Saturday, November 1, 2008

Love the messenger

I'd had Korean food before, but as this was my first trip to Korea House I wanted something different, something authentic, maybe even adventurous. Friday lunch at Smart Bear is usually interesting.

PJ recommended the bibimbap, a bowl of rice covered in Korean namul with beef and an egg. Perfect, but when our waiter got around to Hannah -- herself Korean -- she ordered the dolsot bibimbap. Ooo, it's a sign! So when it was my turn I asked the waiter the obvious question: "What's the difference between bibimbap and dolsot bibimbap?"

His answer: "Dolsot bibimbap better."

That's it! Better. Well of course I ordered the dolsot, and it was fantastic. Turns out "dolsot" means "stone pot." The dish is served in a hot stone or ceramic pot hot enough to sizzle and cook anything that touches the sides. The rice gets crispy, the egg cooks, and the veggies and meat stay extra hot.

At this point, my long-time readers will expect me to make some point about how marketing messages need to be more specific than "it's better," how differentiation always trumps ambiguity, and how every phrase should be meaningful. But actually, his response was perfect.

It was perfect because it wasn't in an ad, wasn't in a datasheet, wasn't part of a 30-second elevator pitch mechanically regurgitated on a tradeshow floor. It was from an old Korean guy who works his ass off at Korea House, possibly seven days a week, probably related to the owner. He barely knows enough English to parse my question -- certainly not enough to articulate the answer -- but he did his best to push me to the right choice, the one that was $1 more and 2x better.

It's the messenger, not the message, that makes the experience wonderful.

So yes, on websites you do need to be specific because websites aren't relationships; they're attention-getters and information-distributers. But as soon as the human relationship begins -- whether by sales pitch or tech support or tradeshow booth -- the most important thing is to be genuine in your passion, knowledge, and desire to make your customers successful.