Hiding In Plain Sight

Did you have a good time at Halloween? I did, although I have to confess, it’s not quite as big an event for us now as it was when our kids were little.

Back then, as soon as it got dark, I would dress up as a scarecrow – jeans, flannel shirt, hat, gloves and a mask – and sit perfectly still in a lawn chair in the shadows next to our front walk.

You had to pass right by me to get to the front door, and as soon as somebody did, I would move my arm or make some kind of creepy Halloween-ish noise.

Did I scare the trick or treaters? Only a little bit.

Kids were very suspicious of the “scarecrow” (I could hear them talking) and approached me with the assumption that there was probably a real person sitting there. So even though they jumped back a bit when I came alive, they were kind of expecting it.

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scarecrow
One year, though, I added a diabolical (some would say, ingenious) new twist…

About a week before Halloween, I created an actual scarecrow (that is to say, a real fake man), stuffing that same shirt, pants, mask, etc., with newspaper. Then I sat him in the lawn chair and left him there.

crushed box

All week long – as they walked past, rode their bikes, stood at the bus stop directly in front of our house – kids in the neighborhood saw the scarecrow sitting there. He looked like any other unremarkable Halloween decoration.

Which he was . . . until Halloween night. (Cue evil laugh.)

That’s when I tossed the newspaper into the recycle bin, put on the scarecrow clothes, and took my place in the chair.

This time, and since the scarecrow had been out there all week for anyone to see, the kids coming up the walk on Halloween pretty much ignored me.

No stopping to take a closer look; no wondering aloud about the scarecrow’s authenticity. One kid even casually kicked my leg as he walked by. They were uniformly uninterested.

That is, until I started moving.

This time, the reaction was decidedly different: lots of screams, lots of running, one very spilled sack of candy (maybe you shouldn’t have kicked the scarecrow, my little friend).

Why the big difference? As much as I’d like to think it was the result of my improved scarecrowing from one year to the next, the answer, of course, had to do with familiarity (or, as we psychology majors call it, “familiarity”).

When we see things over and over again, we stop noticing them. The kids still saw me, they just didn’t see me.

Unfortunately, it’s not just middle-aged scarecrows who fade into the background over time. Many elements of your business work the same way.

You’ve set things up and, precisely because you see and interact with them all the time, you’ve stopped noticing. Things like. . .

  • Your web site. Maybe it made sense in 2001 for your financial planning web site to include helpful tools like mortgage calculators and links to the IRS. But do you really think anybody today is having difficulty finding these things (and using your “resources” page as a jumping off point)?
     
    Whatever your profession, start with a blank slate and evaluate your site. Decide what you would include if you launched it today and toss the rest overboard. The more fluff you lose, the more likely a visitor will find and read what matters.
  • Your blog. I know, creating content regularly takes time and effort. If your most recent post is more than a year old, though, sending people to your blog is the publishing equivalent of seating people at your restaurant and then revealing the fact that you don’t actually have any food.
     
    Either resume publishing your blog (recommended) or get rid of it.
  • Your voicemail message. There was a time when people really didn’t understand what an answering machine was and how to use it. So it made sense to explain that you were “either on the phone or away from my desk” and to provide some helpful “wait for the beep” advice.
     
    It’s 2017. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that anyone over the age of six who knows how to dial a phone has also mastered the intricacies of leaving a voicemail message.
  • Anything physical that you give out to people. Your business card that still lists a “facsimile number.” The article you were quoted in in 1998 that you still include in prospect materials. Your brochure that has your old mailing address covered up with a sticker reflecting your current location.
     
    In a word (or five): get rid of this junk. It worked once, it doesn’t anymore. It makes you and your business look dated and out of touch.

Here’s the bottom line. I once heard a comedian say that whatever you’re wearing at age forty, you’ll be wearing for the rest of your life. His point was that once we get to a certain age, we stop paying attention and just do today whatever we did yesterday.

But I understand, it’s hard to notice what you don’t notice.

That said, the more you can view yourself and your business through the eyes of a new acquaintance, updating and improving your outward appearance regularly, the more candy you’ll bring home in your sack.


Discussion Questions:

  1. Is a fake scarecrow more or less real than a real one?
  1. Have you ever scared a crow? Explain.
  1. What aspect of your business could use some updating?

Share your comments below!

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17 thoughts on “Hiding In Plain Sight

  1. Don Sadler

    A chance to vent about one of my biggest pet peeves! The auto-attendant voice mail saying “Your call has been answered by Audix, blah blah blah. FOLLOWED BY a long greeting saying you’re not available, wait for the beep, leave your number and time of call, blah blah blah. I timed this once and it took 45 seconds to get to the beep to leave a message! My voice mail message says, “This is Don Sadler, please leave a message” … beep. 2 or 3 seconds. C’mon people!

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I agree, Don! For me, the consolation is always the idea that this is a (often) necessary evil of big companies. So it’s an advantage to use little guys, provided we do it better!

      Reply
  2. Brian Kerr

    Great story, Michael! I had no idea how you were going to tie that one together at the end but as a long-time subscriber and student of your storytelling style I knew it was coming.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Ha, ha, thanks Brian! I wasn’t sure either for a while, but I knew I wanted to tell the scarecrow story!!!

      Reply
  3. Helen Rose

    Thanks for another funny and insightful newsletter! This year a murder of crows descended on our fig tree, so I scared them off. In the end, though, their persistence won out as I couldn’t stay on guard with enough regularity. I happen to like crows, though, because of they are very intelligent. They intrigue me. With regard to my business, my Facebook page could use some attention. It’s not so much that it is out of date as that it is neglected, which is equally bad.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Helen! I find it hard to believe that crows are that intelligent. After all, the real scarecrows just sit there for weeks at a time. Wouldn’t you think that sooner or later a crow would notice and say, “Hey, that guy never moves at all…”?

      Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Good idea on the marketing plan. That’s definitely a place where it’s easy to forget to revise as needed!

      Reply
  4. Doug Johnson

    Michael,
    1.) A fake scarecrow is as real as a real scarecrow because scarecrows are all real fakes.
    2.) Yes, as a matter of fact I scared a bunch of them on my lawn about 45 minutes ago. I was walking from my barn to my house and they’d congregated on the lawn by the driveway. They’d found some old bread I’d thrown out a little earlier for some other birds, but the crows like to move in and take over. They were so busy they didn’t notice me until I was about 20 feet from them and then there were flapping wings and crows flying everywhere as they tried to get away. Scaring crows can be kind of fun, and you don’t only have once a year and have to wait for Halloween like you do to scare kids!
    3.) Groan!!! I’m going to have to create a list now that you’ve pointed this out Michael. But thanks, you’re right that it needs to be done.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. I think you are right (and I am having flashbacks to freshman philosophy class).
      2. Perhaps you could do this professionally?
      3. Sorry to add to your list and I hope it helps!

      Reply
      1. Doug Johnson

        So, you took that philosophy class, too!

        As for scaring crows professionally, I need to remember that. This writing stuff could fall apart one day and it might be good to fall back on. Somehow I see it as an event for rodeos that precedes mutton busting (if you don’t know about mutton busting you don’t know what you’ve missed!).

        Reply
  5. Bill Glass

    Hi Michael:
    “Dial a phone?” I fear that concept is as old as some of the content you rightly suggest I need to purge from my web site! I suspect some of your readers (younger perhaps than you or me but not all that young) have never seen a rotary phone that could be dialed. How about “make a phone call?” I always enjoy your newsletter.
    Bill

    Reply
    1. Ray Titus

      Actually, Bill, the term “dial a phone” is not exclusive to rotary phones. Sure many of us remember them and some younger folks don’t. However, the term “dial a phone” has become generic for making a phone call just as referring to a musician’s new release of songs is still called their album (although albums are coming back these days and their sales is growing rapidly). But many people weren’t around in the years when someone put out a vinyl record album and have grown up with CDs or other digital formats. However, they are still often referred to as albums because the term has become less of a description of the format and more just a generic term, much like dialing a phone has become.Ray

      Reply
  6. Barry Wilson

    Michael,
    Great article (as always). I used to be annoyed by businesses that obviously took the cheap route when setting up their websites and then compounded their error by not updating their website content…then I began a second career as a web writer and started turning them into my clients.

    Reply

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