One Tough Mother: Unwrapping the Meaning of A Sweatshirt
How this sweatshirt made meaningful progress in a mother's life.
I’m a sucker for a good hero’s journey. The hero is thrust into a situation, she has internal, external and philosophical problems. She meets a guide, who gives her a plan, and after many close calls, she emerges victorious and transformed. Think Luke Skywalker, Django, Neo and, less violently, Mrs. Maisel. This was the case of a mother I talked to who went through a journey Joseph Campbell would laud and intellectualize, all of it related to a simple “One Tough Mother” sweatshirt. It’s not the destruction of the death star or saving the human race from the machines, but it’s one of my favorites, nevertheless. Unlike a traditional movie, however, this story can’t be told in sequence. It unfolds more like a detective figuring out the story where only after the full puzzle comes together, can the hero’s journey be told.
After speaking on a panel at a marketing conference I made my way back to my adopted table. My topic on the panel was related to mapping and using a “customer journey” in a business. Somewhere in there, I may have upset another panel member representing another company when they said something about their customer making an impulse purchase and I exclaimed, possibly too emphatically, “but there is no such thing as an impulse purchase!” Back at my table, there were many questions about the declaration and rather than explain it, I offered to prove it. I asked if anyone had made a recent impulse purchase. Amber, the young woman sitting next to me mentioned a sweat shirt she had purchased. A simple and perfect example.
After exchanging some generic pleasantries with Amber, I found out that she is in her mid-thirties, educated, successful and well regarded by her colleagues who were also at the table. And so, the interview began.
I quickly found out that Amber purchased a sweatshirt that said “One Tough Mother.” I learned a little about Amber’s home life. Seven months prior, Amber and her husband had their first child, an adorable baby girl, hence the moniker of mother makes sense. But why tough?
Moving on I asked Amber about her buying habits. What does she buy for herself? Apparently, after giving birth, a mother tends to stop buying anything for herself and only makes purchases for her new baby. Being a dense 38-year-old single male, this was complete news to me. I pushed. “Literally nothing?” “Not a pair of shoes, not a t-shirt, or a new bra?” She confirmed, in a lighthearted and gently instructive manner that yes, indeed, this is how life works, you silly man. This sweatshirt, it turns out, was the first non-necessity purchase she had made for herself since the baby came. We're getting somewhere.
When making any purchase, there is always a first thought. That little inclination in the back of your mind that maybe some product or service might be something worth considering. I asked her if she could recall the first time she had ever seen the sweatshirt. She had seen it four months prior on Instagram. She stopped on the ad, she registered it as cute and moved on to more pressing matters in her life.
A month later, she saw it again on Instagram while at work. This time though, she solicited the opinion of a colleague. That same colleague happened to be sitting at the table and recalled when her opinion was solicited. The colleague exclaimed how she told Amber it was "so cute" and urged her to buy it at once, prematurely declaring herself the linchpin of the sale! Alas, in all hero’s journeys, a glimmer of hope is squashed forcing our hero to trudge onward. No sale yet.
Amber waited another two months before completing her journey to purchase her “One Tough Mother” sweatshirt and maintained that the purchase on that day was just an impulse. We are missing the best part of the story. Leaning on the Matrix analogy, we know that Neo was pulled out of the matrix, that Morpheus thinks he is “the one” and that he failed his first “jump.” And then we have skipped to the part of the story where Neo can stop bullets with his mind and kill agents by jumping into their bodies. We've watched the movie to the middle and then skipped to the end.
Let’s transition to screenplay format for a moment for the next part:
Do you remember the day of the week that you made the purchase?
I think it was a Saturday. Yes. It was…
Where were you when you made the purchase?
Um. I wassssss at the island at my kitchen.
What time of day was it?
It was in the early afternoon.
Can you tell me a little about what was going on in your life at that time? What were you doing earlier that day? What was going on that week? That month?
Amber pauses a moment. You can see her really struggling to recall. She doesn’t seem to know where I’m going with all this but is enjoying the cathartic nature of the discussion. Her eyes widen… she remembers.
That week was a really hard week at work. Work had been hard that month but that week was particularly stressful but I got through it and I was happy it was the weekend. That morning I had just finished an exercise class challenge. I had signed up to do 20 classes in 30 days and that Saturday morning was the last class. I basically got home from the class, took a shower and bought the sweatshirt.
Thank you, Amber. You’re my hero.
Ambers Timeline in Jobs language:
Amber, a hard-working wife, became a mother. Amber struggled with balancing her new role as a mother, with her existing roles as a professional and a wife. All resources went to her new baby. In fact, she felt guilty buying herself anything at all which became a habit. She was struggling with her identity. She was struggling with her time. Any dollars spent on her instead of her daughter gave her anxiety. Her habits and anxieties were making it hard for her to make progress towards an identity she could own, the outcome she was seeking.
Then..... she sees a sign! The sign tells her who she needs to be and she likes it. It defines the identity she wants but she is not that person yet. She feels that she doesn’t deserve it no matter what her coworkers say. Her habits and anxieties could not yet be toppled.
Her baby is now 5 months old and the context of her situation is changing. She’s starting to get the hang of balancing her life. She enrolls in an exercise class. 20 classes in 30 days. She's a warrior. She completes the class challenge while pushing through a very hard week of work while still being a wife and mother. She is one tough mother and the sweatshirt that says it is her trophy, her new uniform. Our hero has transformed.
In a jobs based sentence: When I have a major change in my life that has disrupted my identity, help me regain an identity that I can be proud of, help me show myself and others that I have regained it.
As an innovator, I combine a story like this with an assessment of new and existing technology with broad-based social and emotional trends to determine what experience I could build for people like Amber. An experience could be products, services, messages and more that are all targeted at accomplishing the job within the context of the situation.
For example, in this case, to improve customer acquisition costs, I might recommend serving ads that target new mothers who are signing up for exercise classes rather than just mothers in general. I'd also look for other life events that are common that tend to disrupt identity and create products and ads to target these as well.
On a bigger scale, I might think about a new upstream business. Could we create an online exercise class catered specifically towards new mothers who have similar struggles as Amber? Adding a social aspect to this class could help as well. When the class is completed, participants could get a "One Tough Mother" sweatshirt. Build the sweatshirt right into the price and turn it into an advertising avenue!
This is just a bit of whimsical spit-balling before much work and analysis would be needed but no doubt the work would have a worthy purpose!
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About me: I am a founder, builder, learner, executive, investor, strategist and innovator. An innovation and new venture expert on designing, developing and launching new products and services. A driver of transformational change through culture, strategy, team health and clarity. A life-long learner, reading a book a week and constantly seeking out new ideas and frameworks. I think big and get stuff done.