Friday, October 22, 2010

Business Lessons from a Kat?

Here's an article I wrote that I've been encouraged to share. Feel free to pass along to your friends, even if they are "dog people." :-)
Business Lessons from a Kat?!
by Cindy Marteney, CEO, Our Health Co-op

It’s a legitimate question. Why should you buy anything from a “kat?”

Why would anyone bother to subscribe to a health newsletter that greets you with a “Meow,” takes an irreverent tone, and closes with “Purringly Yours, Guido Housemouser.” It’s totally weird, right?

Snicker if you wish, but thousands of subscribers have done just that, and a large number have become ridiculously fond of the kat, no matter how silly they say the charade is in the weekly newsletters.

I’ll never forget the survey we ran in 2002, the year we started Our Health Co-op. I’ve had a lifelong interest in alternative medicine, so diving into the world of botanicals and nutritional science was a big draw. However, I’ll confess. I was embarrassed by the kat, which was created by an imaginative yet eccentric entrepreneur, who also happened to be my father

I lamented privately, “How can we be taken seriously with a cartoon character writing our customers?” I wanted to get rid of the kat. Don’t get me wrong, I love (love, love) cats and all things feline. I just thought the mascot stuff was cuckoo. Dad was the narcissistic sort so I was suspicious of his certainty that our customers really cared about the kat.

With a quick survey drafted and instant access to our customer community, I was confident that the kat would be history by the end of the week. No such luck. I was stunned when, overnight, we received thousands of enthusiastic responses. More than 97% of them said, “Keep the kat!”

It was clearly an emotional topic, as we’ve never again had such a big response to a survey again.  I remember two comments grabbing my attention:

“Keep the kat!  The world is too serious. Why not have a little fun?”

“I delete all those boring newsletters I receive. The kat makes me laugh, so I keep reading. Please keep the kat.”

Have a little fun. Continue to make ‘em laugh. That was my new mission. It was uncharted territory, as my dad had owned the “funny” in our family.

I was always the serious one. I wasn’t funny. So, I had to channel my dad’s humor at times, as I was interested in keeping my dad out of the business itself (we disagreed, sometimes quite strenuously, but that’s another story, one that I've been telling in chapters in this blog!). 

Having sold the business to us, Dad was limited to being an outside observer (and newsletter subscriber). It made him endlessly happy that we “kept the kat.”

In February 2008, we chose to do a survey during our anniversary sale (also around Valentine’s Day), and a sweet 90% of our members endorsed our use of humor. Many sent special love notes to the kat, including:

“I totally LOVE the kat!”

“Roses are red 
The Kat is Kool 
If you don't use the Co-op 
You're just a darn fool”

“Kat, you are my hero. 
Love, Ted the cat.”

“The kat is perhaps the most important member of the staff. Without the kat it would be just another regular business, but the kat enlivens it, and I look forward to all of kat's complaints and satire. More please!!!”

“You're all terrific and as long as the kat remains the Chairman of the Board, I'm more than happy!”

“I love you kat…have for years.

A few PR professionals along the way have admiringly said that we have created a clever “micro-brand.” That's a lot better than creating a fuzzy brand I suppose. 

In our anniversary survey this last winter, we didn’t solicit feedback on the kat but still received fan-club comments, including:

I like to think of the kat as a very benevolent feline, sort of like a kitty god up in the sky.  :-)”

“Don't mess with the Kat >^..^< “

“The Kat is just super kool”

Who knew that the kat would outlive its creator (my dad died during the summer of 2007) or that the kat and I would be friends almost a decade later after such an inauspicious beginning (I wanted to “kill the kat” after all)?

While I am most proud of what we are doing with quality programs and how we are taking care of our members at the Co-op, I am most touched by the things I have learned from the kat, including:

  1. Be real. Like it or not, cats are endlessly content just being themselves. We're a little different (silly at times, irreverent at others) but it's a lot more fun to be us than trying to be like others.
  2. Don’t take life so seriously. Be serious about the hunt, then pursue pleasure in whatever form presents itself. Laughter, good humor, pets, and close relationships all promote health too. 
  3. Curiosity can get you just about anywhere. Bat at or pounce on things that behave strangely and you'll learn something new, ready or not!
  4. Do the unexpected.  Sit in the lap of the person most skeptical of your presence and start purring.
  5. When all else fails, take a nap. Things will all be different when you wake up.
  6. Memorable characters make money. Just ask our own Guido (and the guys at Geico). So glad we didn't kill the kat! 
So, little by little, my heart has opened to “the kat.”  May our favorite kat (^..^) touch your life at some point too! 

Our Health Co-op provides scientifically-promising nutritional supplements with an emphasis on healthy aging. Our Health Co-op emphasizes old-fashioned values through a chatty kind of e-mail newsletter written by the Co-op's mascot, a "kat" named Guido. In addition to covering products and health news with a sense of fun, the "kat" loves to spotlight members with interesting health stories and favorite pets and cute critters of all kinds.
If you would like to share what you've learned from the kat, please write a note below!


TMB said...

Nobody gets more kudos (or pats) from me than the kat, and I will always fight to "Keep the Kat" purring and happy!

Now working for a bustling Seattle startup, BigDoor, whose tagline is "Add some fun to your online world," I have oodles of gratitude for the kat, who taught me to add fun to topics I consider anything but -- colon health, for example!

I love this article, Cindy, and the life you've extended to our beloved and irreverent Guido. I for one, could not imagine my life or my health without His Furriness, and will always be glad to have learned so many lessons from the one and only, Guido Housemouser.

Thanks for sharing!

Tess Beasley, Proud Member

Anonymous said...

Cindy - your dad could make me spray my drink out my nose. His emails never got ignored or deleted. He was in every way a big cat. Just as comical and irreverent as his alter ego, "Guido". Dr Jon knew the cat power.

Reading your blog today, reminded me of something I read way before the internet. It was a book titled "The Cat Made Me Buy It" (Still available on Amazon, I see.) It was a borrowed copy but I never forgot it. I became aware ever since then of just how many things I bought because there was a cat involved somehow, the only difference is now I am aware of why I buy what I buy. My love of cats. Or any animal.

If I may, I just rescued my first cat in Charlotte, NC.
"Mustang Sally" was very pregnant. If any Co-Op subscribers in the south Charlotte area would like a kitten or two, please contact me. Here's Sally and kittens website: my contact info is there.

Keep up the great work Cindy. Some of us are paying attention. (like a cat starring at a blank wall:)
-Mary "Mac"
Waxhaw, NC

PS Like Tess in the comment before me, I will always vote for the cat!

Anonymous said...

I love the products, the independent testing, and the prices; but most of all I love the Kat.

Most people threaten to "send Guido" when you owe them money but OHC sends me Guido when I don't owe you a cent.

Guido tickles my interest in my own better health, writes about blogs that I might have missed, and never fails to put a smile on my face no matter how down I am with chronic pain.

I could live without Guido but I'd never want to try. Just like I'd never want to try to live without OHC supplements. Thanks Cindy and thanks Kat!

Sandy Fackler, Another Proud Member