George, Jolie, genetics, Grandmother, and going barefoot—together at last!

Happy Thanksgiving

To all my Canadian readers and friends. I am very grateful for each and every one of you. Enjoy your day, and perhaps a little high thinking with your morning coffee, before you’re headed over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.

But I digress…

I don’t know what it is about George Tannenbaum. The guy does “wistful” like no other writer online today, and here he is supposedly writing an advertising blog. I’d say I wish I had half his talent but honestly, I’m glad he’s got all of it. He’s the bard of Madison Avenue and I’m always stunned by the way he can get me thinking old thinks in new ways.

The other day I was reading his latest piece, What Do We Do, and I started to fire off a cranky comment about the example he’d chosen in his article on serving the customer through advertising, just as you would serve the customer in your shop.

In the piece George weaves thoughts on the new book We Were Merchants, a memoir of the family-run Goudchaux’s department stores in Louisiana, into a lament about the lack of direction in the advertising industry.

He quotes the author, Hans Sternberg, as saying the “abiding philosophy was the customer was everything. Without him or her, there would be no need for a cash register.”

One of my own favorite sayings is “it’s not a business unless you make a sale.” Obviously, I’m in complete agreement with the Sternberg philosophy and with George’s desire to see the ad industry focus on serving the customer.

But my personal experience with Goudchaux’s made me question the choice of this example.

A long time ago, years before my divorce in fact, I made a decision to get married. (Made getting the divorce a lot simpler… but I digress.) In New Orleans. During a hurricane (not that hurricane). Two days before the wedding, as things were getting rather wet, and the streets were becoming littered with branches and debris, I realized that my original plan to be married barefoot and stroll the streets of the city barefoot as we partied after the wedding, was looking a bit foolish, so I’d need to get a pair of shoes, at least for the strolling of the streets. (I still did get married barefoot… but I digress again.)

Off I went to Goudchaux’s/Maison Blanche for a pair of shoes that were fit for a day that would change the rest of my days. (Oy! But I digress…)

From the second I walked in the door, the experience was like nothing else. To this day, I still remember every minute of that shopping trip—and from a woman who notoriously hates shopping, this is really saying something. The attention to the customer was beyond anything I’d ever seen. Discreet, caring, sincere. The stuff that can not be faked. Even now, I smile when I look at those shoes in my closet, remembering the perfection of that experience.

So I read George’s article thoughtfully wondering how his industry has gotten so lost, optimistically holding Goudchaux’s philosophy up as a possible way out of the woods. I smiled, I nodded, I got nostalgic, I was moved.

I started to cheer. Hooray for a laser-focus on the customer above jargon and technologies and artsy-fartsy-ness and industry awards! Then as I wrote my comment, I realized George had done it to me again. I’m rethinking what I think I know, y’know?

Not that I don’t believe in a laser-focus on the customer, above jargon and technologies and artsy-fartsy-ness and industry awards. I do! If you’ve been reading here for even a short while you know that whether you run a customer-facing company or serve those who do, like George does, I believe your laser-focus on customer needs is critical to delivering Maximum Customer Experience.

What I started to write in response to George’s post was this:

Goudchaux’s (under the Sternbergs) was born this way. They’ve left the company, and service has changed significantly. The amazing Customer Experience magic was tied to those particular human beings—even they weren’t able to bake it into the culture. Wondering “Why aren’t we all Sternbergs” is a little like looking at Angelina Jolie and wondering “Why aren’t we all goddesses?”

Is this an impractical, impossible standard—measuring companies (or an industry) against a genetic fluke—and setting them up for failure?

So at last, we come to my point, otherwise known as: Why I didn’t hit “post comment” over at AdAged, and why you’re reading this post today.

There is nothing I love more than talking with you about real-life examples of Maximum Customer Experience. Heck, I’ve taken apart giants like Apple and Target looking for lessons for your business, at least as often as we’ve discussed the little guys. I’m always looking for the little details or the big picture that knocked my socks off, and from which I hope you’ll get great takeaways—things you can do today to grow your business and make more money. Another of my favorite sayings is “I’m obsessed with your success.” If I can tell a story here that I think will help you succeed faster, I’m all over it.

First, I loved George’s premise. Then, I hated George’s example. Then, I wondered what the heck was going on with me, because I always want to reach for the stars and to encourage you to. So now I’ve come to you.

What do you think?

First, are there some ideals that really can’t be achieved in business, because they’re more “genetic” to that company than the principles that they claim guide them?

Second, is it worth aiming for them anyway, even if you aren’t blessed with those business “genetics”? (In non-business terms, if I can’t have Angelina’s pout or her man, should I try for her smile?) Or should we find something to reach for that’s more practical, something we can break down into realistic and achievable action steps?

This barefoot hippie has seen her ideals clash with her realism more than once, ho ho. I welcome your thoughts on how high you SHOULD reach, in order to keep the dreams big and still generate real results.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Sabrina, 1954. At 3:45—the delightful John Williams as Thomas Fairchild and Audrey Hepburn as his daughter, Sabrina. “No, Father. The moon’s reaching for me.” One of my favorite lines in all film. Irrelevant? Not entirely! That’s an ideal we all want to aim for in business.