What is your St. Louis Arch?

I recently spent a long weekend in St. Louis with my family. It’s a great city with history, excellent food, interesting architecture and such. They have some of the best such in America. The city has a special place in my heart because 17 years ago I proposed to my wife, Dawn, under the St. Louis Arch.  Why would I choose The Arch as my proposal stage?

Top 5 reasons I proposed under the St. Louis Arch.

  1. I could afford to.
  2. It’s the Eiffel Tower of Missouri.
  3. It was April and the weather in St. Louis was way better than Wisconsin.
  4. It seemed better than the monkey house at the St. Louis Zoo.
  5. I heard that Lewis and Clark, one of the great American couples, started their adventure under the St. Louis Arch.

Back to the story.

My family and I enjoyed many of the great attractions of St. Louis: The afore-mentioned Zoo, Grant’s Farm, a great restaurant on The Hill, The City Museum (which is one of the most interesting, mind-opening places I’ve ever seen), historic St. Charles and, of course, The Arch.

The thing that stood out about St. Louis, above all else, was The Arch. It simply makes the city look different than any other city. It is the thing that makes the St. Louis brand memorable.  There are a lot of great cities in America, and the midwest is packed full of them. But it is hard to come up with the distinguishing feature of Detroit, Cincinnati, or Minneapolis. Other than the sitcoms that took place there.

Since proposing under the arch I have noticed just how much it is used as an American icon. Every time a commercial, TV show or movie wants to tell the ‘Sea-to-Shining-Sea’ story they include the following:

Icons that represent America

  • The Golden Gate Bridge
  • The St. Louis Arch
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • A lighthouse in Maine

Not only does the Arch represent St. Louis, for most coasters, it represents the entire Flyover Region of America. (I’ve always thought that ‘The Flyover Region’ sounded funny. Mostly because I imagine people working at Levis discussing the ‘Flyover Region’.  As in ‘We should put a fly over that region’.)

In the city itself, The Arch (aka the Gateway Arch and the Jefferson Expansion Memorial) is the symbol that represents the city. Which makes me wonder, why don’t more places create their own version of The Arch?

And if it works for cities, certainly it works for brands.  Far too few brands take the time to figure out the one thing that will set their brand apart. Of course there are brands that have their thang: A catchy jingle (Nationwide Insurance) Free returns for life (L.L. Bean), Ducks (The Peabody Hotel) Swedish Meatballs (Ikea).

I have spent my advertising career helping clients find the things that will help them stand out from the crowd.  But the same holds true for your personal brand. (And we all have a personal brand).  Do you have something that stands apart?  Do you do something, say something, wear something different?  Do you refuse to eat chocolate? Is one of your eyebrows actually a tattoo of a caterpillar? Do you have a memorable sign-off to your conversations?  If you don’t have anything I encourage you to spend some time thinking about it. Or better yet, try something. See if you like it. See if it sticks.

Today we have an abundance of options for everything. When travelers are looking for their next destination, The Arch helps St. Louis stand out from other great neighbors like Kansas City, Omaha, Memphis and Indianapolis.  Having your own Arch-like differentiator will help your business or personal brand stand out in the same way. If you’d like help finding your Arch, shoot me a note. If you’d like a great place for a weekend getaway, head to St. Louis.

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Two lessons we can all learn from a drinking straw.

There are valuable lesson to be found in everyday items. I was reminded of this recently while eating breakfast at a Bob Evans restaurant with my family.  The waitress gave each of us a bendy straw for our drinks. Unlike a crazy straw, these bendy straws don’t come pre-crazied.  You have to add the crazy yourself. The straws were flexible enough to twist, coil and angle in entertaining ways. So we twisted, coiled and angled them.

Lesson 1

As we played with the straws I imagined the creative possibilities with these simple yet interesting devices. And let’s face it, a straw is a moronically simple device. It’s a tube. It’s purpose in life is to help you move liquids short distances. But these particular straws did their job with a flair that made them stand out. Which is a good lesson for us all.

Lesson 1: A simple job done with flair becomes memorable.

If you can find ways to do your simplest jobs with a bit of entertainment you can create valuable memories and experiences.  This is the calling card of Benihana restaurants.  It happens when a pizza maker tosses dough in the air instead of stretching it on a work surface. It’s not hard to add a little wow and wonder.  The payoff lasts a long time in the minds of your audience. This is true if you are an entertainer, a brand trying to create memorable experiences or a parent making pancakes on a Saturday morning. So let your flair flag fly.

Lesson 2

After a bit of creative play, my six-year-old son, Magnus, tried to use his straw to straw-up some lemonade. He turned to me and said, ‘It doesn’t work anymore.’  He handed me the straw and I noticed a tiny hole in its bendy region. I had seen this before. The prognosis was not good.

It reminded me of one of the simple truths of straw-ology.

Lesson 2: A small hole ruins the straw.

If you’ve never experienced this before, take a pin, needle or your favorite pricking device, and put a small hole in a straw. Then try to use it.  It will no longer suck properly.

If a small hole can ruin a straw, small holes in your business, or team can cause serious problems too. Every business and team has a purpose. My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, exists to help our clients look more attractive to their most important audiences. Even a small hole in our system could prevent us from delivering our products and services. So we have to continuously scan our system for flaws. Then fix them.

It can be easy to ignore the small things. But if you want to create something great, you have to continuously eliminate weaknesses and keep improving the machine. Watch out for the holes in your straw.  Your small issues or flaws may seem insignificant. But they can ruin the integrity of your entire system.

There you have it. Lessons from a straw.

If this post wasted your time, leave a comment saying ‘The straw post sucked.’

If you got something out of this post, leave a comment saying ‘The straw post didn’t suck.’

Thanks in advance for participating in my straw poll.