From The Mag

Case Study: My Mum

James' mum, making the famous banana bread they serve to every customer. |
James' mum, making the famous banana bread they serve to every customer. {source}
Written by James La Barrie

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Originally printed in issue #90 (June 2017) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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In the last year, I’ve attended several marketing conferences, sat in on webinars, read countless newsletters from marketing thought leaders and, while the information is always fantastic, I always come away feeling that there is a huge message missing: actual human connection.

Too often, marketing leads to the classic bait and switch: great marketing strategy, poor human strategy. Getting people through the door isn’t a marketing win at least not for the best brands.

If you own a company or hope to own one, is it not your intention to be one of the best brands?

The true magic to growing your business—and I’m going to shout it so there’s zero chance of missing this point:


Identify what makes people feel special and then execute. Whoever does this best is the market leader.

I’ve written about this dozens of times and you’re probably thinking, “There goes La Barrie droning on again about customer service.” Here’s the thing: I’m right.

Everyone agrees that delivering an amazing experience is obvious; few are able to execute because it’s not easy to do. This is great news because it allows you to gain a competitive advantage, as your competitors struggle with the same challenge. It’s all about assembling a great team that focuses on the details at every customer point of interaction. Every. Single. One.

If you’ve read my column through the years, I routinely talk about my parents. As some of you know, they live in the Caribbean (Antigua) and run an eco-kayaking experience. Many skydivers have actually gone on tour with them (shoutout to Chuck and Carley Carter and Michelle Scheller!).

PD New Beginning

My parents have grown their business among 80 competitors vying for the same customers on this tiny island (can you imagine 80 DZs in a 108-square-mile radius?) because of their ability to make people feel special. This doesn’t happen by chance; they’re looking for any opportunity they can to resonate with people.

Now bear in mind that my parents are in their 15th year of operation, work 5-6 days per week during the tourism season and are in their mid-60s. Running their business hasn’t gotten easier over time; it’s gotten much harder with more new competitors coming online every year. Rather than try and compete with expensive advertising, they compete in human connection.

Last month, an email inquiry came through from a lady with a special request. She and her husband would be on a cruise visiting Antigua for their 10-year wedding anniversary. They’d decided to come kayaking with my parents (for the second time). Could my family do something special for them?

This was a marketing opportunity and my mother jumped on it. Rather than write about it, you can see what she did:

  1. Baked a homemade cake for the occasion. This is not store bought.
  2. Created a beautiful presentation in the garden’s gazebo with a bottle of Champagne to toast the celebration.
  3. Presented the couple with a special gift from the staff of Antigua Paddles to personalize it some more.

The result of her efforts?

Do you know what I love about that review? It’s the last two sentences. “We love [sic] this excursion, the kind generous hosts, the gorgeous setting and our new friends! We can’t wait to go back!

A public testimonial like this is better than any advertisement and it can’t be faked.

Though I read and follow marketing thought leaders from around the world, the best example I see is what my parents do every day. They challenge me to do better with my business and I hope they’ll challenge you with yours.

Focus on the details, aim to make people feel special and you’ll have loyalists who want to return again and again.

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