Denali (Mount McKinkley). Wayne Kurtzman photo.

When I travel, I like to hear the stories locals tell about their communities and experiences. Alaska was like the gold mine for these takeaways, if you’ll pardon the pun.

After two weeks of watching the sunset at 11PM, visiting with people from Anchorage, to Denali National Park to and the Tlingit of Icy Straight Point I came away with several  lessons where I least expected to apply them: Marketing.

Keep Attention Long Enough to Tell Your Story

Because of the large amount of road kill we created a business around “roadside recycling” and started a business to make earrings from porcupine quills. That was the story from a charming woman we met in Anchorage, AK. She got more likable  detailed and believable with each question. With an engaging story like that, you can hold someone’s attention and can sell about anything – especially when they look unique and are well made.

People who could tell their story , be it about  what they were selling or about their people and history were better remembered. People who were with me would continue talking about those with better stories long after the visit. The meetings were viewed as more positive and memorable with long-lasting positive opinions where there wasn’t even awareness before. This is no different in marketing or sales – awareness.

Takeaway: Everyone at your company MUST know and be able to share the same basic company story. Social media increased the importance of ensuring every employee knows and can share the story in a way they are comfortable doing.

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska. Wayne Kurtzman photo.

Words Matter

Our guide in Icy Strait Point, Darlene, never referred to the tourism of the small community. “We prefer to call it Guestism” she said. The reaction of people with me was profound:  It brought down a wall to ask questions more suited of guests than tourists. The result was a deeper understanding and appreciation of the small, close-knit community. She made me want to return to ISP and learn more about the people, history and culture of the community.

Takeaway: Use the right words with the right audience to reinforce the story you need to get across. The simpler, the better.

Need Customer Service? You’re Too Late

My wife and I took a Royal Caribbean land and sea cruise. I’m not calling their customer service passé. I am saying that once we stepped into their realm, the people we worked with were, without exception, were educated and empowered to make sure there was never a customer service issue. If we couldn’t decide on a meal, they suggested they bring both. They anticipated needs (and opportunities).

Takeaway: Be a hospitality company first, regardless of your product or service. Make your customer service obsolete by improving every contact with your company. This includes your documentation, mobile and web experiences, your training and empower everyone to solve issues before customer service.  Hire well so they can handle more complex issues that help you deliver a better experience.

Identify and Leverage Unique Populations

There was a 20-something to 30-something group of people we met, mostly from the lower-48 states that is hard to describe: They either have no life plan or are living their plan (I’m really not sure). They are articulate, bright and incredibly enthusiastic about being in Alaska – and for different reasons. Many of these people are in the hospitality area, but all seem to be fascinating for reasons as unique as why they are in Alaska.

They are a distinct population, highly connected to social and other media and perhaps a unique market opportunity that very nicely compliments the Alaska-born population.
If you can’t beat the market, be the market.

Locals say when the cruise ships made Juneau a regular stop, the port area extended by several blocks to form the “Diamond District”. The District consists of store names that most people have likely never heard before. It is at talks on board cruise ships that credibility is transferred. Awareness and consideration are bolstered in one step, increasing the likelihood of a sale. But why here? One store manager told me “We’re looking at people who may not have shopped for jewelry together in 30 years.”  And they are right.
(See more on this at Cruisemates )

Takeaway:  If you can’t play in the market, find a way to create your own market.

 Disclaimer: There was no payment or consideration of any kind regarding this post.

Icy Straight Point, Alaska. Wayne Kurtzman photo.



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