We live in the mountains of Southern Oregon about 7 miles north of our town, Grants Pass. There are generally 5 or 10 days a year when we wished we had 4 wheel drive.
Friday night was one of them. Ice storms during the week had caused thousands of homes to be without power. We’d been among them.
I’d just returned from week long business trip and wanted to take the family out to a highly recommended movie: The Blind Side.
Despite some misgivings about the roads, we headed out and got there without a problem. The movie was a winner and definitely worth seeing now rather than waiting for it to hit the rental stores. All we had left was the drive home. Easier said than done.
My decisions and the icy roads combined to add over 12 hours to our ride home.
Let me tell you some of the marketing lessons from all of this.
When we were just 15 minutes from home, the back of our van started fishtailing and I had no traction.
The problem was “black ice” which is clear ice over black pavement. Hard to see. Very difficult to drive upon.
So I took the do-it-yourself approach and spent 30 minutes putting on snow chains. Problem solved? Not exactly.
You guys from Alaska, Maine, and Minnesota must be telling yourselves, “What was he thinking?”
Well, I was thinking it would help me reach my destination. Kind of like an investor doing his own retirement planning. He knows his goal, getting enough money to retire on, but choosing the wrong tool will doom his retirement.
In my case, choosing the wrong tool, snow chains, allowed me to go another 100 yards up the hill. Unfortunately, going down hill I had no way to steer the van and was fortunately to get to the side of the road without landing in the ditch.
Now it was time to call in the professionals. I called the roadside assistance company.
Sadly, all I could get was an automated message telling me that their agents were busy and that it would take at least 4 hours to get service to our area.
At the time we needed their help most, we couldn’t talk to a live human being. No, this wasn’t AAA, we’d switched a few years ago to a different company to save some money.
Marketing lesson #1: Cheaper isn’t always the deal it seems to be. Don’t be afraid to charge higher fees if you’re worth it.
Marketing lesson #2: Try to give your clients the ability to speak to a real human being. One of my advisor clients had a tradition of ALWAYS answering the telephone with a live person. No answering machines, no voice mail, no auto-attendant. When the office was closed (and at lunch time), their phone was answered by an answering service. The planner or someone on staff could be tracked down 24/7/365. Think about how this sets them apart.
At this point, we had 2 choices: walk six miles home over icy roads or 1 mile back to town and stay with friends.
Some of us saw this as an adventure and were clearly in shape enough to walk six miles in the dark at 12:30 at night. Others weren’t so sure.
This is when my “marketing mindset” kicked in.
I imagined the front page of our local paper. Worst case: “Family perishes trying to walk 6 miles through ice storm.” Better case: “Family suffers frostbite attempting nighttime 1/4 marathon over icy roads.”
Neither would reflect very good judgment on my part. My “marketing mindset” told me that going back to town was the way to go.
So we called our pastor at 12:30 and told his wife of our plight. We said we’d call back once we were in town because we didn’t want them to get stuck as well.
And at 1:30 a.m. we got picked up somewhat tired, cold and damp. Within minutes we got to their home for a few laughs and some hot tea.
The next day we were able to pick up our van and get home to our pets. I clocked the mileage and got a pleasant surprise:
The six of us actually walked 2.5 miles getting back to town…2.5 mph was a pretty good pace considering the conditions.
And we didn’t make the front page of the newspaper either. Trust me when I tell you of the necessity of developing a marketing mindset!