The Quirk’s West Coast Event 2017 Recap

Earlier this month, Seek went out to the west coast for the Quirk’s Event. We want to send a big thanks to everyone who visited us at our booth – it was voted “Most Appealing Booth” by conference participants! It was so much fun connecting with the people at Quirks!

See below for some photo highlights from the conference:

Bringing a Brand Home

I’ll wait in line for lots of things, but the opening of a retail store is not one of them. If I’m in line, it’s probably for music or food. However, recently I found myself trekking to the Noma neighborhood in northeast Washington D.C. for the opening of REI’s flagship store in the city.

 

I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia – an outdoor lover’s paradise with roaring rapids and winding hiking trails – but admittedly I was not what you’d term as an “outdoorsy” person. Just the opposite, in fact. I was an asthmatic voracious reader who would regularly use my affliction to fake out of gym class, whiling away that hour losing myself in a book, shuffling page after page to the sounds of my classmates shrieking as they scooted away from each other in tag. Despite the fresh mountain air that enveloped our small town, my friends and I spent most of high school indoors going to basketball games, eating at Applebee’s, and playing ping-pong in my parents’ basement, only suiting up in outdoor gear and hiking boots in the winter to survive the long, slippery parking lot walk from our cars to the school.

 

So my love for REI wasn’t entirely predictable, but since the early 2000s I’ve had a strong affinity for the store – in fact, the only retail affinity that has survived from that time. Somewhere in my 20s, I experienced an adult-onset love for the outdoors: realizing what all the fuss was about when it came to mountains, hikes, trails, vast star-lit skies and the gentle slap of paddle against water. I ended up at REI looking for a decent rain jacket for a trip to Seattle, and after a lengthy chat with a very knowledgeable staff member dressed like he was ready to scale a cliff, I felt smarter and more prepared for the adventure ahead. I felt like REI made it warm and inviting for someone like me to toe-dip into this vast and daunting space. Something about the high ceilings, smartly-crafted gear, eco-friendly vibes, down-to-earth staff, customer-centric return policy – all of which makes me feel good about being there, and inevitably spending a little more than I’d planned on awesome gear. Eventually I became a member of REI – the only membership to anything I possess at the moment – and proudly spend my dividends on more fleeces, waterproof backpacks, and high-impact water bottles, reinforcing my attachment to the woodsy interiors and outdoor-celebrating mission.

 

So, 12 years after my first REI experience – hours of hikes, paddling sessions, and one failed rock climbing experience later – when I heard they’d created a store IN the heart of my city, I felt compelled to break my wait-in-line rules for the grand opening. I figured others would also show up, lured by the promise of free gifts, coffee and breakfast, but somehow was still surprised and impressed by the slew of those who had camped out in their tents (likely purchased at REI), ready for the ribbon to be cut. What struck me as I became person 285 in line was the atmosphere. Genial, strangers making conversation with each other, wondering whether we made the cut off for the freebies; REI staff who had been up since pre-dawn, bouncing down the line handing out badges, stickers, croissants, and tips (one even counted down the line to assure my friend and I we were within the first 500); a local award-winning high school marching band parading down the street, aligning the new establishment’s vibe with the rhythm and vibrancy that is a part of DC’s roots.

 

Once the line started moving, the pulse of the experience quickened, with drumline beats, high fives down the line, and the deafening sounds of cowbells being shaken by all of the store staff greeting each new customer. It was fun in a way I didn’t expect, upbeat and communal in a way that made me feel a little more part of the REI family, and that much more committed to the brand. There were marks of DC all over the store: a wall of posters from the days that the building served as the Uline Arena, a prominent music venue that hosted the likes of the Beatles, Woody Guthrie, and DC’s go-go music pioneers; shirts boasting DMV (DC-MD-VA) pride; and a stunning shot of the summit at Old Rag Mountain, a popular Shenandoah National Park hike familiar to any local who gets outdoors in the area. Their theme during this election cycle has been “United Outside,” an ode to all the incredible and beautiful places begging for us to explore, get lost, and find peace.

 

I was in the store for all of 20 minutes but the experience had a profound impact on me as a consumer and as a person. As someone who travels a lot, maintaining a tie to the city I live in is among the challenges I contend with on a regular basis. In a very simple way, REI created an immediate connection to the place I live and the things I love to do. Seeing this big brand stake a claim in revitalizing unused spaces in the city, promoting the multiple outdoor opportunities, and bringing the heritage of this complex and beautiful national capital to life in their store has made my relationship with the brand more personal, and made me feel good about being part of their community. As a result, I open every single one of their emails, plot purchases for friends and family around their sales, and find myself wandering there when I have time to kill or adventures to plan.

 

We spend a lot of time at Seek talking about empathy, working to foster connections with the humans we serve in an effort to make products, experiences, and communications that have meaning. The more you practice empathy, the more you can spot the places it shows up, and the more you are affected by the intentionality of it when it’s practiced with you. It’s not just the stuff inside REI – it’s the entire space they curate around their values, and the way their people ensure that’s carried through the full customer experience. In a time when the world feels so divisive, hard to predict, and at times quite insular, when a brand embraces you with open arms and encourages you to expand your journey through this big, beautiful world, the experience is profound, meaningful, and a true breath of fresh mountain air.

 

 

The Market Research Event 2016 Highlights

Seek Company attended The Market Research Event in October, the first time since 2013. The 3-day conference took place in Boca Raton, Florida at the Waldorf Astoria from October 18th-20th. We were a sponsor for the event and had our newly re-designed booth in the conference’s Exhibit Hall. At the booth, we were able to connect with attendees and The Inspiration Board was a hub to engage with them on a more personal level. Here’s what some visitors had to say about our booth:

 

“Your booth is so thoughtful and feels authentic to who Seek is.”


“This feels warm and inviting.”

 

On the second day, CEO Tim Urmston presented his highly popular talk The Science Behind Empathy & Storytelling to 100+ people. Seek Company had an amazing experience at TMRE and can’t wait for 2017!

 

Click through the photos below to see some highlights from the conference:

 

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Blind to a Blind Spot

There was an old lady who lived next to me when I was in my early twenties. Betty was in her mid 70’s. She was wrinkled and tiny and sat on her porch most of the time. Night and day. Spring, summer, fall, and deep into Kansas winters. Our landlord, Martin, had converted a single family home into apartments. Right down the middle of the porch Martin had built an astonishingly ugly lattice wall to create what he called, “separate and somewhat private” entrances.  There was no privacy; and it didn’t matter. I sat on my side of the porch smoking Gauloise tobacco because Camus and Picasso smoked Gauloise. I was looking for connection with them, but it was a connection with Betty that made a difference. We talked through the lattice. We got to know each other, and the people we saw passing by. Betty saw all of them, she saw me and she was blind.

 

Betty didn’t talk much; but she’d laugh. Loved to laugh. Laugh at me-a cocky college kid who thought he knew people. I still remember the first time she laughed at me. I’m walking home from work at night. The house is still out of sight when I hear her yelling my name at the top of her lungs. I start running thinking she’s hurt or fallen or someone has robbed her. I get closer to the house, she’s still yelling my name. And then she starts laughing. Cackling. She can hardly breathe she’s laughing so hard. I can hardly breathe because I’m out of shape from making so many “connections” with Camus and Picasso-smoking all those Gauloise. Her laugh breaks off as I climb the steps to her side of the porch:

 

“What the hell you running for Sonny?” She calls me Sonny.

 

“What the hell you laughing for?” I nearly scream.

 

“I saw you coming,” she says.

 

“What?” In my mind I can’t believe a blind lady just said she saw me coming. And then the reality of it starts to settle.

 

“Yep. I always do. Always can.”

 

And that is the start of how we came to be known as the “dueling porches.”

 

The next day, I see landlord Martin at the grocery. I tell him all about what happened.  “She knows what’s going on. Almost before it goes on,” Martin says.

 

“Well, she sure as hell can’t see me coming. She is blind, you know,” I reply, kind of irritated with Martin.

 

“You two are always out on that porch, right? I got a bet for you. For the next two weeks, you and the old lady have a competition. As you sit on your porches, first one to identify who’s coming down the street gets a point. You keep score. After two weeks, the highest score wins.  I’ll bet you a month’s rent Betty wins.”

 

“She’s blind,” I nearly laugh. “And if I lose?” I say, knowing I wouldn’t.

 

“If you lose, you take me and Betty to Sal’s. For drinks and dinner.”

 

My mind races. Sal’s is an upscale steakhouse. You don’t get out the door for less than $30 a person, and with drinks… Then I think to myself she’s blind, take the $350 in free rent.  “Hell yeah, I’ll bet you.”

 

We shake on it. “Explain the game to Betty, tonight. Start the game tomorrow,” he says.

 

“I’m all over it.”

 

On a Thursday night, two and a half weeks later, I’m drinking cocktails and eating buffalo steaks with Martin and Betty at Sal’s. It had pretty much been a shutout. I think she let me win a point or two, just to keep me from complete and total humiliation. Everybody passing by got in on it. They’d hear her laughing, ask us what was going on and we told them of the game. After the two weeks were up, they begged us to keep playing. I got an old chalkboard from the thrift store. Martin mounted it on my side of the porch (he thought it looked good but he also thought a lattice wall looked good). Somewhere along the line, somebody started referring to our house as the “dueling porches.” Strangers would walk down our street for no other reason but to come meet the old blind lady and the smoker. To see if we could see.

 

What I realized was that Betty was highly aware of not only her surroundings, but also of  herself. Of her own senses. She paid careful attention to what she heard. To what she smelled. Maybe not having the use of one her senses caused her to be more attune to the others.
We are learning that for our work, for our research, and for our dive into empathic connectivity, we are required to have an acute awareness of our ‘selves.’ It is important that we are able to identify where we end and another begins. As we allow ourselves to be affected by the emotions of someone else, it is imperative that we are aware of our own emotions. That we open ourselves up to ourselves. That we see like Betty.

By: David Strasser, Program Designer

 

Hammers

Something as simple as a hammer can have an important story behind it. Empathy for your consumers comes from learning their stories. You build a connection that allows you to understand how your product really fits into their lives. Empathy allows brands to transform themselves into “human” brands and create meaningful relationships with the people they serve, developing life-long advocates.

 

By: David True, Art Director

 

40 Days Of Kindness

This morning, I was standing in a Starbucks just off of Michigan Avenue, in Chicago, with my friend Jamie who happens to work for Seek.  We are here for some business development meetings and we were starting our day off with coffee on a post snowstorm day with sub freezing temperatures.  Given that there is a Starbucks on every corner in Chicago, we simply walked across the street and commented on the temperature the whole way.  While this may seem like ordinary protocol for anyone starting a day of sales meetings and conference calls from the road, there was a nugget of inspiration beautifully wrapped up and waiting for me at this Starbucks.  A moment of truth, a breath of clarity.  Brilliance wrapped up in kindness and “Doing good in the world” which is a foundational staple of our purpose at Seek.

 

We brushed off the snow, ordered our coffee (well, Jamie ordered the coffee while I was on a phone call) and then we waited at the end of the counter with a few folks for the barista to call our names so that we could be on our way.  While waiting, I noticed that Jamie brought a cup of hot coffee with a lid on it to the table where we were waiting.  Then the barista called both of our names and Jamie proceeded to get his iced latte and I grabbed my Starbuck’s staple, a Caramel Macchiato.  Then I looked back at the table where Jamie was still standing and wondered why we had an extra cup of hot coffee in addition to our order.  I gave Jamie a puzzled look and wondered if the barista messed up, or if somehow he was going to chug down an extra coffee in the next 5 minutes before our meeting.

 

Without me saying a word, Jamie responded to my confused look. “So this is the lent season right?” he said. “Yeah, Why?” I said, somewhat curious toward his out of context question.  “So I grabbed this coffee for the guy standing outside shivering…I don’t understand the concept of lent and giving something up.  I am not really a religious person, so a couple of years ago, I figured I’d try to start a personal ritual for lent where I do something nice for someone each day.  One thing per day…that’s it.  Today, I got this guy outside something to warm him up.  I bought him a coffee.  It’s my way of somehow connecting to this season that people call Lent.”

 

Of course the man outside was grateful as we headed to our cab and went on our way.  But this got me thinking a lot about what this life is about and what we are supposed to be about in this world.  Kindness is such a powerful weapon against the hatred that is in this world.  And interestingly enough, it does a tremendous amount of good for the giver’s heart as well.  We are somehow changed by the gesture of a simple act of kindness.  As someone witnessing this act of kindness, I found myself inspired to follow suit and challenged myself to spend lent the same way my friend Jamie was spending lent.  I don’t know what it looks like for me or what opportunities will present themselves throughout the next 30 or so days, but it will be an adventure to discover these things as each day creates a new chance to try.

 

Our purpose at Seek is simple

To release the full potential in people

To inspire and cultivate big ideas

To do good in the world.

 

This doesn’t always have to be some planned corporate thing. In fact, the more beautiful and profound expressions of this always seem to happen on a personal level or in small settings.  Today was a great reminder to me of what we’re here to do.

 

So here’s my question for you?  Do you have a traditional or not so traditional ritual that you practice during this season?  If not, wanna try Jamie’s?  I would love to hear from you about what you’re trying, and the effect it is having on you, the people around you and the world at large.  I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.  You can email me at Tim@seekcompany.com

Uncover Hidden Truth

There is a local convenient store by my house where I buy my gas and occasionally go in and buy ice cream. About a year ago, I went in and had an interesting experience with the woman working behind the counter. As I walked in, I could tell by her heavy sigh, that she wasn’t interested in me being in the store and, by the look of her posture and tone of her voice, I could tell I just walked in a on a very bad mood. I politely gave her my order, paid and said “have a nice night.” Not a big deal usually but, as fate would have it, I found myself having this experience on a more frequent basis with this same woman. Each night met with attitude, little eye contact and a reluctant “what do you want?” It was a good thing I didn’t want a conversation, because she certainly wasn’t anxious to give me that on any of my trips to her counter.

 

Now here is where we make a decision isn’t it? This is where most of us decide that we’re no longer going to be treated like this and we decide its time to show her the error of her ways. So we get ourselves mentally prepared in our cars before walking back into the store, rehearsing our lines as if we are going to win her over with our gritty, aggressive counsel on how she should treat her customers.

 

But what if we took another approach? What if I started with a question instead of a flurry of statements demanding that she treat me better? What if I observed a little more and tried to pick up on what she was going through behind that counter?

 

My new approach started with something simple. “How is your day going today Melissa?” (I saw her name on her badge). Notice that I didn’t say, “how you doing?” Instead I asked a question that made her take pause that she might have to think about her response before blurting out a standard “good.”

 

“Busy” she said. “Yep, it sure does seem to get busy this time of night. Hopefully you don’t have to be here too much longer,” I replied. “I’ll be stuck here til 2:00 am and then I’ve got a pretty good walk back to my house,” she said. “Oh, do you live close by? That makes it nice not having to drive to work.” Clearly a bad assumption on my part. She simply rolled her eyes as if to say, “you have no idea about my life and why I walk to work.” I let it go for the night and considered it a step forward in my relationship with her.

 

The next trip to the store, I had a new plan. We had a very similar conversation as the last time, but at the end, when I got the rolling eyes, I handed her a $20 bill and said thanks for serving me and my family so well. “You make a great chocolate malt and my wife and I really enjoy them. Thanks for all you do.” She sat there for a minute almost stunned as if nobody had ever given her anything of this value before. I think she may have asked “why?” but I was halfway out the door before she could get the word out.

 

My following visit was different. “Hi Melissa!” I said confidently as I walked in the glass door. “Uh, hi” she mumbled as she lifted her head up to see who this crazy person was that somehow remembered her name. “I forgot to introduce myself last time…I’m Tim,” I said as I reached across the counter. “Good to meet you. Did you and your wife enjoy the malt?” she replied actually expecting an answer. “We did, and they were awesome as usual.” Without hesitation, she followed with a question of her own and we began talking at greater lengths each time I came in the store.

 

Over time, I found out that she was a single mom, who lived a couple of blocks from the store with her very sick mother who was expected to die in 6 months. She has been working 2 jobs, one as a waitress and one standing behind the ice cream counter for minimum wage…both within walking distance of her house because her car has been in the shop for months and she couldn’t afford to pay the repair bill.
I noticed, however, that she smiled when I came in the store now. No longer distant, and no longer distracted. She felt valued just because someone got to know her beyond just the girl behind the ice cream counter.

 

What if we did this with our consumers? What if we took the time to ask more meaningful questions and actually listen to the response no matter what form they take (verbal, body language, tone)? What if we actually cared about the response and let it take us to more meaningful and deep questions. Maybe our consumers, customers, payers, users, subscribers, visitors, vendors, and shoppers might actually need something more than the functionality a product can give them. Maybe they just want to be known. To be understood. The brand who gets this, changes the game and maybe changes the world at the same time.

By: Tim Urmston, CEO

 

Extra Grace Required

She’s angry. He’s annoying. She controls everything and everyone around her. He withdrawals during conflict. He has a hard time admitting he’s wrong. She has a hard time receiving praise.  These are surface observations.

 

Taking surface observations about people at face value tends to lend itself to even greater conflict within any relationship such as a marriage,  between parent & child, with co-workers and with siblings and extended family members.  I often wonder what would happen if we took the time to hear the person’s story before jumping to a conclusion. I find that when I take the time to actually listen, ask probing questions, and genuinely connect with that person and their story, my perception of their behavior becomes much more clear.

 

For example, someone who struggles with control issues might have a past that includes abuse or another type of situation where they had no control. Another person might struggle with avoidance of conflict because of being raised with an angry parent. If I get behind the behavioral curtain, and spend time empathically connecting with this person, I can see the world through their eyes and feel what they feel. In some ways I allow their story to inhabit me and I discover that there may have been a time when I have felt and acted the same way.

 

As a result of connecting through a person’s story, I now find myself becoming more patient and understanding. In some circumstances, I want to see that person free from those feelings and I find myself compelled to help.

 

I encourage you to try this sometime. Find the EGR (Extra Grace Required) person that you work or spend time with every day. Find the annoying guy, or the impatient girl, or the angry brother. Spend some time diving into their story and see how your outlook changes and ultimately how your relationship changes. Go ahead. I dare you.

By: Tim Urmston, CEO