Thursday

Buy the Stamps, Dummy.


In 2001 we held our third festival in Oakland, California. It cost a lot of money to produce. I'm not saying this to brag. I'm saying this to prepare you for one of the dumbest business arguments I've ever had.

About a month before the festival, we produced some postcards with a cool graphic and the name of the festival on the front to put in the welcome packets that we handed out to attendees. (side note: I love swag. Sharon used to tease me that the real reason we produced a festival every year was so I could design the t-shirt and that we'd save a lot of time and effort if we just went into the t-shirt business).

Anyway, about the same time, we realized that we were probably going to lose about $5000 on the festival. There wasn't much we could do but absorb the loss and try to stop the bleeding. This was the very same moment that Sharon floated the idea that we should provide stamps for the back of every postcard that we were going to put in the welcome packets. As I remember, the total cost of this scheme was going to come in at about $200. Well, I went nuts. I thought, considering the loss, it was the craziest thing I'd ever heard. Hell, even if we weren't in the hole, I still thought it was a little nutty.

So, we went back and forth for two days (two days!), until Sharon finally said: "I'm doing it." And because she accompanied that statement with a certain look that she has perfected, I acquiesced. We were going to have stamps. Unfortunately, my stupidity didn't end there. The night before the camp, as we were adhering hundreds of stamps to postcards, I took the opportunity to once again mention how ludicrous I thought the expenditure was. It was a done deal and I was still complaining about it! Ah, youth.

Then, day one of the camp hits. People register, they get their packets, and that's when I heard a girl say this: "Cool, free postcard. No way, it's already got a stamp on it! Nice!". I was furious. Furious in the way you are when you know that you're learning a valuable lesson against your will. It didn't stop there though. It became like my own personal nightmare. Everywhere I went people were either talking about the damned postcard or stopping me to thank me for including the stamp. At the first lunch, everybody was sitting on the lawn, and probably half of them were writing on postcards. Sharon was as right as she had ever been about a business decision and I couldn't have been more wrong.

It's funny because Sharon claims that she knows nothing about marketing, branding, or business really. I disagree, but I let her keep her Bohemian front because I think it's cute. Whatever the case, she taught me one of the most valuable lessons I've ever learned during that festival. Give extra, and when your back is against the wall, give more.

Sure, we lost money. It hurt. But the monetary difference between 5000 and 5200 is small compared to what we took away in cred by buying a few stamps. So, if you're in a situation now where you have to make the decision between adding value for someone and saving yourself a little time or cash, just know that you're going to see bigger dividends if you go ahead and: "Buy the stamps."

14 comments:

  1. Les - Thanks for the comment. I'd add that "added value wins even harder when it's uncomfortable for you to add it."

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  2. The lightbulb moment is when the idea of "cost" is decoupled from the idea of "value".

    The same rule applies whether you're talking about pre-stamping postcards for customers, or Grandma receiving her first artwork from a Kindergarten grandchild.

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  3. Anon - Yes. Thanks. Once those are decoupled, there's no more worry, just seeking out of new and powerful ways to add value.

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  4. I've been thinking about money, value, cost and the gift economy a lot lately, so this was useful.

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  5. Kirsty - Thanks, I'm glad. BTW, got a ton of RTs on my tweet about your "art wank" piece yesterday. People really loved it!

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  6. That is a totally wonderful story!

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  7. Sorry, I know I always just say "nice post" but I do love your essays! :)

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  8. Heather, I'll let you know the day I tire of compliments. Haven't reached the saturation point yet. Thanks for always commenting!

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  9. Dang, man - I'm loving your stories, you are an EXCELLENT narrator; and the moral at the end - totally Aesop-worthy :)

    Too, may I suggest a topic for the future? "Don't sweat being wrong," or some cleverer way of puttin' it ... this is a skill you seem to have mastered (and I like to think I have too, but I could be wrong - see, there I go again!), but I've always found it kinda difficult to understand why some people, particularly in the business world, have such a hard time sucking it up and just admitting, "oops, guess I mucked this one up."

    Ok, maybe it's not hard to understand why (saving face, fearing for one's job) ... but still, one would hope one's occasional mistakes wouldn't eclipse one's other accomplishments, eh?

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  10. Ali - Thanks for that. I will definitely cover that topic! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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  11. Paul,

    You made my day with that lesson, but you forgot to mention how superb the postcards were ... cause you are really make the best t-shirts and postcards, period.

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