For the time I’ve known Elaine she has lived out of her small two-door black Ford pickup in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. She usually arrives late in the day in hopes that she is first to get the parking space under the big oak tree where there is some shade and provides a little more security.
She will sleep in her old truck until the sun and the temperature begin to rise, and it becomes uncomfortable. Then she will make her way to a nearby park or library after she stops to get some coffee at the local Whataburger.
Also, Elaine is 88 years old.
My wife and I met Elaine just under that old oak tree in the Walmart parking lot about two years ago. We were shopping late one evening and noticed some stray kittens around Walmart that were hungry. We began making it our daily routine since that day to bring some food and water to the cats that live at Walmart, under that big oak tree, the place where we met Elaine. Now we check on her daily and have developed a genuine friendship.
In spite of being 88 years old, Elaine has dreams of one day finding a place to live in the country that is not so expensive. She gets a smile on her face when she talks about growing up in the country and raising her family. For now, she refuses to live in a cramped up apartment or a senior home.
To an initial outsider who encounters Elaine, it would only be natural to assume that since she is living out of her pickup truck, that she is hungry, destitute, and lonely. Lonely, yes but hungry and destitute would be a false assumption.
If anything it’s a misalignment of values and challenges our assumptions. My first reaction when I met Elaine was we have to help her find a place to live and make sure she has some food to eat. My response was based on my assumption and fit my narrative — but not Elaine’s. I was focused on my story and how it should play out and not in her story.
The reality is she has food to eat, and she chooses to live out of her pickup truck. Many people including family members have offered her a place to live. She lives each day in spite of her age looking forward to a dream that one day she will find her country home, that will be hers for the rest of her life.
In marketing, it’s easy to focus only on our story and how we want to connect with customers. The misalignment often occurs when we become so focused on our story and getting a sale that we fail to take the time to see and understand the customer’s story.
The challenge for us all is to disrupt our assumptions and learn about our customer’s wants and needs with knowledge, discernment, and truth. We seek and find these by noticing, questioning, and understanding.