I was in a retail environment when I heard the softly spoken, yet magical words:
Can I ask your opinion?
Oh, sweet nirvana . . . a slice of ruminative heaven captured within a grammatically challenged five-worded query, posed to someone whose inventory of opinions could populate the same spreadsheet used to calculate a rocket’s jettison into space.
Being the consummate gentleman, I replied “Of course.”
“Which of these two shoes do you think my husband would like best?”
Time was suspended as I drifted through a lifetime of emotions, transported to a dimension wherein pages of memories power our choices, each a valued sentiment influencing how we move forward in . . .
“Well, what do you think?”
Her follow-up question brought me back to reality as I offered, “I’ve always favored the brown.”
With a subtle nod of approval, she thanked me and continued shopping.
This most recent episode offered further proof that the essence of a brand is not merely a product or service, but an incredible opportunity to become part of someone’s story, a connective thread woven into the narrative of their lives.
And that’s not just my opinion . . .
The Story of My Life
They weren’t just shoes she was holding in front of me . . . they were Sperry Topsiders, one classic brown and the other a more contemporary shade closer to khaki.
This was the footwear introduced to me as standard issue upon arrival at the Coast Guard Academy, that had saved me countless numbers of times from slipping on a wet deck and sliding into a salt-water oblivion.
They were the shoes that carried us around the streets of Amsterdam, running after the bus like our lives depended on it, only to fall seconds short, then engage in an impromptu Heineken bar crawl on our way back to the ship.
I was wearing a pair when we beat Paul’s cousins in a game of pick-up basketball on Cape Cod, which I realize is a far cry from the street courts of New York or Chicago, but an appropriate level of competition for me and my 2-inch vertical jump.
They were on my feet as I danced with the beautiful, brown-eyed girl that I had fallen in love with, floating through a storybook romance while deciding the best thing we could do was spend the rest of our lives together.
They weren’t just shoes; they were the story of my life.
Slipping Into Something More Fluid
Albert Einstein equated life to riding a bicycle: to keep your balance, you must keep moving.
In brand methodology, that movement relates to fluidity, the elegant and graceful adaptation of your product or service to how the consumer decides to use it.
Allow me to repeat that last part for clarity: how the consumer decides to use it.
You could never afford to pay thousands or even millions of employees to think of creative new ways to generate deep, transformative value for what may have started as a simple “What if?”
Intelligent brands embrace this insight and use it to diversify applications, adapt to changes over time, and ensure relevance as products similar in nature or functionality emerge.
The trick is to stay true to your foundational value as you evolve . . . discovering exciting new emotional connections while exploring uncharted territories of growth and development.
Why Opinions Matter
Contrary to popular sarcasm, an opinion is not a bodily appendage everyone is born with.
However, most of us do begin soliciting the thoughts and impressions of others at a very early age. This comes in the form of a quickly scribed handwritten note reading something to the effect of:
Do you like me? □ Yes □ No
With the burden of adolescent acceptance hanging in the balance, we usually let nature take its course based on the response.
We don’t carry the awareness at that age to generate a follow-up solicitation along the lines of:
“If you checked ‘No’, what aspects of me, if changed or improved, would most likely result in your liking me?”
Which is okay . . . we don’t want children altering inherent aspects of who they are and what they value to justify someone’s opinion of them or win their approval.
But when it comes to considering the success of a brand, soliciting the opinions of others, listening to their stories, and then applying what you’ve learned . . . well, acting on someone’s opinion makes perfect sense.
Because it’s not so much about how potential customers or consumers . . . or your employees . . . fit into your life.
It’s more about how you fit into theirs.
A Sperry Tale Ending
I’m not sure if “Lifestyle Brand” was an official part of our vernacular back in 1934 when Paul Sperry fell overboard from his yacht.
Inspired by his cocker spaniel’s paw print, a frustrated Sperry developed a slip resistant boat shoe and sent a prototype to 500 fellow yachtsmen asking for their opinion . . . 497 ordered a pair.
Once his patented non-slip technology was adopted by the U. S. Navy in 1940, there was no ceiling to the blossoming appeal of the Sperry Topsider.
Eventually, celebrities and socialites . . . even President John F. Kennedy . . . would be photographed wearing these boat shoes, expanding their allure, and solidifying a presence among fashion’s most iconic brands.
Decades later, I would be introduced to them out of necessity and practical application.
Whose to know if Paul Sperry envisioned all of the places I would wear them?
In the end, our stories share a deeply emotional connection to a singular, high-quality product. How they look has certainly driven a fair amount of loyalty. But how they make us feel has powered the decision to return, again and again.
For millions of boaters and sailors, that has translated into feeling safe and secure in a somewhat treacherous environment.
For me, that feeling extends to the comfort of self-confidence, a piece in an often-chaotic puzzle that I can rely on to produce better than expected results, even in the most extreme circumstances.
Although they never did anything to improve my vertical jump.
And that’s not just my opinion . . . that part is fact.
This Is Tall Tim, and I am At Your Service!