Girl scouts cookies online & unintended consequences

consulting questions




“People will try to hold on when their world starts to tilt, they will grab onto whatever is in reach.”


The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn







cookies hungry
I actually just bought my $20 self-quota of Girl Scout cookies <majority of order is thin mints of course>.


From a real girl scout in fact.

But I could have done it online.





The girl scouts will now sell their cookies online.



Until now the Girl Scout cookie buying/selling process has been strictly analog and online sales were banned by the organization.



Not anymore.



The online sales are intended to enhance, not replace, the paper spreadsheets used to generate an estimated $800 million in cookie sales a year — at anywhere from $3.50 to $5 a box, depending on scout council.





How do I feel about this <not that the girl scouts asked me>?







I am all for his.

girl scout green fashion


As the Girl Scouts themselves suggest


“There are important e-lessons here such as better articulating and tracking goals, learning to handle customers and money in a new way, and more efficiently processing credit card information.”
The organization expects as many as 1 million scouts — or about half of the girls who participate in the Girl Scouts — will use the online selling programs.




“A lot of people have asked, ‘What took you so long to get online?’

We spend a lot of time thinking how do we make this safe, scalable and smart,”


Kelly M. Parisi, chief communications executive for Girl Scouts of the USA.





Conceptually I don’t mind the shift to online because … well … it still supports the most basic teaching aspect.



The cookie-selling program remains one designed to help troop members develop entrepreneurial skills — from setting goals and handling money to sharpening their sales and people skills — by selling and delivering the cookies themselves.




Here is the issue rattling around in my mind.



choice consequence

Let’s call this ‘unintended consequences.’




In the past girl scouts have traditionally made door-to-door sales or set up booths outside retail stores <also sometimes sending forms to parents’ workplaces to sell as many cookies as possible>.




I mention that because selling the cookies is not just an educational endeavor … it is also an integral aspect of exposure, awareness and creating perceptions in the marketplace.



I know for a fact that one of the Girl Scout’s main perception issues is that it is ‘old.’



It is stuff your grandmother thinks you should know.



I also know for a fact <real business experience> that significantly changing the amount your service or people are seen in public significantly impacts awareness <it decreases> and it impacts perceptions <being seen less makes people think your organization is shrinking or ‘having trouble’>.


Business situation:

… company trucks are constantly driving to-and-fro thru all neighborhoods on a monthly service support program … shift to quarterly or once-a-year face-to-face service … less driving around … awareness drops significantly … perceptions change.





What may look like a good business decision … shit … a good decision overall … may have some negative consequences to other things you, or the brand, is trying to address.

This is called ‘unintended consequences.’



And unintended consequences are just that … unintended.




You can overcome them and you can manage them in a variety of ways.





You have to recognize them in order to deal with them.



I fear the Girl Scouts just aren’t paying attention to this issue. They most likely feel that ‘online sales’ translates into ‘more contemporary organization.’



girl scout green

Maybe a little.



I would suggest that most everyday people will assume a slightly cynical perception of ‘it is an easy way for them to make money … and the girls will not do most of it … their parents will do most/some of it.”







The price they pay for that little is a lot less real Girl Scout exposure <people seeing that scout leaders look and act different … girl scouts themselves look & act different>.






Girl Scout cookie-selling began as early as 1917 in Oklahoma. Scouts used to bake their own cookies following a popular recipe and eventually the program expanded to include the variety of cookies familiar to many today.




And I love the fact that this is the type of activity that permits them the freedom to find funding beyond being dependent upon donations.


It is independent behavior enabling an independent organization.





In addition it is a strong tradition.


And tradition comes with some good things and some bad things.




Good in that it creates a strong perception foundation.


Bad in that sometimes it creates such a strong perception foundation it can become ‘stuck in time’ in people’s heads.

perception books


Organizations like the Girl Scouts will always be fighting ‘old’ no matter what they do. Mainly because their heritage is part of what makes the organization great.


If you work for the Girl Scouts it is simply something you accept … maybe even embrace in some small way.




That said.



This means every decision you make has to be weighed with the tradition perceptions, not the tradition itself, in mind.



<  I wrote my feelings about this issue and Girl Scouts here:  >








Selling Girl Scout cookies on line is a spectacular ‘funding the organization’ decision.



Selling Girl Scout cookies online may actually be a spectacular Scouts educational decision.



Selling Girl Scout cookies online may actually be an okay perception decision.




But selling Girl Scout cookies online is also a decision that comes at a cost … the face to face ability to shift & shape perceptions.




Less face to face exposure to who and what the Girl Scouts are today will only permit people to revert back to thinking of girl scouts as they were yesterday.




Let this be a warning to the Girl Scouts.

gg thinker and girl



The decision to sell Girl Scout cookies online will have some brand repercussions.



Important repercussions that can impact the growth of what I consider a GREAT organization in the future.



Face the unintended consequences; deal with them … and all will be fine.


Ignore them at your own peril.

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Written by Bruce