September 19, 2018

Even accountants can have fun with marketing.

“I was so inspired by all the fun examples you shared, but I work for accountants and we could never do anything like that.”

So said the woman who came up to me after my recent speech about inspiration at the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.  The speech highlighted the ways in which businesses can transform everyday customer interactions into inspirational, engaging encounters.  And as part of that, I shared dozens of examples from around the world…businesses using everything from tip jar signs to colorful portable toilets in order to make memories for customers.

My inspired-but-dejected accountant friend scooted away too quickly for me to show her a different point of view.  I mean…she hugged me, so she wasn’t THAT dejected.  But there was clearly a boundary in her mind:  other businesses like hotels and restaurants can have fun…accountants cannot.

Every scrap of my marketing DNA rebelled against that philosophy.  So in my mind on the drive home, I reviewed all the examples I shared in the speech, and this one leaped out… the hours of operation sign at Hot Dog Tommy’s in Cape May, NJ:

Hot Dog Tommy's Hours Sign

Wouldn’t it be marvelous for an accounting firm to have office hours from 8:57am to 5:02pm, with the tag line “we’re accountants…we’re precise?”

Their hours and that tag line could be shared in their email signatures, on their website, business cards, advertisements, and more.

And what does that get them?  A conversation starter.  A point of difference.  A personality.  A smile from a potential customer.

A way to be memorable.

And doesn’t EVERY business want to be memorable to its audiences?  Even you, accountants.  You want people to think of you over OTHER accountants.  So…without that tag line, your business card is ordinary.  With it?  You make an impression.

Any business can use nearly ANY touch point to make customers care about them.  No business has to be boring…that’s a choice you make, and you can simply choose to be interesting.  You just have to do it with care and thought to what makes sense for your brand and industry.  Accountants with hyper-precise hours?  YES.  Accountants with colorful portable toilets in the reception area?  Well…that will certainly make you memorable, but perhaps not in the way you want.

PS:  In 90 seconds, see how I prepared for this speech, and I’d be the biggest hypocrite in the world if this video were boring. Watch 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.

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.

July 10, 2017

Dogs + vodka + love = marketing.

I owe Tito’s Vodka a humble and heartfelt apology.

Tito's "Vodka for Dog People" Ad

Walking thru LaGuardia Airport recently, I saw this ad and immediately thought:  shame on them.  Using the irresistible marketing star power of dogs to try to sell their vodka?  That’s quite a stretch.  Dogs can’t even drink vodka (duh), so who do they think they’re kidding?

This felt like one of those “jump on the bandwagon” marketing tactics that Redpoint warns clients against doing. You can’t just put crayons on your dining tables and claim “we’re a kid friendly restaurant,” or stick a pride flag on your porch and claim “we’re an LGBTQ friendly hotel.”  You need the chops to back it up if you REALLY want to court a specific market.  Half-heartedly courting a target audience without committing to substance under the hood will just backfire and alienate them.

So…you can’t just buy a cool URL (www.VodkaForDogPeople.com) and claim you’re a dog friendly vodka.

But when I went to the website (poised for righteous indignation) Tito’s surprised me, and knocked this cynical marketer flat.  They truly ARE “Vodka for Dog People,” and their mission, programming, and charity work all prove it.  This is no impulsive, bandwagon marketing technique… there’s quite a bite behind this positioning.

So what happened?  The ice melted, and I fell in love with them.  And I don’t even drink vodka, nor do I think about vodka brands.  But as a dog lover…if I did…I’d give Tito’s a try.  Maybe even become brand loyal.

What’s the moral of this story?  The strength of the connection you make with a targeted segment of customers is directly proportionate to the investment you make in courting it.  If you half-ass the approach, you’ll get a lukewarm response at best.  But if you go all in, you’ll get the ROI you seek.

Tito’s… I’m sorry, and I’m not afraid to say it with candor.  I judged you unfairly, and as my penance, I will buy at least one bottle of your vodka and pet 100 dogs.  #EveryoneWins

June 8, 2017

Bathroom branding…it’s a thing.

When you’re walking (hurrying?) into a public bathroom, your mental focus is probably pretty singular:  get in, get relief, and get out…with minimal engagement to the actual bathroom itself.

Unless there is a clever sign on the door.

Then…you smile, and even if just for a brief second…you think about the brand that “owns” the bathrooms. Maybe you even take a picture of the sign and post it on social media.  You might even tag that brand, and give them a shout-out for being fabulous.  Or text it to a friend.

The point is…you notice, and a connection is formed between you and that brand.  If the bathroom doors are simply marked “Men” and “Women,” you don’t even spare them (or the brand) a brain cell.  But when they’re unexpected and distinct, you pay attention.  Case in point:

At the Timber Lounge in Halifax, Nova Scotia…a bar at which you can enjoy a spot of axe throwing:

Timber Lounge

At Weylin B. Seymour’s glamourous event space in Brooklyn, NY, the wheelchair accessible bathrooms inspire festive attitudes:

wheelchair

At an Irving highway rest area in New Brunswick, Canada…the LEAST likely place you’d be inspired to care about a brand:

At the Hotel on North in Pittsfield, MA, which boasts a sophisticated-yet-funky-retro vibe (psst… Redpoint designed these):

Hotel on North Bathroom

The point is, bathroom signs are an easy, inexpensive and non-intrusive way to make a connection with your guests.  You’ve got to put signs up anyway…why not let them help further your marketing goals?

And if you ever need to set up port-a-potties…take a page from the Rochester Lilac Festival and GO ALL IN:

Lilac Bathrooms

Lilac port-a-potties, people.  I rest my case.

October 9, 2015

Catch more flies. Make more money.

A small restaurant in Denver, CO shows the world that when it comes to establishing your business philosophy, honey trumps vinegar hands down. 

Picture this:  You’re starving.  You’re weary after a long day.  You want to shed your troubles with good company, some laughs, delicious food, and certainly a cocktail or two.  And as you step up to the host stand, your request for a table is answered with the single most annoying phrase on the planet:

“For a party of two, the wait time is currently around one hour and 45 minutes.”

If you’re the restaurant owner, what’s the fallout from this scenario?

  • The MOMENT people enter your restaurant, they’re hit with something negative.
  • Most people will just leave and go elsewhere.
  • While they may not actively HATE you, they feel disappointment and frustration.
  • If it happens more than once, many people will stop trying.

Most importantly, you lose the opportunity to form a relationship with people who are just ripe for the picking.  They’ve sought you out and made the effort to land on your doorstep.  And now you have to turn them away?  This chronic problem of busy restaurants makes owners (and their marketing folks) weep.

But the smart, cheerful, positive thinkers who run Work & Class are shedding no tears over this issue.

On a recent visit to Denver, I was greeted at their host stand with that same annoying phrase.  I glanced at the teeny-tiny, jam-packed bar and said to the two hostesses, “Rats. We are only in town tonight and were dying to try this place, but that’s just too long to wait.  Oh well.”

The hostesses could have simply said, “Oh, sorry…come see us again on your next visit!”  And had they done so, that would have been the end of my relationship with Work & Class.

Instead, they said, “hold on a minute.”  And the two of them scanned the wait list, craned their necks to look at the locations of patrons at the bar, and whispered conspiratorially to each other.  Then one of them leaned in and said to me, “See those people sitting at the far side of the bar?  In around 20 minutes, I’m going to seat them.  If you want to wait right here at the host stand, I’ll take you with me when I go to tell them their table is ready, and you can grab their seats and eat at the bar.  And I could bring cocktails here to you while you’re waiting.”

Who could say no to that?  Especially since they both had huge smiles on their faces and were clearly delighted to be making my friend and me happy.  We said yes.  A champagne and a whiskey appeared momentarily, and then the best part happened:  we had a 20-minute front row seat to watch the magic of the Work & Class host stand in action.  Here’s what goes down:

  • The hostesses are not robots…they display empathy for each and every person’s plight with the wait time, and they remained genuinely cheerful and positive despite delivering unwelcome news.
  • Because the bar area is so small, the restaurant formed a relationship with the bar across the street to funnel patrons there for 10% off their entire bar tab while awaiting their “table is ready” call.
  • If you choose to stay and wait, there’s a $4 “wait drink.” (brilliant move)
  • The hostesses never – not once – let anyone walk away after hearing the wait time without ALSO hearing another solution… bar across the street, try us earlier or later, join us on Wednesday, come back for dessert, sit at the communal table outside… and the solutions were never the same.  They were based on what each particular diner needed/wanted.

The pounce-on-the-barstool strategy worked beautifully, and as the night unfolded, we learned that the hostesses were not alone in fostering the positive attitude that permeates Work & Class.  Bartenders, bussers, waitstaff, owner… they are ALL just ridiculously happy people.

And the tone of the restaurant fosters that same attitude in the patrons.  The “House Rules” are displayed on huge signs, and they’re written so adorably that you are inspired to follow them:

Work & Class House Rules

You can also read a more detailed version of the House Rules on their website.

Cost-conscious restaurant owners may read this and say, “Are you nuts?  Why would I send people to my competitor, much less pay to have cards printed to send them there?  Why would I discount a ‘wait drink’ when people who decide to wait would end up buying them at full price?  I’ll never get my hostesses to be that personable, and besides that, if they have to spend extra time with each individual person at the host stand, I’ll require more hosts per shift.”

And to them I say… everyone who visits Work & Class is put in a good mood, even if they decide not to wait.  And Work & Class is packed to the rafters every single night.  You do the math.

So if you are visiting Denver, you must eat here.  The delicious food is just a bonus…the infusion of joy is the real daily special.

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.

February 26, 2014

Branding lessons from the deli counter.

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.

January 25, 2013

Why this tiny little Fiat® won my big marketing heart.

Image

If I could give this car a hug, I would.

When I stepped up to the Alamo car rental counter last week to pick up a car for a weekend trip, I could have won a gold medal if “Multitasking” were an Olympic sport.  I was schlepping bags, answering emails, planning what to eat for lunch, remembering things I forgot to pack, and just generally unfocused on the task at hand.  I rent cars all the time, and I know the drill, so basically, I put that part of my brain on autopilot – license, credit card, initials in a zillion places, give blood and your first born, and so on.

But when the service agent said these words, all distractions disappeared instantly and I snapped to attention like a guard dog on command:  “You’re in that tiny little Fiat® outside.  Would you like to upgrade to something a bit safer?”

Did I snap to attention because I was worried about my safety?  Absolutely not.  (Mom, if you’re reading this…sorry.)  What happened was…the marketer in me became fiercely indignant on behalf of the Fiat® brand.  All distractions were banished by these thoughts:

  • Why would a car rental company want to imply that it rents ANY cars that are unsafe?
  • Do the Fiat® sales and marketing executives – who are probably hopeful that people who rent their car could be hooked into buying one – know that their car is being portrayed as “unsafe” at the car rental counter?
  • Does Alamo script their service agents with this language to scare people into upgrading to a more expensive car?  If so…shame on them.  If not…perhaps they need a better training program to educate their team how to “sell up” without “putting down.”

As all these thoughts crowded my brain in the span of 10 seconds, I realized that I was staring at the service agent like she had just committed a heinous crime.  And perhaps she did, from a branding perspective.  But I know that making a fuss about it would probably cast me as an unbalanced lunatic, so I just looked her squarely in the eye and said, “The Fiat® is absolutely perfect.  I’ll take it.”

Clearly,  nothing wins my allegiance faster than a marketing underdog.  Fiat®, if you’re ever looking for a PR firm in the US, give Redpoint a call.  🙂