Friday Flash: Magical thinking

Do you feel better when the airport gate agent greets you with a smile instead of a cold stare?

Has a vase or a carpet ever “pulled a room together” for you?

Did you feel unusually capable the first time you got Face ID to work on your iPhone?

Why does a beer always taste better when you drink it after a brewery tour?

The Wynn in Las Vegas always smells lightly floral in a way that isn’t cloying; the Cosmopolitan smells like cigarettes and sweat. I stay at the Wynn.

Small experiences and thoughtful design can create disproportionately large feelings. 

This is a foundational truth of branding. It is easy to dismiss, but it can be everything. 

At 1000WATT, we give a lot of credence to “Big Little Things” — the sometimes small differences in language, design, and customer experience that produce outsize results. 

People often breeze past these considerations, or wave them away as “unmeasurable.” There’s a sale to make, an agent to recruit, numbers to hit, products to ship. 

It’s a mistake. 

Look around and you’ll see companies that value this stuff, to great advantage. 

Chick-fil-A produces a very tasty chicken sandwich, but if you’ve been there you know that there’s something else memorable about them — the “my pleasure” response you’ll get from every employee in most interactions. It’s a small, nearly costless gesture that makes one feel just a little bit better about being at Chick-fil-A than at Popeye’s, which also makes a very tasty chicken sandwich. These small emotional margins feed financial margins. 

Consider, more broadly, the independent bookstore. Twenty years ago we assumed they would be annihilated by Amazon. 15 years ago, when the Kindle was released, we thought books themselves were doomed. They were not. In fact, according to Harvard Business School research, the number of independent bookstores in America increased 40% between 2009 and 2018.  

There was doom, of course, but it fell upon the “big box” players like Borders, Waldenbooks, etc. Planting yet another Starbucks into these places wasn’t enough to save them. The experience they delivered remained vaguely counterfeit and thoroughly impersonal to the end. 

The genuine article, the small bookshop, won out on experience and the feelings created thereupon. You know what I mean, probably, but for me, it’s like this: 

My local bookstore, Walden Pond Books, has been in business forever, but got better in the Amazon era. More curation, more events, more connection with their informed staff. I buy books from Amazon sometimes, but I spend more time, and more money, at Walden Pond. Because it’s an experience, carefully considered and invariably pleasing. I feel good when I’m there. 

I had a Kindle for a while. It was OK, and certainly convenient. But damn if I don’t love books. I like the smell of them (particularly the old used ones), the feel of them, the pulling of an old favorite off my shelf to revisit a memorable passage. 

This kind of stuff is nearly indestructible.

This plays out closer to home, too. Think about Compass. The conventional wisdom is that agents have joined them because they were “bought,” and surely some were given significant signing bonuses or marketing allowances, or were affiliated with brokerages that were literally purchased. But that’s the easy take, one that captures only part of the story.

I think many agents join Compass because Compass makes them feel good about who they are and where they are going

We all know that our culture regards real estate agents as a professional category with suspicion, even scorn. It’s unfortunate but true. What our culture values highly, though, are startups and tech companies — especially high-growth tech companies. The cultural cool kids work at these places. 

Compass is a (ersatz, in my opinion) tech startup, one that offers agents a seat on a rocketship destined for real estate’s future. It gives agents a status feeling, and a sense of confidence, that is very rare in this business. The experience Compass has built to create and sustain this emotional draw is powerful. The sleek brand identity, the monogram agent and team logos that tuck into it, the high production value events, the offices that are the Wynn to many other brokers’ Cosmopolitan (or, too often, Circus-Circus) … it’s dozens of Big Little Things woven into an experience rooted in an emotional truth. 


But you don’t have to raise $2 billion to create magic. 

You just need to recognize the power to be grasped from trying to conjure it. 

If your company isn’t a member of 1000WATT Inside, and you want to get an edge in our changing industry, well, you really should join. 

I promise you will get tons of value.

Just this week, Insiders got:

  • A live workshop on video marketing (it lasted 75 minutes and everyone stayed until the end)
  • A mastermind session on recruiting talent that people are still talking about
  • Original research on what consumers want (and don’t want) from their agent post-transaction
  • An idea-sparking, “need to know” newsletter

And more. We’re limiting membership to 200 companies, and are about 80% sold out. If you want in, get in!

Have a peaceful weekend.