Last month, my Grandmother died suddenly. She was in her 80s and had lived a full life, but we were all shocked nonetheless. We’d only ever known her as vital; how could someone so full of life suddenly be lifeless?
In the midst of my shock, her passing provided me another opportunity to consider what she had meant to me and our family. One of my memories was a moment when she delivered some grandmotherly advice to the then sixteen-year-old Kyndra. She told me that I should always have a place for people to sit in the kitchen because that’s where they end up anyway. At the time of her advice, I remember feeling a little short-changed. This was the matriarch in the family and that was the big piece of advice? It didn’t seem deep enough to qualify as the “meaning of life” advice I thought a grandmother should pass down to her eldest granddaughter. I expected something far less practical and much more inspirational—ideally pertaining to God or the essential unity of humankind or something. She had raised six kids and traveled the world for God’s sake.
Over time, however, I came to understand her advice and her role in our family differently. She was the core of our family. She didn’t demand her central role, she didn’t bluster and bully until the title was given her. We have big personalities and blusterers in the family, and Gram humored and teased them when their opinions hit a fevered pitch, but she was not one of them. Instead, she quietly facilitated the family system by welcoming us…all sixty of us. She routinely hosted the marathon family holidays and parties when we all got together. In between holidays, we knew that we could drop by Gram’s kitchen at any time and find a warm welcome, an attentive ear and a non-judgmental heart. On different occasions, each of us was invited to accompany her abroad. And even away from her country, kitchen and home, she was a steadying spirit that was up for whatever our adventure brought our way. If I had to spin my Gram’s personal brand into a tagline, it would be this: “Open hearth, welcome hearts.”
Now I see that her advice wasn’t about kitchen furniture and where to arrange it. Now, I can see that what she was telling me. She lived the knowledge that people’s souls are seldom force-fed giant life-changing inspirational nuggets that nearly chokes and undoes them. People’s souls are more commonly fed by simple, special touches that say, “You matter, I see you. You matter. Come and be with me, share my space; you are no imposition, you are welcome.” Her advice about seating in the kitchen was only the manifestation of the values she held and through them, we were fed in more ways than one.
Starbucks, the celebrity brand of the last decade has shown us that what they sell is way more than coffee; it’s a four-dollar, handmade way to treat ourselves to the casual, sophisticated life of a French café…whether we’re networking with a prospective client, walking through Chicago O’Hare or shopping for groceries. Some of you might have seen the pre-election ads Starbucks took out online to offer voters a free coffee in thanks of their caring enough to vote. The ad endorses people to care as much about effecting positive change after the election as they do before the election and ends with the assertion: “It’s bigger than coffee.”
The lesson is this. In spite of, or perhaps because of the many technologies that facilitate and plague our lives, we are still fundamentally organic beings who instinctively respond to emotional and existential cues. What’s the bigger meaning behind what you do and what it means for people? Is your staff plugged into this simple but important sense of a larger meaning or are they merely arranging furniture and making coffee?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
Seasoned Marketing Strategist