How I was Lethal to Santa Claus -

Shel Israel inContext

How I was Lethal to Santa Claus


I was sitting between my two grandchildren in a darkened theater. I had the sudden urge to slap myself on the forehead. We were watching the Dallas Children’s Theater‘s annual–and charming–production of Miracle on 34th Street. The play is based on the 1948 movie about a nice old man who thinks he really is Santa Claus, gets a job playing Santa at Macy’s in Manhattan and sends shoppers to competing stores when those stores have a better deal.

The production we were watching is, of course, based on the 1948 movie of the same name, a movie I probably saw for the first time when I was younger than Isla, the youngest of my grandchildren. The same movie, now digitized, is probably playing in a theater near you because the story of how even the most capitalistic organization can be rewarded for being generous to customers is a classic, a story that almost everyone knows and most of us love.

The reason for my urge to slap myself is that I had not included Santa Claus in my recent book, Lethal Generosity. Santa proved that by losing a sale gains customer loyalty, generates favorable word-of-mouth, generates favorable media coverage and builds customer trust. It is a perfect story for my book’s first chapter, Lose to Gain, where I tell several stories that are more recent and a lot less fictional.

I talked about Robert Scoble who started out as a clerk in a camera store. He  used to send customers to a competitor, when that competitor had a better deal on a single product. He would end up selling those customers more profitable, after=sale add on gear. I talked about Hap Klopp, who had started up an outdoor gear retail operation.  One day, he fixed a sleeping bag that was under warranty by a competitor who originally sold it to the backpacker who would tell the story to other hikers and sending many new customers to the cluttered little store name The North Face. I wrote about the Mountain Sun Pub who gave customers who were cash short Karma Envelopes, trusting them to send what they owed in when they got the chance. I wrote about tire store merchants, a beer brewers, shoe makers and eyeglass designers, all of whom were prospering by baking generosity toward customers and social causes into their brand strategies.

I wrote an entire book about generosity strategies, particularly those that used contextual technologies such as mobile, social media, data, location technologies and sensors. I wrote about cars and phones and the sharing economy and technology that allows merchants to know what every customer’s intentions are.

But I forgot to mention Santa Claus and that realization came to me as I sat watching this marvelous Christmas story being passed on to my grandchildren. Yet Santa Claus is the most lethally generous of us all. Perhaps he does not actually exist, but the idea of him does and it lives on and will continue to do so even when the remainder of the season’s news remains as bleak as it sometimes appears to be.

4760_23138_WhiteBebo_0913cphoto2 Dallas production was excellent with great singing and acting. The guy that played Kris Kringle look like the real
Claus to me, but then so does my friend Bebo White. It seems to me that Santa Claus–like Lethal Generosity–can be found where you look for them: And when you do stumble across them it is always a good thing.

I noticed that there were a few subtle but important updates in the Dallas production. In the movie, Macy’s arch rival was Gimbals, a department store that has long since passed into the retail hereafter. In the Dallas production, the competitor was Bloomingdale’s.  This was a good play as far as mass audiences go.

However I found some irony because Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s are both part of Federated Stores a holding company for several major retail brands. In short, when Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s compete for customers, it ultimately goes nto the same business entity.

I happen to know executives at both companies and I assure you that this is really the way it is. Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Sak’s and Neiman’s all compete vigorously for every customer penny despite the corporate parentage. As far as I am concerned, this as it should be.

The best way each of these brands can beat the others is to use modern technologies to practice Lethal Generosity strategies.

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