Monday, May 28, 2018

Medium is the Message (Tradecraft)

I went with my son to watch Solo yesterday. We made a day of it with lunch at the theater and comic books afterwards. This movie has been brutally attacked by the fan community, but I mostly went to see what I could salvage from Donald Glover's performance as Lando. Instead, I found an entertaining movie, a compelling if predictable storyline, and strong character development. I think it was the best of the recent crop of rebooted Star Wars films.

Most importantly, my 13 year old son, who is more the target audience than myself, was completely engaged and barely able to contain himself. He grabbed me when I got up to use the restroom during a bit of dialogue, "You're going to miss the best part!" It was all the best part for him. He was also happy at the end because they didn't murder the main characters, which left him upset and less likely to want to see a movie after Infinity War, Rogue One and The Last Jedi. So why is everyone so down on this movie?

This movie is tanking at the box office, mostly because fans watched the sausage being made. They read about changes of directors, how one actor was so bad they had to hire an acting couch, how we were brutally putting to bed the past by killing off our beloved characters and now a prequel! Robots calling for equal rights!!!??? How dare they! We shall show them the power of the force of geekery! Damn Social Justice Warriors! SJW! Other acronyms!

The medium had become the message, to bring in Marshall McCluhan. The story of Solo was about corporate greed and milking Solo until he became an empty husk of a character. Next chapter, Solo the Lich King. Why would anyone want to see that? The final product was fantastic, but it didn't matter.

When I think of The Last Jedi, I think of this shot, not even in the movie.
Mark Hamill realizing the fate of Luke Skywalker.

Your medium becoming your message can happen to any business. When you let go of a beloved employee, cancel a popular event, drop a product line, all things that will need to happen at some point, the customers will begin to associate the quality of your store with the behind the scenes activities that should have nothing to do with their shopping experience. Your authenticity comes into question.

We are not just their shopping experience, we are their cultural touchstone. Our authenticity, our ability to confirm their place in the tribe, our ability to commiserate with the perpetual lack of plastic Battle Sisters, that's what we do. They reward us, while they're engaging in culture, by buying something. The buying is often incidental, especially nowadays. By the way, customers will think this is overblown and deny this, as they deny much of their instinctual behavior that we just barely understand. That's fine, but we know it to be true.

We are the medium. It is our message. However, because it's such a fuzzy concept, much like Top of Mind or Word of Mouth, it's something we rarely consider in the brutal world of retail. It's a subjective and fuzzy thing. A great game store, like a great game publisher, will have equal business sense with equal amounts of authenticity mojo.

We can do a lot of damage when we don't maintain our medium. We can lose our message without even knowing it. Most game stores are by their nature not professional operations, so most are at risk at any time of having their message get away from them. The only saving grace for unprofessional small stores is their undeniable passion. In passion there is forgiveness.

The bigger threat may be for the larger stores. Management naturally grows farther away from day to day operations and their authentic message. I rarely work the sales floor. If my business hits the next stage of development, my manager will rarely work the sales floor -- something I'll add, management is well aware of and not interested in doing. That's because they love the customers, and if they wanted to work a corporate desk job, they could go make a lot more money doing it somewhere else. You can become so big, people stop going there, to paraphrase Yogi Berra.

Anyway, great movie. You are the message. Just don't get cocky, kid.

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