There’s an older gentleman at church that we used to sit near every week. I’ll call him Frank. Because that’s his name. He, on the other hand, calls me Dave.
When we first introduced ourselves, he said his name was Frank, and I said mine was Doug.
The next week, he greeted me. “Hey Dave!”
I said, “Hey Frank, how ya doing? It’s Doug, by the way.” And we went on with our conversation.
The third week, he said, “How’s everything, Dave?”
“Good, Frank, thanks. It’s Doug. But yeah, things are good.”
Fourth week: “Hi Dave!”
“Hi Frank! How’s everything? Kids doing well?”
At some point, I’ve learned, you just go with the flow. If he wants me to be a Dave, I’ll be a Dave. And really, it doesn’t matter what he calls me. The relationship is what’s important.
When we were working on the Bosch home appliances account, there were so many good things to talk about with their dishwashers. They were German-engineered, their drying system was 99.9% bacteria-free, they cleaned so well that you didn’t have to pre-wash your dishes…the list went on. But all consumers wanted to hear about was how quiet they were.
That did not seem to be a sustainable differentiator to us. All the competitors were saying how quiet their own dishwashers were, and of course everyone spun the results to benefit themselves. “Quietest in its class.” Well, yeah, seeing as how there are no other dishwashers in that particular class, that’s a heck of an achievement. Kudos, brand X.
So after much research and much discussion, guess what our ads trumpeted? Quiet dishwashers. Because that’s what consumers wanted to hear. Sure, we threw in the other stuff too, but they wanted to hear about quietness. And we sold record numbers of Bosch dishwashers.
My point is, you have to be willing to be what your customers want you to be. It’s a bit of the tail wagging the dog, and I’m not advocating abandoning your core values, but if a particular trait or service you offer resonates with your audience, you have to be willing to talk about it. Even if you don’t feel it’s your main strength, you have to be willing to pivot and diverge from your strategy, and talk about what your audience wants to talk about.
With Bosch, consumers wanted us to be the quietest dishwasher brand. And so we were. After all, it’s the relationship that’s important. If you’re talking, that’s really all that matters. You can always try to steer the conversation, but you have to be talking in the first place in order to do that.
Now, I could end this post here and I’ll have made my point. But I’m going to be like some priests I’ve heard who give a rousing homily with a nice, impactful message and end on a powerful note…and then keep talking for another five minutes and end up delivering a less powerful message. But this next story, like the first one, highlights the importance of flexibility, and the value in being what your customers want you to be. So I’m going to risk it.
My son had lunch with my nephew a couple of months ago. They went to the counter to order, and they could hear the counter person asking the people ahead of them their name for their order. My son’s name is Garrett. Half the time they write his name as Derek, half the time they write it as Garreck, and 100 percent of the time, they misspell it.
My nephew’s name is Jorian, or Jory. Can you imagine how that name paralyzes the counter person? Fingers hovering and trembling over the keys, heart stricken with fear, not even knowing where to start?
So they get up to the counter, and Jory orders first. They ask him his name, and without missing a beat, he says, “Bob.”
My son was stunned. He looked at Jory to see if he cracked a smile and was just being funny in front of Garrett. But no. It was clear Jory had done this a million times and this was all routine to him. It struck Garrett as brilliant. Why go through your life arguing and explaining something that doesn’t matter?
I have my own troubles. “Doug” doesn’t seem too difficult. But you’d be surprised. I even spell it out for people. “Doug. D-o-u-g.” I feel like I’m in a spelling bee. “Can you use that in a sentence?” “Doug. Doug is hungry and wants his damn food and is willing to choke the life out of you to get it, so spell it however the hell you want. Doug.”
I get Duck, Don, Doc…there are some awfully creative people in the world. But no more.
My buddy Dave and I were on our way back from our 719 camping trip a couple of weeks ago, and we stopped by Del Taco. They don’t have Del Taco in Seattle, so it’s always a highlight of our trip for Dave. (Side note: we both worked at Del Taco together right after high school. The Del Taco brotherhood holds a special place in our hearts/stomachs.)
I order, then Dave orders. He gets his food first. “Dave?” they call out. No problem. Everyone knows how to spell Dave. Dave happily gets his food. Then they get to mine. I know it’s mine, because the lady calling out the names just stares at the name on the receipt, unsure how to proceed.
You can see for yourself below the injustice perpetrated on my name, and on all the Dougs of the world, for the last time.
I hereby proclaim, in the names of my nephew Jorian and my son Derek, by the power vested in me, I am no longer Doug. From this day forth, if you work at the counter of a fast food restaurant, you shall abide by this command: Call me Dave.