Think + Do » an exploration of mission-driven marketing and design

Are We There Yet?


Photo of a rainbow over Cottonwood Campground in Teddy Roosevelt National ParkI’ve been going on family road trips since I was a kid. Every year, my dad drove us to destinations across the U.S. and Canada. When I was 11 years old, we traveled 1200 miles to Montreal in a Chevy Impala sedan (four in front, five in back) pulling a pop-up camper. It seemed perfectly normal to me at the time.

My family and I just returned from our summer vacation (two in front, two in back) to Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The accommodations were a bit more luxurious – Back in my day, sonny, we were lucky to play with rocks. We didn’t have any fancy, portable DVD players! – but in many ways things haven’t changed that much.

As a child, aside from the cramped conditions, vacations were pretty easy. Go where you’re told. Eat what’s put in front of you. See new places and things. As the one planning the vacations now – truth be told, my wife did most of the preparation for this trip – I noticed there are lessons that can be applied to non-profit marketing.

Prepare, but don’t over-prepare
Before embarking on our trip, we consulted with friends, scanned guidebooks, and dusted off our favorite road atlas. We assembled a rough itinerary, made a few reservations, and pulled out our camping gear. We did not get hung up on things beyond our control, like the weather, bears, or mosquitoes.

Many make the mistake of trying to plan for or maintain control of every contingency – What if they use the logo wrong? How can we stop people from posting negative opinions on our site? If you want to make the gods laugh, show them your plans. While details matter, to maintain one’s sanity and keep your projects moving forward, it’s far more productive to stay focused on the big picture.

It may take a while to get to the good stuff
Eight hours is a long time to spend in a car. It feels even longer while driving through eastern Montana or the wheat fields of Saskatchewan, but that’s the price we paid to get to some truly spectacular locations. If it were easy or convenient, everyone would be doing it!

In my experience, marketing people seem especially prone to being dazzled with the latest tools and technology. New media channels and techniques bring with them the promise of instant success (if you don’t examine the numbers too carefully). No matter the media, effective marketing takes a lot of work over a long period of time. There are no shortcuts.

Take a look around
Look out the window! Occasionally, for my boys, taking in the mountain scenery was no match for reaching the next level of Mario Kart. Most of the time, however, they’re pretty observant. Asking questions is a reliable method for acquiring local knowledge (get there early to avoid crowds) and preferences (what’s your favorite hike?). It pays to remain curious about the people, places, and things around us.

It’s easy to become jaded to our surroundings and start working on autopilot, but that’s when we stop learning and stop seeing new or better ways to do our jobs. If, as Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up,” then the other twenty percent surely must be paying attention.

We’re almost there
No matter how well planned or engaging, eventually on any adventure someone will ask: Are we almost there? On our recent trip, during a beautiful, but unexpectedly long hike to a pristine glacial lake, my nine-year-old posed this very question. To keep him amused, I began improvising a little tune.

We started hiking yesterday.
If we’re lucky we’ll be there by May.
We’re almost there.

We have a compass and a machete.
It feels like our legs are made of spaghetti.
We’re almost there.

This surely can’t be the final verse.
If this takes much longer we’ll leave in a hearse.
We’re almost there.

Before long everyone joined in, making up new lines and finishing each others’ verses. And, before long, we had arrived at our destination … and it was awe-inspiring.

However, the dirty little secret is that no matter what small fibs or distractions you invent to placate your tired and impatient inquisitors, the real answer to that age-old question is this: You’re never there. You’re always learning, always moving.

And, if you’re lucky, sometimes you get to stop for ice cream.

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