by Michael Sansolo
There are times when, for countless reasons, things are kept from open view of the public. But in many ways piercing that veil of secrecy is worth considering as a way to excite, interest and engage an entirely new audience. Let me offer an example.
For most of its 64 miles, the Washington DC beltway is a massively nondescript highway circling the nation’s capital without ever offering a glimpse of the area’s monuments and majestic buildings. That is with one major exception.
Just off the Beltway near Chevy Chase, MD, sits a spectacular edifice that in so many ways resembles the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. (For decades, a railroad bridge near the building was spray painted with the words “surrender Dorothy” to cement the link to the famed movie.
The structure is actually a Mormon (or more correctly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) temple. Recently refurbished, it is briefly open to the locals (like me) for the first time in 50 years.
Go figure. I found a business lesson there.
First, as a non-Mormon, let me say the structure is spectacular inside and out. And the church members do a wonderful job of directing, guiding and at-times teaching the outsiders as they walk through the multi-level structure.
One guide told me that more than 100,000 people had visited the building before the day I was there last week with 200,000 more expected through mid-June. The guides obviously cannot know if these visits are producing any converts, but there was something special about being welcomed into and guided through such an awesome structure.
I have to believe the rare insight into the temple will at minimum improve relationships between the LDS community and the surrounding neighbors who finally had a chance to see behind the curtain, both demystifying and glorifying the place. Years ago, I wrote about how the same LDS community deftly embraced the comical and very irreverent “The Book of Mormon” Broadway show when it came to town.
The lesson I would argue for businesses is to take a page from the LDS temple in Washington and recognize the power and benefit of letting people peek behind the curtain every so often. So many of the back room tasks at a supermarket are in many ways inviting and entertaining, plus a bit reassuring to customers curious about how their food is handled in much the way that many of us like restaurants where the cooking is done in plain sight.
There's a lyric from "The Book of Mormon:"
The skies are clearing and the sun's coming out.
It's a latter day tomorrow.
That's what we're talking about - casting a little bit of sunlight on things previously hidden.
Some of the most entertaining stores (think Stew Leonard’s) provide that bit of theater. Many others do it in bakery or certainly with sushi or the deli; heck there was even a time when, as kids, we could and would peer through windows to see inside the kitchen at McDonald’s and watch them make French fries from actual potatoes.
I fully understand that not everything can or should be done in full sight of customers and not everyone will react the same way. (For example, my wife joined me on the trip to the temple and came away feeling very differently about the experience.) However, much of what is behind curtains can be done in plain sight. And pulling back that curtain every so often might create some excitement, connection and maybe enhanced customer trust.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.
And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.