More than meets the sky? Pulling the remarkable out of the mundane.

At the beginning of 2010 I set out to shoot the sky every day of the year. It didn’t matter what time of day except for that it had to be in daylight. Not sure of the moment I decided to start this exercise, but recall myself asking, what if? What would that look like? What’s the end purpose, result? It was definitely not a ‘begin with the end in mind’ project, but more of a let’s see what happens. A why not project.

Aside from people looking up and at me a little odd as I often snapped the sky while walking into the office each day, it’s made me think about how marketing, social media and the customer experience intersect. To think about finding the deeper meaning to the work we do. These are no more than 1/3oth – 1/500th of a second each out of a day. Contrast that with the 8,760 hours or 525,600 minutes or 31,536,000 seconds in the year and you realize just how little time they comprise – less than 3 or 4 seconds all in.

How, you ask? Each sky alone is pretty unremarkable – especially on all those gray days we have here in Portland. But when woven together, they become an interesting pattern that begins telling a story. You can draw the conclusion on any given day what the weather was like and imagine what you were doing or would do. But there’s also the notion of what’s missing. You can’t, for example, know what the entire day was really like. Sure, on those clear blue days, particularly in summer, you can make a pretty good guess. In addition, you’re looking at just a portion of the sky – were there clouds behind or to the side? So how accurate would you assumptions be? How much would they be influenced by the weather you typically experience where you live?

It’s like data – just as you can make the numbers tell the story you want, I could make up a story about the weather, point to the photo and sound pretty convincing. Fact is, numbers lie. And so does 1/250th of a second.

Data and lies aside, the point here is how a lot of unremarkable details pulled together create something interesting. They create stories. And the more of these details you have, the richer the story you can tell. For example, I can do this exercise for 2011 then compare the two years – analyzing patterns. Looking for a common thread.

And that’s what we need to do in business. Each of our customers and colleagues bring their own filters and experiences to a brand, conveying their own meaning and attribution. The more of these we pull together, the clearer the story we can tell about our brand. The better we can communicate back what matters. The better we can engage, socially, because we’ve taken the time to understand them and appreciate their nuances.

One customer is just a single data point. But collectively – and by listening and charting their feedback and comments and buying habits, we can learn a lot about what resonates. And what doesn’t. We can find the emotional triggers that cause people to pay attention. It’s the details that matter. Small and big.

Don’t gloss over them. Brands that get this succeed. Think Apple – from the interface to the texture. Mercedes Benz and the secure thud their doors make. Nordstrom with their passion for customer service. Zappos creating wow and delight. Contrast that with brands that don’t get the details. Brands that make it difficult to talk to live customer service. Brands that don’t engineer the entire experience, or produce uninspiring, me-too wares.

So if you take away anything from this, it’s how much the details matter. And that the mundane, collected, can become something rich. Don’t be so quick to dismiss something because it’s boring. Be curious. Beneath the surface of something seemingly unremarkable is something potentially interesting. You have to keep your mind open, to dream a little. Some of these little things bring real pleasure and can provide the keys for you to unlock magic in your business.


  1. Sam Fiorella says:

    Great perspective Patrick!

    I appreciate the parallels you’ve drawn between the “sky-picture” art project and our customer experiences. No moment should be dismissed as ‘just a moment’ when you consider the impact of all those moments together. What the overall impression of your company is when the consumer reflects back on all their touch-points with you. However subtle, they do formulate an impression of your brand when combined.

    The challenge for businesses is to find a way to gather and display all those “moments” of customer interaction and display them to the client in an inspiring art piece like you’ve done with the sky pictures.

    Research does this for the marketing team but how do we do it for the customer’s benefit? Something that provides them a visual of their total experiences with our brand?

    got me thinking….

  2. Patrick says:

    Thanks Sam – it is ensuring that all of these customer touches resonate and foster good will towards the brand. A tough thing for most companies to get completely right. And tougher for those that don’t have a strong customer focus. But it’s also how a company responds when something goes wrong – whether they try to brush it under the rug or view it as an opportunity to create a stronger bond with that customer.

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