What the Slow Food Movement Can Teach Us About Marketing

In a culture where fast food is on every corner, it’s hard to imagine there’s a movement around something called slow food. But, back in 1986, when McDonald’s was pushing their way into Rome, one of the locals was outraged. Carlo Petrini, an Italian journalist, was worried about the impact that cheap, fast food would have on a society so rich and abundant in local eateries and real cuisine. Before you knew it, Petrini and others rallied around and picketed, but not with traditional handmade signs. They protested with bowls of fresh penne in hand.

“We don’t want fast food… we want slow food!” they proclaimed.

Soon, a movement was born and the organizers quickly realized that in order to be sustainable and holistic in their approach, they had to look beyond the basic culture of food. It was crucial to incorporate the science as well as the production and environmental connection behind the food. All in all, it was an approach that looked at every facet, at every connection, between the plate and the planet.

So, what can the slow food movement teach us about marketing?

Many businesses, even today, market a lot like they’re fast food establishments. Pushing out deals, cluttering email accounts and mailboxes with coupons, obnoxious radio ads, loud television commercials, and billboards as if it were 2004. Push. Push. Push.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when’s the last time that you read every (or any) marketing email? When’s the last time you actually looked through your junk mail or paid attention to radio ads? I know we’re not looking at billboards with the same level of attention we did 10 years ago, especially when we’re spending so much of our time looking at our smartphones when we’re driving! (Naughty! No, seriously….keep your eyes on the road.)

We consume information differently now. It’s on our time. We listen to commercial-free radio. We watch advertisement-free programming streaming on Netflix. We send email that we don’t care about to our junk or spam folder. You see where I’m going here? We don’t want to be interrupted. We don’t want marketing messages pushed down our throats at every turn.

As with the slow food movement, the payoff comes when we get back to basics. For businesses, that means opportunities to step back and work on building relationships. Connecting with people, giving value first, and building trust. We all like to do business with folks that we like, people that we feel good about and trust.

Unsure on where to begin?

Here are three tips to get you started:

  1. Approach your marketing efforts from an angle of building relationships. Think small town. Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Know your marketing options. Know where your customers are in relation to those options and provide engaging content in the context that best fits those particular platforms.
  3. Understand how your customers and prospective customers consume information. Now, more than ever, people are relying on mobile technology to connect with their social networks, information, and entertainment. Their attention and time is not only limited, but precious. How will you stand out?

The result of this kind of slow marketing is stronger relationships. It’s like a meal over pasta instead of a Big Mac. So, let’s go grab a bowl of that fresh, homemade penne from that chef in town. Let’s bring her a basket of freshly harvested herbs, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and plump ripe eggplant straight from our garden. Let’s get to know her and her staff. Learn about her passion for cooking and her love for local ingredients.  Who knows, maybe we’re just the farmer she’s looking for …

Here, I Made This For You

My parents got a divorce early on, when I was four or five years old. So, every other week, I’d pack my little bag and head off to my Dad’s house for the weekend. One of the highlights for me, aside from seeing my Dad of course, was to show him my papers.

Granted, it was just a random collection of school papers, grades, art projects, and my meaningless doodles, but to me it represented two-week intervals of my life that my Dad didn’t get to see or experience in real time. So, every other Friday night without fail, he’d sit at the kitchen table and go through my stack of papers, one by one. Commenting on a job well done, inquiring about this sketch or that scribble, taking his time with each one as if it were some newly discovered treasure.

“Here, I made this for you.” I’d proudly say.

“Well, thank you, sweetie! Sure is lovely.”


Over time, I upgraded from papers to woodworking projects, cookies, and scrapbooks.

“Here, I made this for you.” I’d proudly say.

“Well, thank you, sweetie! Sure is lovely.”

No judgements. Just gratitude.


As business owners, we also put our work out there for all to see.  And, in many ways, it leaves us vulnerable.  Sets us up for judgement and critique.

The other day, I overheard someone talk about how they were fearful to be on social media because of the potential bad publicity. What if someone on Twitter spouts off negative comments about their product or service?

To begin, it’s important to understand that people love to be heard. As marketer Jay Baer says, “Content is fire, and social media is the gasoline.” How true. Social media has a way of escalating both the good and the bad to the next (viral) level, but it’s also crucial to realize that if your product or service consistently sucks, your brand perception will consistently suck in the social realm as well. Ultimately, it’s not a social media issue. It’s a business issue.

So what do you do with negative reviews and complaints about your product or service?

Simple: go beyond.

We can’t be perfect all the time. Surely, we’ll run into folks here and there that have had a less-than-stellar experience with our product or service. But this is where we have the opportunity to stand out from the rest. To take notice, to learn, and respond with a sense of urgency and authenticity. Those customers will complain on social media regardless of whether your business has a particular social media account. View this as an opportunity to be where your customers are, be it Facebook, Twitter, wherever. Connect, be genuine, bring value, use smart search tools and targeting in a way that will help elevate your awareness if negative feedback arises. What an opportunity you would then have to swoop in, make it right, and at the same time, have others witness its resolution.

Scott Stratten of Unmarketing says, “People are passive in person and aggressive online.”

Born and raised in the Midwest and now living in a state with a catchphrase of “Minnesota Nice,” I couldn’t agree more.

Social media isn’t something to fear. A crappy product or service is, by far, of greater concern. So, think back to those early childhood days of show and tell. Remember that excitement and passion you had over your product or service back when you first started your business. You couldn’t wait to show it off. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to put yourself out there.

Here, I made this for you.




Mr. Pitt and the Snickers Bar

Personally, I think Seinfeld is genius.

The show about nothing had a solid run of nine seasons, from 1989 to 1998. And while I’m sure I could easily relate any episode back to marketing, I’ll spare you the discomfort and jump ahead to season six, episode three.

For those who haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about, stick with me, marinate in today’s marketing lesson, crawl out from underneath that rock, and get your paws on a season or two. You can thank me later.

So, let’s set the scene:

Mr. Pitt is an eccentric executive in the publishing industry and Elaine,  a cast staple, takes on a job as his personal assistant. Now, he’s a quirky guy for sure, and one day Elaine catches him eating a Snickers bar with a knife and fork. As the show progresses, she witnesses more and more people eating candy, snacks, and treats with utensils. Typically viewed as finger foods, this new way of consuming snacks leaves her confused and searching for answers.

“What’s going on?” she wonders. “What’s wrong with everybody?”

Which brings me to this topic of consumption.

When we start paying attention to how and why people consume content, we find ourselves one step closer to understanding the psychology behind each marketing tool available to us.

Take Pinterest, for example. Pinterest is described as a “visual discovery tool that people use to collect ideas for their different projects and interests.”

Translation: pictures, pictures, pictures.

Knowing that Pinterest is 100 percent visual, does it make sense to post an image box filled with border-to-border text? Of course not. Don’t be that person. The best thing you can do for your business, regardless of the marketing tool, is to respect the inner workings of a given platform.

The other vital piece of information to consider is demographics. Take a quick peek on the Pinterest site and you’ll notice that 99 percent of the content is geared towards women.

Now don’t get me wrong. Dudes use Pinterest, but the psychology behind their use is far different from their female counterparts. Women are four to five times more likely than men to use Pinterest, and they tend to go into it with a mindset of aspiration or intent to buy or make. Men, on the other hand, pin or re-pin content they simply think is cool.

So, let’s say you’re selling hand-spun arm warmers made from alpaca fleece (is that even a thing?). Female demographic, tangible product, visual marketing platform. No brainer: Pinterest.

Which leaves another piece of the puzzle. How are people consuming information and entertainment?

One word: mobile.

Mobile technology continues to be on the rise and it’s here to stay. Check out the latest statistics from Super Monitoring:

  • 91% of all people on earth have a mobile phone
  • 56% of people own a smart phone
  • 50% of mobile phone users use mobile as their primary Internet source
  • 72% of tablet owners purchase online from their tablets each week

So how do we piece all of this together? Think back to Mr. Pitt. At one time, he ate his Snickers bar with his hands. Now, for whatever reason, he eats it with a knife and fork. It’s still a Snickers bar, just like content is still content, but the way in which Mr. Pitt consumes the candy bar has transformed. Same goes for how we consume our information and entertainment today. We’re swapping physical newspapers for online articles and board games for mobile alternatives like Words with Friends.

As business owners, we have to be able to evolve with the times and meet our customers and prospective customers where they’re at, which is, more often than not, online and on the go.

And this brings me to my final point for today: attention.

With over 5,000 marketing messages coming at us in one form or another per day, it’s no surprise that one of the most valuable areas we as business owners and marketers compete for is attention. With each passing year, our attention span lessens. In fact, as of 2013, the average attention span of an adult was eight seconds. And the average attention span of a goldfish? Nine seconds. Ouch.

As you move forward this week, keep these areas in mind: targeted demographic, appropriate marketing platform, mobile-friendly and engaging content.

But for now, pull up a seat at the table and join us. Here’s your knife and fork. Your Snickers bar is waiting.

MacGyver Is Alive and Well In All of Us

MacGyver first debuted in 1985.

Pretty sure it was a Christmas miracle.

I was nine. Fourth grade. Mark Thompson and I weren’t too keen on sitting still and paying attention in the conventional classroom setting so we made stuff. Paperclips, rubber cement, electrical tape, batteries, lightbulbs, pencil erasers, wiring…it all became fodder for rigging up our desks with a bulb that would automatically light up when we raised the top.

I have no doubt that I was channeling my inner MacGyver. And thus began my not-so-secret mental love affair with the original ninja.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with marketing?

Wait for it …

Cut to the scene where MacGyver finds himself in an underground lab, scientists are trapped in a back room, and a chemical leak threatens the lives of all.

Sitting on the edges of our seats, we can’t help but wonder, “Can MacGyver single-handedly rescue the trapped scientists AND stop a deadly chemical leak?” (Here’s a hint: never underestimate the power of the Mac!)

As he scans the lab and utility closet, he quickly realizes that he has a wealth of tools available to him. Garden hose, duct tape (of course), rubber bands, chewing gum, you name it. Not to mention, his trusty sidekick, Swiss Army Knife.

Thankfully, MacGyver understands the opportunities and limitations of the tools available to him. He’s able to use the appropriate ones for the task at hand, stop the chemical leak, rescue the trapped scientists, and ultimately save the day. Whew!

And here’s where I land the plane …

There’s this thing called the Internet, you may have heard of it. And everywhere you turn there’s a tool, be it Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, electronic newsletters, social media management dashboards, schedulers, and I could go on and on and on.

But, I get it. It can be scary. Overwhelming. Maybe even ridiculous, but knowing how to use the tools that best fit your world can make all the difference between losing the battle and rescuing your business.

The key lies in choosing the right tools for you. Which one is going to help you reach your goals in the most efficient and effective manner? When we understand that each platform appeals to a different demographic and a different set of behaviors, then we can better implement the tool that best connects our business with our prospective customer. While it’s okay, even recommended, not to become one with every single tool out there, it is crucial to have consistent presence.

I believe that MacGyver is alive and well in all of us.

So, take out your Swiss Army Knife and follow along step by step:

  • to begin, cut the black wire that is denial
  • next, cut the yellow wire that is uncertainty
  • finally, cut that pesky red wire in the back … that’s fear

You should be left with just the green wire. I think we all know what green means.

GO! Embrace your inner MacGyver!

What Does John Cougar Mellencamp Have to Do With Marketing?

Like the Coug, I was born and raised in a small town.

Population: 449, to be exact.

Now, if you’ve spent any time in a small town, you know that relationships are at the heart of it all. From the corner store, to the church on the hill. From the factory down the street, to the family farm around the bend. It’s all about the people.

It’s easy to forget that though.

I remember sitting in my first marketing class at Michigan State University. It was 1995. I must’ve been only 19. Clueless.

So there I sat, alongside 400 fellow students, equally clueless. My over-priced book and highlighter in hand. Ready to learn and take on the world.

Wasn’t long before I was spouting off the importance of a SWOT analysis and entertaining party goers with my regurgitated knowledge of the four P’s. (For those who missed the party, that’s product, place, promotion, and price.)

This carried on for years.

Strategies. Campaigns. Mission Statements. Laser Focus Lists.

Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Then I started my own business.

Don’t get me wrong. Having structure and plans in place is a solid approach and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it’s easy to get caught up in the desperation of it all. The panic of “what ifs.”

What if I can’t sell my product or service?

What if I lose everything?

When we’re hyper focused on selling, we lose sight of the bigger picture – helping.

Building relationships. Bringing value. Creating a culture of trust and loyalty. That’s where it’s at.

So in 2010, when I left my corporate job for the glamorous life that is organic farming, you can imagine the shift that I had to make. Gone were the days of seeing customers as a number or territory. I had to actually see them for who they were – people.

Which brings me back to The Coug and marketing.

Somewhere along the line, marketing got a bad name. Too much pushing, not enough guiding.

It’s time to get back to our roots.

To live in that small town again at the intersection of people and relationship.