Life lesson from a salt shaker

Salt shaker

When I sat down to breakfast one morning in Honolulu, I noticed that the salt shaker’s cap was very loose.

Ah, I thought to myself, something in the world that needs a bit of fixing; I put the cap on correctly. A minor triumph to start the day, restoring order to the universe.

A moment later, I tried to use the salt shaker and nothing came out.

It turns out that Honolulu’s morning air was so dense and humid that all the salt stuck together. The previous occupants of the table (or perhaps the wait staff) had loosened it so that you could pour a clump out and sprinkle the salt with your fingers.

This is a small life lesson on the power of delusion, of seeing the world how you want it to be instead of seeing it how it really is. I saw the salt shaker as “wrong” when in fact it was perfectly right for the environment it was in. I wanted things to be different than they were instead of understanding why the world worked in that way in the first place.

It’s a small, painless cautionary tale for everything in life: see the world the way it is, not the way you want it to be. Once you do, you might understand the world a little bit better. I certainly did.


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Simple travel tip: USPS flat rate large box

When I travel on business, I occasionally do pick up things from my travels, such as interesting trade show giveaways, the random souvenir, client materials, etc. After a few trips, you learn to minimize what you pack and travel with. Going on the road is easy – you have total control over what you pack. Coming back after travel? You can get some interesting wildcards in your luggage.

Consider then, what it costs to bring some extra stuff back:

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Depending on what you’re carrying, the checked baggage fee may cost more than the items are worth.

For less stress, less heavy lifting, and less money, this has become my new best friend:

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The USPS charges $18 for half a cubic foot of space. Granted, that’s not as large as a checked bag, but I don’t have to carry it with me. On my most recent business trip, I had a half cubic foot of extra stuff, and this did the trick. $18 later, my luggage was about 15 pounds lighter and I didn’t have to worry about fitting into an overhead compartment nearly as much. In fact, for future trips, I may be able to even ship basics and avoid the larger bag entirely.

Next time you’ve got some business travel and a little more cargo than you anticipated, don’t forget about the $18 box from the Post Office.

Disclosure: I was not compensated or asked to write about the Post Office’s large box.


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Beware of marketing assumptions

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at the Hawai‘i Tourism Association’s annual conference in Honolulu, a gorgeous city. I’d not been to Honolulu before, so it was fascinating to walk around a city in which Japanese is more or less the de facto second language. Signs, menus, directions – all have Japanese versions next to their English versions. It’s been great to practice my very rusty Japanese skills.

Here’s the interesting assumption people make about me. Shopkeepers, store owners, and other tourists assume I speak Japanese. It’s reminiscent of when I went to Seoul, South Korea and struggled to get around because I don’t speak Korean, but I look the part. Shopkeepers would ask me questions and I’d have to reply, “I’m sorry, I’m American. I don’t speak Korean”. Boy, did that confuse people.

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I actually took to carrying that around as a graphic on my iPhone as I walked around Seoul.

The shopkeepers in Honolulu make an assumption based on how I appear and greet me in Japanese. Because everyone’s wonderfully friendly, we simply switch over to American English once I exhaust my very meager Japanese skills. I’m fairly certain that it’s apparent in my Japanese accent as well that it’s not even close to my native language. (I once had a Japanese teacher in college who said my Americanization of Japanese sounds made me sound like an inakamono, a country bumpkin)

However, this begets a marketing problem in general: when you make assumptions before the customer gives you data, you risk miscategorizing your customer. Just because you get referral traffic from a social network does not mean the customer heard about you solely from the social network. Just because someone subscribes to your email newsletter does not mean they want to buy something from you. We as marketers have come to rely on passive data, on machine-provided data, leaping to conclusions that may be incorrect.

This becomes even more troublesome in the algorithm-driven world we live in. As machines take on more and more of the responsibility for pattern matching, they build assumptions of their own (or are pre-programmed with our assumptions). For the most part, customers will not tell you that your algorithms are wrong. They will simply see mis-targeted marketing and vanish silently to a competitor.

In your marketing technology, in your marketing automation, do your best to let your customers give information first. Listen. Ask. By not assuming, you may be able to avoid potentially embarrassing mistakes and serve their needs better and faster.

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