This year I started a new tradition with our Strategic Planning Group at Bridge Worldwide. We’ve been taking the afternoon of the first Friday of each month to get out of the office and experience something together. While it’s great to do some team bonding, the main reason for these events is to give ourselves some firsthand experience in something new that might spark insights and ideas for the work we do every day. After all, marketing to me is really about figuring out how the world works and what people want. So by getting some new life experiences and seeing people in different situations we can be better at our jobs. Last week I decided to take the team blackberry picking, and the purpose of this post is to share a few things that we took away from the experience.
We spent last Friday afternoon across the river in northern Kentucky at Barker’s Blackberry Hill Winery. It is literally a mom and pop farm located past a maze of gravel farm roads that barely register on Google Maps. We all eventually managed to find the place and discovered a lovely few acres of blackberry vines at the top of a small hill. The older couple who runs the farm pointed us to a pile of buckets and boxes and set us loose picking up and down the rows of fruit. Within minutes our hands were purple from picking the delicious fruit and—being strategists—we all started working out the best way to find and pick the most/best blackberries possible. We shouted tips and discoveries over the vines and smiled as some of our team members’ children shouted with glee. After picking for about an hour we headed back to the small farm shack to weigh our berries and pay for hauls. I think the price was something ridiculously cheap, like $2 for a bucket, and $2 per pound of berries. As we left, the owners gave us printouts of blackberry storage tips and handed out Popsicles for the children.
It was a great afternoon, and we finished it off by debriefing over beers on the backyard deck of one of our team members. There were a few key takeaways that we all agreed on:
- There is something powerful in the “return to basics.” The more digital we become as a society, the more people will start to feel a desire to “unplug” and have some RL (Real Life) meet-ups and hobbies. And the more things we can consume cheaply, the more people will start to feel a desire to invest time and money in things that are rare and antique, and that take time, skill, and patience to attain. We see this in the rise of knitting shops, organic farming, backyard chicken coops, and letter writing on hand-printed stationery. An interest in growing and picking your own produce is a great example of this return to basics. We enjoyed seeing our hands turn purple and us getting lost on gravel roads just to get a few pounds of fruit.
- Experiences are everything. One of the quotes that I threw out a lot for our team is that, “For the rest of your lives we will remember going blackberry picking together as a team activity.” I have often written in this blog about the impact of experiences, and data that shows how people value and recall experiences at very high levels. Building on the previous point, at a time when anyone can get anything they want online or in stores, we are compelled to look for the new and the rare in experiences that are truly unique and more memorable than any mere purchase.
- It is something children and parents can enjoy together. As a parent I can tell you that it seems increasingly difficult to find activities that everyone fully enjoys together. I feel like I have to drag my kids to my favorite restaurants, and they have to drag me to watch the latest kiddie movie at the theater. But blackberry picking is great fun for anyone, and something even more enjoyable when you do it together. One parent’s son said that blackberry picking was like “hunting for treasure” and I think he really nailed something deep for me, too. There is something deep and timeless about exploring the outdoors and discovering the treasures of nature—whether it is a plump blackberry, a turtle in the creek, or that perfect climbing tree.
Of course we also gave some thought to how brands might embrace small farms and handpicked produce to advance their marketing objectives. A few brands are already getting close to this area. For example, Kraft’s Triscuit brand is starting do things to embrace and encourage the home farming movement. At this website, the brand shows a map of home and community farms throughout the country. It is also teaming with an organization called Urban Farming to start 50 community farms, and included seeds in specially marked boxes. Meanwhile, the Cascadian Farms brand at General Mills, which is one of the largest organic food companies, has taken to the Facebook world of FarmVille, where people can grow virtual, branded organic crops.
I think there is a big opportunity for a leading food brand to do more to help create experiences like ours. What if a brand such as Cascadian Farms, Green Giant, or Birds Eye actually discovered small farms near major markets like the one we visited and partnered with them to encourage more people to have a picking experience? There could be various ways that the brand could partner with local farmers—perhaps investing a few dollars to improve their operations or upgrade their websites. (This one for our blackberry farm is broken, for example.)
But the bigger lesson here is that we all need to get away from our desks together once in a while and return to the RL. You just might discover a new way to build your business, and yourself.