5 Lessons Learned from My Life as a Polar Bear

Six years ago today, I crawled out of bed, loaded up my car for the local Fair Parade, with a polar bear costume in tow, and completed the hottest stint of my marketing career.

I dressed up as a polar bear and walked the entire parade route, handing out balloons to little kids while my colleagues talked to their parents about our business. It was literally the hottest thing I had done to date in marketing. It was one of hundreds of times I would dress up as the bear over the tenure of my marketing career.

As I look back on that day, I can’t help but realize all the things I learned in my early days as a marketer. Below are five of them.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself and Let Go of Your Fears

As a self proclaimed introvert, community grassroots marketing was a stretch career for me. So was journalism. Yet seven of the first nine years of my career fell into one of these categories.

When our mascot arrived, something changed about my love of event marketing. Whenever I climbed into the costume, my alter ego came out. The timid young 20-something was gone. As a polar bear, I could hug strangers without anxiety. I could do the Macarena like there was no tomorrow in public places with people laughing at me. I was a celebrity posing for photos with countless kids (and adults). I lived life in those moments without a care in the world.

Why was life easier behind the mask? I didn’t feel like I was being judged. But what I learned in those carefree moments was the same things that had stopped me from being myself out of the costume were the very things that brought joy to people. They were also the things people remembered.

Despite the fact that I now work for a company without a mascot, I still use the costume trick from time to time. The first sales meeting I spoke at saw me pullout all the stops as a stewardess under the theme “Marketing Serves Sales”. Not only did I have more confidence bouncing into the room in my getup, but to this day, our sales reps remember that presentation.

Tip #1: You were born to be different. Don’t be afraid to standout in the crowd, and don’t let the fear of judgement stop you from making a difference in this world.

2. Do What Needs to be Done and Have a Backup Plan

Once I had outgrown my internal fear of interacting with people at events, I was ready for other people to take on the role of wearing the bear costume. But sometimes that was easier said than done.

It turns out people don’t bang down your door to don a furry costume in the dead heat of a Texas summer at an outdoor event. I know that’s probably not shocking to you. The shocking thing is even when people had volunteered to do it before the event, they wouldn’t show up on the day of the event. This often left me in a jam.

I am a firm believer that a mascot should be at every event your company is at. I have written articles in the past about Tips to Utilize a Mascot in Your Marketing Plan. When you believe in something, you go out of your way to make it happen. When no one was willing to jump into the mascot costume, I didn’t just let it sit in a bag. I took on the role.

Since I knew that at least 40% of the time I would end up in this situation, I always had a contingency plan read. That plan meant I knew my booth staff was prepared to have the conversations that needed to happen, while I was attracting people to our booth in the polar bear garb.

Tip #2: Successful people always have a contingency plan.

3. Do the Role Your Staff Least Expects

As our company grew, so did my role at the company. It wasn’t long before I was training and overseeing other marketers in various markets implementing the strategies I had built during my tenure. This meant that they, too, often struggled finding people to be a mascot.

Whenever I showed up at an event where their mascot was a no-show, I didn’t hesitate to put the costume on and help draw traffic and generate buzz around their booth.

Many managers wear an attitude of being “above” a situation. As a leader, my job was to train, coach, and hold accountable. My prior experience may have made me wiser, but never was I “better” than my marketing team. Stepping up to put on the costume when it was least expected helped my team see I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure they were successful. They were the face of our company in their markets. It was more important for them to have the one-on-one conversations.

Tip #2: No matter what your leadership status is within a company, there isn’t a role that is beneath you. Step-up when a teammate needs you.

4. Live Your Brand

There are hundreds of companies who have amazing brand “stories” but they never bring those stories to life.

I was veryfortunate in our small company to not only be the mascot, but for an extended period of time, I also handled the majority of customer complaints. Both roles allowed me to be at the center of our customer experience. When people weren’t happy and ended up talking to me, I knew our brand promise had been compromised. It was my opportunity to help rewrite our story in their minds. I loved it.

As a mascot, I had the opportunity to take that story and bring it to life. People don’t fall in love with a building, furniture, or intake forms. No one chases you down the hall to give you a hug because your scrubs are awesome. They do when you’re a mascot.

The smiles on children’s faces. The hugs from adults looking for creative selfies. The “I love yous” from toddlers. The kids calling you by name with pure excitement. Those are the moments as a marketer you know your brand has arrived. And they are moments you can only truly experience from inside the costume…as your heart is beating life into the furry critter chosen to personify your company.

Tip #4: To live your brand, you have to love it with all your heart. In doing so, you can empower others to do the same.

5. Be Prepared

After my first summer as a polar bear, I learned the value of buying our next costume with a head fan and an ice pack vest. As a leader, I needed to ensure my marketing helpers were equipped with the tools that kept them safe inside the plush ball of fur that often felt like an inferno.

But that’s not the only way to prepare your mascot experience for success. Wherever you have a mascot, you also need an escort. That escort needs to be well versed in your marketing message and lead generation strategy. If they aren’t, the only thing you accomplish at your event is generating warm and fuzzy feelings and a few photos on Snapchat. While that may be great for brand buzz, the buzz alone will not help your company make a profit.

Like anything in life, preparation and planning are keys to success when you’re a mascot. A mascot alone will not save your company. It needs a plan to become an information source and lead generation machine.

Tip #5: Anything in life worth doing is worth doing well. Take the time to prepare and plan, so you can reap the rewards from your efforts.

There are a lot of other things I learned through the eyes of a polar bear, but these are five of my favorites. While I didn’t start my marketing career as a mascot, I sure learned a lot from loaning my heart to him over a four year period.

As an introvert, my stint as a mascot helped me grow more in the early part of my career than I even knew was possible. Sometimes there is magic working behind the scenes, when you just give it your all.

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