Hi everyone, I’m back from traveling around the East Coast the past 12 days in the middle of my month of Down Time.
It’s been six years since we last visited my in-laws in beautiful central Virginia, and from there we headed up to central New York to spend time with my grandmother, and to see my parents and celebrate some milestone birthdays.
I’ve been out of touch with the news and the blogosphere so today’s post will be a bit of an indulgent ramble. But bear with me for there are lessons to learn.
America sells its soul to Petco.
We landed in Washington, DC, picked up our rental car, and headed south on our three-hour drive to my in-laws home. Our search for dinner along the way became a fruitless effort to get beyond the backlit signs and branded environments of national chains. Rest areas protect all travelers from seeing anything actually real of the landscape and the local culture, god forbid. Without leaving the comfort of the interstate, they can choose from Sbarro, TCBY, Subway, and Taco Bell.
We went the extra effort to actually exit the highway, only to be greeted with the strip mall trifecta of Petco, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target. I sat in the parking lot thinking I could be in any town in the country.
Sigh. Defeated, we ate at Panera.
I hate to be full of doom and gloom but this kind of development scares the hell out me because it’s sucking the life out of our culture. I wrote about this early last year on Spin Sucks.
The goal of global domination forces brands to become all things to all people. The same thing is happening with our social networks as is happening with retail. I miss the unique experience both in American towns and in social networks. I love Instagram, and long for the days of Facebook circa 2009. It seems to be a natural evolution in the life cycle.
Bluegrass Hoedowns, Horse Shows, and Panning for Gold
In a matter of a few hours, the strip malls of America disappeared. Rural Virginia is a different world to what I’m accustomed to; we drove through a gorgeous countryside full of old plantations, Civil War sites, and horse manors.
I’ll never forget the real bluegrass hoedown we attended at the local VFW years ago. I two-stepped (according to me but others would argue that wasn’t two-stepping) in Patagonia fleece and Keen shoes with my father-in-law in his cowboy boots and hat! The ladies were in the back minding the potluck buffet, and the young boys were sitting to the side of the stage, instruments on lap, just hoping to be invited up to play with the old-timers.
We listened to stories; stories about the retired CIA who live in the region, stories about horses – jumping, training, raising, and integrating. We went to our first horse show and learned a new vocabulary. We were in the heart of Civil War territory so we walked the rolling hills and meadows in the peak of Fall colors and imagined troops at the creekside, burying treasure never to return. We panned for gold.
The teenaged version of me would have judged what I saw because it was so different. A grown-up version of me (according to me) turned on the listening skills and learned a great deal. You don’t even have to leave your country to gain new perspective and see different values at work.
My bike ride to school really was uphill in both directions.
As a teen, a very social teen, we lived way out in the boonies (according to me). We were a whole three miles outside of the small town of Cazenovia, New York. To see my friends in the summer before I had a drivers licence, I had to ride my bike that three miles: Uphill both ways. We drove out there last weekend so I could show how hard that was. Um, those hills must have eroded down or something. Everything was closer, smaller, and easier than I remembered as a kid.
We left before everyone woke up because booking those 6 am flights seems so much easier in the planning stage than in the execution stage. Later, my 3-year old nephew walked into my mom’s room asking,
“Nana? Where did your friends go?”
I actually do have a marketing lesson to share. We think we know our customer because we are so good at projecting our own beliefs and values on them, and building personas from there. There are segments of lives out there we never imagined existed.
We are each defined very differently and see things differently dependent on upbringing, where we live, and how old we are. There are young men waiting to take the bluegrass stage, college students spending hours jumping horses; there are people all over the country who see the same thing in a very different way.
You assume your nephew knows who you are, but you might be very wrong.[ssba]