I was born in England in the BPC Period (Before PCs) and immigrated to the US with my family as a child. Since then I’ve had one foot in each county and regularly travel back to England to visit with family. I’ve just returned from my most recent trip, but this trip was different; we planned it as a vacation instead of just a family visit. This meant that instead of spending most of my time on my laptop in front of my father-in-law’s TV listening to my favorite BBC show “Homes under the Hammer” and his favorite show, “Judge Judy,” while I continued working remotely, we actually planned day trips to Wales and the Lake District and transformed ourselves into energetic tourists.
When you are a startup founder it’s hard to think about taking a vacation. You spend every day trying to be as productive as possible in order to move the company forward while carefully managing investor capital. Sheryl Schultz and I spent so much time together in the early days of CabinetM that our husbands suggested we think about buying a multi-family home together when we both sold our suburban homes in order to move into Boston where the company was located. That way we could spend more time working and less time commuting. It was a joke – but not really. As anyone who has walked this path will tell you, with a 24/7 work week, you eventually hit a wall and find yourself permanently tired and lacking much of the creativity that propelled you into the startup journey in the first place.
This year we decided it had to be different; Sheryl went on a cruise and a short trip to Paris. I have just returned from ten days in England and France. Though we both remained tethered to email and texts, we left the big projects behind, trusting each other to sail the ship while the other recharged. These vacations are good for the soul and our health but also very good for CabinetM. There’s the obvious benefit of each of us coming back to work re-energized and clear headed. But I also realized an interesting secondary benefit from having the time to breathe and take in new surroundings; I started to see inspiration in all sorts of places which led to periods of pleasant (aka non-stressful) thinking about long term company strategy and the evolution of our industry.
My first moment came early in the trip. Our pattern is to take the day flight from Boston to London, rent a car and then drive three hours north to my father-in-law’s house in Cheshire. We always stop in or around Birmingham for a cup of tea at a motorway rest stop. Since on this trip we were traveling with my sister and brother-in-law, I was already relaxing into vacation mode when we hit the rest stop.
After a delicious cup of tea, I made my way to the ladies room ahead of the last leg of the trip. On the back of every stall door in the ladies room was a print advertisement for Diarrhea medicine. It made me laugh and I immediately took a picture to show my family. Once I stopped chuckling it suddenly hit me how perfect the placement of the ad was; it was a brilliant piece of non-digital micro-targeting. The brand had figured out exactly where their target customer was likely to be. I realized that I always think of micro-targeting as a completely digital exercise driven by in-depth data analysis when sometimes it can be as simple as identifying the prospective customer, understanding where they congregate and then putting the right information in front of them at the right time. Micro-targeting can be effective at both ends of the data continuum as long as you know who your prospect is and where they hang out. Going forward, I’ll keep that in mind for both our marketing efforts and in how I think about digital transformation. If the desired end state for digital transformation is transforming marketing into an anticipatory service that provides you with the information you need before you realize you need it, there are a lot of non-digital ways to assist in that transformation.
Another great moment came while driving through my husband’s hometown. We came across one of a chain of liquor stores, called Bargain Booze. As we drove by the store we looked at each other and said “perfect.” It was a branding triumph. We knew exactly what they sold and what their value proposition was. This resonated deeply with my husband since just before vacation he’d participated in an exercise with a branding agency to name a new building on the college campus where he teaches. The agency came up with a number of clever names but when they employed a focus group of students to assess the various names, many of the students responded with “why don’t you just call it what it is” rather than a clever name that we may not remember. It makes you think about how much time and energy we spend coming up with the perfect (and often bizarre) company names instead of something that is descriptive of the company’s mission. As the marketing tech landscape continues to expand, it makes me wonder if we should be adopting a different approach to company naming and taglines.
In the end, I found inspiration in lots of different places, and enjoyed having the time to think about our business and industry without deadline pressure. Now it’s back to reality and to working full throttle until the next vacation. I’d love to hear about the inspiration and ideas you’ve had while vacationing.