The Line Theory

It’s been the subject in many marketing meetings, brand strategy sessions and whiskey-induced musings for the past 5 years of my life. It’s something that we all revel in, talk about and wear as a badge of honor, claiming ourselves as early adopters and separatist fanatics. It’s an economic principle, leveraged into buzz-building marketing fuel.

It’s the Long Line Theory.

Why do we jump into long lines so readily? Is it curiosity? Stupidity? Imagination? It’s certainly not convenient. Ask any of your peers how they are doing and almost 90% of responses will include the phrase, “Oh, I’m so busy.” It takes one to know one. So why on earth would all of us busy-bodies take a massive chunk of time and bet it on something like a new iPhone or a lobster roll? And, is it worth it?

The short answer is, “Not Always.”

A lot of businesses try to push for hype and buzz, they love making long lines and feeding on our innate sense of curiosity. They know they have prompted internal questions like, “Is this really that good?” or “If I wait through this, will I be one of the elite chosen ones?”. Mostly, the goal is to sell you something before you have time to answer those questions, and hope that the rush of the crowd forces you to buy without analysis. You get the benefit of being a “Line Survivor” and maybe an “Early Adopter”, but that’s about it.

The real way that Line Theory plays out effectively is with continuous validation. Let’s go with my Red’s Eats experience in Wiscasset, Maine.

First there is the immediate question when you hop in the line of, “How long will this take.” You area able to defer this a little while as you settle into the moment and begin enjoying the experience, but it will tempt you and creep back up. The even harder question is, “If this takes a long time, will it be worth it?” That’s the kicker. If a business can help you answer this question, then they are serving you well and keeping you in their line for a valid reason.

Along comes a waitress with hot fried shrimp straight out of the kitchen. They are still steaming. She offers you one as you wait in line.

Wait. Is. Validated.

That little micro-angelic piece of fried goodness inspires passion and zeal. It’s so good you can hardly stand up, and your “Is it worth it” question fades into satisfaction.

Time Passes.


Photo by Emily Rodgers

As your burned skin get’s further fired in the hot glow of the sunset, you pass a wall of prestige on the side of the building. Praise from magazines, articles and ads from a bygone era. This place has been here a LONG time and people have loved it with the same passion since day one. Another validator. Apply sunscreen and keep waiting.

You creep up to the window, and only a few patrons stand between glorious fried food and your itching wallet. They have done a good job making you ready for this moment. You linger over the simple menu posted on the wall. Some items are reasonably priced, some expensive, and a few key ones are the critically ambiguous Market Price. Your budget conscience fires the same question, “Is it worth the money?”

You skirt around the hunger and the wait time as you try to be smart with your limited vacation funds. What to get? How much to spend? How hungry am I REALLY?”. You come up with a basic game-plan and approach the window with some combination of zeal and trepidation.


The wait doesn’t end once you order

The lady at the counter greets you with a massive smile, like you are the first person she has encountered all day. “Welcome to Red’s, what would you like today?” You are quickly folded into her trust and you spill your confusion over the menu and pricing and quantity and how your cousin is a farmer, etc. She listens careful and gives sage advice on what to order, she validates your tastes and encourages you that, “The fried Scallops are my absolute favorite and very few people order them!” Ok, I’m smart, I’m special, I’m ordering the hidden gem, take me I’m yours!

Validation. Questions answered.

You wait again. This time you are giddy as you watch the orders come through while the numbers are called. You may have found a little table in the shade, staked your claim and begun relaxing. Finally the coveted “98, your order is ready!” pipes over the speaker and you teleport to the window. Again, miss smiley greets you with a plate full of validation and asks if you would like a side of tartar sauce. Your prayer is that you don’t drop it on the way back to your sanctuary.


All you ever wanted and more

The sheer volume of food validates the pricing. A half pint of fried clams looks more like a truck-full. The lobster roll is so big and brimming that you have to eat most of the meat off just to find some bun. Everything is hotter than hot, and explodes in your mouth with fried perfection. Late questions come up about your diet and overall health, but they are dispelled by your soul’s enjoyment. It’s worth a jog tomorrow to be able to experience this.

We eat, we laugh, we talk. People in line walk by and we join the ranks of Red’s Eats as we encourage them with, “Oh, it’s totally worth it!” They salivate and sweat and burn in the sun like I did, but I can safely offer them this truth.


What we miss in marketing and business is that all of the people we meet in-person or digitally are constantly asking questions. You can’t lie in telling them everything will be great, or else you destroy the relationship. One and done. That’s no good for someone building something authentic and long-lasting. Peter Thiel is all about building stuff that lasts hundreds of years in his book Zero to One. He’s dead right. We have to have the long game in mind, and the long game only works if we build real, honest relationships with our patrons. We need symbiosis, an exchange of service and truth, not just one transaction.

Approaching business like a spouse, not a prostitute, is the future of Marketing.

We thoughtfully engage our patrons and help them work through their questions. We understand the long game and we want them to buy into the relationship as much as they buy in to our product or service. Then we are not in it for money, but for love; they are in it for love too, so money is no object.

Let’s have our patrons be our marketing partners. They will tell honest and truthful things about us in compelling ways, bringing others into the fold. When a customer can recommend something whole-heartedly with complete honesty, that will affect conversion rates far more than a sexy advert could ever do. It doesn’t cost money, it just takes being intentional, and sometimes that’s the hardest thing.

Oh, and I almost forgot, there’s ice cream.