This Saturday, I had the privilege of photographing some of my favourite people from my favourite place in the world doing what they love to do. The event was the third annual Taste of Wellington West festival – when the food shops and restaurants of my neighbourhood in Ottawa give away free samples of thier food to benefit a local food bank. What could be better?
From a marketing perspective, of course, the idea of giving away free food is a guaranteed hit and a very smart stratgey. But what’s better, I see this as a practical example of a term Shel Israel introduced me to a couple weeks ago – first on Twitter, and later when he visited Ottawa to promote his book Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods.
Here’s Israel’s own definition of this term from his Web site:
Shel Isreal: Lethal Generosity is the business strategy of doing as much good for your customer as possible, thereby screwing your competitor who has to either follow your lead or ignore programs that serve them.
Don’t you love that idea? Now, “lethal” and “screw your competitor” are hard-edged, cut-throat words. But they get your attention don’t they? In reality this is a “bad cop” way of describing a very “good cop” phenomenon. Because actually lethal generosity only works when you do it the way we do it in Wellington West: generosity comes first; lethality follows.
So here’s how I’d (humbly) alter Israel’s definition to put the emphasis on the strategic sequence of events:
Denvan: Lethal Generosity is 1) doing something warm, human, and generous that endears you deeply to your community, which 2) also has the pleasant side effect of giving you an incredible competitive advantage, 3) forcing others to either follow your lead or look really stupid.
Taste of Wellington West
A couple years ago, I helped out with the establishment of the Wellington West Business Improvement Area (BIA) – partially as a response to other local areas who had been running their own BIAs for years – particularly Westboro, Somerset Chinatown, and Preston Street.
What’s more, we were facing three years of heavy disruption from a massive and dirty construction project that would replace century-old sewer and water lines and make a wasteland of our street, and chase away customers.
So how do you compete with all that? Well, you build on your strengths. In our case, the incredibly warm and quirky characters who ran the shops and restaurants of our neighbourhood – who could always be counted on to give their time, money, and products to worthy local causes. But now they had a new weapon: a way to organize, mobilize, and capitalize on their native generosity to help them through a tough time.
The trick: to be more generous:
Generosity, in the form of Taste of Wellington West, has helped us to bring thousands of new customers into our area at a time when most would rather stay away. And it allows locals a risk-free way of trying new places and meeting the humans behind those shops. I particularly love the picture of the kids trying the sushi. It really captures the spirit of the day: passionate merchants sharing their passions with people.
But even more interesting, the merchants themselves have started to compete with each other to see who can out-generous whom. One high-end restaurant created waves by offering meal-sized Buffalo burgers, while another that had opted not to participate, had to reluctantly start giving stuff away. One of the employees told me: “everybody’s asking where the free stuff is. It’s just easier this way.”
Slideshow of some people pictures from the day:
What I love about these pictures:
1) The warmth: I’d call these people the salt of the earth, but “spice of the city” is closer to home. Don’t those smiles just make you want to move to my neighbourhood?
2) The energy: these are always hard-working people, but for one day they double their workload to make magic in the process.
3) The variety: from the high end restaurant to the tiny family groceteria, everyone brought something different (and yummy) to the table.
4) The food: my biggest regret is being on the wrong side of the camera again this year! I get hungry all over again looking at these.