The Roller Coaster

About a year ago I had a big decision made for me. After a corporate reshuffling, I found I was no longer on the org chart.

The dream of striking it out on my own had been lingering in the back of my mind for years, having regretted shutting down my practice in 2010 for the safety and security of full-time employment. Perhaps now was the time to chase that dream once more.

As this life altering event unfolded, all the signs pointed to restarting my practice. Family and friends strongly encouraged me to hang my shingle out, and I did so in early summer 2019. Since then, I have worked hard, and been quite blessed and lucky in that I’ve been able to do some great work for great clients, making a solid go of it.

Being a solopreneur has taught me a lot about survival, which today is more important than ever. One of the most important lessons starting out came from Sara Blakely, in a post on LinkedIn. She posted this doodle showing the life of an entrepreneur:

Everyone who has ever tried to make a dent in the universe understands this. There are always highs and lows, rarely a point where you get to level off. What I have also learned over the past year is that this roller coaster is not bound to the usual rules of time, with ride up and down lasting a few minutes, a few hours or even days. It’s hard to get used to.

What hit me was how appropriate this doodle happens to be when describing (for those of us who are lucky enough to not be suffering with the virus) the emotions we’re going through right now.

There are good times when we can smile, relax and be with people we love, making the best of a terrible situation. What greater joy in life is there. Then other times we can sink to the lowest depths, panic-stricken to the point of paralysis. Are my family and friends going to get sick? Is out economy going to collapse? These emotions run rampant.

Whether you know it or not, or want to or not, accept that everyone is now living the life of an entrepreneur. Uncertainty is our way of life now. There will be good times and bad times. Ups and downs. Cherish the ups when they’re here and be gentle with yourself when you’re low.

Our world has forever changed. But just like we Americans did after 9/11, we learned to adjust to the new world. It’s not easy and the road ahead is full of turns whose corners you cannot see around.

Welcome to the life of an entrepreneur.

Good Advertising and Other Sh*t

So other day I am walking down a bike path that cuts through our neighborhood out here west of Houston. I look down just in time to see a small, cylindrical, earthy colored tube. A little less delicately put, it appeared a doogie had performed its morning constitution on the path. Rather than being grossed out, angry or disturbed, the first thought that came to mind was

The world looks mighty good to me
‘Cause Tootsie Rolls are all I see.

I had to laugh.

I don’t know if this ad is still around or not. I have not seen it in some time. But there it is, permanently tattooed on my brain.

This tiny incident made me think a lot about the proclamation that advertising is dead. Maybe it is. When was the last time you heard a jingle, a catch phrase or a line that resonated with you so immediately that in less than the blink of an eye your first thought was brand’s message from long ago?

This begs the question: 40 years from now, will anyone say “Dilly Dilly”? Or worse, will anyone ever utter “It’s your thing. That’s our thing.” Which I’ve heard ad nauseum lately from AT&T. Unlikely.

Advertising, at least the advertising that brought Tootsie Roll to life, is long dead. Yet that same thinking still permeates the agencies that created the AT&T pablum, as they try to make the next break-through, memorable ads. Unfortunately, the results are nowhere near as impactful. Or memorable for that matter.

I believe that advertising is far from dead. In fact, I could argue it is more alive than ever before. So much so that rather than being a nuance that consumers will actively go out of their way to avoid, it is quickly becoming a necessity for business to survive as we get deeper and deeper into the Information Age. What’s disturbing, though, is that with all the necessity, the creative is not there to meet these needs.

Even Apple, who for years, led the way with not only breath-taking technology, but also with innovative ways of talking about it. Their marketing and branding efforts convinced millions to part with small fortunes for their little electronic do-dads. To their credit, they tried to recapture some of their old advertising mojo recently with the animated ad where the girl writes on her MacBook but is too scarred to share her work with the world. But how successful was that ad? Although a sweet, lovely story excelling produced, it vanished as quickly as it appeared, with another AT&T ad, car lot spot or other form of cultural noise eager to takes its place.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying the Tootsie Roll jingle is the pinnacle of advertising excellence. Or is it? Something so simple yet it still resonates decades later, bringing an old brand to the top of mind. That is powerful.

We’re in a tough spot here, gang. The business world is clamoring to reach new customers. Businesses NEED great advertising. There are so many channels, so many opportunities to do great things that can make a huge difference, but it is high time to take the gee whiz out of the technology used to communicate and put it back into the messaging. Where it belongs.

Seen & Noted

How Design Thinking and Employee Experience go hand in hand
Create an environment in which people want to work

Is political correctness to blame for the dearth of great advertising?

Avoiding the Standardization of Imagination

Why the Creative Digital Consultancy Is the Ad Agency of the Future
A new model for a new age

Why You Need to Design Your Design Culture

Marketing And Modesty from the Ad Contarian

Aaron Dignan: Being a Leader Means Giving Up Control
The author and entrepreneur says too many companies are clinging to Stone Age ideas about what it means to lead.

Pretend That You’re An Advisor to In-House Departments by David C. Baker

First Hand — Designer Matt Gardner on overcoming the pressure to be a ‘creative’ creative

How Brands Exploit the Aesthetic of Relevancy
Social media, design, and the meme machine that capitalizes on “wokeness”

High Touch Over High Tech

Long Tail marketing refers to the strategy of targeting a large number of niche markets with a product or service. It’s mainly used by businesses that are dominated by a huge market leader. Facing a battle to grow, a company can shift their focus to multiple niche markets that have less demand.

I love the Long Tail  because I’ve always had an affinity for very obscure things. Whether I’m looking for a bone-folder, a custom-made popper, a hand-painted Italian racing bicycle or some long out-of-print book, riding the long tail is both a privilege and a pleasure. Thank you Internet, for making this possible.

Lately I have hit on two instances where the Long Tail has been taken to the next level. Finding things is great, but when you can actually connect with warm-blooded people who also share your passion, that makes the experience all the richer. In both cases, this connection led to something I did not expect: Not only did I want to buy something, but I want to buy more, more often. This is not like me at all. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m as big a spend-thrift as old Uncle Scrooge.

A warning as you read the two examples below carefully; they might be cleverly disguised adverts for the respective company.

First example: For the past year or so I have suffered from a low-aching soreness in the ball of my right foot. Nothing debilitating, but enough to keep me from my morning runs. After a visit to a podiatrist earlier this year, my foot started feeling better so I went to visit a specialty running shoe store. It happened to be locally owned, not a chain. The shop is called Good Times Running Company and it is quietly tucked away in a suburb west of Houston.

Now, you may say that running is a mainstream sport, how is this a trip down the Long Tail? This is an example of the Long Tail in that I had a very specific need that a mass market retailer could not be unable to meet.

I went into the shop and met with Mary Ann, the owner. Although my brand loyalty has been with Altra for years, I went in my few preconceived notions of want I wanted; rather I would rely 100% on her experience and knowledge to help guide me to a shoe that would keep me running regularly, but more importantly, safely.

Mary Ann spent a solid 45 minutes with me on a busy Saturday afternoon. We talked about my issues, past experiences and preferences. She evaluated me gate (I’m neutral) and tried on a half a dozen different shoes in various sizes until I found one pair that offered me the comfort and protection I needed: The Hoka One One Bondi.

The experience was phenomenal, and I have recommended Good Times to several friends, all of whom had the same level of service and satisfaction.

From now till doomsday, I will only buy my trainers from Mary Ann. It would be cheaper, faster and more convenient to go online, grab my next pair, but why would I when I have the opportunity to engage with a fellow runner, talk with an expert and get exactly what I need. As an added benefit, I get to support a small local businesses, which I love being able to do.

It did not occur to me that this story was worth sharing until it happened recently when I wanted to ride down the Long Tail again. Like before, it would have been much easier and more convenient to have gone to Amazon, but I really wanted to talk with someone before making my purchase.

For years, I have made a practice of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. I find the act of writing a form of active meditation, and often time find answers to tough problems while relaxing at the same time. A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a Tim Ferriss interview with Neil Gaiman. Although I have read a ton of Gaiman’s books, I do not care for them but still find him terribly interesting, so I was excited to listen to the interview.

A shiny new Pilot Metropolitan

One key topic discussed was that he begins writing his novels by hand, not on a keyboard, and he uses a fountain pen. Gaiman went on extolling the virtues of writing with an elegant pen. Such a pleasurable experience. Years ago I had a fountain pen my grandfather gave me but misplaced it — I am sure it is tucked away in a box somewhere in the house. After listening to Gaiman, I wanted one.

I found a shop in Rice Village that deals in specialty writing instruments called Dromgoole’s. I drove into town early Saturday morning to beat the afternoon rush that overtakes the Village on the weekends. I pulled up, walked in, and understood how Harry Potter felt when he walked into the shop to buy his first wand. The place was magical.

I was way, way down the Long Tail. I entered into a world where people value the simplicity of making letters and words by hand. Adding meaning and personality to the words they write. People who slow down long enough to absorb all that is good in the world, including the simple and pleasure of writing.

As I entered the store, Larry Dromgoole introduced himself to me and asked what brought me in.

“I’m looking for a starter fountain pen”, I replied. Larry asked for a a price range and jumped right into showing me an array of pens. Holding each pens, dipping the tips into a jar of ink to see how it looked and felt as I wrote – the experience was wonderful.

I felt like Harry Potter leaving the store – equipped to perform magic.

And isn’t that what traveling down the Long Tail is all about after all. Yes, the Long Tail is about choice and economics. It worked in spades for both of these examples because there is no doubt in my mind both these shops just got a customer for life. The added benefit is this journey is that you not only have the opportunity to connect with new things, by finding exactly the things you want, but there now exists an unforeseen opportunity that pushes the idea even further, to be able to explore more of the things that make you happy but also dive more into who you are.

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