Dead toes, Singing Dingoes, and a Skydive from Space

I was in a client meeting with a pub last week. We were trying to discover what made them special when something really unfortunate happened. After many questions we discovered that nothing set them apart from their competition. That’s not really all that weird. The only time it becomes an issue is when the business refuses to create something new.


I’ve always found that one thing stands between a normal business and an exceptional one. It all lies in tradition. It lies in the stories you build around your brand. Your business is not just the food you serve, the atmosphere you create, or the volume you sell. To truly accelerate your brand through time, you need to interweave stories into its very fabric.

It’s ok if you (like last week’s client) don’t have a tradition yet. Just like the proverb says; “The best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

So do it.

Define your brand by the experiences you create. Define it by the memories you burn in the minds of your customers. Build it now and it will be invaluable 20 years from now.

The Litmus Test

Your business isn’t telling enough stories if people can’t fill the blank in this sentence.

“Isn’t that the business that __________?”

Here are some pub examples...

  • The Sour Toe Cocktail Club – Dawson City, Yukon – This may just be a local bar in a Northern town, but they have a story to tell that has made them a destination. It isn’t even a tantalizing one. It’s just different. They serve a cocktail called the “sour toe” and there’s tradition surrounding it. By a number of different means, they have acquired a few real dehydrated human toes in the bar. The tradition is to put it in a drink. The sipper must down it until the toe touches their lip. Gross ... but memorable ... and apparently, effective.

“Isn’t that the place that puts a dead person’s toe in their drinks?

  • Stuarts Well Roadhouse – Stuart’s Well, Australia – I was lucky enough to travel through the Outback a handful of years ago. One particular stop in the endless ribbon of red scrub was the locally famous Stuart’s Well Roadhouse. It was famous for one reason. The owner had a singing dingo. I sat down at the piano and hammered a few notes. Next thing I knew Dinky the dingo jumped up on the ivory and wailed along with it. This, and this alone made that tiny roadhouse a must see attraction.

“Isn’t that the place that has a singing dingo?

  • Exchange Bar & Grill – NYC – This is more than a story. It’s an ongoing theme. Exchange Bar & Grill serves drinks in New York according to the rules of the stock market. Every drink changes in price due to supply and demand. Plus, every once in a while (if you’re lucky) the market crashes. That’s certainly a different way to have a happy hour.

“Isn’t that the place that sells drinks by stock market rules?

Luckily, my client was up for trying something new. So, a new tradition should start soon. I should say, this doesn’t limit itself to bars and restaurants. Every business can tell stories. Last week 8 million people watched live as Felix Baumgartner skydived from the stratosphere. The stunt was organized by Red Bull.

There is always a story to tell. What will your business say?