Episode #169: I Love a Parade

Grad Conn

December 7, 202119 min read

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Everyone loves a parade. Including me. Today we talk about my own participation in the venerable Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and why process, organization, and workflow are so valuable when building customer experiences. Because you’ve got to get the little things right, in order for your customers to enjoy the big things.

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Ride of the Valkyries. That’s our theme for this year

Blast Mass 1:1 everywhere. That’s our vision. All right, so welcome to the Unified CXM Experience. It’s a little different today, we decided to start filming these. And so you see me here in my Florida studio. I’ve just moved in or just moving in so it’s kind of a mess behind me. I’m strategically blocking most of the really bad stuff with my body. So you can’t see the really crazy stuff but there’s a little bit of stuff on the sides. You can see I’m a little bit OCD, so I’ve got a lot of organizing done and more organizing to do. But still plenty to keep me busy and keep me off the streets. So what else were we going to do differently today? Oh yeah, we decided to start the filming on a day when I had to do a 3am presentation to Japan. So pretty cool, did a two-hour presentation to one of our customers. And so I’ve been up since 2:30 this morning. So that seems like the perfect time to start a new theme song and put it all on video. So we’ll see what happens. You know, if this doesn’t turn out, we just don’t have to ever air it. Although that’s kind of not our thing, right Randy? We kind of air at all. Every once in a while, it’s a little intimidating knowing that no matter what I do, you’re going to be putting it out there.

But anyway, I’ve got a glass of a very fine new product. It’s a beverage from another one of our customers, the Coca Cola Company, and it’s their new Coca Cola coffee. And this is caramel flavored. It’s quite a potent mixture of flavors, caramel, plus coffee, plus Coca Cola – delicious! And about as much caffeine as you can stuff into a can with a little bit caramel. So you’re going to see me sip that a bit as we go through this. This glass is a 1970s owl glass. These are owls on here, like cool. Thomason antique store.

I want to talk about an experience I had last week. It’s not specifically a marketing experience, but it kind of is, in a way. And so I think I’ll go through it. It was a very unique experience, and something that not many people get a chance to do. So I was extremely fortunate and very blessed to have had this experience. And I sure hope I have it again. But if I don’t, that’s okay because it was a pretty amazing to do it even just the one time. So what I’m going to talk about today is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Now I grew up in Canada and in Canada, there’s not a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade because there’s not a Macy’s. And I guess it’s broadcast and we might be able to see it. But that’s not a thing you do in Canada because Thanksgiving in Canada is a completely different time of year. So in Canada, there’s a department store that’s long gone, but it was called Eaton’s and Eaton’s was the Macy’s of Canada. And they used to do a Santa Claus parade. Probably around the similar time, maybe a little bit later. It always felt like early December. And Eaton’s would run that parade in Toronto, and I went many, many times. It was a big favorite of the family. The Royal Ontario Museum had, at one point, a patio that overlooked the parade route. And we would go up there and get seats. And it was a very special part of my life for a really long time. And so I do get parades.

But when I came to the US, I could see this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was a really big deal for people. And partly because families would make their Thanksgiving Day meal with the parade playing in the background. So it’s this kind of background soundtrack to everyone’s life going back to when they were as young as possible. So everyone’s been baked in it from day one. And then there’s this movie called Miracle on 34th Street, which I’d also never seen, which takes place around and about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and it’s about Macy’s as well and Gimbels and, and so it’s, again, a piece of Americana that would fly over my head as a Canadian, but as I started becoming an American, which I am an American now, and as I became more imbued in American culture, I would start to get but I didn’t really have any exposure to it until I met my fiancée, Rachel.

When I moved to the US, I moved with my family. And we were all Canadians. And so it’s kind of a Canadian bubble inside an American stream. And there was some cultural transmission, but still a lot of Canadian. Once I was divorced, and met someone new, I met an American who is a New Yorker. And it was really interesting suddenly meeting somebody who was an actual American from Day One. And it’s extraordinary how many words are different, and the culture gap is extraordinary. It’s amazing when you see it, but she’s fascinated by how I approach things. And I was pretty interested in how she approached things. So it’s working out well. But one of the things that she showed me was Miracle on 34th Street, which is her favorite Christmas movie, and taught me all about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was a big part of her family tradition.

And so Rachel would go down every year with her Dad and Mom, and it was a really big part of her life, and she has been to every parade. Then our very first fall together, she had this very interesting trick, which I’m not going to share, but she has a way of being able to get into the balloon inflation area. And she goes and watches all the balloons get inflated and makes an evening of it and brings friends and goes for drinks and it’s an extraordinary night, and it started giving me a peek into the character of this person that I was falling in love with. And so at that moment I thought, “I’ve got to get her into this parade”.

She’d always wanted to be in the parade and had never been in the parade. And the following year, of course, it was canceled because of COVID. And through the good graces of some excellent friends of mine, and some connections and some donations and a bunch of other luck, I guess, a bit, I managed to get Rachel into the parade this year with me. And so the two of us were in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And we were assigned the roles of clowns, which is a pretty awesome role. And I’ll talk about that again in a second. And the type of clown we were, we were called Silly Sailors. So we were dressed in little sailor outfits with blue wigs. And we were very silly. I’ll definitely check off the silly part. And clowns have an interesting function in the parade, because the parade is essentially one long piece of traffic, with a stop at the end, in front of Macy’s, where they perform for the cameras.

And it’s about a three plus mile route, which is not super-duper far, mile wise, but it does feel far because you go from 82nd, all the way to 34th. So it feels like a reasonable walk. And you’re clipping along pretty fast. So we got into our silly sailor mode. And I gave this to her as a present. It was her birthday; I won’t say which one. It was her birthday, and so gave it to her as a gift and it was well received. And what I wanted to talk about today was two things. One, was the way that Macy’s executes the parade, and what it felt like to be a clown. And you know, many people have said, for many years, that I am a clown. But now I actually have proof because I took pictures. And then I want to talk a little bit about the crowds. The reception of what we were doing was very interesting. And again, like I said, I’ve not done it before. So it was a fascinating experience.

So let’s talk a little bit about Macy’s. So first of all, unbelievable! Now it was the 95th year, so they’ve had a few times to practice. But wow, what a machine! They work all year long on this. And there’s a whole team that works on the parade and shows. As soon as we were in the program, we started getting emails, we got onboarded. We were giving them our dimensions, so they knew what kind of costume to put us in. There were a lot of COVID protocols, uploading our vaccine cards, all that kind of stuff was in there; lots of very informative stuff; this is where you need to be; this is how you need to be there; here’s your official pass; show this pass and it’ll get you in; if you don’t have the pass, you’re not going to get in. Basically, everyone met at the New Yorker Hotel at 6:45am. And so, you should get there, they give you a wrist kind of Purell attached to a little bracelet. And if you don’t have that bracelet, you’re not allowed on the truck or in the parade or the bus, like that’s it. So that was your identifier.

And then you go in, and there’s a dresser for that particular set of clowns. So the Silly Sailors had a dresser. And she was amazing and showed us how to put the costume on and helped us with it, and everyone got dressed. And then we all went out and got on a bus and the bus took us up to 82nd. And at 82nd, they have a thing called Clown Corner, which is the largest gathering of clowns in the world. And we waited around as the parade started. And they would kind of call out each float as the float would go, you know, “Here we go next, it’s Yogurt Chase from Paw Patrol”, and different groups of clowns would sort of peel off.

And so what the clowns do, I interrupted myself on this a second ago, so what the clowns do is essentially traffic management. Because it’s like one long sort of traffic jam, if you think about the parade. And so it stops and starts, some floats fall behind, some catch up. And so as clowns, it’s sort of our job to fill in between the float and in our case, it was a float in front of us; it was the Disney Boat Float, Disney Cruise lines, and then behind us was a marching band. And they’re all kind of going at different speeds. And we’re sort of in between, it’s sometimes quite stretched out and sometimes quite compressed. It’s quite interesting. Then we’re all given a bag of confetti, and we’re supposed to throw the confetti on the bystanders on the side of the road. And then a lot of people had their hands outs, they wanted to slap hands. And so there’s a lot of hand slapping, and, and then the interesting thing with the parade is they don’t line it straight.

So what they’ll do is just because of the size of the crowds, they will indent on the side streets, and they’ll indent about, I would say probably 100 feet, I mean, it’s a reasonable indent, and you can sort of still see the parade, but you’re definitely feeling like you’re off the parade route. And so part of what they asked us to do as clowns is to run down those side streets and try to give a little bit of experience to the people who were there. So they felt like they had an interesting experience at the parade. And so Macy’s has this thing dialed in.

So there we are, standing there with bags of confetti, we’re at Clown Corner, we’re waiting for our floats to go. It’s probably about 9:30 or so, parade starts at nine. So everything’s kind of cranking out there and it’s going well, it’s a gorgeous day, it was 50 plus degrees, it was warm, it was beautiful, it was sunny, it couldn’t have been better weather. And then off we went. And you know, Rachel is a force of nature and, and has, you know, spent her whole life wanting to be in this parade.

So we’re just standing there and kind of goofing around and talking, stuff like that. And when they kind of “Alright, Silly Sailors, go”, she was off like a rocket. And off she went. And she was spreading confetti everywhere, running up and down the side streets. She was incredible. She had this one great story where she went down one of the side streets and was throwing confetti and shaking hands and then she was running out. And one of the police officers came up to her and asked her to come back because she had missed a little girl, a young, probably preschool girl. The parents hadn’t gotten there in time so they’re in kind of a lousy spot. And the girl really was wanting to see the parade and she missed the clown, she was crying. And Rachel said she was crying so much that she had tears on the tops of her eyelids and on the bottoms of her eyelids, double tears. And so the police officer said “Would you mind please, taking care of this little girl because she missed your clowning and she feels like you ignored her” and so Rachel went running back in and threw confetti all over this little girl, shook her hands and you know, said hello and talked to her for a second, then turned around and had to like book it to get back to the parade because the parade is a lot faster than you think. I’ve just had knee surgery not too long ago. And so I’m 12 weeks out of very serious knee surgery. I had an ACL reconstruction, and my doctor is a little bit like, you know a little raised eyebrow about me going in this parade. He says, “Well, we’ll see how that goes” and I’ll say I was at my limit, I was definitely at my limit. And I was going pretty fast. And because of Rachel, I was getting drawn into some of the stuff and going back and forth as well. So I probably did more than some of the clowns. But definitely limping pretty hard by the end of the parade. Anyway, it was just amazing.

And what was also fascinating was just the sheer joy and enthusiasm and excitement of the crowds. I’d never seen anything like it. It’s just a little bit of “it’s back”. So there’s a little bit of its back, and life is starting to return to normal. But everyone wanted me to throw confetti on them. It was amazing. It was just like, confetti me, confetti, me. And people put their hands out, they wanted bits of confetti, and it was it was charming and amazing at the same time and an incredible feeling of just being connected to humanity.

So it was awesome. I mean, there was there was not a single thing about it that wasn’t amazing. And I will say that the level of organization that Macy’s had, did make it work well. And I was thinking what this means in a CXM context. And I do think that there’s something about when you’re delivering a service, being super organized, and having it really dialed in from a process standpoint, helps the emotion emerge. So, you know, we got there, we got there on time, we knew where to go, we were never confused. So as clowns, we were in a very, very good state of mind. And so when we hit the parade route, we were ready to clown around and have a good time. And you know, smile, and laugh and throw confetti on people and talk to people and we’re like, pointing out the flags and going “America”. And saying, “Happy Thanksgiving”, obviously. And there was one person in our group who kept telling everyone that if they come to the parade on Thursday, they don’t have to go to school on Friday, which I thought was clever, although slightly deceptive. And it was just a really amazing emotional experience because, I think in large part, it was so well-organized from a process standpoint,

If things have been kind of a mess process-wise, and we got lost, and we were cold or it was a little bit less pulled together, I think it would have been harder to make that emotion happen. And I will also say that the police, the New York Police Department did an incredible job. I can’t tell you how many police were along the parade route. But it was hundreds, hundreds, and hundreds of police up and down the parade route. And we were going around them and behind them. And I didn’t ever throw confetti at a police officer. I feel like that was a good decision. Kind of wanted to a couple times but decided not to do that. But they were everywhere. And the presence was almost overwhelming. And I felt very safe. And I felt like the crowd was very safe. And it was. Nothing happened. And there are a lot of barriers that shut down all the streets, there was a lot of safety in place. And again, that makes it easier to have a fun, emotional experience because you’re not worried about your safety, you’re not worried about something bad happening. So kudos to the NYPD; great job, and it was really fantastic seeing everyone out there. And I will say, having seen like what I would guess were several hundred police officers over the course of the parade, very diverse workforce, very diverse workforce from both a gender, race, and height standpoint, just like, everyone, everyone was different. And it was great to see.

The parade, in case you’re curious, started at 82nd and Central Park West. That’s where it kind of stages. And actually, if you want to see the parade, it’s actually not a bad place to see it, it’s not super ‘parady’ at that point. But you do get to see all the floats as they’re kind of staging, getting ready to go and it’s not as busy up there. Then it winds down Central Park West, and then when it gets to Columbus Circle, turns left, and so does that sort of quarter circle hook and goes along Central Park South to Sixth and then turns right and goes down Sixth to 34th and then turns right at 34th and ends in front of Macy’s. And so we did that whole path and then after it ends, we went back to the New Yorker Hotel, and returned our costumes and they had, believe it or not, food waiting for us. So we all got a little box of food. We had muffins and bananas and juices. It was really fantastic. I really think Macy’s level of organization of this thing is like shocking. A lot of hospitality firms could learn something from what Macy’s is doing in this parade.

So that is my Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade experience. And, as you know, the lessons from a CXM standpoint are, make sure you’ve got the process really, really tight. Make sure the workflow is really tight, make sure people feel safe. There’s a lot of this blocking and tackling stuff that if you do that really well, then emotion can shine through and positive emotion can shine through. If you aren’t doing those things well, then people get wrapped up in the shoelaces on things that are negative, and it’s harder to deliver a great experience.

So hopefully, this was semi-intelligible, we’ll see. We’ll see how it sounds when I watch it again. But it was fun to do. It was fun to talk about. And I’m glad I did it today because it’s still really fresh in my mind. And then I will say that, you know, from a personal standpoint I’m very much in love with this incredible woman. And it was great to be able to give her something that was important to her and had been important to her from a family standpoint and had been important to her from a personal bucket list standpoint for a long time. But it’s also amazing. A couple times I stood there and just watched her. She has no limiter switch and just watching her running back and forth in just pure joy and just doing everything she could to be the very best clown she could possibly be. I felt very privileged to be allowed to be in part of her life. And it was a great moment for the two of us. So for the Unified CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, CXO, Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr, and I’ll see you and you’ll see me … next time.

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