I was born and raised in Jackson, Michigan. I have spent 44 of my 50 years living in Jackson. Back in the late 1800’s Jackson was known as “Central City” because it was the hub to all the rail lines that ran through Michigan. As the railroad died out, Jackson became known as the “Prison City” because we were home to world’s largest walled maximum security prison. My high school co-ed softball team called ourselves the Prison City Inmates.
When I headed east to Ann Arbor for five years at The University of Michigan, the conversation with the new people I met went like this …
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, the prison.”
“Yep, just got out.”
When I moved back to Jackson after a year out west and a couple months up north, it dawned on me … Jackson has been hiding from the prison city moniker as though ashamed of our status in the world. Back in the mid-90’s I started telling city leaders they need to embrace that image and play it up, not shirk from it. Be who you are, warts and all. Embrace your downside. Use your flaws to your advantage.
Over the years I have given that same advice to other businesses.
Earlier today I met with the chairperson of a really cool museum and gave her the same advice. Use the fact that your museum looks more like a musty old mausoleum to your advantage. “Shhh … don’t tell your friends what you found behind these cold concrete walls.” They could have a whole lot of fun with that. It definitely would be memorable, and it would take what people already think about the museum, its biggest flaw, and make it a positive.
I saw the chairperson’s gears in her brain start whirring. I know she is going to run with it and I can’t wait to see how it looks.
If you want some more ideas on how to turn a negative into a positive, check out this post I wrote back in 2011 about the Pig & Trebuchet Brew Pub and their “Bad Table”.
Identify the most negative aspect of your business and use it to your advantage. First, just by talking about it, you admit that A) you’re human, and B) you’re not perfect. That, alone earns you trust. Second, by bringing your negative aspects to light, you manage the expectations so that they never really seems as bad as they are painted out to be. Third, the flaws are memorable because they are flaws you own. No one else has your flaws.
If Jackson had embraced the Prison City moniker years ago, and made it a focal point of their advertising and marketing, we wouldn’t be wallowing around feeling sorry we aren’t Ann Arbor. Conventional wisdom said hide the ugly and only show the pretty. Conventional wisdom has sunk many a marketing & advertising campaign because people know you have an ugly hiding somewhere. The more you hide it, the more they will go looking for it. Embrace it and make it your calling card. Then it becomes an asset.
PS This is just one of the fun concepts we discuss in the SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING & ADVERTISING workshop taking place Tuesday, June 20th. Sign up today and I’ll help you turn your negatives into positives (especially that bottom line.)