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Being comfortable and why it matters

I was hustling through Toronto’s Union Station a few weeks ago when there it was again, right in front of me.

TO CITY.   (With an arrow even pointing me in the right direction.)

I’ve done 500 (or so) trips through Union over the years, and I see the same sign, high up on the marble wall, every time.  I know the way.  I don’t need the sign to remind me where to go.  But it struck me differently this time – a bit like an old friend, a morning ‘welcome’ after stepping off the train and heading to Front Street.

In a word, it felt comfortable.  Trusted and reliable.  The sign is always there, whether I need it or not.

And isn’t this true for our own brands, companies and teams?  We have a decent shot at achieving the same comfort by consistently representing a meaning for our existence (the ‘Why’ of what we do) and then delivering on our Why (and our customers’ expectations) faithfully and reliably over time.  Along the way, we build trust that we’ll always be there – doing what we say we will.

That’s about as comfortable as it gets.

In thinking about this lately, I’ve concluded the ingredients that produce ‘comfort’ are in the eye of the beholder.  It can be a specific thing.  Or a combination of many small things.  But they’re different things for different people.

  • It might be our product. Why do I only buy Moleskine notebooks?  I’m comfortable with every detail and refuse to try anything else.
  • It can be our attention to the brand “experience” – whether it’s an airline like Porter, which bills itself as “flying refined” (it is)… or a hotel like the Onyx in Boston that feels like home.  The experience is a common way to create comfort, provided we sweat the tiniest of details and always deliver.
  • Comfort even shows up in our senses – the smell of our favourite coffee shop or garden centre; the sound of a Harley engine roaring to life; the sublime taste of Reids chocolates every Christmas; even the touch of my trusty REM T-shirt from that show at The Concert Hall 25 years ago – the one I can’t throw away because it’s still so comfortable.

Here’s why ‘comfortable’ matters.

Today’s marketing has changed.  (If you hadn’t noticed.)

Years ago, when I was involved in producing TV commercials for the Freedom 55 brand in Canada, marketing was all about being known. We’d produce a couple of new commercials each year, buy time on the most watched TV programming in the land (Hockey Night in Canada, Seinfeld, Hill Street Blues… ) and – in the days before 500 channels, streaming and PVRs, tablets and smartphones – there was a good chance our target market would see them.  We basically bought awareness.

But times have changed.   We can’t buy attention anymore.  Nobody can.

We have to earn it.

Seth Godin blogged about this the other day:  “…. unaided awareness isn’t a useful goal. Because most decisions that matter aren’t unaided.  Most choices are made with some consideration.  What people say about you is even more important than being on everyone’s notorious list.”

And that pretty much sums it up.

Being talked about is more important than being known.  Or, as Oscar Wilde once put it: “The only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.”  

So what creates this kind of word of mouth?  What builds referability?

Being good at what we do.
Making things easier in some way.
Doing better.
Solving problems.
Being trusted and reliable.

But mostly?  Being comfortable.

We can all get caught up in focusing too much of our energy on getting bigger… or finding the next best thing… or being “known”… when we’re likely better off by making things more comfortable for those we serve.

In the end, we buy (and re-buy) what we like and trust.

We buy what makes us comfortable.

So ask yourself:

  1. Are you trusted and reliable?
  2. Are you comfortable enough to get talked about?

~ Craig