Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"We Make People Happy" Part 1

I'm going to tell you a story.

It's a true story, a personal story. It's a story about stories, about branding, about marketing and how they influence user experience. And like all stories it has its highs and its lows.

I began my career at Baskin-Robbins 31 Ice Cream in the early 1970s. Starting with a high school job at a company-owned store near the main office, it blossomed into an association that lasted 32 years—15 years on the payroll and the remainder as a consultant. It was a heady time and place for a young guy to break into the business world as Baskin-Robbins reached its pinnacle of success in the mid- to late-70s.

I spent most of my time on staff as a trainer, teaching an intensive three-week course to new franchisees. Each began the same way. After a morning of orientation and administration, we'd reconvene after lunch for the first instructional session. It was always a moment of high drama and tension. I'd doff my official blue blazer, roll up my sleeves and ask a question:

"What kind of company is Baskin-Robbins?"

There was invariably a pause as the class wondered what to make of such a baldly obvious question. Finally, someone would carefully suggest, "It's an ice cream company."

"Yes—we do make ice cream," I'd say. " But that's not what we primarily do."

Another pause. "It's a franchising company," someone else would call out.

"Yes, we do franchise stores—and that's why you're here," I'd reply. "But that's still not our essential business."

I can't remember anyone ever arriving at the answer: "Baskin-Robbins is a marketing company." And from there I'd explain why this was so very important.

This all came back to me today as I was reading Seth Godin's rollicking All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World.I'll review the book another time, but for now, it's enough to say that Godin asserts that marketing is storytelling.

And the story I'm going to tell about Baskin-Robbins over the next few days will show how right Godin is.

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