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Marketing Moments | Get Yourself a Milk Stool

Marketing Moments
July 18, 2022 11:00 AM

Sales and Marketing

Marketing content shared with Michigan Business Network by:

Bonnie J. Knutson, PhD

The School of Hospitality Business

Broad College of Business

Michigan State University


My grandparents’ house was on a corner lot that had just enough room for Nonno to build a little shoe shop a few steps from their home. We lived a block away. A block away in the other direction was my elementary school. So every day walking home, I would stop by Nonno’s shoe shop for a loving smile, a big hug, and a mia bella nipotina (my beautiful granddaughter). And, of course, there was always a little treat – a biscotti, an amaretti, or a canestrelli – that my mother believed would spoil my dinner, but never did.

I have many memories of those special times with Nonno. The aroma of leather. The rhythmic tapping of the hammer as he resoled a boot. The hum of the treadle as he restitched worm shoes so that they could last someone for another year. But most of all I remember him lifting me up and setting me on his stool so I could see over the counter. His special three-legged stool.

I always wondered why his stool had only three legs when chairs always had four. When I asked Nonno, he would just say that the three legs were better for the shoes. It was not until I was older that I understood what he meant. It was not that the three-legged stool was better for the shoes, it was because the three legs were better for the business. The same can be said for yours.

A three-legged stool has been called a wonder of physics. It is more stable than one with four legs, even if the surface on which it sets is uneven; and the legs are angled slightly outward and positioned so that each leg is equal distant from each other two, creating a perfect equilateral triangle. Similarly, your organization has three legs – its brand, its story, and its space – that work together to keep it stable even if your business environment is uneven.

Brand. Your brand is not its logo or its name. Rather, it is “the sum of all perceptions about [its] product, service…built through experiences and communications…creating a set of

expectations between the brand and [consumers].”i Said another way, a brand is simply how people feel about it. How do your customers feel about your business? There is no doubt that everyone has a brand and that a brand image is simply the sum of everything it is, says, and does. With focus, innovation, and consistency across all communication channels, you project a clear image of what your business is and lay the foundation for how it is perceived.

I read somewhere that, just like people, brands need to be carefully nurtured and managed, and like people, they get old and tired and need reinvigorating. I agree. In our post- C-19 world, all leaders should perform a health check on their brand. I do not mean looking only at number of employees, sales earned, or profits generated. I mean fully understanding the health of your brand, internally and externally. This means doing regular refresher sessions with all key leaders to ensure that they are passionately connected and understand who they are and where you are going as an organization.

Story. No matter how storytelling is used in brand marketing and building, it is often misunderstood. One of the world’s greatest brand storyteller, Guido Everaert, reminds us that good brand storytelling is not about the language, it is about creating and telling stories in a compelling way. The operative word is compelling. It is about finding the right metaphors, and structure in which to tell your story. It is about hitting a hot button in the hearts and minds of consumers. By doing so, you create a part of life and generate a story that is unique to your brand and, more importantly, can easily be readily remembered. In other words, the story must be relevant to consumers and move them to act. Here, the operative phrase is move them to act.

You do not have to write the story all by yourself. Enlist the help of your customers. Use your website or social media to engage them. Their perceptions will be enlightening; their insights will be useful. And do not forget your employees; Make a game of it at the next staff meeting; you may find their stories surprising.

Space. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that “outdoors is no longer a separate space, but a continuation of what’s happening on the interior.” It has shown us that nature is an essential part of our well-being. Or as one designer put it, the line between what looks indoor vs outdoor is becoming ever more blurred. Our ancestors lived in harmony with nature. It gave them what they needed to survive and to thrive. But then along came technological advances. The electric light bulb. The assembly-line. The high rise. And plastics (Remember, Mr. McGuire’s admonishment to Ben in the 1967 movie The Graduate?) Fast forward to television,

video games, Zoom, and 3-D printers. As technology came into our lives, nature got crowded out. The Global Wellness Summit says we are suffering from a Nature Deficit Disorder. “This 24/7, digitally dominated, Instagram-able works is depriving humankind of some very basic, very important nourishment that comes from being outdoors.”

Here is where your spatial footprint comes in. Design is moving the indoors out and the outdoors in. As you think about redecorating, renovating, or building new, your business has countless opportunities (some might even say a responsibility) to enhance your customers’ and employees;’ overall brand experience via spatial design. Perhaps Joni Mitchell said it best in her 1960s anthem, Woodstock: “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

These, then, are the three legs of your organization’s stool – brand, story, and space. And just as my Nonno’s was good for the shoes, yours will be good for your business.

Your Bottomline Will Thank You!

P.S. And what about the stool’s seat? As important as the seat is in making the stool functional, so is communication important in making your business’s three legs functional. Or to borrow from an old phrase, the best-laid plans of mice and men…” will fail without effective communication.

i Adapted from a definition by Eloy Trevino, McKinsey & Company. Chicago.

Marketing Moments, hosted by Dr. Bonnie Knutson. With her wit and entertaining style, Bonnie, a frequent speaker at business and association meetings takes her perspective and brings it to our broadcast platform. She shares decades of knowledge and brand awareness, and gives us all a new lens on marketing for business.

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