Student teacher: The hardest job I’ve ever had. The hardest job I ever will have. Good, fun, great kids, wonderful experience, learned a ton, but wow…..

(Mind you, I worked in a foundry once upon a time; I was in the Infantry in the Army; I worked outside; I worked in a factory — not even remotely close to how hard student teaching was.)

So, what did I learn?

1. How hard teaching is. And how rewarding.

Six classes a day. Four separate preparations. Two hours of grading each night. Weekends plus a night a week for learning plans, reading, and other preparation. Plus attending student events, meeting with parents, collaborating with other teachers — the list goes on.

(Aside: The next time you hear some mush-for-brains yahoo blathering about how teachers have it so easy with summers off and “only working” seven hours a day, you have my permission to smite them where they stand. No jury in the land would convict you.)

Where was I? Oh, yes:

2. How to prepare multiple presentations and learning plans quickly and efficiently.

3. To pay attention to group dynamics. (Same preparation, same learning plan, same amount of effort and enthusiasm, same school, yet one class could go great and the next be a dud. I wasn’t doing anything different or “wrong.” But the group personalities and dynamics were different.)

4. That behavior often conceals more than it reveals.

5. The utmost respect for what it takes to be a teacher.

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I don’t like to brag, but it says right on my DD214 that I was a hand grenade expert in the Army.

This seems to be — oddly, I’ve always thought — an undervalued skill on resumes and job applications.

I can personally attest that this skill has come in handy innumerable times in groups large and small when I’ve been able to say — with expert authority, mind you — “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” (Plus, any alleged horseshoe experts in the room always defer to the hand grenade guy for some reason.)

Aside: One wonders what a less-than-expert hand grenade-lobber had to do to NOT get the designation….

One of the best jobs anyone could possibly have who hoped to teach, coach, facilitate, present, or speak in public: Graduate assistant for two years at the Teaching Skills Center at the university where I was an undergrad. This is one of the four best jobs I’ve ever had.

What the Teaching Skills Center was: College juniors or seniors who planned to be teachers were required to participate in the Teaching Skills Center. As the name implies, people learned strategies, tools, and techniques to become more effective teachers. Mini-lesson learner plans were prepared. Instructional media were integrated into the lessons. Sessions were taped with small groups of learners, then played back so everyone could offer positive critiques to improve performance.

Things I learned on this job:

1. How to become a better learner and better teacher

2. How to facilitate small groups

3. How to prepare mini learning plans and, especially, mini-presentations and mini-lessons. I learned anything can be briefly presented for learning-instructional purposes.

4. How real teams (the team of graduate assistants) work; how fragile true teams are; and how the feeling of a real team always stays with you as a model, goad, and aspiration.

5. How presenting and teaching can be fun.

6. How to become a better listener and “get out of the way” of the learners.

7. What a good “boss” is, could, and should be.

What I don’t understand is why learning skills and techniques for the classroom ever went away. (Ditto for people learning how to present mini-programs on…um…pretty much anything.) I see the lack of simple teaching and presenting skills nearly every professional day. Seems like a crazy thing to have tossed aside….

First job (besides mowing lawns and shoveling sidewalks): When the fair or a carnival would come to town in the summer, all the boys too young to actually (legally) work would head to the Fairgrounds. The carnies would hire us to help set up tents and exhibits and do the grunt work.

My first time, I thought I’d really lucked out when I got a job helping set up “The Facts of Life” tent. My steamy thoughts went something like this: “Hoo Hah.” “And I’m getting paid for this.” Let’s just say the actual exhibit was very scientific, unnecessarily hyper-clinical, and not in the least bit salacious. Or helpful, really, when dating came along in a few years. But being young boys, we ‘Facts of Life” workers were only dismayed for a while. Cotton candy and the promises of the side shows and rides to come salved our pain.

What did I learn working with the carnivals and fair those summers?

-Some very scientific facts of life. But I repeat myself.

-What organized, group work is all about.

-What hard work is.

-Some really good lessons in marketing.

-Whatever juvenile stereotypes I might have held about “carnies” were way off the mark. Way off.

-Basic things to do and not do on a job.

-That there were surely other, better ways to learn the facts of life. But those would come later, one fervently hoped. And with different personnel.

“Be Spontaneous. Plan Accordingly.” Courtesy of the Maine Office of Tourism.

That’s how my email “pile” started off this morning. With that delightful example of marketing word-play.

A great photo framed the saying and accented it for me. (Pun intended. I “heard” the Maine accent in my mind.) The complete package. Loved it.

What did the Maine Office of Tourism achieve with this bit of word-play and come-hither photo? In a world of competing email come-ons, they got my undivided, non-multitasking attention right away. They made me smile. Maine tickled my senses and delighted me with their word-play. Their ad invited and welcomed me (without using those words). And most important: The Maine Office of Tourism captured the essence of the Maine experience in four words and a picture. Perfect branding. Perfect marketing. Wonderful invitation.

Maine: Ya got me. We’re coming your way. And here’s the really cool marketing part … dramatic pause … thank you.

Yes, I immediately had the urge to THANK the Maine Office of Tourism. For the great marketing example. For the “invitation.” For helping me “get” Maine. For getting me and my family off dead-center to really go ahead with our long-considered trip to Maine. (Hint: Feeling an urge to thank someone is a good thing in marketing. Understatement of the month.)

Maine’s tourism ad brings home the importance of word-play — complemented with a great photo — in effective marketing. Word-play is another way to tell a story.

And speaking of word-play, if you want to see some great, fun examples of oxymora, chiasmus, and chiastic quotations (I didn’t know what the latter two were either. Also didn’t know that “oxymora” was the plural of “oxymoron”), check out drmardy.com. Plan accordingly. Be spontaneous.

No, Who’s on first. Ah, the classics.

In this case, we like to think Bud and Lou would agree with us. “What’s on first?” is vitally important when it comes to marketing your community or attraction.

This is another example of that most basic of marketing principles: Look at things from the point of view of your visitor or customer or guest, not yourself. What’s the first thing a guest sees or experiences? What’s a visitor’s first impression of your town, your park, your attraction, your store, your neighborhood? What are THEY going to remember? What do THEY encounter (despite your best intentions; wonderful, eminently logical reasons; prescient policies — none of which they know at this point)?

Well, first of all, it’s probably your website, your voice mail, your automated message. But let’s skip ahead to when the traveler actually is arriving to partake of the wonderful possibilities portrayed on your website. What’s their first experience?

To illustrate this parable, let’s return to the thrilling days of yesteryear and the old stereotype at parks and natural resource areas (no longer the case, we’re sure). Here was what you saw as you pulled in, once upon a time:

No parking.

No hunting.

No fishing.

No swimming.

No camping.

No food.

No fires.

And implied: No nothing. Go home. Please. (And the “please” was optional.)

Now, no park ranger ever INTENDED the first impression to be The Six or Eight or Ten Commandments of Thou Shalt Not. But they forgot the sign that said “Welcome.” Even in an age of scarce financial resources, a “Welcome” sign FIRST is important.

When someone comes to your community, is the first thing they encounter a jumble of confusing directional signs? An unsafe intersection? No place, seemingly, to park? Speeding vehicles from all directions making looking for something to do unsafe? What’s on first?

When someone steps into your restaurant, is it clear or unclear what they’re to do next? Should they take a seat? Wait to be seated? Order at the counter? Fill out a form? Order online? Confusion and uncertainty are “bad” feelings when a customer wants to do something he or she does everyday and is, after all, one of the bases of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Are you making this a wee bit too difficult? What’s on first?

Have you ever gone into a restaurant where it takes the greeter (often, greeters, plural) longer to figure out who’s going to be your wait staff (i.e. whose turn it is) than it takes to seat you and for you to order your meal? And, often, to consume it? What’s on first?

First things first. From the guest’s point of view. What’s on first in your community, attraction, park, sight or site?

 

Charles Barkley famously said, “I am not a role model.” But people forget Sir Charles went on to say that parents should be the role models, not necessarily an NBA basketball player. The Round Mound of Rebound wasn’t saying role models aren’t important. They are.

Communities can be role models, too. And it’s important that cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods are to show the rest of us the way. Or, more accurately, A way.

Here’s how to address land use. Here’s a model ordinance for historic preservation. This is how to do sustainable growth. We have a great planning model your community can emulate. Here’s a way we’ve found to recycle. Check out our streetscapes. See what we’ve done to bring local governments together to work on complex issues. This is what citizen involvement can do. Here’s how good design works. Here’s how to get a whole neighborhood or entire community in the National Register of Historic Places. Here’s how to make biking safer.

For small and rural communities, modeling good community behaviors is a secret weapon. If you feel you’re in competition with the big communities “down the road” — you know, the ones with jobs, restaurants, night life, shops and stores, things to do after 7 p.m. — the ones that are turning your once-thriving community into a bedroom community and nothing but — well, being a model community is one way you can be competitive.

You’re small. You’re flexible. You can move more quickly. People can come together faster. There’s a small critical mass needed to get things done. So here’s your blueprint:

1. Copy — better yet, adapt — some other community’s strategy, ordinance, look, feel. Or,

2. Create your own model of how to do things the right way (and compete on your own terms in a “good,” creative way). Or,

3. Adapt some things, copy some things, AND create your own model(s).

This was difficult for small communities once upon a time. But along came some wonderful tools called — we’re quoting George W. Bush here — “the Internets” and “the Google.” You can use these tools as effectively as Megalopolis down the road.

But being a model community goes further. We want people to adapt better behaviors because it’s the right thing to do, first and foremost. It also helps our community while guests are visiting. If we model clean streets and neighborhoods, people reward that and police themselves. If we have a strong sign ordinance for Main Street, then the cumulative effect of appropriate sizes, shapes, and colors helps our guests find things, spend their disposable income, and do so more easily, with less hassle. Why not make things easy for people? And does that help our merchants and our community, too, along the way? Yes, of course. These things aren’t mutually exclusive. Why would we want it to be “us vs. them”? Duh.

Twenty-five years ago, it was a bold statement to say that you used recycled paper or that your print marketing piece was recyclable and made with soy ink. Ditto for showing people wearing helmets on a bike trail. Life vests while fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking. Helmets while snowboarding or skiing. Staying on trails in high mountain meadows. Not creating wakes on rivers and streams.

But, ya know, I STILL see websites and get print publications that DON’T show those things. How can that be, 25 years later? If we model appropriate behaviors, we can change behaviors. By doing so, we help create our community’s preferred future. If none of these arguments resonates with you, then there’s this: Do we really want people getting hurt in our communities because they didn’t wear a helmet or life vest? Do we want that publicity? Do we want that responsibility? Is that how we want our guests to remember us?

I downloaded a beautiful publication yesterday. Gorgeous. And it showed a lovely woman, handsome man, and 2.3 (approximately) stunning children standing, smiling, and lightly bracing their bicycles along a bike trail. From a pure marketing point of view, I understand why, if you’ve hired handsome talent, you want people to see them and not cover up the face and hair. (I’ve seen the research. I know this works.) But you can achieve the exact same result simply by having each of the people depicted holding their helmet or with a bike helmet tied to the handle bars. What a missed opportunity! Instead of communicating two messages — handsome, happy people biking (implied) on OUR wonderful bike trail — you could have added a third important message: “health and safety are important to us all.” No extra charge. Three messages for the price of two.

Because what message have you just sent? That you don’t need bike helmets on OUR trail. Is that really what you’re trying to convey? And subconsciously, doesn’t a picture of people without a helmet send the message, “Look how far behind-the-times we are.” Yay, us? Wow.

You can achieve multiple objectives with your marketing with just a little more thought and an eye to the future. You can help people, not just “sell” your community. These things aren’t either-or. And you can help create a better experience for your guests and a better community for your residents. You can create your preferred future.

Be a role model. You can do this. In the great scheme of community marketing and community development, this is easy.

Hey, small towns and cities, this one’s (especially) for you.

 

The essence of community marketing is to tell a story. And then invite, engage, and welcome people so they can become part of that wonderful story. So they can experience it. Take parts of the story home with them: in their shopping bags, in their cameras, and in their memories.

Most community development folk proudly point to their school(s) when they’re telling their town’s story. Learning going on. A good employer. Educated workforce. Kids get a good education. But they stop there. If you stop there, you miss a heckuva lot of stories in small-town America. Here are some.

In many small towns or cities (in non-metropolitan areas), a community’s school district:

•Is the biggest employer in town

•Has the largest payroll

•Is the biggest food service provider

•Is the largest transportation service

•Has the most-educated workforce

•Is the most technologically equipped and engaged

•Has a large percentage (the largest?) of people who have traveled widely

•May be the most diverse workforce in town

•Is the best-read aggregate population

•May have the most employees in town who have come from somewhere else; that is, they bring new ideas, new perspectives, and different experiences

•And, last but not least, if you have 100 kids, you have 100 stories; 200 kids, 200 stories. Twenty teachers, 20 stories. Fifty teachers, 50 stories. Actually more, of course.

There are a million stories in the typical small town school. How many of us listen to those stories and then share them with our guests and prospective guests?

 

When engineering, design, and marketing clash, bad things happen.

Too often, not only are design, engineering, and marketing not on the same page, they’re not even in the same book. Same library. Same database. Don’t these people ever talk with each other?

This was maybe — maybe — understandable before Apple showed the way, but today? Inexcusable. Hint to engineering professionals: If you don’t do anything else, read the Steve Jobs book. Epiphanies, epiphanettes, paradigm shifts, eurekas, and huzzas will explode in your head. Also visions of sugar-plums.

Let’s take an everyday example of when engineering, design, and marketing don’t play well together: your t.v. remote.

For those of you keeping score at home, my t.v. remote has 53 buttons. Let me repeat that: 53. Sad to say, I use 17 of them. Seventeen buttons to watch television. I know: 17 is ridiculous. But 53? Seriously?

Adding to the gee-whiz factor on t.v. remotes are helpful categories like “themes” and “modes,” “swap” and “pip,” terms we all commonly use when thinking of television programming. Especially cable channels. And the writing is inscribed in black ink on a slate gray surface, maybe 10-point type, with some type even smaller. Small, black type on a black and gray remote is especially handy for watching t.v. in the dark.

How does this Clash of the Self-Imagined Titans happen? Too often, in many non-Apple companies, Marketing’s job — to Engineers — is to “sell” the wonderful product Engineering has created. (Ed. note: See Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for an excellent example of such a product.)

But seriously, what goes wrong? For starters, engineers seem to think they’re designers. Occasionally they are, but usually….Not. Most importantly, all sense of the customer’s point of view — and common sense — has been lost. And lastly, there’s an unconscious arrogance to over-engineered products. The assumption is that people will buy anything no matter how ridiculous. 53 buttons, remember? To watch t.v. This in a day when the mantra is simpler, easier, faster, better.

In brief, customers pay the price. Literally and figuratively.

Bonus aside: Cynics out there might be reminded of the original research when kitchen blenders first came on the market a long time ago. The research showed that beyond a very limited number of speeds (and therefore buttons), there was no scientific difference in what happened to the food in the blender. Beyond a certain speed, no more speeds — no more buttons — were needed. But we humanoids are funny creatures, as you may have noticed. When blenders went from 3 speeds to 6 (3 buttons to 6 buttons), more blenders sold. When 6 buttons increased to 12 buttons, blenders went flying off the shelves into consumers’ hands. And when blenders went to 18 or 24 buttons? Well, those HAD to be better, didn’t they? Customers wanted the latest, greatest blender, the one with the most buttons. Stores couldn’t keep the newest, bestest blenders in stock.

Clashing, not mashing, and 53 buttons on a remote? We can lay that at Engineering’s feet. But blending (not really) and 18 or 24 buttons on a blender? That’s on Marketing. Well, actually, it’s on Consumers. Marketing just capitalized.

This is for the 97.6 percent* of you who know someone taking multiple medications daily. As an experiment, ask your parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt, or friend to name the milligrams of each pill he or she takes. Chances are, they won’t remember 20 mg, 40 mg, etc. but they’ll remember that low-dose aspirin is 81 mg.

Why is that? Well, specific numbers are often more memorable than whole or rounded numbers: 81 mg stands out in a world of 30 and 40 mg. The marketing tip is that remembering a detail like 81 mg means people remember the product. And name recognition increases product sales.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a scientific, research-based reason for 81 mg. There is. But what that does is actually INCREASE the memorable quality of the number “81.” It imparts a (justified) scientific or technical aura to the product. That’s good. Our unconscious brain says, unconsciously, “hey, there’s something to this 81 number. I’m going to remember this.” In a world of bland 20s, 40s, 60s, and rounded zeros, 81 stands out.

The little secret is that, even if a person doesn’t take low-dose aspirin regularly, people tend to remember “81 mg” if they’ve EVER taken low-dose aspirin. That’s fairly remarkable when you think about it.

A classic marketing example of this specificity principle is Ivory Soap’s famous slogan, “99 and 44/100ths percent pure.” Much more effective than “100% pure.” Greater believability. More memorable.

Sometimes big, rounded numbers with lots of zeroes are important and impressive in marketing. They fairly pound their rounded chests and scream “look at me” and all my 00000s. But specific numbers with science behind them can be much more memorable in the minds of prospective clients, guests, customers, or learners.

*Full disclosure: “97.6 percent” was made up for purposes of gentle humor and the theme of this post. If you happen to know the actual percentage of how many people take multiple medications daily, then judge away and godspeed.