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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


Betty Boop is my business coach

And she could be yours!

But to backtrack for a minute. I was in Ann Arbor this weekend so I did what everyone visiting Ann Arbor does and went to Zingerman’s for brunch.

If you went to school at the University of Michigan, know someone who does, or have ever met a townie, you know that Zingerman’s has the best sandwiches this side of pretty much anywhere. All those people who make a four-hour drive just to pick up a reuben aren’t crazy. Devoted, maybe, but not crazy.

Or if you listen to NPR, you’ve heard co-founder Ari Weinzweig talk foodishness, food history, foodie-ism and other things food-related. Or if you’re interested in business, you’ve read about their phenomenal success story in Inc. magazine and in Bo Burlingham’s excellent book Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big.

And in my case, I’m actually all those people. Yeah, it’s not easy being an Inc.-reading, NPR-listening, born-in-St-Joe’s-hospital Ann-Arborite and own a business, but someone’s got to do it. Okay, fine, lots of people do it.

Anyway, everyone agrees that Zingerman’s is the best and that they’re clearly doing something right, and that yes, even a plain bagel-with-creamcheese there is a toe-tinglingly great experience.

But the thing that really made an impression on me on this visit was realizing that the Zingerman’s guys and I go to the same business school.

If you’re a company, here’s how to impress me

The best thing about Zingerman’s from my perspective is that it’s a hugely successful local company that never acts like a company. It acts like a family, but one where everyone actually likes each other.

The people who work there are all genuinely friendly and seem to be having a good time at work — and not in a “Listen up everyone, word just got handed down from corporate that we’re all supposed to smile today” kind of way.

This low-key foodcentric happy family thing permeates the entire organization — everything from goofy amiability of the note printed on the recycled napkins to their Jews and Blues southern dinner event (please introduce your brain to the concept of Creole Matzoh Ball soup) comes across as sincere, funny and personable.

If you have a business, you’d call this “staying on brand”. Or if not, you can just call it being mensch-like. It’s smart. And it works too, but only when this “be human” philosophy grows organically and isn’t forced. Which is why Zingerman’s wins, because they get it.

“Authenticity”: you’re doing it wrong

Of course, lots of companies try to get away with presenting an “authentic self” as their brand. But using an artificial personality as a marketing strategy bombs every time because it never stops feeling phony and contrived. Hmm, maybe because a construction of authenticity is — by virtue of existence — a big fat lie.

If you’ve ever called Tonik insurance and been forced to listen to their irritating “we can’t take your call because we went out for pizza — just kidding, we’re actually, like, totally busy here” answering message, you know instantly that this is a front.

You can practically picture the 30-something copywriters hired to pretend they’re 20-somethings in the hopes that they can make the company sound “like, all real and authentic and stuff”. Blech.

It would be way more authentic — and reassuring — if they said, “Hi, we’re a giant corporation with more money than we know what to do with. We don’t actually care about you personally but it’s important to us that we give you that impression.” In fact, I’d have a lot more respect for any company that was that upfront about how they do business.

Real-live-human-being-ness: it works

The reason the whole Zingerman’s thing works is that their entire business is based on the idea that you can just be a real-live human being, and do things the way you’d do them even if no one were watching, and that this is a good thing.

It is a huge relief as a business owner to see this modeled for me and to see it working. I’ve pretty much been trying to do things this way from the beginning, against just about everyone’s advice.

For example, I’ve never understood why my website is supposed to say stuff like “About Us” when it’s really just me and my duck. Or why I need to write about myself in the third person and list a bunch of boring credentials. Or to say things like, “But wait, there’s more!

Mostly I do things my way because the way I’m apparently “supposed” to be doing it is uncomfortable, unappealing, and unnatural to me. But over time I’ve come to recognize that on the rare occasions when I just do what everyone else does because I think I have to, it’s no fun.

The result: I end up feeling miserable — and people pick up on the cognitive dissonance, so it doesn’t work anyway.

But when I do things the Betty Boop way, everything is in flow … and Selma and I are much happier.

The Betty Boop marketing philosophy

I’ve come to the conclusion that success in everything you do pretty much all boils down to your willingness to just “be human”.

Or as Betty Boop puts it, in an unforgettable way that will, once heard (warning: this is what the German endearingly call an earworm), never leave your head:
Be human … won’t you even try?

I’m including the “Be human” song and semi-disturbing (no nudity, but animal violence and a bizarre revenge subplot) video clip for your benefit, so that you too can claim Betty Boop as your own personal marketing coach.

Also, for the record, I have to say (though I probably shouldn’t) that if you’d told me a year ago that there’s nothing in the entire world funnier than watching a cartoon cow being punched in the face, I would have been shocked and horrified.

However, you would have been right. It really, really, really doesn’t get funnier than this.

8 Responses to Betty Boop is my business coach

  1. This post strikes close to home. I’m about to decommission my old consulting website. It was all about pretending to be an “agency” or something instead of who I really am: a nimble solo act.

    Since I’ve started promoting my new site, even though it’s not optimized for my consulting practice yet, I’ve been attracting better clients who want me to do the kind of work I’m interested in.

    Duh. Why didn’t I get this before? If you’re fake you’ll attract people who want what you aren’t, which of course leads to boring work that’s not “you”.

    Authenticity baby! Once you can fake that you’ve got it made! ;-)

  2. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    Oh, yeah. Someone should bottle that stuff. Actually, I’m pretty much positive *someone* out there is already selling a $999 “how to be authentic” package.

    I think there’s just a lot of pressure out there to do things the “right” way, and it makes sense that when you’re going out on your own for a first time you want to be taken seriously.

    On the other hand (scylla and charybdis moment here), it’s also easy to do the “oh, it’s just little old me” thing, when in fact you’re biggifying it up. Sigh.

    But yay for trusting-your-own-integrity moments.

    I guess the important thing is “am I being true to my personality?” and “do I feel like I need to take a shower?”

  3. Mandy Blake says:

    Brilliant! Your writing (and ideas) are wonderfully fresh and yes, authentic. As a new food writer, I am walking through all of these anxieties. Whenever a new opportunity presents itself, I go through all these “shoulds” I think I “should” do to make me look like a big, experienced whatever. You are making me think…maybe I “should” operate from my heart.

    Thank you!

    Mandy Blakes last blog post..Cheesecake and Breakfast in Bed

  4. I can completely vouch for you on Zingerman’s. The food is fantastic both at the original Deli and at the Roadhouse. While at the Roadhouse, Ari Weinzweig was walking around chatting with people and refilling their water. He and I got into a discussion about his book “Zingerman’s Guide to Great Service” (http://www.powells.com/biblio/7-9781401301439-1), which I had read, and some of his travels. Ari is as genuine a person as you will find anywhere, but especially among most business owners.

    As to authenticity, I feel like it’s in short supply in this world. Everyone wants to put on a façade of grandiosity. It’s unfortunate. I’ve been guilty of it, myself, in the past, but have realized I’m far more content just being myself and doing what I do.

  5. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    @Brandon – Yes! Ari lives and breathes awesomeness. I was dragged by my mother to a foodishness lecture a few years ago and was completely blown away.

    Ooh, me too! Also loved the Zingerman’s Guide to Great Service book. They so walk the talk.

    The whole “be your authentic self” is pretty common advice in internet-land but I think it’s one of those things that people try to consciously implement as a “marketing strategy”, when what they really need to do is lay off the strategy and just do what they’d do if no one were watching.

    But man, trusting that is hard.

  6. joyce lukaczer
    Twitter: fontsitediva

    tee-hee … 16 yrs ago i spent 2 months as a patient in the research wing of the u of mich hospital in ann arbor … first best return was saving-my-life, second best return was zingermans take-out-delivery :)

  7. Willie Hewes
    Twitter: williehewes

    Oh, wow! Grampy’s DESK turns into a CAR! That’s awesome!

    Otherwise that’s a pretty disturbing piece of cartoon history. But then, most of Betty Boop is.

    I don’t know if Lush operates in America, but I think it’s a good example of a company that fakes authenticity pretty well, until you scratch the surface.

    I used to love them, until I started wondering about their font. Their signage looks handmade/personal, but it has a particular font. It’s the same in any Lush shop anywhere in the country, and my Lush folk in my local shop had nothing to do with how their shop looks.

    And then I realised good shampoo doesn’t have to be that expensive.

    It still works on a lot of people though, far as I can tell.

    Willie Hewess last blog post..New Collective: Sinister Squid

  8. Pamela Belding says:

    I watched Betty Boop with my 8 year old son this morning!!! He was clearly disturbed to see the man hurting the animals and then completely cheered when he saw the ‘bad guy’ get his come-uppance! I’m learning alot about authenticity by watching my son. Thanks for helping to create my lesson for the day! You ROCK!!

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