Lethal generosity in my neighbourhood: Taste of Wellington West 2009

This Saturday, drug 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?

Sushi kids

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.

“Lethal Generosity”

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

Heavy construction didn't keep the huge crowds away in 2008 (shown here) or 2009.
Heavy construction didn't keep the huge crowds away in 2008 (shown here) or 2009.

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.

Even though we had a blossoming arts community, many dozens of restaurants, our own outdoor farmer’s market, and the biggest cluster of owner-operated gourmet food shops this side of Montreal, other neighbourhoods were getting all the attention because they were organized, and were investing in building their brands.

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: 

The more you give, the more lethal you are. Absynthe gave away full sized gourmet Buffalo Burgers - resulting in longer lines.
The more you give, the more lethal you are. Absinthe gave away full sized gourmet Buffalo Burgers - resulting in longer lines.

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:

More pictures here (Picasa Web album of 130+ photos)

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.

The first Big Question of branding (plus special offer for Boot Camp)

Next week, approved on Thursday August 27, find we’ll be holding another Beg to DIFFER Brand Strategy Boot Camp in Ottawa with partners the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI)and Brandvelope Consulting. As part of the Camp, page we’ll be dealing with the 4 Big Questions of Branding – the four fundamental things humans need to know about any product as they build their mental picture of it. You’ll find a preview of Question #1 below in SlideShare format.

Discount on Boot Camp registration for Beg to DIFFER readers.
For those interested in attending our Ottawa Brand Strategy Boot Camp, scroll down to find out more.

The 1st Big Question of Branding:

More about Boot Camp:

Blog Post: 5 Reasons to Attend the Beg to DIFFER Brand Strategy Boot Camp
Info from OCRI: OCRI Event Page

Discount on Boot Camp registration for Beg to DIFFER readers.
For those interested in attending Boot Camp, we’re offering a special discount for readers of this blog. To claim your discount:
1) Click through the presentation above: (1st Big Question of Branding)
2) Register for Boot Camp.
3) When registering, quote the name of the mystery product used as an example in the presentation below and you’ll receive $25 off the price of either half day or full day Boot Camp.
4) If you want to invite a colleague or recommend this to someone else, please do! They’ll also qualify for the discounted price.

Quick registration links (provided by OCRI):

Register Online | Register by Fax | Add to your Outlook* (Half-Day) | Add to your Outlook* (Full-Day)

Announcing: Ottawa Brand Strategy Boot Camp – August 27

Registration has just opened for the August edition of our successful Beg to DIFFER Brand Strategy Boot Camp – brought to you by the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) and Brandvelope Consulting.

Wide angle - brighter
Dennis fields questions at the last OCRI Beg to DIFFER Brand Strategy Bootcamp in May 2009.

generic Helvetica, information pills sans-serif; FONT-SIZE: +3″>Register here at the OCRI Web site.

This  boot camp is for all managers and executives with marketing, PR, or communication responsibility–whether in technology, government, not-for-profit, or other industries.  Basically, if you manage a brand and want to learn how to manage it for maximum connection and value (for your customers and for yourself) this boot camp is for you.


Thursday August 27, 2009


Nepean Sailing Club 3259 Carling Avenue

Two Options:

OPTION 1: Half-Day Bootcamp – morning only

  • 8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. – Registration and Coffee
  • 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Seminar 

OPTION 2: Full-Day Bootcamp

  • Morning seminar (as above), plus:
  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch
  • 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. – Hands-on Workshop

Why you should attend:

Reason 1: morning session

Dennis at front -square
Morning Session provides theory, practical case studies, & tips

This seminar provides a great overview of three important topic areas for all Brand Managers:

  • What is a brand, and why is it important? You’re being branded one way or the other; we’ll help you take control.
  • The building blocks of brands. How to analyze, develop, and leverage the different facets of corporate strategy to ensure that your brands are making the right promises, and following through.
  • Brand management. How to use the brand elements and marketing tools at your disposal to manage your image in the minds of consumers. How to be a brand stickler without being seen as a “brand cop”. How to get your colleagues to live the brand.
  • Reason 2: afternoon workshop (only for full-day participants)

    Afternoon workshop (available only to full-day bootcampers) is more interactive, and involves hands-on critique of your brand.

    In this smaller-group setting, you’ll get a chance to apply the theory from the morning to your brand and get help from other participants and the workshop leaders.  The workshop will allow you to do a point-by-point inspection all the aspects of your brand. But note that the afternoon is for active participants only; be ready to give and take constructive feedback.

    Reason 3: Take-aways

    All participants will receive 1) Beg to DIFFER Brand Strategy Workbook  plus, full-day participants will also get 2) a personalized assesment of your brand strengths and challenges.

    Reason 4: Beautiful setting

    Nepean Sailing club is at 3259 Carling Avenue, just West of Andrew Haydon Park – only a short drive from downtown and Kanata. This venue offers stunning scenery and a relaxed atmosphere – we took the photo below from just outside the conference room. It’s the perfect place to spend a late August day gearing your brand up for the fall. Google Map here.

    Back deck
    Boot Camp will be held at the beautiful Nepean Sailing Club - 3259 Carling Avenue on Lac Deschênes near Andrew Haydon Park

    Reason 5: don’t take our word for it

    “I thoroughly enjoyed the day and want to thank you and your colleagues for your efforts. I believe this seminar is a definite requirement in the Ottawa area and you have already put in place many of the cornerstones to build on to make this a truly awesome and interactive event for new and seasoned brand management professionals.”

    Dan Chaput
    Director, Marketing Communications
    March Networks

    Register here at the OCRI Web site.

    Tag lines: would you buy a house from a guy in a kilt?

    Differentiation is good. Very very good. I made the point in my post about the Ottawa Shawarma scene that in a crowded, site undifferentiated marketplace, for sale finding a catchy gimmick is a great way to get people to remember you. This unfortunately is the other side of the “personal branding” coin.

    Guy in Kilt

    Yes, cheap I noticed it. Yes, I remembered it. But no, I’m not going to buy a house from you my Scottish friend.

    A good tag line should do at leat one of the following a) tell me what you do if I don’t already know, b) tell me how you do your thing better than anyone else, and / or c) make an emotional connection to show me how “sympatico” you are with me – how you think like I do about your subject area. 
    This one does none of those things.

    5 Reasons this tag line won’t get me to hire the guy in the kilt:

    1) It doesn’t tell me what you do for me.  The tag line doesn’t tell me anything about your business – and mine. How well / differently do you do what you want me to hire you to do: buy or sell property? Kilt does not equal real estate excellence in my mind. Sorry.

    2) It’s all about you. There are perhaps a few large egos in the Real Estate business, and this one makes me suspect you might be among them. If you’re not, show me that by not focusing your ad entirely on yourself. If you are, just save your money and commission a statue of yourself in your back yard. Maybe a little shrine.

    3) I don’t want to see you in a kilt. I would be incredibly uncomfortable meeting you in person – especially if you were actually wearing a kilt. Don’t get me wrong, a kilt can be very classy at a wedding or a military Tattoo. But it’s an eccentric thing – kind of like telling people you are a closet Klingon speaker or always wear socks with fish on them. You’ll get remembered, but it doesn’t build your brand.

    4) There is such a thing as bad publicity / attention / memorable-ness. While I was taking this picture, a random passer-by laughed out loud at the ad. And not in a “ha ha that’s so clever I want to by a house from him” kind of way. Enough said.

    5) My wife is a MacDonald. Apparently there’s some kind of ancient blood feud. Something about your ancestors murdering a bunch of her ancestors in their sleep. Sorry. Nothing personal. But you did bring up the ethnic thing.