I loved playing lawn darts when I was a kid. The only thing that even came close to the thrill of throwing deadly weapons at each other was “arrow tag,” which consisted of us standing around Billy Shoemaker as he shot an arrow straight up and then running around like blind mole rats to avoid getting hit when it came down. If you got hit, you lost … a lot of blood. A simple game, really, but very stimulating.
My sister, Mary Beth, really liked her Hoppity Hop. I wasn’t very comfortable with it, though. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was hopping on something that would require significant medical attention when I was done.
My brother, Michael, was a snurfer dude. Even after busting his skull on a metal fence post in Jeff Miller’s back yard, he waxed up that board and went snurfing every time it snowed.
I bring this up because, of those three staples of 1960s suburbia, only the snurfer has survived. And it did so by adapting to a rapidly changing childhood recreational environment. In this case, the adaptation was driven by Jake Burton Carpenter who, by tweaking the original snurfer, created the world’s first snowboard. And then, he went out and created the world’s first demand for snowboards.
First, he cajoled local ski resorts into opening their lifts to “snowboarders” to increase awareness and demand. Then he sold snowboards at the nascent National Snowboarding Championships to increase sales and brand awareness. Then, to own the market, he bought the National Snowboarding Championships and turned it into the world renowned Burton US Snowboarding Championships (Feb. 25 – March 2, Vail, CO). You see the trend.
Meanwhile, the USPS just announced that it's canceling Saturday deliveries due to crushing debt which is directly linked to the Internet and a completely disenfranchised public. (For some perspective, more people care that Monopoly replaced the iron with a cat.)
Carpenter built his snowboard empire by telling people why they want a polyurethane-coated hunk of wood. The USPS is losing its empire because they never took the time to tell us their 200-year story of adventure and goodwill. The opportunities were limitless—tales of Ben Franklin and the Pony Express, birthday cards with quarters taped on the inside, brown paper packages tied up with string. These are a few of our favorite things, but we’ve become distracted by other things—like the snowboarding championships.
It’s not enough to have a good product, a dependable service, or a vital mission. It’s not even enough to have a great story to tell (as the USPS has). If you want to thrive in the digital age, you must communicate the story behind the great product to build emotional connections with your audience. Because if people don’t care about your product, they won’t care about your product.