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.

The Fluent Self