I’m a streetwalker. Sorry—I don’t mean to freak out my kids, who may be thinking I’m trying to earn extra money for my next trip to Italy, Scotland, or Mexico! Actually, I’m talking about walking the streets of any town I visit, along with my own neighborhood. Why do I walk so much? To observe, explore and experience the nuances and cues of a place. It is my favorite hobby.
When I was a child, we would take family road trips—four of us piled into the station wagon along with mom and dad. Long days for sure, but when we arrived, the kids would hit the swimming pool—a prerequisite for choice of motels. Meanwhile dad would take a walk—probably to get a reprieve from us noisy kids. He was also a thinker, and often quiet. I’m sure he also walked in order to take in the local scene and assimilate life. So I suppose I come by my walking naturally. It's in my DNA.
Walking gives me a different view and opens my blinders to new ways of living. Of course if you are destination or exercise driven, which I’m occasionally guilty of, you walk for different reasons. Not a stroll to observe, but to reach 10,000 steps.
In unfamiliar surroundings, however, I slow down, listen, and “feel” the personality of a locale, glimpsing into the hearts and souls of others. I notice the homes with gnomes in the yards, the countless bird feeders, and forgotten holiday decorations. I wonder about the trikes in the driveway, the herb gardens, and the poetry posts. Everything offers clues about the lives of those around me. In such moments I am richer by being a part of these lives.
Walking reminds me to think about the human condition, and how unique we all are. My mind certainly wanders, and I realize that what we reflect on the outside of a house, apartment or office, may be a partial mirror to our internal dreams, desires, wants and needs.
Within the world of marketing, walking may also help us better understand our customers. Years ago, I worked for a large insurance company that was trying to create products for the uninsured. At one point, I challenged the CMO to ride the local bus within the downtown corridor. I wanted him to see and observe “real” people, not how we imagined them in corporate planning sessions.
As you find yourself wondering what your customers want and seeking data to back up or drive your thinking, take a field trip outside. Walk a new neighborhood, or even your own. To borrow an Italian phrase, take a passegiata, a stroll with friends. You’ll get more than exercise—you’ll gain insight into the people and world around you.