the road, don’t just piggy-back on the traffic they are driving to your town.  Yes, yes.  I know B&J have a more kid-friendly product but Project Heifer and the whole Fair Trade concept is fantastic and could be made much more kid-friendly.  The “lift the bag of coffee beans” exhibit isn’t enough in the interactive department.  Go for it — I’m rooting for you.

3) I do exist off-line.  I managed to not tweet, blog, Facebook or LinkedIn all week — really.  Mostly managed to stay off email.  And the world didn’t end. Still, I do feel that my social media cred is suffering from my lack of an iPhone.  (Also, I have a deep lust for the iPhone app that simulates a lighter for concerts.)

4) Branding is good.  The resort I stayed at has their branding nailed.  And it shows — the family resort  has always been a source of amazement for me on the operational side — they really know what they are doing (75 years of experience shows).  A family-run all-inclusive vacation, it focuses on taking great care of your kids and you equally.  (If we suggested to our kids that their future might not hold a visit to Tyler Place, they would mutiny.)  Meanwhile, my husband and I love it for the fun we have and the downtime from parenting we get on no other vacation.  Their messaging — “Babies, Kids & Romance.”  Nowhere else have I seen customers spend so much time talking about how much they love a product. (Note: full-disclosure, I have done some marketing consulting for the Tylers but their branding predates me.)

Meanwhile, Vermont as a state has done a good job on its own branding.  Everything from the standard for “real” maple syrup to the lack of billboards along the highways comes together to give you a good idea of what “Vermont” means.

5) Time to think isn’t over-rated.

6) Companies need to focus on giving their customers and potential customers what they are looking for and not trying so hard to sell what they have.  See #2 and #4.  (Green Mountain gets credit for trying.)

7) They Might be Giants aside, there’s a screaming gaping hole (emphasis on screaming) in the market for parent-friendly kid music and after 4 hours in a car (each way) with the kidlings, I’m part of that market.

8.) People like to complain about marketing and marketeers but when it delivers them something they need or want, when they want it, hey, that’s more than OK!  (That’s really why Google is so successful.)  Also, marketing is many things.

Picture this, it’s a rainy day and your 7-year-old really needs something to do.  You hop in the car to do an errand, dragging Young Mr. Cranky with you, all the while praying for some miracle to deliver you some low cost entertainment.  Up ahead in the distance, you see a shimmering light (no, not the Hotel California but the neon sign of a second-hand book store.) Yes!  Score!  Double score for a box under the front table marked “Comics — 50 cents” and you see a batch of Donald Duck, his favs!  Signs = Marketing.  Score one for marketing.

And, if you do marketing and you forget that people do exist “off-line” (see #3) shame on you.  You might be missing lots of great customers who would be happy to hear from you.