ASAE: Hummers, Minis, and cool ideas

Robyn Waters, author of The Hummer and the Mini, gave a really thought-provoking thought-leader session on Tuesday about the contradictions inherent in modern-day life—and how we can capitalize on them in our work. It's all about reframing what value means to your customers/stakeholders.

Contradiction is inherent in the human species, she said, because we are driven by two basic human desires:

1. We want to belong to a group of like-minded people.

2. We want to be viewed as unique individuals.

"We have to embrace paradox," she said. "That's why we accept things like Ford's Escape, which is billed as a compact hybrid SUV." Really, think about that for a sec. Your mind will hurt.

She provided some insights and examples from a few chapters of her book:

Everything Old is New Again

Take Airstream trailers, which have been around for ages. To get back in the market, they kept the classic aluminum skin, but filled the inside with state-of-the-art technology and furnishings.

Mass Customization

Talk about a paradox! But that's what Apple did when it created the iPod—it made a way for every customer to become their own DJ, to listen to what you want, when you want it, how you want it. Ditto for TiVo and television viewing. Because I not-so-secretly covet the Minicooper, I was intrigued to learn that the company lets you completely custom-design your car online. Because it takes a few weeks to put it together to your specs, the company gives you a way to track where your car is in the production cycle through its Web site.

Luxurious Commodities

This is where you take something basic and make it special. I found this one a little less compelling than the others, because it seems more gimicky, but Waters said that, for example, even dishwashing liquid can be made into a premium product. Caldrea, for instance, has so wooed some dishwashing folks that they have given up their dishwashers to scrub by hand because the products are so luxurious. Hmmm, I have a hard time believing that one, but I guess anything's possible.

Extreme Relaxation

Don't have to say too much about this one—we all know about spas that have become huge businesses by offering intense relaxation programs.

Social Capitalism

This one revisits the ASAE theme of social responsibility, or doing well by doing good, that David Cooperrider talked about in his general session. Waters said, "This is the new frontier for frontrunners who want to do the next great thing for their customers."

At the end, she challenged us to think of how we can use these trends in our own work. For meetings, these should be pretty easy to work with, and most planners already play with at least some of them. Retro themes, registration systems that recognize attendees from past years and pre-fill areas of the form, team-building programs in spas, etc. I think, though, that we could do a lot more by really pumping up the paradoxes in the grand ways that some of the companies she cited do. Not sure how, but I know it can be done.

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