business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Do you hate baseball?

I have to believe there is a percentage of the MNB readership who would say “yes” and for that reason may be missing one of the most interesting ongoing discussions I think we’ve ever had on this site.

That’s because the discussion has nothing to do with balls and strikes or the World Series. It has everything to do with the incomprehensible emotional connections each of has to various things in our life.

And those connections are something no business should ever ignore.

Let’s back up. Two weeks ago, Kevin wrote about how he completed a life goal to visit every major league baseball stadium and then he ranked them all. None of that’s a surprise because we all know (me especially) that Kevin loves baseball and is loaded with opinions.

But then e-mails started coming and I hope that you, like me, have been reading them. MNB readers have shared stories of their favorite stadiums, including details why. None of the stories had to do with wins or losses.

Each story was about an experience or a memory; about going to games with family and friends. In many ways those stories explained perfectly the truth behind James Earl Jones’ wonderful speech at the end of Field of Dreams, which so incredibly captures our endless yearning for memories of simpler times. (You can see it here.)

Each of these stories is also a terrific reminder to every company out there that while people are buying your products or shopping your stores, there is something else really going on. They are buying experiences. Understand that and you can make connections that strengthen customer ties more than any sale.

Kevin had another fascinating piece this past Thursday about the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant in the US and what an incredibly mediocre experience he had when visiting there. As Kevin rightly said, the restaurant is missing an amazing opportunity to use its status and nostalgia to drive traffic.

In other words, it could be providing amazing experiences and reaping business from parents and grandparents wanting to show their kids what eating out was once like. It could be, in the words from Field of Dreams, like they've dipped themselves in the magic waters of the past. Instead, the opportunity is going to waste - which stood out in stark contrast to another story that Kevin wrote about independent bookstores finding a way to carve out a niche.

There again are some powerful lessons.

First, let’s be totally honest about nostalgia. Everyone loves reliving memories, but that love goes only so far. None of us are giving up our smart phones and moving back to wall-mounted dial phones to relive our childhoods. We both like and complain about the modern stuff because that’s human nature. We want all that was great about the past…just done the way we like it today.

So no one would argue for supermarkets to dump scanners or modern refrigerated cases, just as we shouldn’t return to spreading sawdust on the floor. But there are elements of emotional connection we can make as we build new memories in much the way that baseball stadiums today entertain patrons all around the game. In that way a purist like me can follow the play, while my eye-rolling daughter can check out the strange promotions and contests.

We can do it through special promotions and merchandising events to celebrate moments from the past. We’ve seen such efforts succeed when manufacturers offer products in “classic” or “throwback” designs. Memories and emotional connections get stirred in all kinds of ways.

We can do it with recipes to highlight long time family staples with modern touches, such as finding new ways to make macaroni and cheese or meatloaf. There are loads for us to learn from places like Five Guys and Shake Shack that have essentially resurrected our love affair with comfort foods in a new and substantial way.

Mostly we can do it by giving staff the time, training and resources to make it happen. If they can help create those emotional connections the efforts might well pay for themselves.

Remember, there’s never a guarantee that “if you build it, they will come,” as promised in Field of Dreams.

But if you find a way to tug those emotional strings from the past you might find some interesting answers for the future.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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