Published on: April 28, 2009by Michael Sansolo
Living in a glass house, I should never be surprised when a stone comes through the window. But this time I got hit with one that provides too many wonderful examples to ignore.
Last week I wrote a column critical of Walmart’s new Marketside format for, in part, failing to communicate clearly what it actually sells. The column got me the strangest response e-mail ever.
It came from an industry insider who told me he loved that particular column, but on the whole wasn’t a fan of mine. It wasn’t because of anything I wrote; rather it is the name of this column that puts him off. He found Sansolo Speaks pretentious, especially in how it played on the old commercials for E.F. Hutton.
At that moment, I realized two important things: first, I made the same mistake that I criticized in Walmart, and second, I’m older than I like to admit. Luckily, I think I can share the lessons with all of you.
The first lesson is simple: don’t assume. If you don’t know this saying, write it down: When you assume you make an ass out of u and me.
Jokes, like facts, don’t work without context. The play on words in Sansolo Speaks is simple. For years I delivered a speech for FMI called Speaks and I was honored to speak for FMI in that manner. When I left FMI and started speaking for myself, Kevin Coupe and I thought this column’s name would explain that perfectly.
Only there are far more people reading this column than were in any audience who ever heard the speech, so the joke was probably lost on most of you. Better yet, here I often write (and complain) about the industry not fully explaining things. I opine for greater information on produce items or menus to help our shoppers try new items and buy more product. I still think that’s a great idea because we shouldn’t assume that anyone knows exactly what we know. This time, I have to absorb my own point.
The second lesson is more painful. I totally remember E.F. Hutton, a powerhouse Wall Street firm. Hutton had a great series of ads in which two investors would be discussing financial advice in a shopping mall, a park, a stadium or a restaurant. After hearing advice from the first investor, the second would always explain that his broker was E.F. Hutton and as he would start to speak he’d notice that all movement nearby had ceased and everyone was listening to what his broker had told him.
In short, when Hutton spoke, everyone listened. (Sadly, the same does not happen to my columns. Then again, when I call my dog he doesn’t come either.)
Here’s the pain point though: many of you reading this column have no recollection of that ad because Hutton disappeared in 1988, merging into Shearson Lehman Hutton. So the great ad that the MNB user referenced and that triggered this column actually disappeared more than 20 years ago (and let’s not discuss what happened to that combined investment house.)
It was a stark reminder to me that the cultural references I think of so easily are completely foreign to a staggering number of people who I hope are reading this column. It's probably an issue we all have with associates, customers, business partners and certainly our children.
So the lesson is simple: Explain, don’t assume. Assuming only leads to trouble. And in glass houses it leads to broken windows.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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