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Deserts in Maine, Strategy and Execution August 22, 2011

Posted by christinapappas in Strategy.

Desert of Maine

This weekend I visited the Desert of Maine. If you have never heard of it, trust me, I know what you are thinking because up until about a week ago, I had no idea a desert was just miles from my house until I saw a postcard on a friend’s fridge from the Desert of Maine and I just had to see this for myself.

How Fertile Farmland Evolved Into A 300 Acre Desert

The story about the Desert of Maine is pretty interesting. In 1797, the Tuttles moved to the farm. Apparently, Mr. Tuttle heard of the land and after visiting, he purchased it. Mrs. Tuttle was not too pleased exclaiming that she was not leaving her home to go live on the newly purchased farm. So what did Mr. Tuttle do? He moved the entire house to Maine complete with Mrs. Tuttle.

After settling it, turns out Mr. Tuttle was a pretty good farmer. He grew vegetables, had an apple orchard and made a successful living off of his land.

When Mr. Tuttle passed away, his two sons continued to work the farm but they were not as good as farmers as their father and grew potatoes year after year. If they knew about crop rotation, they showed no signs of it and after growing potatoes on the same land year after year, the soil became eroded.

Since they could no longer grow crops, the sons purchased a herd of sheep. But they ran into another problem. Sheep graze the land not by chewing the grass like a cow, but actually ripping the plant up by the roots. Overgrazing caused pockets of sand to emerge from beneath the plants.

The combination of failure to rotate crops and overgrazing led to soil erosion that exposed a dune of sand.

In 1919, Henry Goldrup purchased the land because he thought he could do something will all the sand. He tried making bricks but the sand was so fine that the bricks crumbled. After someone jokingly exclaimed to him one afternoon ‘what are you doing to do with a desert in Maine?’ he had an idea and to this day, hundreds of visitors tour the Desert of Maine daily.

Strategy and Your Ability to Execute Upon It

As of the end of 2010, there were 152 million blogs on the internet. And 9 of 10 start-up blogs will fail.

Over 500,000 businesses were started last year and over 600,000 closed their doors.

So why do blogs fail? Why do businesses fail? Why do marketing campaigns fail? Why did the Tuttles fail?

The Tuttles wanted to succeed at farming and live up to their father’s expectations and provide for their family. When they failed at vegetables, they turned to potatoes and when they failed at potatoes, they turned to sheep. Their ultimate downfall was that they acted on impulse, on what they knew how to do easily, not what would make them more successful and, most critically, they did not define and act upon a strategy.

Consider your marketing strategy. First of all, do you have one? If you respond by saying you send email campaigns and write blog posts and run webinars, this is not a strategy. A strategy has a defined audience, a defined plan and a defined outcome.

Strategies can be refined and restored based upon failures and successes. One of my favorite things about being a marketer is that I am able to make predictions concerning outcomes but if I am trying something I have not done before, they are just predictions. I fail and fail often but I am not afraid to admit that and learn from it. I wonder if the Tuttles admitted failure and learned from it. After ruining their land did they learn about crop rotation, smack themselves in the head and vow to never repeat that mistake?

As a marketer, defining your strategy and executing upon it as it is defined is critical. It is critical to

  1. Your ability to track and report on your efforts – and
  2. The company and shareholders in regards to their understanding of marketing commitments

The Tuttles didn’t fail because it was easier for them to grow potatoes rather than vegetables. They failed because they simply grew them. Your campaigns do not fail because it’s easier for you to send emails than stuff envelopes. You fail because you simply send them.

Have you defined a strategy that you are executing upon? How much easier is working from a plan than shooting in the dark?



1. Wilson - August 22, 2011

Excellent post!

It’s true you need a strategy. Like a cat once said “I can’t tell you where to go if you don’t know where you’re going”

If you don’t have a destination of where you want your business to be or what result you want, it will be hard to figure out how to succeed at whatever it is that you’re trying to do.

There’s nothing like doing something and knowing what you’re going to get in return.

christinapappas - August 22, 2011

Hi Wilson,


Your comment is spot-on! I cannot stop thinking about the Tuttles potato harvest. They seemed to be very good potato farmers so why didnt they exercise crop rotation? If they had done some research and had a plan – a long-term one – perhaps the land would never have evolved into a desert and they would be known as the most successful potato farm in New England.

You need an end goal no matter what you do and you ultimately need a strategy to reach your end goal. The middle part is up for grabs – just track everything so you can perfect this over time.

2. Ali Mac - August 22, 2011

This is great! The story of the tuttles also reminds me of coming from “A Place of Yes.” I recently read that book. by Bethanny Frankel. I have to say that I am not into the Housewives and have never even watched an episode, but my sister bought me that book for a gift and it was a great read. She talks about assessing where you are at, working with what you have, and turning it into a useful and positive experience. It sounds like that is what Goldrup did – instead of sulking about his desert or trying to remedy the problem without a true strategy, he assessed his situation and came out on top. True success! I love how you relate this back to blogging and marketing – makes so much sense.

christinapappas - August 22, 2011

Hi Ali,

I wanted to read that book but they never seem to have the book in the store (just the Nook edition) – will have to keep hunting that one down 🙂

I love the analogy to Goldrup because of all the people who ‘did’ something with the land, he seemed to really put his heart and soul into making something out of his investment. When one thing didnt work, he tried another and another until the day he hung up the sign offering tours. It worked and he got what I like to call a ‘rinse and repeat’ strategy!

3. Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion - August 22, 2011

Reading this made me think of the need we have of marketers to ‘keep trying’, keep experimenting, and think outside the box. The fact that a piece of land that was once a thriving farm eventually turned into a desert–that’s profitable–is about as unique as it gets, and telling too.

Like you Christina, I’m not afraid to fail. In fact, these days, I find myself looking for the opportunity to do it more, because I know therein lies my greatest success to follow.

Have a great week lady, 🙂


christinapappas - August 22, 2011

Hi Marcus,

Thanks for your comment!

As you know I am interviewing with a number of companies right now and a common question I am asked is ‘what is your approach? how are you going to build programs to generate all kinds of leads for our company?’ This is kind of a trick question when you think about it because there is no magic formula. I dont know the answer! Why? Because I havent tried anything yet. Its all trial and error especially when you are introducing new technologies to new markets. I love experimenting but the only way to do it effectively is to track and report on everything so its essential to have a strategy and stick to it. The more you deviate, the harder it will be to measure.

I used to be extremely scared to fail but now I just say to myself ‘Im not doing that again’ and move on. When senior execs asked what the heck happened, I can report on the data and tell them why I thought it was going to work and why it imminently failed.

4. Jennifer MacDonald (@jennimacdonald) - August 22, 2011

I lived in the state of Maine for 28 years and I never heard this story. Thanks for sharing!

I’m jealous that you live in Boston. : )

christinapappas - August 22, 2011

Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for stopping by!

I had never heard of the Desert of Maine either until I saw that postcard and just had to take the drive and see it for myself. My parents have lived here for over 50 years and never heard of it either. Next time you are in Freeport, you will have to see it! The tour guide said it should be there for another 500 years so you have plenty of time!

5. Minding Your PSA « The Content Cocktail - September 7, 2011

[…] I wrote a post about a visit to the Desert of Maine. The story of how the desert came to be got me thinking about strategies that are either never […]

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