Yesterday my wife and I went to the Avalanche game. That is a team with a big problem – I’ll go into that in tomorrow’s post, but today I’m concerned about marketing and attitudes.

We started off at the Pepsi Center three hours early, which is smack-dab in the middle of Downtown Denver. They don’t let you get in to your seats until an hour before the game so we decided to head to the 16th Street Mall to do some walking and window shopping.

About Blake and Speer, we heard it. A primal, guttural hollar. It took a moment to realize the source: a homeless man, begging for change on the next street up. Yelling at cars. But not just yelling – screaming. Shouting. Pulling a William Wallace. Whatever you want to call it, this guy was doing it.

My wife and I promptly turned around before we got in range of his tirade, but it got me thinking.

First – this is not the beggar’s problem. They are not the ones at fault. Instead, they’re a side-effect of a culture and community that has forgotten that – crazy off their ass or not – people are people and have basic needs like medical and mental healthcare, regardless of who foots the bill. How is someone like Homeless William Wallace supposed to productively pitch back into society if he can’t even get help to get his life together in the first place?

If we build the foundation a little higher to avoid the floodwaters, even if the house is a tiny bit more expensive – doesn’t it raise everybody up?

What’s more, in a world filled with noise and a limited attention spectrum, how is Homeless William Wallace supposed to compete with all the other corner beggars out there besides get flashier? Or take some voice classes so he ends up like Ted Williams.

As an aside, and not to sound heartless – I’m happy that Ted is finally getting help and rehab, but it shouldn’t have come because of pity. That’s a pathetic statement about our modern society; instead of making it a priority to bring everybody up together because we believe in it, we’re highlighting the most pathetic of the pathetic and rewarding them for “sticking it out”. Meanwhile the guy on the opposite corner continues to starve and beg. Drug-addled rejects (sorry Ted) are being preferred over equally talented, non-drug-addled college students with golden voices who give up their dreams and work fast food.

We’re rewarding those scraping the bottom of the bucket and treating it like some fairytale rescue story when there’s so, so many hard-working people out there who deserve the same chance but don’t have nearly as sad of a story.

By this same logic, we only care when the straits are dire; in the best traditions of a caring, responsible American public, we give a shit when the shit hits the fan. American or not – from Haiti to New Zealand – we cry, we pray, we hope, we donate, we volunteer.

But when it comes to prevention most people just sit idle on the sidelines until the breaking point cajoles them into action. Not to weave too crazy of a tale here, but we behave exactly the same way in our business lives.

My less-than-politically-correct point: as a small business owner, I have occasionally behaved like Homeless William Wallace. I’ve seen a lot of other business owners do the same thing. It’s high-time to stop this bullshit.

I’ve screamed my marketing at people; I’ve screamed into the void and added to the noise. All in the hopes that someone listening will drop some change in my bucket and pay some attention. In doing so, I (and my fellow business owners, who have all been guilty of this at one point or another) have single-handedly driven potentially dedicated, helpful customers away from entire business segments.

So what does the alternative look like? How do we do it better?

We focus on prevention and forward thinking. We can’t fill the the void with noise. Generation Y is largely ad-blind. Unless you can grab our attention with something funny, unexpected, or unless you already have a pass into our attention stream, you’re hosed – and it’s our own damn fault. It’s like that party where everybody screams louder and louder until nobody can hear a damn thing.

The only moment of clarity is connecting with our friend across the room and heading outside to have a quiet drink together. A one on one connection. No noise. No shouting. No posturing.

What if we actually shut up for once and let our customers and friends to the speaking for us, to the people who mattered – and were most likely to buy and care? People who will be honest about our benefits and faults on our behalf.

I’m working on this. I don’t know what it looks like, yet, but I think it can be done. And when I’ve got it down, I’ll teach it.

In the meantime, let’s work on building the house a bit higher. Soylent Green is not the solution, but it’s where we’re headed if we don’t fix it.

(Header photo: Homeless Lady by JPhilipson)