What can we learn from Anthony Bourdain?

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I have been watching Anthony Bourdain‘s, No Reservations since 2005 and love the show. I appreciate his intelligence, eloquence, humor and how I feel a little more worldly after every show. I have always said that you can’t really know someone until you see the place they grew up. Bourdain’s belief is that you can’t really know a culture until you eat what the locals are eating, where the locals eat it.

Bourdain has shown me things that I might have never seen. From watching him eat a bloody & raw seal on the kitchen floor of an Inuit Indian family to seeing his skeletal system rearranged in an Uzbekistan banya. (My wife laughed so hard I thought she was going to pass out.)

I’m not a foodie and yet I find myself compelled to watch the show every Monday. I’ve appreciated watching him evolve from a self-described snarky bastard to a man of the world. From the Malaysia show where he was reflecting on the impact of travel in his life to the Brazil episode where he was so happy, I almost did not recognize him; smiling and calm. If I sound like I think I know him; I do. At the very least I feel like I know him. That is what businesses need their customers to feel like.

What can we learn from Bourdain that will help us create deeper relationships with our customers?

Educate & enlighten – Taking a page out of the book of Jason Fried (he actually used the analogy of a chef when he spoke in Denver), building deep customer relationships is made easier when you become the trusted source. If you educate them directly or indirectly your business will be sought after.

Be the SME (pronounced ‘smee’) – This goes hand in hand with the last item. You can’t be the trusted source unless you continually invest in keeping up-to-date in your industry. Most industries don’t have one single SME for information. It is important to make your perspective known and back it up with relevant information. Also, being a SME does not mean anything unless you communicate what you know. I would argue that it is impossible to be a SME unless you educate and the more you communicate the more of a SME I would consider you.

Make me laugh – This is just a good way to reveal who you are as a company. Bourdain has the right balance of humor and insight. His form of humor also shows that he does not take himself seriously. I think this is very important for businesses. Unless you are in the business of cancer research; we are not curing cancer and yet we are feeding peoples families.

Be Transparent / honest – The Romania show “sucked” and he admitted it on his Travel Channel blog. Being honest is one of the keys to being transparent. It’s very easy when things are going well and much harder when things don’t go according to plan. Or the plan was completely off. Because of the Internet, customers are hyper-aware of what a company does. It’s best to embrace this and move on. (Again; from the book of Fried.)

Be flexible – Bourdain is willing to try new things (except dance and sing) and businesses should be willing to do the same. This does not mean abondon your core strengths. Also, since brand creation is now a collaborative effort, companies really don’t have a choice. Remember, everyone on the Internet has the potential to be a niche celebrity and businesses being flexible is going to become more and more important.

Have a personality – For a business, their brand is their personality and they need to empower their employees (some who blog) the way that T-Mobile has enabled their customer service. (I will be blogging about a recent customer service call I had.) This can go hand in hand with making my laugh but they are not necessarily aligned. Bourdain has a better personality because he is as reflective as he is funny.

Be willing to change – Bourdain has done this over the last several years and watching him evolve in some ways is like watching a good company grow. Apple is a perfect example. They are quiet different (yet the same) from when they started.

These are a few of the things that Bourdain does that I think companies can embrace. I also, think that these can be done in a way that builds deep relationships with customers.

As for me, I’ll be watching every Monday night . . . so . . . please don’t call.

By Michael Myers

I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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