December 3, 2020

Hershey’s Kisses fell prey to Satan in 2020.

If you’re like me, you had NO IDEA there are people out there whose sanity and well-being rest on the annual appearance of the Hershey’s Kisses holiday commercial.

But not just ANY holiday commercial.  It must be the original commercial that launched in 1989 and has basically remained unchanged, with Kisses doubling as bells that ring out “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  If you haven’t watched TV during the holidays in the past 31 years, you can see that original spot here.

This year, Hershey’s updated said commercial with a twist, like so: (click on the image to watch)

Apparently, this change ruined some people’s lives.  Snippets on the subject from social media:

  • “I’m emotionally scarred.”
  • “Nothing is sacred anymore.”
  • “There was once a time when I loved the holidays and now I feel terrible.”
  • “FIRE THE PERSON WHO SUGGESTED TO CHANGE IT!!!”
  • “2020 wasn’t the year to change it, we’ve been traumatized enough.”
  • “THIS YEAR CAN GO STRAIGHT TO HELL.”
  • “It fills me with primal rage.”

And those are some comments I *didn’t* have to censor.  Naturally, mainstream media seized on the backlash and made national news out of Hershey’s’ evil decision to ruin the holiday season.

Am I the only one fascinated by this situation?  If you’re a marketer, it’s likely your brand’s recognition is far less than that of Hershey’s Kisses (she says in the understatement of the year).  But if we zip up to the 30,000-foot view of this whole debacle, here’s what you can learn from it:

Consistency and frequency matter.  People are fickle and have short attention spans, and it takes a long time to penetrate their awareness and create meaningful connections.  Your own audience may be proportionately smaller than that of Hershey’s Kisses, but that doesn’t dilute their potential for loyalty.  Keeping your annual marketing campaigns fresh is always a good idea, but keeping a few select elements the same year after year after year can form a bond of repetition that becomes tradition.  Whether this is your “opening for the season” video, or a holiday campaign, or an anniversary message… there are things your loyal guests recognize that strengthen your relationship with them every year.  Marketers often get swept up in the idea of creating new campaigns in order to reach new guests, but don’t be so quick to summarily drop all “old campaigns.” You’ve built equity there that could be harnessed.

Change will always scare some people, so don’t freak out when it happens.  Humans resist change, and yeah…sometimes they can get dramatic about it.  But you’re doing your business a disservice if you lose your nerve every time people complain about a change you’ve made, because you KNOW some will.  Whether it’s a change in hours, name, staff, product, programming, marketing campaigns, or whatever… if you’ve thought it through and it’s the right move for your business, then prepare yourself properly to address (or ignore, if appropriate) any negative reaction.  Related note… if you’re certain the news will be unwelcome, this might help:  Five Tips to Deliver Bad News Gracefully.

Audiences can be unpredictable.  Between the dual social groundswells of gender equality and Black Lives Matter, it’s a safe bet that Hershey’s thought enhancing this commercial with a black father baking cookies with his young daughter would only bring them a flood of positive feeling.  Well…nope.  I guess nostalgia trumps social change in this case?  So, take note:  be prepared for surprises. There’s simply no way you can 100% predict how all people will react to your decisions.

And perhaps one BIG takeaway here is:  just don’t mess with nostalgia during a pandemic.

In closing, however, I leave you with this thought.  Surely the ad agency of the globally-recognized Hershey’s brand has enough research and data in its pocket to know how staunchly loyal audiences are to this commercial… after all, they haven’t changed it in 31 years and I’m sure that was a deliberate choice.

So, did they do it on purpose in 2020 knowing it would cause controversy and therefore get a wider audience and more coverage?  Or did they predict some backlash but felt the upside of the change would be worth it?  Comments on that are welcome… and I’m just gonna sit here and eat an entire bag of Kisses while I ponder it.

November 5, 2020

Words matter, but so does the font you choose.

A graphic of the word typeface using a magnifying glass.If you’re not a graphic designer or branding specialist, your experience with choosing typefaces is likely limited to the little dropdown box at the top of your screen, where you select from fonts like Arial, Universal, Comic Sans, and the whimsically-named Wingdings.  You may not even realize that a typeface is a design of lettering (i.e. sans serif), and fonts are variations within each particular typeface (i.e. Arial or Calibri).

Further, you probably choose your font for documents and emails based on your own personal preference of what you think “looks good.”  Is it pretty?  Professional?  Strong?  Does it reflect your personality?  Does it set you apart?  Or is it just the default font used by Word, Outlook, etc. and you never give it a second thought?

But in marketing and branding…typeface and font matter A LOT, and they can’t simply be based on your personal preferences.  Therefore, it requires a bit of knowledge to make wise choices.  Why?

First, because accessibility and legibility are essential in marketing, and not just because laws and the ADA say so.  There’s a large group of folks out there with poor vision, learning disabilities, and reading/comprehension issues, and you’re ignoring that entire audience if they don’t have access and the ability to comprehend your messages.

But second – and as importantly – the world is full of clutter and speed, which has reduced people’s attention spans to mere milliseconds.  Why would you risk wasting a precious point of contact using a typeface or font that’s even a tiny bit difficult to decipher?  You’ll lose ‘em, fast.

So here are eight super-smart tips for choosing your typeface and fonts wisely when designing your logo, brand identity, website and more.  This articulate gent Gareth Ford Williams succinctly details – in an easy 10-minute read – what you should consider.  And if psychology bores you, just skip right to the list of eight things you need to know:

A Guide to Understanding What Makes a Typeface Accessible

I guarantee after reading this, at the very least, you’ll forever beware of the mischief that “imposter letter shapes” cause.  Sneaky little buggers.

Got your typeface and font all sorted?  Now try these Four Quick Tips to Strengthen Your Writing.

October 19, 2020

How to make directions idiot-proof.

Whoever thought that watching someone try to follow written directions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich could be so hilarious and entertaining?  Click the image to watch:

father daughter and son laughing over a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich

The dad’s deliberate insistence on following EXACTLY what was written feels absurd to watch… but only because we all know he knows how to make a PB&J.  His brain can certainly fill in the gaps in direction, and the direction writers just assume that he will.

But what about someone who’s never seen nor heard of a PB&J?  Or even a sandwich?

That’s how guests feel when your directions and instructions aren’t specific enough.  What kind?  Stuff like…

  • Directions from the nearest highway to your property
  • How to control the thermostat in the hotel room
  • How to connect to wifi
  • How to use any sort of mechanical or technological item in the room
  • How to set the *#$%@ alarm clock
  • How to get to various local attractions nearby

Basically, any time you’re telling a guest how to do anything, it’s just so much easier on them – and better customer service – if you’re specific to the point of absurdity.  You can’t assume they will use GPS (or that it will work well in rural areas), or that they’ll use their phone to be self sufficient for everything they need.  So spoon feed them every step of the way.

Because there are so many things you can’t control in their total experience… why risk causing frustration on something you can control?  Need more convincing on this?  See what happens when you don’t make enough chocolate chip cookies.

 

March 3, 2020

Beards and coronavirus: a lesson in fact checking.

If you’re a social media marketer, or your business engages in social media marketing, then last week’s beards-and-coronavirus misinformation fiasco should have been a huge wake-up call for you.

Here’s what happened.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re likely aware that a new coronavirus (COVID-19) has emerged, and it’s causing concern in pretty much all corners of the globe.  Regardless of whether a country has experienced any cases on its own turf, everyone is glued to the media reports to stay abreast of the latest status, advice, and warnings.

On the morning of Wednesday February 26 2020, someone (original culprit unknown) posted an infographic that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) created in 2017 for workers who are required to use facepiece respirators in their jobs.  It was apparently (and very smartly) timed to align with “No Shave November,” to help those intending to grow beards in support of cancer awareness know what types of facial hair would prevent such respirators from working properly.  The respirators aren’t effective if the hermetic seal isn’t intact on the skin, so this safety message was not only smart but necessary.

The problem is… on Feb 26, 2020, this infographic was erroneously shared as NEW information from the CDC as a warning to the general public about COVID-19.  The dramatically incorrect message?  Men with beards won’t be protected from the new coronavirus unless they shave to one of the styles that work with everyday facemasks.

But wait… it gets worse.

The media, never shy about jumping on new (and especially absurd) angles to fuel a 24/7 news story, seized that nugget WITHOUT FACT CHECKING, and transformed it into headlines such as:

  • CDC Warns Men About Facial Hair Dangers as Coronavirus Spreads
  • CDC: Shave Your Beards to Prevent Coronavirus
  • These Beards May Make You More Likely to Catch Coronavirus

Within 24 hours, dozens of seemingly-credible news outlets shared this incorrect story as fact.  Here’s what the first five pages of a mobile search for “coronavirus beards” returned on the morning of Feb 27:

Now, forget for a moment that we’re talking about epidemics, media alarmism, and the shyster-like use of “click bait headlines” as a marketing weapon.

The lesson for social media marketers is this:  never EVER believe what you read – or worse, share it – unless you’ve checked the facts yourself.  In this case, a quick Google search would have told you that dozens of outlets were reporting on it… but that meant diddly squat, because they were ALL wrong.

So, you can’t rely on “quantity of stories” to verify facts, which is tempting.  Here’s what you CAN do:

  1. Check the original-named source. In this case, one hop onto the CDC website or their Twitter feed would have revealed that they made no such announcement.  But ANYTIME you see a media report that claims that “so-and-so says”… go straight to so-and-so’s website and social channels to find out if it’s true.
  2. Check the media sources best known for reputable fact-checking. Two known for highest standards in accuracy and credible sourcing are Associated Press and Reuters.  If they didn’t cover the story, it casts doubt on the veracity.  (Note:  Reuters didn’t cover the beard thing at all, and AP did just one story… on Feb 27 refuting the claim, with context and quotes sourced directly from the CDC.)
  3. Check the credibility of the media outlet you’re using. A helpful website, Media Bias/Fact Check, has a handy search tool that evaluates the bias and accuracy of media websites.  While it’s by no means infallible or the only source available for such assessment, it’s certainly useful as an indicator. A quick search on this site reveals things like how often a media source uses loaded language to sway emotion vs. factual reporting, how deeply/accurately it checks its facts, and how often it skews facts/opinion to favor a political bias (either left or right).

You may be thinking “well, I’m a tourism destination/hotel company/attraction/restaurant, and I’m not likely to be sharing coronavirus stories, so this sort of fact-checking thing doesn’t really apply to me.”

Not so.  Weird stuff, urban legends, outrageous claims and more are reported in the media all the time (broomstick challenge, anyone?)… and in your quest to keep your own social feeds interesting and relevant, you may pluck one out to spin with your own angle, and share it with the best of intentions.

So, the moral of the story is:  check your facts and keep your beards on.

Bonus (related) tip:  the tactic of using shock-and-scare to get attention isn’t just reserved for online.  Learn about the time Alamo tried to casually scare me into upgrading to a “safer” car.

December 20, 2019

Marketing: it’s about time.

Recently, I saw a stat in Marketing Week that gave me – a marketing counselor – a headache:

More than half (54%) of digital commerce projects are deemed unsuccessful.

Further details on this stat turned the headache into a migraine:

The main reason for this is a lack of customer alignment (34%), poor logistics (29%) and insufficient investment (29%).  Some 51% of digital commerce leaders don’t believe their organization invests enough in commerce, while 28% say digital projects move too quickly and lack strategy.  (Source: Wunderman Thompson Commerce)

Know what all of that fancy-stat-reporting really means?  People are not spending enough time thinking about, researching, and planning their marketing efforts before taking action.

Oh wait… did you just gloss over that last sentence without stopping to really absorb what it means, and what you should do about it?  As if that was just another piece of blah-blah advice from a marketer?  “Spend more time thinking about your marketing before taking action.”  Duh.  Of course that’s good advice, you say.  So basic.  I knew that.  Give me something REALLY meaty to chew on, like something I didn’t know before.

Folks…there’s a difference between knowing and doing.  As a rule, we humans aren’t that accomplished at just sitting quietly and thinking for extended periods of time.  If we have a marketing plan to write, we want to sit down and “just bang it out”… hopefully in the 93.5 minutes we’ve allotted in our schedule for it. The moment we sit down to just think, we get antsy about wasting time…and so our fingers seek out the keyboard so we can feel productive.

But just look at those stat percentages above, detailing the reasons why digital programs were deemed unsuccessful.  ALL OF THEM could be solved by spending more time planning… even “insufficient investment,” because more time up front can help you 1) spend the same funding with wiser choices, 2) figure out how/where to get more funding, or 3) decide NOT to spend in that arena and invest the money elsewhere to get a better return.

Sitting down and thinking for an hour is not wasting time.  Taking a full day off email and away from work to mentally explore strategy options, while curled up in a comfy chair, with your favorite snacks, beverages, and – dare I suggest it? – pajamas… is not wasting time.  Blocking an entire half-day each week to seek solitude and reflect on marketing progress is not wasting time.

Carving out time to just be still and think is never going to be easy.  Never. The business world moves at a fast pace, and we have colleagues, supervisors, and clients/guests who actively and passively demand our attention.  But if we don’t find the fortitude to MAKE the time, we’ll all be doomed to live with some pretty sucky stats forever.

February 20, 2019

You can’t say no to bunnies.

Here’s the problem with the cards in hotel rooms that encourage guests to “save the environment” by reusing their towels and sheets each night:  consumer skepticism.

The bubble over our heads:  Really, hotel? You think we don’t see through this? You’re just saving laundry costs by making people feel guilty about selfishly destroying the planet. We all know that some marketing shyster came up with this angle to trick guests into doing it…and damn it, it burns us that you’re racking up the profit on the backs of our guilt.

The irony is…we really ARE conserving the planet by washing things fewer times.  But that’s a massive, fuzzy, intangible outcome, which relies on everyone around the world doing it too…because my ONE little towel is pretty impotent in that crusade all by itself. This makes it hard for folks to embrace, and so – of course – our skepticism kicks in. We might reuse the towels (it’s not a tough ask), but it doesn’t bring us the satisfied, warm glow those cards were meant to inspire.

Enter:  bunnies.

During my recent stay at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, I quickly noticed the subtle presence of rabbit art around my room. Then I saw this and it all clicked:

The gist: We invite you to help us conserve. Savings from our linen program support the Inn’s “Rabitat,” a habitat restoration project with the Department of Conservation for Maine’s endangered New England Cottontail Bunnies, preservation of open space locally, and migration routes for butterflies.

Cue warm glow. I’M HELPING SAVE THE BUNNIES!  And not just ANY bunnies… THOSE BUNNIES. PROBABLY RIGHT OUTSIDE MY WINDOW. Hopping around IN THEIR “RABITAT.”  They even have an adorable name:  New England Cottontail Bunnies.

Dude, if you don’t choose to reuse your towel to save a New England Cottontail Bunny, you’re just going straight to hell.

Bravo, Inn by the Sea. You nailed this for several reasons:

  • It’s tangible, so guests can visualize and embrace the reason behind linen reuse.
  • It’s meaningful…both to them and to you. It gives you something to rally around together in a shared way, which deepens your connection and fosters good feeling.
  • It’s different and specific, so it stands out and makes an impression in the sea of vague “help us save the planet” white noise.
  • It doesn’t hide the fact that you’re saving money…rather, it shows what you’re doing with the rediscovered funds, which REALLY makes guests trust you and want to help.

Lastly…it’s authentic, genuine, and credible. It smacks down that natural human instinct we all (sadly) have for skepticism about marketing.

And, let’s call a spade a spade:  it’s fun and it makes people smile.  That…AND it saves the bunnies?  #winningatmarketing

August 7, 2018

A valuable sales lesson from a homeless gent.

fruits of relationship building - food left as a gift!

If you’ve ever been a client of Redpoint, you’ve heard our (constant, loving, unwavering) counsel on balancing “the hard sell” with “relationship building” in your marketing messages.

We get it.  When you have rooms/seats to fill, budgets to hit, expenses to pay…the urge to repeatedly reach for the hard sell is super strong.  But this is doing your marketing a huge disservice because you’re developing a one-sided relationship with your audiences:  you only (or too often) talk to them solely when you want them to buy something from you.  That’s quite selfish, and who likes to be in a relationship with someone selfish?  They’ll quickly tune you out.

But it requires a patient leap of faith for a brand to favor relationship-building messages over sales messages.  The conversion runway is longer and less trackable…so how do you know/prove the ROI is worth it?

Here’s the proof you need, delivered from an unlikely source:  a homeless gentleman who sits out on William Street in NYC every evening.

From around 4pm until after rush hour, he sits in the same spot and says nice things to folks passing by, such as:

  • “Have a lovely evening!” (all the time)
  • “Stay cool tonight!” (summer)
  • “Stay warm tonight!” (winter)
  • “Stay dry tonight!” (raining)
  • “Be careful of the ice just there!” (snowing)
  •  Etc.

He pets dogs, smiles at everyone, and waves at children.  He’s SUCH a nice man.  He never tells a down-on-my-luck story.  Never plays the guilt card.  Never shakes a cup full of coins.

And he never – EVER – asks for money.  Or food.  Or clothes.  Or anything.

But he gets them…in spades.

Every morning when I walk by his spot, there is a small collection of stuff left there by people overnight and in the morning prior to his arrival.  Most often it’s food, but sometimes it’s a hat, shoes, or clothing.

Think about this, folks.  People…busy, desensitized New Yorkers…think about him WHEN HE’S NOT EVEN THERE, and leave him things he needs but never requests.

THAT is master-class-level relationship building.  He brings them repeated, consistent joy and kindness and ultimately, they give it back…freely and thoughtfully and often.

Take a page from this guy’s book.  Find ways to be memorable to your audiences.  Engage them.  Treat them with affection.  Ensure that you matter to them.  Because when you matter to them, selling requires very little “ask” on your part.

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. 

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.

 

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.