Anytime I’ve seen a man in khaki, I’ve thought horrible things about his package.
Maybe because they remind me of grandfathers. Or maybe because they remind me of Mr. Rogers. Either way, no female has ever wanted her boy friend to look like a boy scout.
Khaki spells uptight. Conservative. Narrow-minded. Bourgeois.
Which is why I was startled by how much I liked him.
He came whirling out of Hall’s Chophouse, a restaurant on King’s Street in Charleston, South Carolina, where I spent my birthday yesterday. We had been trying to decide on a place to dine, but given the sheer monstrosity of choices, we were left scratching our heads, looking for a clue—any clue—to help us make such a difficult decision. It was, after all, the last meal I’d ever eat before turning another year older.
“Hello there!” he said with the ultimate of boyish charm, his manicured blonde Ken-doll hair and teeth as white as the plaid cotton shirt he wore—topped, naturally, with a navy sports jacket and paired with the ubiquitous khaki short that seems to be the signature of the south. I told him my plight: That I simply couldn’t choose steak or pasta, to which he responded, with all the sincerity in the world, “Well, we would love to have you. Come on in. First drink’s on me for your birthday!”
There was something about the way he said it that made it feel genuine. Welcoming. Wanted. It wasn’t like every other restaurant employee they assign to the streets, with the marching orders to put asses in chairs. The ones who stand at an awkward distance, shouting at you as you pass by, “The best in town!”
He was named Billy, and Billy carefully picked out our table on our behalf. He then showed up with a round of complimentary drinks, even joining us in the round himself.
When it was time for us to leave, we couldn’t find Billy to say goodbye, but he certainly found us. We were nearly a block down the street when we heard the the heavy glass door swing open, and his southern drawl call out, “It was such an honor to have you here tonight, ya’ll! See you next year for your birthday?” He had noticed we weren’t there and made a point to run out to say good bye, and to thank us for our business.
And it made an impression.
Billy took just another restaurant where just another steak is served, and turned it into a place where they serve genuine southern hospitality. And in effect, he’s helping to separate—and elevate—Hall’s from the competition. Because they aren’t competing on steaks anymore. Anyone can make a steak. But not everyone can make an experience. The reason people go back to Hall’s is because of the way that eating there makes them feel.
When you’re starting your business, writing your book, creating your non-profit, or trying to get noticed in general, perhaps the first rule is to stop trying to get yourself noticed, and start trying to help others feel noticed.
How can your service, your product, your goals help the people you want to support…feel supported? How can you stop making it about you, and start making it about them? How can you create a genuine experience people want to have?
It’s not about what you’re selling. It’s about what they’re buying.
And when we stop to consider what, exactly, people are buying? It’s never the steak. It’s how that steak is going to play into the greater experience of visiting Charleston, of seeing the differences of the South, of feeling like their birthday was celebrated in style.
That’s where you need to connect the dots.
If you’re a food coach, hold phone consulting sessions over meals. With instructions. With wine. With the experience of eating. Not just talking about eating.
If you’re an unconventional photographer, hold your meetings in an unconventional place—and ditch the standard Starbucks.
If you’re an Etsy seller, get as creative with your sales techniques as you are your products.
It’s never about what you’re selling, and always about the experience of buying.
At the very least, you’ll make your competition irrelevant.
And at the very best? You’ll turn the hearts of people who hated khaki…into people who have a newfound appreciation for it. (…Or at least don’t compare it to Mr. Rogers’ package. That should be against the law.)
Most importantly, people will have a newfound appreciation for you.
Don’t forget: In order to make money, people have to be willing to give it to you.
And the one who wins this game?
Is the one who sees people as people.
…Not just another sucker bumbling down the street.