A Lesson in Marketing: The Guy in the Middle Seat

I was on an airplane to San Diego today and found myself sitting next to a guy.

Seat partners can be an adventure. Sometimes, they are great.  Last fall, I ended up giving my cell phone number to an amazing mom who was thinking her way through a job change.  She brought me a pile of donated coats and shoes for some newly immigrated refugee families that we were helping.  I didn’t have a job for her, but I did use that conversation to get to know her just in case one came open.  She doesn’t know this, but I would have hired her on the spot.

Sometimes, the seat partner adventure doesn’t go so well.  This post isn’t about armrests, but, in case you don’t know, the window seat gets the outside armrest and the window.  The middle gets both of the middle armrests.  The aisle gets the aisle and the aisle armrest.  Imagine being stuck between two single men who don’t know the rules about armrests with a baby who wants to nurse WHILE ALSO LOOKING AT PEOPLE.  I know someone is going to go off in the comments about how they would have just sat in the bathroom on the plane and nursed.  Never.  I won’t even change my baby in an airplane bathroom. I’ve read what some of you do in there. And don’t tell me about using a blanket.  I’ve had four kids. Curious, social babies who hate blankets know how to get rid of blankets. You like to talk while you eat.  So did this particular child of mine.  Talk about uncomfortable.

To avoid the surprise nightmare, I’ve been known to try to eliminate the surprise by picking out the clearly experienced travelers or the moms with babies and just inviting them to sit next to me.  The experienced travelers plug into their own headphones or open a book… or both.  The moms let me hold their baby.  The baby just wants to talk and play.  And mom is happy to have a break.  Very different people, but both very, very good for someone who is entirely too busy.  

So, it’s obvious by now, but I’m not super friendly on planes. I really prefer just plugging into my headphones so I can get some work done.  I was doing exactly that… when a conversation happened to start with the guy sitting next to me.

Context: I’m on my way to the second half of a business planning retreat.  I just spent the entire weekend in a hotel room in St. Louis, phone off, buried in spreadsheets and numbers.  I’m spending the next three days in a top secret location that isn’t San Diego… see how I did that… to work on the creative side of life.  Getting yourself into an unfamiliar place really helps the creative process, so here I go.  Destination unknown.  And today, I did not pick my seat mate because I was responding to the mountain of alerts that showed up on my phone between the time I got through security and when I sat down on the plane.  Someone needs to tell Apple that the notifications and alerts do not help people who need to be able to shut everything off for a while. I need a real DND button.  And that little moon doesn’t get it done. 

So back to the guy sitting next to me.

Have you ever talked to someone who always seems to be using a bunch of big words?  You smile and nod.  You try to sound smart, but inside you’re really hoping they decide to talk about the weather?  

This is how I feel with a lot of things right now.  Talk in pictures, tell me your stories… let me watch a video, inspire me, let me listen to a book… this is how I learn.  But there are those topics that will forever leave me with my eyes glazed over.  Wall Street is one… I hate listening to investors talk.  God bless them.  I understand what they are saying.  But I don’t care.  At all.  WAAC. NPV. CAPM. Blah.

Marketing gets me going though.  I like people.  I don’t like talking to them in airplanes, but I like understanding how they work and what makes them tick.  On Facebook today, one of my friends asked if a Facebook conversation had ever changed your mind and I realized that I *loved* reading Facebook debates.  Facebook debates will teach you so much about different kinds of people at different stages in life and what they think is important.  All of us have limited knowledge bases to work from because we’ve had limited experiences.  But when you approach conversations with a conscious awareness of an opportunity to learn… rather than taking everything that everyone says personally… you get to learn about WHY people think the way they do.  Most of the time, it’s not worth wading into the discussion (other than to ask the proverbial “why”), but it’s really valuable to be a fly on the wall.  

So there was one marketing concept that I’ve been tripping over for what feels like forever. It’s basic.  It’s not hard… but for some reason, I hear that word and all I can see is nightmare screens on Google Analytics that don’t make sense because I don’t have hours upon hours to unravel them.  And then they change the way they work.  Again. Like Seach.  And Adwords.  But don’t get me started.  That’s for another post.

One thing led to another… and a few hours later I find myself listening to my seatmate provide me with a very easy to understand explanation of this concept… from multiple perspectives.  It made sense.  I had found myself sitting next to a marketing expert.  He didn’t just help me understand the basics of this concept.  He helped me understand how to implement this concept correctly for a marketing campaign that I have ready to launch.  No gimmicks.  No strings. Jim just generously shared his life experiences and opinions about that particular marketing idea with me…  I learned so much. 

You guys… teachers are few and far between.  I’ve got a lot of really good people in my life right now.  There are a lot of them who deserve a public shout-out like this (and you know who you are… your turn is coming).  

He didn’t ask me to write this post, but what I got on that plane today was specific, valuable, deep, thoughtful, and helpful for my specific situation. He is coming from a solid base, and, given the opportunity, will do everything that he can to help you.  For some of you, he might be a good marketing resource.  His name is Jim Miller and his company is Red Zone Creative.

Sharing because he shared.  And if you get a chance to sit next to him, do it.  He actually knows the rules about armrests.

Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals. Jenn offers mentorship to product developers at any stage in the journey from idea to shelf.