You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘cultural anthropology’ category.

Last week I hiked the hill. My first time ever walking the marble halls of buildings packed with our elected officials who will decide our future. The state flags line the halls – guiding us to our representatives.

I’m an Oregonian – born and raised in Portland. Always will be. I know that Portlanders are bred to dislike the state to the South – especially the deep south – Los Angeles. Portlanders are granola-eating-Birkenstock-wearing-tree-hugging-bicycle-rights-protecting-recycling-liberals.  Just watch Portlandia on the IFC network. It is spot on.

A recent transplant  to New Mexico I can say that they are rightfully proud of their heritage, their art, the balloon festival and of course…the green chile. There is NEW Mexican food and there’s Mexican food. Don’t ever confuse the two. The street Juan Tabo, is pronounced Whan TU-boh. I’m not supposed to love the Rail Runner (yet) and we are bustin’ proud of the film industry we’ve built and are pretty passionate about protecting it at this point. New Mexico’s motto: The Land of Enchantment.  The state that doesn’t HAVE to say “Don’t Mess with Us.” But instead lives it by appointing the Road Runner the state bird and a cactus as the state flower. The Road Runner, in addition to successfully eluding Wylee Coyote for decades also can kill a rattle snake. We’re just sayin’…..

This is why, in my opinion, state leagues work. Affinity. The same reason credit unions worked. A common bond. An intimate knowledge of the issues and nuances and cultural differences and the secret language of a state.

There were 17 of us from the great state of New Mexico hiking the hill last week.

Walking the long hall we passed the Senate offices of Kansas, California, Wyoming. As you read those states certain images pop into your head. That’s called branding. And it’s not fabricated by an ad agency, it’s been developing over hundreds of years through the natives and immigrants and sports teams and universities and farmers.

Speaking of the universities – states, like colleges have alumni. The people that were born and raised in the territory. Even when they leave – they will always be alums.

This is why the state league system has worked so well. This is why Edward Filene and Roy Bergengren traveled extensively during the 1920’s forming state leagues through the Credit Union National Extension Bureau. The term “league” was employed to denote a mutually supportive organization for the promotion and success of credit unions.

The state leagues each created a corporate credit union – the credit union for credit unions. But the corporate system just moved our money. Consolidation in that industry made sense and of course, as we know today, is mandated due to circumstances that I promise  never to address in this blog. We’ve flogged that horse ad nauseum.

I worked for the Oregon CU League many years ago. It allowed me to travel all over my home state. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to small towns  like LaGrande and Coos Bay and Klamath Falls. If it were not for the league, it’s likely I never would’ve discovered all that is beautiful in Oregon and met some amazing people.

Same goes for New Mexico. I’ve been to Silver City – where I found the most amazing wine bar. And had the Bobby Flay Throw Down winning green chile cheeseburger in San Antonio, New Mexico. I’ve seen Hatch – home of the world famous green chile. And of course the aliens in Roswell.

I hope we never forget these tiny pockets of our world. Where hard working dedicated souls continue to honor Filene’s vision of people helping people.

NOTE: For purposes of this virtual funeral, Marketing will be defined as anything that is one way. Meaning, the member can’t be heard in the process.  It is intended for them to pay attention – or go away and read this. Examples: television ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, direct mail and brochures.

I’ve been speaking a lot lately – about marketing – or the slow death of it – and I get mixed reactions. Some deer-in-the-headlights, some nodding in agreement, some defiant in disagreement. All valid.

If your credit union’s goal is to attract and retain younger members, these traditional marketing efforts will not work.

But let’s celebrate what was a great run. Pay our respects, share our stories and memories and celebrate the life that is ahead. All of these marketing mediums made us better people. We should be thankful for their place in history. They will be missed.

R.I.P. the Television Ad.

Show of hands: how many of you remember when television went off the air? I do.

It’s one of the main reasons I got a real job in high school rather than the not-so-lucrative-baby-sitting-gigs my mom was able to pimp out. We lived in a very Catholic neighborhood. Giant families. She would “offer” me up on a Friday night at like a dollar an hour to watch 6 brats scream their way through my evening. The best part about baby sitting – was when you weren’t. When those rug rats were all safely tucked into bed and you had the television all to yourself. And hopefully some Hostess product.

Then it happened, the clock outran the viewing time. You were left with nothing to watch but this:


And you did.

Counting the minutes until the parents would finally arrive, give you 5 dollars and drunk drive you home. Good times.

Television was captivating in the 70’s. There was no internet. No video games. No Wii. If you weren’t watching television I suppose you could listen to the radio, read a book or go explore nature. But why? When you could plop down in front of the boob tube!

There were only 4 stations back then and you had to get up to change the channel. If the reception was poor, you had aluminum foil and your fist to remedy that. Very high tech. Because there was so little to choose from, you could clip the TV Click out of the Sunday paper and post it on the fridge to see the entire week’s offerings and plan accordingly. If you missed a show, you missed it. No taping. No Your only connection would be to hear, from co-workers, that JR Ewing was shot! Dang!

Commercials were put in place so we could run to the bathroom to pee or grab a soda. Most of your members today probably still watch TV the new-fashioned way. By endlessly clicking through their 180 channels, wading through commercials looking for something interesting to watch. There’s definitely hope that they might see our ad.

And we can tell the board that we are “out there” on television.

NEXT: The wake. What will television look like without ads?

i-ro-ny (noun)

(pl. -nies)

1. A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result. 

2. Smoking cigarettes while gambling in a casino in Biloxi the day the cigarette tax goes up by 50 cents a pack during the worst recession in US history.

Atlantic City SmokingSee also dramatic or tragic irony.

Ponder it.

img_0897When I was a kid, I fancied myself a dream interpreter. My sister Daedre gave me this gift. She’d ask me to decipher her weirdest dreams. Only after a few years did she catch on that her “imaginings” always led to how she could be a better sister to me!

Last night I had a dream about the ocean. I was walking out to sea, feeling the warm water (okay – I was NOT in the Long Island Sound apparently) pick me up. I was bobbing along looking for a wave. I could see one starting to form – and then nothing. Like it gave up. I waited for another – same thing. And then there was this guide, bobbing along the ocean’s surface and I said, I’m trying to “catch a wave” and they don’t seem to want to break.

He looked at me and said, “Well, you don’t get your money back if they don’t – it’s nature and we have no control over it.”

So I just decided to float along and feel the current and well, just go with it.

The waves never came. It’s true, we have no control over nature. But how about human nature?

I’m working on my second book right now – called The Ripple Effect. When I started it I only had a few (but really good) examples of my premise: Corporations don’t have values, people do. And when those people change, so do the values, and the ripple effect is often a dramatic change in your brand (reputation).

Krispy Kreme was always my favorite example of this. You know the story: The dream of a donut, the perfect donut. Donut theatre was born. Many years later, the founder (the donut dreamer) dies and KK went from being very regional, with exceptional quality, and people flocking to the “Hot and Now” sign to stale old crap in every gas station across America. Values shifted to “quantity over quality” and all but killed the brand.

Right now we’re experiencing a tidal wave of the cause and effect of an American values shift.

I’ve said this publicly and I’m included in the group (barely) so I’m not afraid to say it again – I think this economic crisis is a direct result of the Baby Boomer generation.

The largest generation in US history – and when they came to power (meaning to control both industry and government) it all went to hell. Why? Because the values shifted from their parents (thrift and economy) to “I want it NOW damnit!” (rampant debt). Get it now, pay for it (or have my kids and their kids and their kids) pay for it later.

Is it human nature to be greedy?

Yes and no. We are in a cycle. Kind of like the tide going in and out, or the seasons changing. The reason this season feels so severe – the sheer volume of participants. But it IS a cycle. And we can’t market our way out of this one. We have to live our way out of it – by a tremendous shift in values.

If you want to read a fantastic paper on the cycles of human nature in America – check out: “Boomers, Your Crisis Has Arrived!” By James Quinn.


It’s 1980 and I’m a teller at a credit union in Portland, Oregon. I’m driving a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle named Howard. I have to pay for parking. Which makes me rethink driving Howard to work and entices me to take the bus.

Bus pass = $12.00 a month. Parking Howard = $25.00 a month.


I bought a book on How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive because I had to make this car last. You see, to get a new car loan in 1980, the interest rate was around 18%. The prime loan rate hit its peak in July of 1981 at 20.5%. They called this inflation. Not to be confused with recession or depression.

I was making $650.00 a month (before taxes) and paying $175.00 a month in rent. Howard was paid for and the insurance was around $25.00 a month.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Yup, that’s right. Back to school we go.


Our basic needs are physiological. Food and water. Then we move up to our safety needs. Housing. Mobility. (Howard) Insurance. Once those are in tact we can evolve to Social needs – a sense of belonging – love (the water cooler). The next rung up the ladder is what ALL HR research shows us – it’s not PAY that motivates it’s “recognition, status, self-esteem.” And finally, at the very top – we becomes self-motivated – or in my case, self-employed.

I took a night class in college when I was a teller and learned about Maslow. I remember thinking – didn’t anyone at the credit union read this?

If they had, and they believed it, how many things would have to change?

1. Using an employment agency where the applicant pays for a teller job was a bad choice. (physiological needs not met because I had to pay one month’s wage to get the job).
2. Putting a new employee on “probation” for 90 days breeds fear and resentment (no sense of security and no clear direction as to how you PASS probation).All “team” gear was withheld. Business cards, name plate, and a file that said “hired.”
3. My training consisted of me “shadowing” an employee that clearly resented me (sense of belonging? hell no – sense of “getting in the way” big time).
4. Doing surprise “cash counts” on my teller drawer because of my member following was the complete opposite of recognition. It was pure suspicion.

I’m the Norma Rae of tellers. I’m the gal standing in the lunch room with a sign that says “You CAN’T be SERIOUS!”

It’s 2009.

29 years later and nothing much has changed. Not only must they dress appropriately, they need to be personable, detail oriented, accurate, compliant, AND cross-sell our 58 different products and services WHILE standing for 8 hours a day. All for about $10.00 an hour. Wow.

Think about it. Tellers have more control over your credit union’s brand than anyone in management. Think of how many “moments of truth” there are in the business we are in – which is “the errand” business.

That’s all I’m sayin’……..

NEXT UP: Ronald Reagan and the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 – aka “Denise Becomes a Marketer!”

I ran across a video today of two of my favorite writers. Tom Peters and Seth Godin. They were asked this question:

What is more important – loyal employees or loyal customers?

Before you take a look at the video – think about it.

Okay – now you can watch it.

070525_hamptons_vmed_2pwidec1Last week Mark and I were in the Hamptons. Okay, I’ve always wanted to say that, but truth be told we were in Long Island looking for a place to live and had to DRIVE through the Hamptons on our way to see the lighthouse at Montauk Point (a must see for everyone). SIDEBAR: Bernie Madoff (pronounced Made-off as in with your money has a house in Montauk.

Anyway – have you ever listened to something on the radio and the scenery around you gets burned into the memory? As if you are watching television, the words mesh into the windshield and somehow make sense? Or not. Well, we were listening to NPR and Marketplace came on. The guest was Charles Handy, London Business School Founder and Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker School of Business Professor. AND, he has a lovely British accent.

The interviewer was Kai Ryssdal. The subject: the banking system.

Kai cuts to the chase: How did we get in this mess?

Charles: “I think we got carried away, you know, at least the bankers did mainly. After all, for many, many centuries, making money out of money has been regarded as rather a bad thing. In fact, it used to be called ‘usury.’ ”

Me: “Oh hell yes!”

Charles: “They forgot what their proper job was, in my view, which was to take money from some people who had some to spare and to pass it on to people who could use it usefully and profitably.”

Me: “That’s the CREDIT UNION cause!!!!”

Kai: “But from purely a business proposition, if you can’t make money giving a loan, why do it at all?”

Mark: “Good question!” (former CFO, current Financial Advisor)

Charles: “That’s right, but you must make sure that you don’t exceed the money that you’ve been given by the people who are saving it. These people went wild actually. They went way in excess of the ratios that normally were deemed respectable..”

Kai: “It seems to me the solution, when we have one of these crises, is always a variation on what I suppose you could call the “big three,” right. One is increased transparency, the other is increased accountability, and then some kind of regulation. But we’ve tried all of those things in crises past, so what’s the answer this time?”

Charles: “Get them smaller?”

Kai: “Get the BANKS smaller?”

Me: “Oh hell yes!”

Mark: “Shhhhh, listen.”

Charles: “Yes. Get the banks smaller. I’m actually sure. Markets work well when there are a lot of players, and if one falls out, the whole system doesn’t crash. When we crate organizations that, in the words of some people, are too big to fail, what we really mean is we can’t ALLOW them to fail. So I really think that we’ve allowed the banks to get too big. So I think the answer is basically to de-structure them.”

“I also think we really should stop putting everything in one basket. I think investment banking should be separated out from retail banking. They contaminate each other.”

Me: “Wow. You mean bigger is NOT better? What about achieving economies of scale? What about being a full service financial institution?I guess that didn’t work, did it?”

Mark: “Shhhh. Listen.”

Kai: “So now what then?”

Charles: “I’m not sure the solution is going to be easy to get by, and I think it’ll take about three years for things to bottom out. But there may be some good news in all of that. I mean we may get back to a saner kind of world – what Adam Smith (Author of The Wealth of Nations) called ‘cultivation’ or ‘civilization’ — where we don’t all sort of spend our life trying to make money, to buy things we don’t really need to impress the neighbors, and so on.”

“I’ve often said that capitalism, particularly in America, is a very exhausting business. It tires people out.”

Kai: “Charles Handy, than you very much for your time.”

Charles: “Thank you very much. It was wonderful to talk to you.”

Me: “Do you think that will actually happen?”

Mark: “Not anytime soon.”

TODAY: Morgan Stanley, Citi plan $3 billion broker bonuses.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all…..Turkeys know the answer to this question.
Nothing like sitting around the kitchen table to get inspiration for your next blog post. It began simple enough. I was in Portland, Oregon visiting my family when I mentioned to my brother that my favorite bar had closed. The Brasserie Montmarte. They were not only known for amazing French food, but they had this magician that could somehow flip a card onto the very high ceiling with your signature on it……creepy and cool. How could this place close? It was always crazy busy.
Some googling lead me to a blog…where it was revealed that the BM had some inspection issues – word on the street Abestos, black mold and lead paint,” The trifecta of badness. Maybe that’s why the cards stuck?

My brother went onto tell me that Foot Locker, Ann Taylor, Wilson’s Leather and Linens-n-Things had all closed their doors recently. Holy crap! What’s left at the mall…….crickets….crickets……so we got to talking about the companies that will survive this Great Recession and those that deserve to die.

One google search led me to a great site with an up-to-date list of retail closures and a “watch list” where over 5000 people wrote in and talked about stores that deserve to fail.

Here are a few of the closures with commentary:

1. Home Depot – for the first time ever – closing 15 underperforming stores in the US.
DOUBLE DOG DARE: Go ask a Home Depot employee (if you can find one) where the wood glue is. Hint: Aisle 11. Still can’t find it? Neither could I.

2. Ann Taylor – closing 117 stores in an attempt to make retailer “more agile”….
IMHO Ann Taylor has been selling the same slacks, blouses and jackets for 20 years.

3. Lillian Vernon – This holiday shopping season was not bright enough so LV filed for bankruptcy in February citing rising shipping and inventory costs. (Have you ever seen the Lilian Verner Mad TV skit?) WARNING: Sexual content and total weirdness.

4. Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video – Closing 400 of 3500 stores, in addition to the 520 stores closed last fall.
One word – Netflix.

5. Saks – Fort Lauderdale store to close.
Boo hoo.

6.Circuit City.
Big Box Blah……

7.Sprint Nextel Corp. Closing 125 stores reacting to a steep drop in its customer base. Good riddance.
Does anyone else think it’s ironic that you can never get a phone company ON THE PHONE?

Here’s the list of stores that the AOL Money & Finance readers THINK will fail and possibly could….

1. Starbucks – expanded too fast, partnered with the devil (grocery stores, airlines, bookstores)

sears-kmart-to-45072. KMart – Animated Blue Light is just creepy. Merged with Sears. In some markets they are now K-Mart/SEARS…..that would be like MACY’S/JCPenney – what’s the point?

3. Sears – See KMart above.

4. JC Penney – See KMart above.

5. Macy’s – see Kmart above AND they gobbled up Meier & Frank and Bon Marche’ just to get bigger……many loyal shoppers (including me) fled.

6. Kentucky Taco Hut – Okay, this one was contributed by my niece. They just got one of these in their town (thanks to the parent company Yum Brands). I hate to mix my smells – friend chicken, pizza and tacos….messes me up.

7. The Gap – Anytime you get spoofed on SNL – it’s good for your brand but ultimately bad for your business…..tried to stay young and hip and then detoured into “preppy” when we’d all moved onto Chicos…….or maybe that’s just me.

8. Mervyn’s of California….and therein lies their problem. Especially when they moved into Oregon where we are trained to hate Californians on principle.

9. Radio Shack – According to the website: “What a dinosaur. Poor service, crappy selection and commissioned sales clerks that don’t know anything. Has anyone bought anything from Radio Shack since the 1980’s? You want to talk about a store with product lines that need to be updated, it’s gotta be them. How many people need a new rotary phone?

One thing I think all of these have in common – inertia. We had a great idea say 20-30 years ago, so why change? I mean, if it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? (I HATE that saying btw).

This Great Recession that we’re in is definitely going to thin the herd. For that I am thankful. It’s going to be survival of the fittest. And not just lean and mean – but those that focus on customer service, a target audience, and the business they are in. The survivors are going to look like Southwest Airlines, Apple, Smith & Wesson, Absolut Vodka and WalMart.

Ahhh….back to basics.

(Side note: You should read NPS in NYC first to fully enjoy this post)

Cultural anthropology is basically the holistic study of humanity. I like to think of it as cause and effect. You know the old saying, when a butterfly flaps its wings in South America a Republican gets elected in Florida, or something like that. As a Culture Consultant I try to help people see that all of their actions have consequences. All of their measures emphasize what they manage. Moments of truth need to be measured and managed as thoroughly as the bottom line.

My research:
Yesterday I made a deposit to my account at the credit union. Yes, I’m a branch groupie. The hardest thing to do at my credit union is to give them money. Can’t make them in most ATMs anymore, don’t trust the mail, the night drop slot — yeah, right. Direct deposit? I’m self-employed. I’m the errand runner. Post office, dry cleaners, credit union. In that order yesterday. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, the folks at the post office are getting to know me. They smile, they thank me, it’s all pretty nice. The dry cleaners have me set up on an account so I can just drop my clothes off in a cool bag that they provide, they hand me the clean ones and debit my account after I’ve gone.

My last errand. A simple deposit to savings at my credit union. I’ve been in there only three times. Each time I’ve had to come into close proximity to this one teller. She’s an older lady and she’s not friendly. Hell, she’s mean. She’s clearly been there a long time because when there’s a question the other tellers need an answer to, they go to her. She does the dramatic sigh, slight roll of the eyes and then snips a response.

When I opened my account two months ago I received their new member welcome packet. The marketing department has chosen a red carpet as the symbol on this piece. I have it right here on my desk.

Today I tripped over the carpet. It was late afternoon (after the lunch rush, before the after work crowd) and I was the only one in the branch. As I was walking through the maze of teller ropes to get to the “cheese” she looked up at me, no expression, and quickly looked down again. The tuck-and-roll I call it. As I reached the end of the ropes and did as the sign instructed “Wait here for next available teller” I looked straight ahead at her window. She was still in it. She was apparently running a tape on her checks, her NEXT WINDOW sign was NOT present and yet now she was determined to ignore me. I tried to invoke my super powers to bore holes in her head and guilt her into helping me when I was startled by a friendly voice of a young man at the farthest window saying, “I can help you down here…”

He made up for her rudeness. We chatted politely. I made him laugh. You see, I AM a nice customer. I like to bond. She apparently has no time for it.

Cultural Anthropologists know not to blame this teller entirely for being mean. Some of the blame should go to the management of the credit union, some to the board of directors. Clearly there is not a culture of service in this organization. I believe the teller that offered to shield me from the mean one is the result of his “mama raising him right.” Not a cultural or strategic condition. Every memo, measure, management meeting and mannerism by the upper management is creating the ripples in the organization that the front-line responds to. If the only measure is the bottom line – that becomes the filter for the organization’s culture. If you are in the “service” business, you need to start measuring “it” and managing “it.”

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is the purest form of measurement for your culture. Period. It asks the most basic of questions AFTER a customer has EXPERIENCED your culture. Would I recommend “it” to a friend or family member? In the case of this entire organization and its 50 plus years of existence based on my three minutes of interaction at a very expensive and beautifully decorated branch I can say NO WAY. But you know what, I’ll probably keep my account there. It’s a real pain to move a checking account these days. In the industry we call it “stickiness.” It’s kind of sick when you think about it — like the old days of the phone company. We’re AT&T, we don’t have to care.

We’ve got your checking account. We don’t have to care. Their tag-line should be “We Bank on Inertia.”

If this credit union adopts the NPS I would be classified as a profitable detractor. They are making some money off of me, but they cannot count on me to grow future business for them. Without NPS data, you are measuring my profit (a snapshot in time) but with net promoter you have to admit that it’s not sustainable.

I like to think of NPS as a wake up call to all service providers. I may give you my business, today, but not my love. But if you care to listen, I’ll tell you how you can get it.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 993 other subscribers


June 2023