June 14, 2018

The power of 15 minutes.

15 minute stop watch

Tell me this hasn’t happened to you:

You have something important to write…could be a sales pitch, press release, email newsletter, note to your boss, marketing program, ad copy… anything. It may not even need to be lengthy – just important in some way. So, you sit down to your keyboard at the precious time slot you’ve squeezed out of your packed to-do list and you force yourself to begin typing. And then…

You type a few words. Backspace over them. Type a few more words…keep going… then backspace over all of them too. Then you stare at your monitor trying to focus, while your to-do list sends invisible smoke signals to your brain, reminding you that you DON’T HAVE TIME for backspacing nonsense…you’ve got a ton of other things to do, and you’re running out of the window you’ve allotted to write this damn thing and youknowwhatyouwanttosaysowhywon’tthewordsjustflowout#*%#@?

People. Chill out. In reality, you DON’T know what you want to say, and that’s the trouble. You know what the assignment is, but you haven’t decided how to approach it. And so you sit down to write before mapping out a game plan…and then you freeze because you’re about to start the car for a road trip, and you have no idea where you’re going once you pull out of the driveway.

Here’s a tip that will make writing less painful and more productive. Before you write, sit quietly for 15 minutes and just think about what you’re planning to write.

Sounds easy, right? Nope. When was the last time you sat quietly in your office for 15 minutes and did absolutely nothing else? Not check email, scan your list, get sucked into social media, read something, jot down 15 things you remember you wanted to add to your to-do list… literally just do nothing but think. To very busy people, 15 minutes of complete stillness feels like a jitter-inducing eternity. And in a way, it is. It’s 25% of an entire hour.

Sitting still and thinking for 25% of an entire hour – when there are 200 tasks awaiting your attention – could, at first glance, seem like squandering productivity. Not so. In fact, investing that quiet time in thought will actually UNLOCK your productivity and make your writing more effective.

Try it. 15 minutes may feel like an eternity, but in reality, it’s not a lot of time. You probably squander that every day without even being aware of it… chatting about reality TV, tracking the progress of the #mprraccoon, reveling in historic sports moments like Justify winning the Triple Crown or the Caps FINALLY winning a Stanley Cup… maybe even just checking out your favorite Instagram dogs.

But see the pattern? All of those things feel like “doing something.” Somewhere along the way, “thinking” lost the right to be considered “doing something.” Reinstate it. You won’t be sorry.

Want more writing tips? Here…we’ve got a few.

May 29, 2018

This “Blind Date” concept wins at marketing.

This idea – Blind Date with a Book – is so brilliant, I just stood there admiring it for several minutes while my marketing brain lit up with joy.

At Book Culture on Columbus, a reader’s paradise on the Upper West Side of NYC, there’s a center table piled with books wrapped completely so you can’t see their titles.  A label on each one gives you clues to the book’s content, like so:

Blind Date with a Book

Trying not to look like a creepy stalker, I hovered around the table for a long while…just to observe the reactions of people who stumbled upon the table for the first time.

Here’s the big headline:  every single person HAD a reaction.  Some thought it was the coolest idea in the universe, some said they’d never buy a book sight unseen, some wanted to rip off the wrapping and see if they guessed correctly, some thought it was a unique gift for bookworms.

But…  Everyone.  Had.  A.  Reaction.

Do you know how hard that is to achieve?  Breaking through the cluttered awareness of busy shoppers, amidst a sea of tables and shelves and displays and gifts and noise?  Nearly impossible.

But Blind Date with a Book achieves it, because it’s rich with multi-faceted marketing power:

  • It’s the bricks-n-mortar answer to the online suggestion algorithms (“If you like this, you’ll ALSO like…”) that the Amazons and Spotifys of the world have trained us to crave.
  • The power of secrets and surprises…people can’t resist the mischief.
  • It addresses a business need with grace, whimsy, and a consumer-facing benefit:  the titles are all picked by staff because they’re worth a read, but for whatever reason don’t get as much purchasing love as they should.
  • It connects with people…engages them, and definitely makes them smile.
  • No question it gives shape to the store’s personality…anything unexpected and fun like this ignites a positive feeling for the brand.  Even if you’re not the type to purchase a wrapped book, you still think they’re cool for doing it.

What’s the moral here?  Stop reaching for the same old sales and marketing tools.  If Book Culture had wanted to push slow-moving titles, they could have done a sale or marked them as “Staff Picks” or whatever.  All usual tricks for bookstores, and all standing a 50/50 chance of getting people to care.

But wrap up a book in brown paper and call it a Blind Date?  Winner.  Hands down.

May 17, 2018

What makes you ding-worthy?

So…I feel a bit like a soulless drug pusher on this one, but hear me out, ok?

A growing issue is causing serious angst in today’s society:  people are addicted to their phones and they know it…and they don’t like it. There’s a movement afoot for these addicts to “resist the ding” and wean themselves from craving the need to keep checking their phone. And the psychological battle cry of “how to take back control” is a hot topic at business conferences, therapy sessions, family dinner tables, relationship counseling, and in mainstream media.  If this is news to you, here are two useful articles on the subject from NPR and Psychology Today.

But it’s a marketer’s mission to cut through clutter and get attention. And so we ruthlessly hunt for standout ways to infiltrate their phones: emails, text messaging, location-based promotions, social media (organic and paid), social media direct messaging, and <insert shiny marketing-tool-du-jour here>.

We WANT to be the ding that gets their attention. We WANT them to stop what they’re doing and embrace our message.

But think of the psychology:  more and more people are taking control of their own “ding dial,” fiercely curating which dings (if any) get their immediate attention, and – whoa – even turning off the dings completely in order to neutralize messages that masquerade as urgent.

Worse (for us)…in an effort to reduce the overwhelming daily assault of information through intrusive dings and silent accumulation, they are more discriminating in scrubbing their access points.  This means YOU (soulless, message-pushing marketer) are being judged continuously, and you are always just one frivolous ding away from getting banished.

So here’s what you need to ask yourself, marketers:  what makes you ding-worthy?  And you can’t do this effectively by looking at a single message’s value (i.e. this post, this email). You need to respect your role in the relationship with people’s phones and your value in their overall information landscape.  What earns you the right to continued access?  How do your dings foster Pavlovian-level satisfaction?

I’ll tell you the answer:  always-relevant content, and choosing frequency wisely.  Quite simply…don’t waste their time (or mental bandwidth) and make every ding meaningful.

Is this harder for you?  Yep. Does this mean you have to care more about THEIR needs than YOUR sales goals?  Yep.  Is this annoying because now you have to think more, and sometimes resist sending messages you REALLY REALLY want to send?  Yep.

But here’s the alternative:  would you rather be banished?  Because that’s what’s at stake now more than ever.

Marketing was never effective when it was too frequent or too frivolous. Desensitization and annoyance have always been at risk. But back in the day, those risks just wasted your money and time. People may have gotten annoyed, but they hadn’t yet – en masse – felt empowered to do anything about it.

But these days, technological assault has made people feel like victims and addicts, so when you annoy them, they not only feel empowered to banish you…they do it with a sense of righteous justice. Kicking you out of their phone grants them a joyous feeling of liberation.

And so yay for you, marketer!  You created a positive encounter with your target. The downside is that it came from them slamming the door in your face…and locking it.

So what’s the moral of this story?  Don’t ignore this growing social phenomenon, and adapt your approach accordingly.

In short:  Please ding responsibly. 

May 2, 2018

One small question can lead to BIG ideas.

Thinking visual

So…you know “those” marketing people?  The ones who seem to have a dozen (or 100) spectacular ideas every day?  Chances are, this question plays in a continuous loop in their brains:

What could we do with this?

“Idea people” get inspiration from everything they encounter, every single day.

While browsing social media: Oh, an underwater filmmaker/choreographer performs a jaw-dropping dance in the world’s deepest pool?  What could we do with this?

While reading an online newspaper: Oh, a restaurant in Maine is only accepting reservation requests by postcard?  What could we do with this?

While subtly eavesdropping on a nearby subway conversation and trying not to be creepy about it: Oh, Jennifer Garner is doing an (adorable and oh-so-fabulous) pretend cooking show on Instagram?  What could we do with this?

Every new bit of sensory input is an opportunity to spark a new idea.  Maybe we don’t need an actual DANCE underwater… but could one of our clients benefit from cool underwater filming?  Or is there something we can do with the world’s deepest pool?  And POSTCARDS.  That’s an unusual way to use postcards.  Is there ANOTHER way we can use postcards in an unexpected fashion?  Or can one of our clients accept reservations in an unusual way?  We’re about to plan a big conference… can postcards play a role in the attendee experience?

And Jennifer Garner.  Can we just hug her?  Or partner with her?  Or can one of our clients send her a recipe to try?  Or can they do their own cooking show?  Wait… she tried to make bagels and it was REALLY hard.  Is that true?  If it’s hard… can we do a bagel-making class at one of our restaurants?  Are bagels a thing?  Do they pair well with prosecco (doesn’t everything)?  What about bagels for dinner?  Or Bagel Turndown Service at a hotel?  Is there a National Bagel Day?

<must…turn…off…brain…>

The point is…it’s not about copying ideas.  It’s about using a germ of one thing to springboard into a new idea.  Maybe related…maybe not.  It’s kind of a long stretch to get from Jennifer Garner’s cooking show to launching Bagel Turndown Service at a hotel.  But it all starts with… what could we do with this?

If you are ever stuck for an idea, make this your magic phrase.  Open a magazine, surf the web, take a spin on social media, go to a shopping mall… pay attention to the things that grab you and think what could we do with this?

Yesterday on the subway, I saw a woman carrying a Yorkshire Terrier in an Easter basket, and the dog was wearing tiny little bunny ears and a tiny little bowtie shaped like a bone.  RANDOM.  Believe me.  You don’t even want to know how long my “what could we do with this?” list was.

April 10, 2018

Marketing works better when you get out of your own way.

Last year while consulting with a hotel client, we decided together that a certain kind of in-room marketing piece and promotional offer was needed to spark interest (and reservations) in their restaurant.  They were TOTALLY jazzed about the idea and their in-house design team was going to “get right on it.”

It’s a year later and no piece was ever produced.  The reason?  Marketing, finance, and the executive team couldn’t come to an agreement on details… how long the promo would run, how deep the discount would be, and how the piece would be designed for the room… a door hanger?  Something to place on the bed?  Hanging from the bedside lamp?  Table tent on the vanity?

It got too hard to shepherd to the goal line, and so it’s still sitting in approval purgatory.

And yet, they are still banging their heads against the wall in frustration over the empty seats in the restaurant.

In contrast:  last month, I was traveling through the tiny town of Blackville, New Brunswick in Canada, and I stopped at the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Burke’s Diner for a quick snack.  While waiting for my food, I noticed the napkin holders in the dining room:

Burke's Napkin Holders

Are those promo flyers slick and perfect?  Nope.  Are they even smooth and unwrinkled?  Nope.  Did a marketing team sit with the finance team for weeks, and then do a presentation to executive management before sending the idea to the design team to execute?  Pretty doubtful.

But do they work?  Absolutely.  I ate there just once, and even *I* know that Friday is Steak Night, and so forth.

Here’s the moral:  GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY.  That hotel client I mentioned above?  They are not alone.  We see that sort of stalling-due-to-lack-of-agreement all the time.  And folks…it’s hurting your business.  Because while you’re gearing up for the United Nations Talks of Marketing, your restaurant seats are still empty.

Doing something is better than doing nothing, and things can always be changed, evolved, or removed.  Just find a way to forge ahead.

And if you’re ever hungry in the Blackville area, here’s Burke’s version of a “light snack”…

Pile of Fries

FYI, there’s a grilled cheese under there somewhere.  #prizeunderfries

March 16, 2018

Five opening lines that sabotage your email’s success.

You want people to read your emails, right?  Then be mindful of these two powerful words:

PREVIEW PANE.

That little teaser allows people a glance at your email’s content before they open it, which makes your first sentence vital.  It can either hook interest and make readers want to open it instantly, or it can say nothing worthwhile and prompt them to triage its importance for another time (if ever).  This actually holds true even if the recipient is NOT using preview pane… who gets jazzed about reading an email with a boring opening line?

Here’s a hard truth:  most people begin emails with boring sentences simply because they’re being lazy.  It’s a crutch for warming up to writing what they REALLY want to say… a way to get their fingers moving on the keyboard.  But the fact is, you’re doing your email a huge disservice by overlooking the importance of your opening line.

Here are five of the most common “wasted” opening lines:

I hope you are well.
My name is (x) and I’m the (x) of (x) company…
I wanted to write you today to…
I am pleased to attach the document…
Hope you’re enjoying this weather!

Why are these lines wasted?  Because they’re either stating the obvious or making irrelevant small talk.  You may indeed truly hope the person is well, and you have my blessing to say that… at the end.  And you may indeed be pleased to attach that document…but who cares?  Perhaps instead, say why the document is/should be important to THEM.

Yes, it takes longer to come up with a compelling opening line (and please, for the love of Pete, please don’t start with the word “I”).  But it’s worth it.  I may not know you, or anything about you and your email recipients, but I’d bet the ranch that you’d rather have folks open your emails than glaze over them or just hit delete.

Bonus writing advice:  also be wary of the word “great,” using exclamation points, and the request to have things sent to you “ASAP.”  Check out these and other quick writing tips here.

 

February 22, 2018

If you want brand engagement, just be human.

There I was, innocently chopping vegetables for a salad at my kitchen counter, my mind on a million other things while my hands worked on autopilot.  And then, without warning… the little tomatoes seduced me.

I had picked up the container to peel back the cover, when my eye caught the writing on the tab:

Cherub Grape Tomatoes with "Lettuce Out" tab Cherub tab "Lettuce Out"

Seriously.  “Lettuce out?”  Produce packaging with a sense of humor?  It’s corny and goofy and oh-so-endearing, and I am not going to lie:  I giggled audibly.  And that particular salad brought me a great deal of joy.

Why?  Because THE TOMATOES MADE A JOKE, people.  In this world of legal jargon, marketing buzzwords, and brand manifestos, a simple salad pun like “lettuce out” is unbelievably charming and disarming for consumers.  I didn’t really have an opinion of my tomatoes before.  Suddenly, I cared.  I felt like the folks at NatureSweet® must be pretty cool and groovy…and human.  Real people, not a faceless sea of business operations.  And I liked them.  As if they were a single person, making a one-on-one connection with me, in a very unscripted, informal way.

Learn from this, folks.  It cost them nothing to add this dash of personality to their packaging, and yet it did more to inspire my warm feelings than any expensive ad campaign ever could.  Not convinced?  How about…

The napkins at Chipotle Mexican Grill:

Chipotle Napkin

 

The inside of a Dove® chocolate wrapper.

Dove chocolate wrapper

 

The tip jar sign at Cape May Brewing Company:

Tip jar at Cape May Brewery

 

The point is…brands spend a ton of money on marketing and chasing brand loyalty, and yet they miss these simple, often no-cost opportunities to quietly worm their way into people’s hearts.  With that one little lettuce joke, I became a “Cherub Girl,” just like the guy who once told me he’s an “EverRoast® Man”…except I’m not just using it as a pickup line.

February 6, 2018

Eight qualities every (great) social media marketer must have.

Social media icons coming from megaphoneIn my entire (nearly) 30 years of working with companies big and small in the tourism industry, never once did I hear an executive say, “Oh, we need more legal assistance?  Let’s assign that responsibility to the night auditor.”  Or, “We are short an engineer, so let’s task reservation agents to fix the HVAC during their breaks.”

So why oh why do so many executives think that anyone with a brain and a pulse can do marketing?  I’ve seen more unsuitable people deputized with marketing authority simply because they’re “bright and eager,” and because someone in power thinks they should have room on their dance card to take on more work.  This usually leads to disappointment on all sides.  Newsflash:  being a strategic marketer takes more than just being a people person.

The rise of social media in the marketing mix has only made this phenomenon worse.  Now, anyone with a Twitter or Instagram account is apparently capable of running point on complex social media strategies.

Not so.  And let’s be clear here:  this isn’t about schooling or having the right degree.  Sure, schooling helps a person acquire skills, but having a natural knack for something is essential to true success in a role.  And just like people have a knack for drawing, or singing, or mechanical stuff, or cooking… people have a knack for marketing… and ESPECIALLY social media.

If you’re looking to fill this role in your organization…or you’re just a bright-and-eager person aspiring to become a social media marketing guru…here’s a checklist of eight qualities that make this role successful:

  1. Has a sense of humor, and knows how/when to wield it
  2. Loves social media, all types, and is personally aware of and immersed in it
  3. Is an articulate and engaging writer, who favors the power of brevity
  4. Knows proper grammar, and (as importantly) how/when to relax grammar standards
  5. Has reliable judgment
  6. Keeps ego in check, and blends confidence with humility
  7. Has no fear of technology
  8. Embraces every nook and cranny of your brand, inside and out

Is a person with all eight of these qualities easy to find?  Nope.  But is it worth holding out to find and harness such a person?  Well… this person is your voice to the ENTIRE WORLD, in REAL TIME, with NO COMMUNICATION BARRIER.  You know, just that.  NBD.

Hold out.  Find that person.  It’s worth it.

November 3, 2017

Burnt croissants…a marketing home run.

Don’t these look appetizing?

birdies bread croissants

Believe it or not, they do to smart marketers.

The wise folks at Birdies Bread Co in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia truly GET social media. Speak with your brand voice, be real, let your hair down, and say things that connect with people. This post about a burned batch of croissants nails it all for four key reasons:

Cuts through Clutter: among the never-ending sea of photos in a person’s news feed, THIS photo will make them stop and read the message

Tugs at Kinship: it gives the warm “we feel ya” fuzzies to anyone who’s ever screwed up a recipe

Engaging Humility: it says “even professionals ain’t always perfect…we’re human too,” which is endearing and accessible and oh-so unintimidating

Inspires Trust: future marketing messages will be more credible because the audience knows they’re not trying to hide flaws

Many brands and businesses aren’t comfortable allowing their flaws – and human side – to peek through on social media. It feels like a huge risk to expose imperfections. But when done with care and thoughtful judgment, feathering in some fun, “we’re human” candid-type posts are EXACTLY the right way to get the most out of social media.

And just to tell both sides of the Birdies story… this:

birdies bread yummy baked goods

That right there is some tasty marketing, folks.

 

September 27, 2017

How to arrest attention (pun intended) using social media.

This is a complaint I hear often:  We put a ton of time into social media and it’s like nobody is listening.  And then they blame the algorithm.

Poor things.  I feel like a therapist when I pull them aside and hit them with some radical candor:

Psst.  It’s not the algorithm.  It’s YOU.

Because the way most brands do social media, nobody IS listening.  Most businesses – at least in my industry, which is travel, tourism, and hospitality – do their scheduled, obligatory posts like clockwork… often carefully vetted in advance by executives who crave control over all marketing messages.

That’s the key issue right there:  the forum of social media rewards nimble and impromptu risk takers, and penalizes scripted, safe automatons.  And I don’t mean the algorithms reward and penalize…I mean the audiences.  Algorithms do indeed shape who sees your stuff…but algorithms are influenced by audiences.  If enough folks engage with your stuff, the algorithm rewards you handsomely.

Here’s a magnificent example.  The Lawrence Kansas Police Department sells these t-shirts:

Twitter shirt of Lawrence Kansas PD

And if you spend just 10 minutes scrolling through their Twitter feed, you’ll be rolling on the floor howling with laughter.  And then you might even click “follow,” despite the fact that you live nowhere near Kansas.  I did.

The population of Lawrence is around 95,000.  The Lawrence Police Department has a Twitter following of 63,000.  If the New York City Police Department wanted to have the same ratio of followers-to-population, it would need 5,610,000 followers.  It currently has 431,000.

And engagement with LKPD tweets is absurdly high…a recent tweet got 550,000 likes and 174,000 retweets.  Reading that will make lots of social media marketers swoon with envy.

Why is the engagement so strong, and why is their social media effort so successful?  Five key reasons:

  1. It’s not just an obligatory marketing tactic…it’s used as a tool and grounded in solid purpose (connect with the community and make them want to listen to the police). That North Star anchors their entire effort, so it never loses its way and becomes white noise.
  2. It’s an ongoing dialogue, happening in real time.  Even promotional messages feel natural and organic…not scripted and salesy.
  3. They promote the bejesus out of their social channels every chance they get, even offline (see t-shirts above for living proof).
  4. It’s entertaining (and therefore shareworthy).  Say what you will about human attention spans, but the fact is…we gravitate toward things that make us laugh and feel good.
  5. It persuades, not just informs.  Like so:

INFORMS = “Don’t drive around Road Closed signs into flood water or you may get stranded.”

PERSUADES:

Lawrence Kansas PD Tweet about Flooded Car

The bottom line is…they invest the time AND the risk AND the focus.  Social media – when done right – requires diving into the deep end fully clothed.

So, you may be spending a lot of time “doing” social media, but how exactly are you spending that time?   If you spend more time planning than actually engaging with audiences, flipflop that ratio and you’ll see a difference.

Or, you could just give it all up and become a Lawrence Kansas police officer.  It seems fun.