The last two weeks, I followed my own advice and took a break from publishing while spending the week before Labor Day in Idaho (Boise, Sun Valley), Wyoming (Yellowstone), and Montana (Bozeman, Billings).
You can take the marketer out of the mountains, but you can’t take a marketer to the mountains without a follow-up column on marketing observations. Amidst this back-to-school season, while I don’t have a photo of me in a smart outfit holding up a placard saying what grade I’m in, I’ll at least share an essay about what I learned on my summer vacation. (As for my own kid, Facebook friends can attest that instead of posting the placard shot for my now-kindergartener, I photoshopped her into school scenes of “Dead Poets Society,” “School of Rock,” and a school of fish. She likes this now. By first grade, she’ll be mortified.)
Here are a few things that stood out, at least from a marketing perspective:
Why didn’t Uncle Tom adapt?
During a tour of Yellowstone National Park, when we started our day near the Lower Falls, we learned about Uncle Tom’s Trail. It wasn’t named for the book but for a park worker who operated a ferry across the Yellowstone River; he served passengers a picnic lunch before ferrying them back. Several years later, a bridge and stairway were built in the park to provide better access, people stopped paying a fee for the tour, and by 1906, eight years after starting the endeavor, Richardson stopped. Today, people giving talks on innovation would use this to say, “Why didn’t he adapt?” noting how Richardson got disrupted. But what he did was wonderful and brilliant and filled a specific niche at a certain time. People remember his innovation to this day. We should spend more time celebrating success rather than awaiting and criticizing the decline. That’s why I still want “dinosaur” to become a term of admiration.
WTH (what the huck?)
In Idaho, it was huckleberry season. One of the tips I got before my trip was to try the huckleberry milkshakes. Everywhere out there is crazy about huckleberries, or at least selling them in any way imaginable. I’m partial to the huckleberry ice cream everywhere and the huckleberry mules we had in Montana (essentially a Moscow Mule, copper cup and all, but made with huckleberry-infused vodka). The only thing I didn’t like all that much were the huckleberries themselves, which I found too small and sour. In cocktails or dessert though, I’m all in. I just love that this ornery little berry that is very particular about where it grows sprawls into everything everywhere out there. I’ll take huckleberry over pumpkin spice any day.
A real spud-muffin
Idaho is proud of its potatoes. It promotes them on their license plates. At our hotel in Sun Valley, there was a meeting of the Idaho Potato Commission. Outside of Idaho, the state is known for pretty much that one thing. I now appreciate much more about Idaho; the parts we saw from Boise to Sun Valley were breathtaking, and the food we ate was often incredible. Pretty much the only things I didn’t love were the huckleberries and the potatoes, but I’d imagine that since you’re not eating Idaho potatoes raw, it does matter how you prepare them, and Five Guys or anyone else can prepare them just as well. I still will pay more for an Idaho potato than a potato from California or Michigan, so it’s good business for the state to embrace its time-tested brand identity.
Added bonus recommendations: if you use Google Maps, you may stumble on some of my reviews, as I’m constantly contributing there. Two of my favorite surprises were breakfast spots: Egg Mann and Earl, which served a scone that was basically a giant zeppole, and Main Street Overeasy in Bozeman, which served the biggest, fluffiest, best cinnamon bun I could ever imagine. If you are anywhere near these cities, you need to visit those spots. For other recommendations along that travel route, reach out anytime.
I’ve been making myself hungry writing this newsletter. What about you? What are you making of yourself?
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