Orthopedic Shoes: A Lesson in Defining Your Avatar

Fri, Feb 16, 2024

At 18 years old, I drove my ’86 Prelude to Los Angeles to be an actor (spoiler alert: I failed).

Even so, the year I spent there taught me some of the most important lessons of my life.

Here’s one about a streetside masseuse who would have made a brilliant digital marketer.

I worked at the movie theater inside Universal Studios (as close to being in the movies as I’d ever get while in LA). Universal is a massive tourist trap that’s a strange cross between an amusement park and a bazaar. Vendors, street performers, and peddlers abound.

I’d take my lunch breaks right next to where a group of massage therapists would set up with their portable massage chairs. There were three to five of them on any given day, and they’d spend most of their time attempting to lure tired tourists off their feet and into the chairs.


Being there daily, I noticed a pattern: One of the therapists was always busy.

I think I only saw her with an empty chair for a few minutes unless she intentionally took a break. I bet she did as much work as the other therapists combined.

As luck would have it, she and I struck up an unlikely friendship. She was a slightly older Asian woman whose English I had to puzzle out. Still, we ended up chatting at regular intervals, and sometimes, if she didn’t have someone in her chair, she’d take a break as I sat down for lunch.

She liked me as much as I liked her. We talked about absolute randomness and covered fantastic ground despite the mild language barrier.


One day, without realizing I was potentially crossing a line, I asked her why she was always so much busier than the other therapists.

She went a little stiff and then peeked around her shoulder to ensure no one was listening; this was obviously something the other therapists also wondered about.

When she returned to the conversation, I could see her size me up, deciding whether or not she could trust me.

Once I was adequately sworn to secrecy, she directed my attention to the swarms of tourists passing by. I sat there as she patiently scanned the crowd. A minute or two later, she suddenly lit up, leaned in, and whispered “shoes” while covertly pointing at a man in the crowd.

They were orthopedic shoes. A close friend of my mother’s had to wear the same shoes due to back problems, so I’d been loosely acquainted with them. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have noticed anything at all. As the crowds continued to pass, she pointed out a few more.

I started to laugh. It was brilliant! She beamed with pride at her strategy, happy that she could finally share her secret with someone. I asked her how she figured it out, and she casually motioned to her feet. She was wearing the same orthopedic shoes!

The other therapists were wasting their time talking to any tourist who would make eye contact. They’d wade into the crowd, try to strike up a conversation, and spend precious time attempting to persuade people at absolute random into their chairs. What marketers call “spray and pray.”


My friend was focused. She had defined her avatar and knew how to spot them.

(Remember: This was almost 20 years ago when orthopedic shoes were a lot more obvious.)

And, even with her less-than-perfect English, she knew exactly what to say, given her own experience. Brilliant.

While the lesson here is obvious, it is easy to neglect.

The problem is crowds are tempting! They look like opportunities when they’re a distraction.

Don’t try to talk to the crowd; your message will get lost.


Talk to the person in the crowd that you know needs what you got.

The question becomes, what’s your avatar’s orthopedic shoe?

Think about it and let me know in the comments! Or, if it’s too good, keep it to yourself.