What hiking and marketing have in common
I’m currently training for a 28.3-mile hike with the Make-A-Wish South Carolina. Training consists of long hikes (this one was supposed to be 14 miles) on Saturdays with groups of strangers in current 90-degree temperatures. Yea. It’s fun. (My husband thinks so too when I leave him home all day with our two kids.)
This past Saturday I had to leave the hike early because it was my son’s eighth birthday party. We began hiking at 8:30 and I had to be back at my house at 2:00, so I made a note to turn around wherever I was at 11:00.
Well, at 11:00 I was at the Pinnacle Mountain Summit, so while everyone else kept forging ahead, I told my co-hiker George goodbye for the day and began hiking back down.
One of the great things about hiking with Make-A-Wish is that they spend the day before the hike marking the trail with happy little blue ribbons. This assures geographically challenged people like me that I will never get lost. Another great thing about the Make-A-Wish is that they have a serious respect for nature, so as soon as the last hiker has passed a blue ribbon, a “sweeper” unties that ribbon from the tree and carries it back with them. No trail left.
So as I said goodbye to the hikers around me and started back down the steep (now) decline, I saw no blue ribbons. Hm. But really, it wasn’t that big of a deal because I had just come that way so surely I could remember where I came from.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do anything slow. So as I power-hiked back down the mountain, I found myself turning around a few times to ensure that I was going the correct direction. “Yes, that looks familiar,” until quite honestly all of the trees looked the same so everything looked familiar. Hm.
Ah! Technology! I have the AllTrails app, which identifies where you are and suggests trails for you. I pulled that up and looked at the map. I saw lots of lines. And that’s about all I saw. (For some reason when I was growing up the kids on the “advanced track” skipped geography class and went straight to U.S. History. I guess they assumed the smart kids could read a map. Bad assumption.)
But oh! Google Maps could help! Let me just pull it up and tell it to navigate me to … to where? I found myself wanting to type “my car.” Hm.
I texted my husband. “I may be lost. You would be laughing at me right now.” His response, “smh.” Glad he’s concerned.
Finally I put my phone away and just decided to forge ahead. I passed an older couple. The woman had fantastic tight gray curls that were pulled back from her head with a visor. Her hair moved up and down as if one unit as she hiked down. I zoomed past them and said hello.
I kept zooming. But then I found myself upon a river. Huh. Don’t remember a river. Surely I would have remembered a river. I looked up ahead and saw a place where the trail had split. Ah. I must have gone the wrong direction there. So I turned around and went back to the split. At this point the old couple was bobbing toward me.
“Are you lost?” they asked.
“No, I’m fine. I figured it out now. Thank you though!” as I zoomed past them again.
I took the second trail and kept power-hiking. But soon this trail flattened out and widened, and that didn’t look familiar. Surely I would have remembered a really wide flat trail. So I turned around and went back to where the trail split … for the third time.
“Okay Lindsay, you’re a smart person, figure this out,” I muttered to myself as I looked around at just trees. Lots and lots of trees. Maybe I would remember one special tree because a leaf had caught my attention earlier in the day? Right. No.
And then it hit me. When I had begun hiking that morning, I had started my running app to track my mileage. I pulled up the app, and it told me I had been hiking almost four hours, so then I scrolled over to the map page and almost woohooed to the surrounding trees with joy. The map showed the exact trail I had hiked, so all I had to do was follow that bright orange line and it would take me back to my car.
I texted Steven, “I figured it out. It only took me going down two wrong trails.” He sent back the face-palm emoji.
And then for the third time, I zoomed past the old couple. The woman’s hair-shelf shook with laughter as they saw me again.
“You sure you’re not lost?” the man asked.
“No!” I said with glee, holding up my phone for them to see. “I just have to follow the orange line!”
I laughed to myself. I had just wasted an entire hour taking the wrong roads, panicking, seeking help and not finding it, then refusing help, only to realize that I’d had the map in my pocket the entire time. As I power-hiked the last mile, I realized that this entire experience seemed to be a great metaphor for many of my TealHaus clients. We’ll start out with a comprehensive strategy, and we’ll begin to plot that orange line. For a while things stay on track. But somewhere along the way, the clients forget about the orange line. Instead they’ll get sidetracked by an employee’s request for a special handout or want to try out a new digital marketing campaign. I’ll gently remind them of the overall strategy and how this doesn’t fit into that, but sometimes I have to let them try the other paths first so that they can see for themselves that these paths don’t get them where they want to be. And then finally they’ll remember the orange line and they’ll laugh to themselves.
Marketing is a journey for any organization. It’s not simply creating collateral to tell others about your business. It’s learning who you are and how to communicate that with your audience. It’s also identifying places or processes within your organization that may be hindering that communication. It’s also having the leadership abilities to help your employees understand why changing certain processes may inconvenience them in the short-term but will really pay huge dividends for them in the long-run. And it’s committing to an idea so much that you put money against that idea, and for small businesses, that can be really tough. However, take it from someone who has not only watched others get lost but who has gotten lost herself: if you stay with the overall strategy and remember that you have a plan, your chances are much better that you’ll reach your destination efficiently and on-budget.
And you’ll only be a little sore from the adventure.