the voice of reason in marketing

June 23, 2015

Tell a story without a lecture.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Observations From the Field, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 8:08 am

A picture might be worth 1,000 words…but a few carefully chosen words can often paint an instantly compelling picture.

Take this ad, for instance…seen in the Uptown 1 subway station at 23rd Street:

lower east side film festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With just those two sentences, the Lower East Side Film Festival creates this impression:  “we’re not snooty like those other film festivals, you don’t need to know someone or be on the list, we don’t put on airs, we’re social and approachable, and you’ll make friends here.”  And do I detect a whiff of snarky nonconformity here, sending out seductive signals to attract those with a similar perspective?  Yes.  I believe I do.

Here’s another, seen just last week on the bridge driving into Boston from I-93:

ehrlich pest control

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With just that simple phrasing, Ehrlich Pest Control says this:  “we hire the best people, who have a natural instinct for ridding the world of pests, and regardless of whether they do it for paycheck or for the sheer enjoyment of it…you can be sure that if you want critters gone, our guys will not rest until that happens…oh, and by the way, we’re funny and we have social skills too.” (Note to the Gods of Standstill Traffic: thank you for enabling me to snap this photo.)

What lesson can be learned from this?  Often, the indirect approach to communicating your personality has greater impact.  Don’t lecture people on who you are and what you stand for… just prove it through the way you communicate with them.

As we tell Redpoint clients all the time… don’t say you’re cool, just BE cool.  Explaining to people that you’re cool only weakens your case.

Here’s a parting bonus example that throws in a strategic photo:  the housekeeping tip envelope at Jay Peak Resort. It’s kind of sweet, and yet you’d think twice before ever crossing Alice…a juxtaposition which aptly represents that resort and mountain.

Jay Peak housekeeping tip envelope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bravo Jay Peak.  You tugged my little branding heart so hard that I gave Alice 20 bucks for a one-night stay.  Or maybe I was just scared.  Either way…it worked!

 

April 20, 2015

Eight Ways to Apologize Without Saying “I’m Sorry.”

Filed under: Effective Communication, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 8:54 am

Christina Miranda:

Apparently, people everywhere are being naughty. This post from 2011 continues to be the most popular post on RedpointSpeaks.com, drawing in hundreds of contrite visitors each day who seek the perfect words to deliver their apology. So here it is again, my friends. Go forth and mend fences.

Originally posted on the voice of reason in marketing:

The phrase “I’m sorry” is supposed to make its recipient feel better, but thanks to a lifetime of misuse, it rarely completes its mission.  Indeed, it often requires assistance to have an impact, such as repetition, further explanation, multiple exclamation points (see why this one won’t work), or even…groveling.

Somewhere along the way of evolution, the words “I’m sorry” picked up a couple of permanent connotation hitchhikers:  assumption of guilt and admittance of wrongdoing.  So when you say the words to someone, there is an implication that you are in some way responsible for the situation.

And yet, the word “sorry” is employed for a laughably wide range of circumstances, even those for which we are not to blame…from condolences over a death (I’m so sorry for your loss) to asking a speaker to repeat a sentence (Sorry…what did you say?) to the absolutely brilliant application…

View original 281 more words

February 5, 2015

Four quick tips to strengthen your writing.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Writing Tips — Tags: , , — Christina Miranda @ 10:11 am

Writing is a skill that needs practice, just like your golf swing or your skiing technique.  However, unlike golf or skiing, very few people devote their Saturdays to grammar and phraseology.

Here’s the equivalent of installing a putting green in your office.  Work these four tips into your everyday writing, and give those stagnant brain muscles a workout.

Stop beginning your sentences with “I” or “We.”  You’ll be surprised how often you do it, and making this one tiny change will enhance the power of your message.  Here’s why and how.

Choose descriptive words that pack a stand-alone punch.  There are – give or take – a million words in the English language.  It’s a safe bet that “great” can always be replaced with a more meaningful word (get some help on that here) and the words “very,” “really,” and “extremely” are unnecessary; very happy = ecstatic, pleased, delighted, and so on…extremely upset = livid, furious, incensed, and so on.

Condense wordy phrases into compact ones…or better yet, into a single word.  This reduces the burden on your reader’s attention span and illustrates your point with instant clarity.  For example:

Coming at the wrong time = ill-timed

Covered with decorative elements = ornate

Make this process smoother = streamline

Almost ready to put the finishing touches on = poised to complete

Hard to find = elusive

Aspire to cut your document length by a third.  This measuring stick will serve you well:  in any first draft, at least a third of the words are poorly chosen.  That’s because it’s really hard arduous to write and edit at the same time simultaneously.  Keep your thought process intact while the words flow, and then attack your phrases with a critical eye afterward.

I hope you find these tips useful.

Reprogramming your writing style using these four tips will take awareness, patience, and a thesaurus.  Keep practicing, buy a red pen, and eventually new habits will form.

January 12, 2015

Eat more lamb, Larry Bird.

We humans are an unruly lot…we are busy and distracted, and frankly, we just don’t like being told what to do.  This means that informative and useful signage is often overlooked as white noise competing for our attention amidst a barrage of sensory input.

Savvy businesses know a fool-proof cure for this:  unexpected humor that seduces people into reading the otherwise-boring sign.  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Not only do people read it…they get the message AND they are left with an impression of a business, company, or brand with a groovy personality.  Behold:

Bennett’s Store in coastal Maine could say “No Parking” or it could say…

larry bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood ‘n Hart Farm at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market in Nova Scotia could say “Lamb for Sale” or it could say…

Halifax sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in NYC could say “Don’t Drink and Drive” or it could say…

Toll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An airport in Fort Lauderdale could say “Pardon Our Construction” or it could say…

airport sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weylin B. Seymour’s glamorous event space in Brooklyn could say “Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom” or it could say…

wheelchair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These signs have stopped countless people in their tracks…and quite possibly prompted them to snap a picture just like I did.  Mission accomplished.

So, the next time you have something important – but boring – to communicate, take a few minutes to answer the question:  how can I make this message interesting?

Need more inspiration?  See what the Inn at Manchester did with their housekeeping tip envelope.  Seriously…if they can make THAT fun, anything’s possible.

December 18, 2014

How one hotel housekeeper won my brand allegiance…and my heart.

She stopped me in my tracks.  And prompted me to track her down on property to give her a hug.

That’s no small feat for a hotel housekeeper to achieve.  As a hospitality consultant at Redpoint who trains hotels on marketing and guest service, I’ve stayed in more than 500 hotels around the world…from the barest of guest houses to the most luxurious of resorts.  Some even came with my own personal butler.  Many promise to deliver anticipatory service.  And yet none of them…not a single one…captured my heart (and my future business) the way the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia did, despite all of them having the exact same opportunity to do so.

And it’s all thanks to Sandra the housekeeper.  Here’s how it went down.

A decades-old neck injury makes it most comfortable for me to sleep with a pillow that has laughingly been referred to as “a few sheets of loose leaf paper stuffed inside a pillowcase.”  I no longer travel with it (preserving its precious life span), so when I sleep at hotels, I remove the big fluffy pillow from the pillowcase and replace it with a folded-once towel from the bathroom.  I repeat this procedure every night of my stay because the housekeeper always restores the bed to its default state and the towel to the bathroom.

Imagine that habit solidifying into autopilot after around 500 times of having to repeat it.  And then imagine walking into the room after two nights of a four-night stay and seeing this on the bed:

Small note, thin pillow, big surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That note (highlighted in the photo so you couldn’t miss it) was handwritten on the back of a water glass coaster and resting on top of a precision crafted bath-towel-pillow.  Thickness?  Perfect.  Edges?  Neatly tucked.  Here’s what the note said:

housekeeping note 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After giggling with pleasure for a few minutes – who doesn’t love a good surprise? – I wrote Sandra a heartfelt thank-you note and left it on the bathroom sink for her to find the next morning.  And then the next day, I returned to my room to find this:

housekeeping note 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That did it.  I left my room immediately – coat on and all – and went to find Sandra.  We met, we hugged, we laughed.  And then I went to find Sandra’s boss to ask how on earth they train their staff to be so observant and thoughtful.  His answer was identical to the one every other hotelier delivers when asked about their approach to guest service:  “we look to hire those kinds of people, and then as part of our training program, we encourage them to use their judgment to make a guest’s stay more personal and memorable.”  If I only had a nickel for every time a hotelier said those exact words to me.

The difference here is…the Delta Halifax has actually achieved it.  Sandra – while the hero of this story – was not alone.  The front desk person checking me in recognized that I was from the U.S. and whipped out a city map unasked, just to orient me with my surroundings.  The breakfast server brought me a to-go cup with fresh coffee – also unasked – after a chat revealed that I was running late and didn’t have time for the extra cup I wanted to savor at the table.  The maintenance guy stopped what he was doing to help me carry a load of awkward packages to my door.  And on, and on, and on.

Hoteliers, take note:  the Delta Halifax could do with a renovation.  The rooms are dated, corridors need a refresh, and I’m sure the GM and Director of Ops walk through that hotel every day and dream of what they’d do with a nice fat capital expense budget.  And to them, I say:  It didn’t matter one whit to me.  The place was spotless, the shower heat and pressure was just fine, and never in my life have I felt so cared for by a bunch of strangers.  You could leave the rooms as-is for the next twenty years and I would stay there every single time I come to Halifax…no matter how many cool hotels spring up or renovate around you.  The moral of the story?  Truly amazing service wins brand loyalty, despite any other real or perceived shortcomings.

Delta Hotels and Resorts…I sure hope that ALL your properties are as gracious and extraordinary as the Delta Halifax.  Because I now plan to stay in a Delta property whenever I can while in Canada, and thanks to Sandra and the whole crew at Halifax, you’ve got some VERY big shoes – and pillowcases – to fill.

October 28, 2014

Four secrets to delivering successful presentations.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Effective Presentations, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 10:59 am

If you’ve been to a Redpoint presentation before…you know what this is: texture.

This morning, when my business partner Vickie saw the 78-slide presentation I’m delivering at a conference tomorrow, she asked, “Um…HOW long are you speaking?”  At my response, she gaped, “FOUR HOURS?…you’re talking to the same group of people for FOUR HOURS?”

My response:  “No Vick, I’m entertaining them for four hours.  The fact that they’ll learn something along the way is just a bonus.”

The secret to engaging an audience of any size is not in the content…it’s in the delivery.  Sure, the content has to be relevant, accurate, and educational.  But the seductive charm comes from the bow you wrap around it.

I’m often asked how I can stand up in front of large audiences for two hours or two days and manage to deliver just the right amount of content and still hold people’s attention to the very last second.  Well kids, ssssshhhh.  Just between you and me… here are the four things I think through when crafting every single presentation…before I even start typing one word of content:

HOW MUCH TIME IS ALLOTTED?  Time parameters dictate the quantity and choice of content.  For example, if a 45-minute presentation includes a 5 minute video, an allowance of 10 minutes for audience interaction, and 5 minutes for everyone coming in and getting settled…that leaves only 25 minutes available for actual content.  If 15 of those minutes must cover technical information critical to the takeaway…that leaves only 10 minutes available for “original” content.  So, when you think you have 45 minutes to fill…in reality, you may only have 10 minutes.  Choose content wisely.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS?  Sounds elementary but most people don’t think through this crucial step.  The goals are not the same as content choices, but rather answer the question:  what do you want the end result of this presentation to be?  I recently presented a keynote session at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference (VTIC), and the goals of that session were:  1- Provide value to VTIC attendees by delivering useful educational content; 2- Infuse joy into a conference that (as instructed to me) needed it; 3- Make the VTIC look cool; 4- Create a positive impression for Redpoint.  The topic – The Magic of Surprise in Guest Service – was incidental.  The goals would have been the same if the topic had been crisis management, social media, or how to carve a turkey.  Deciding on your goals helps you make choices about HOW to present your topic (for the VTIC, I surprised the audience with beer, pretzels, and an eight-piece jazz band – watch that session here), and in what order the information needs to unfold.

WHAT SHOULD BE THE FOCUS?  It’s better to cover a few key topics deeply and slowly, than a dozen topics lightly and fast.  Choose your core messages and don’t stray.  You will hold your audience’s attention and make a lasting impact.  A great line I heard years ago that’s served me well is… overwriting is just a failure to make choices.

HOW CAN TEXTURE BE ADDED?  You will lose people to daydreaming, their mobile device, private troubles, a desire to be elsewhere, and even a need to go to the bathroom.  Texture – doing different things and breaking patterns – is the best way to combat that.  Texture is anything that snaps people out of their thoughts and back into what you’re saying.  There is no formula for texture…in fact, the unexpected element is what makes it so successful, and it has to be natural to the presenter.  Handing out prizes/gifts, stopping to talk to one particular audience member, showing an unexpected picture, singing a song, making everyone get up and switch seats, calling up a volunteer…ANYTHING to break the monotony of standing up there and talking at them.  Find a natural way to infuse texture into your presentations, and invoke it when you need it.

That’s it, friends.  Those are my big fancy presentation secrets.  And now they are yours too… go knock ‘em dead.

September 23, 2014

Postcards: low-tech “social media” marketing.

Filed under: Marketing Strategies, Observations From the Field, Social Media — Christina Miranda @ 8:36 am
Dig those crazy postcards, kids.

Dig those crazy postcards, kids.

The postcard is making a comeback…and not as a communication tool, but as a social media marketing tool.

Having postcards available for guests to purchase at your business is one thing.  Giving them out for free and offering to mail them – including postage – is quite another.  In marketing-speak, that’s the old school version of “encouraging a share.”

I’ve stumbled across two noteworthy examples of this in my travels recently.  The first was at P.J. Clarke’s, an institution among NYC bar/restaurants (since 1884).  A note at the bottom of the menu informs diners they can ask for a P.J. Clarke’s postcard to write out, and then give to their server to apply the required postage and mail.  (Side note…I had planned to do this, but the food coma from the Cast Iron Skillet of Baked Mac & Cheese with Peas & Bacon rendered me incapable of writing.)

The second – and brilliant – example (pictured here) was at Stratton Mountain Resort.  Perched in a place of honor on the front desk, a plexiglass cube filled with colorful postcards beckons travelers to drop a note <ahem, marketing piece about Stratton> to good ol’ Aunt Mary back home.  You can’t miss it…and you automatically get an itch to do it.  While standing there, I got the added joy of hearing the kid next to me ask his dad, “What’s a postcard?”… and then, of course, he had to send one to his friend back home.  (The hilarity continued when he had to text his friend to get the address, which is the only fly in this marketing ointment…who knows anyone’s mailing address anymore?)

Why are postcards sent by guests a smart marketing tool?  Because they’re…

  • Highly visual
  • Different and noticeable
  • Inexpensive
  • Fun for the sender & recipient
  • Turnkey and low maintenance

Postcards never get flagged as spam, they don’t need specific keywords to be found, and they are likely to be tacked up on the recipient’s refrigerator or bulletin board, quietly radiating subliminal marketing messages with every casual glance they receive.

When was the last time you could say that about your OTHER marketing tactics?

“Social media”…indeed.

August 26, 2014

Surprise! Creating guest surprises is harder than it looks…

Filed under: Customer Service, Marketing Strategies, Spending Budgets Wisely — Christina Miranda @ 10:53 am

Last Christmas, the Canadian airline WestJet surprised a plane full of arriving passengers at baggage claim by delivering fully wrapped gifts they had just specifically requested from “Santa” only hours before at their departure gate.  (If you haven’t seen that video, grab some tissues and watch it here.)

To date, the WestJet Christmas Miracle video has received nearly 40 million views on YouTube, making it the envy of hospitality marketers around the world.  Marketers – and their CEO bosses – watched longingly as the media attention spotlight on WestJet grew brighter and the video view count grew higher, and they all had the same thought:  I want a “WestJet video” for MY brand.

Alas, most of them are likely to retire with “I wish I had a WestJet video” still on their career bucket list, and here’s why:  surprises – especially of that magnitude – are bloody hard work.

Pulling off a surprise like that requires precision timing, which requires a recipe of planning, staffing, money, creativity, and problem solving.  You cannot fumble at the goal line.  You cannot plan a “partial surprise.”  You can’t get the timing “almost right.”  You get ONE SHOT.  So you have to make it count, or every bit of investment you put into it is a big ol’ waste.

This leaves no wiggle room for indecision, executive in-fighting, budget paralysis, miscommunication, or distraction from the focus.  And that’s a lot to ask of ANY brand, at ANY size.  That “little” five minute video required four months of singular planning attention, 150 WestJet employees, an extraordinary budget, and extensive marketing resources in two cities.  Such a level of orchestration deserves every bit of brand-envy it receives, because marketers worth their salt know it’s a rare phenomenon.

To determine if your brand has what it takes to successfully leverage the magic of surprise – at any level – ask yourself…

  • Do we embrace fun?
  • Do all our in-house departments work together harmoniously, and if not…can they?
  • Are we comfortable taking risks?
  • Are we willing to spend unanticipated money if needed to protect the surprise all the way to the finish line?
  • Do we complete our regular, non-surprise-oriented projects on time, and with precision?

If the answer to any of those questions was “no,” then you should think twice before investing a ton of resources into planning a one-shot-deal surprise for your guests.  You will save yourself a lot of misery (and money) by using other tools in your marketing toolbox instead.

Parting tip:  If you ARE planning to create a big surprise, keep this in mind…the bigger and cooler the surprise, the higher the bar is set for next time.  Case in point:  for my keynote address at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference in April, Redpoint surprised the audience of 250 people with beer, pretzels, costume accessories, and a New Orleans style jazz band (watch the trailer).  Two months later, the Vermont Ski Areas Association wanted a similar surprise for their annual conference…but what fun would it be to orchestrate the same surprise?  So Redpoint cajoled the kind folks at Ben & Jerry’s to create an exclusive ice cream flavor – Vermont Powder – just for that conference, and we delivered it to the audience in a surprise moment punctuated by a song we “wrote.” (Watch the Hot Sardines perform that song here.)

It was all great fun, and we had a blast doing it.  But now people start to salivate the moment they hear that I’m the keynote speaker, and (sorry, mom) it ain’t because they think I’m pretty.  Lesson learned:  human nature = “oooh, what’s next?”

Ah, well.  Redpoint is up to the challenge.  Save your pity for WestJet…they have to top way more than beer and ice cream.

 

April 28, 2014

Failsafe business strategy: let them eat cookies.

Filed under: Customer Service, Observations From the Field — Christina Miranda @ 8:47 am
Chocolate chip cookies are now on the endangered species list.

Chocolate chip cookies are now on the endangered species list.

Is there a more disappointing sight at a buffet table?

The background:  during a week’s stay at an all-inclusive resort, it fascinated me that the plate of chocolate chip cookies was nearly ALWAYS empty on a buffet table filled with more than a dozen different types of desserts.  This meant that…

– People congregated around the table waiting for a new batch to come out
– They discussed with each other how annoying it is while they waited
– The arriving cookies were snatched up within one minute of being placed on the table
– And thus…the waiting process began all over again for those not quick on the draw

Seeing the imbalance of so many desserts go to waste, while unhappy customers fought each other for elusive cookies, finally overwhelmed me.  So I asked the restaurant manager:  why don’t you guys just make more cookies?

Are you sitting down?  It’s corporate policy for them to make an equal amount of desserts every night, regardless of how many are consumed.  So…even though it’s cheaper to make chocolate chips than, say, strawberry infused profiteroles – and people would rather eat the chocolate chips than said profiteroles – they aren’t allowed to deviate from the plan because it’s “corporate policy.”

When I asked why they don’t just change the policy, I got the answer that makes business strategists and marketers cringe with pain:  “we’ve just always done it this way, so corporate won’t want to change it.”  And yet…a quick poll of the servers proved that it’s the number one complaint (in most cases, the ONLY complaint) from their diners every single night.

Learn a sweet lesson from these cookies, people.  If something is “broken” at your business that causes repeated and longstanding unhappiness among your guests…FIX IT.  Don’t make excuses or hide behind habit or corporate policy…JUST FIX IT.  Operational and financial challenges may slow you down, but don’t let them stop you from solving it.

Especially if cookies are involved.  Never get between a PR person and her cookies, my friends.  You may find yourself the subject of a Redpoint blog post.

February 26, 2014

Branding lessons from the deli counter.

Filed under: Branding Strategies, Observations From the Field — Christina Miranda @ 11:16 am

 

An unlikely pair of status symbols?

An unlikely pair of status symbols?

A few weeks ago, I met a “Grey Goose girl” and a “Maker’s guy” at the chic penthouse bar at The Standard in NYC.  And while I was skeptical that the claims of these two early-twenty-somethings could withstand a blindfold taste test, I wasn’t surprised.  Liquor companies have made an art form out of branding, which means that specifying your liquor to a bartender is like defining who you are to the world around you.

But who knew deli meats held the same power?

This past weekend, I met an “EverRoast® Man” at the deli counter of my local grocery store.  He was the third hipster twenty-something to order EverRoast by name while I was standing there waiting for my own (non-branded) order to be fulfilled.  This shot my marketing radar up to high alert, so I asked him… why ask specifically for EverRoast and not just a half-pound of chicken breast?  Is it better than “regular” chicken breast?  His answer:  “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve just always been an EverRoast Man.”

Poor guy.  I’m sure he never expected me to investigate this intriguing proclamation.  But I did a bit of research later and learned that Boar’s Head EverRoast Oven Roasted Chicken Breast debuted in 2009.  And since he certainly looked older than five to me, his claim was in tatters.

So why the fib?  Because branding WORKS.  People use brands – whether claiming to love them or hate them – to shape their own image.  From cars and clothes to liquor, sunglasses, watches, sporting goods, music, coffee, deli meats (!), and more…we gravitate toward brands that we feel accurately portray the image we want projected to our audiences.  In short:  it’s like co-op marketing.  Who needs a personal marketing budget when you can bask in the halo effect created by brands that have already spent billions of dollars defining the image you aspire to have?

Successful branding takes time, consistency, and…yes…money.  A brand needs to be clearly defined and have a point of view, and then stand up to scrutiny over and over and over again before it becomes powerful enough for people to identify with it.  But when it’s done right…damn, it sure does work.

So, marketing professionals…the next time you get resistance to spending money on branding, send your boss to the local supermarket deli counter.  One chat with an EverRoast Man or an Ovengold® Girl and they’ll change their tune faster than you can make a sandwich.

Footnote:  For more branding giggles (and perhaps a new lunch suggestion), check out the online Boar’s Head Digicatessen®.  For my next career, I think I want to name deli meats.  It seems like a fun job.

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