April 20, 2021

Three major changes coming to digital marketing.

There are three major changes coming to digital marketing in the next nine months and marketers are rightfully wary.  Actually…scratch that.  Most digital marketers are actually freaking out and scrambling for solutions, and it turns out there’s no easy fix.  All three changes will in some way dramatically upheave habits and strategies that digital marketers have relied on for ages.  And more importantly, they will negatively impact marketing results…from conversion data and targeting options to website speed and search engine results page ranking.

Did I just make you freak out too?  Sorry.  But ignoring these three major changes and/or hoping they don’t apply to you is not a smart move.  Ignorance may be bliss, but when your sales tank…believe me, you’ll be feeling anything but blissful.

Here’s a clear overview of what’s coming.  It’s not EVERYTHING, but it covers the critical highlights and offers links to more in-depth information about each one.  It should be enough for you to check in with your webmasters and marketing folks to be sure you’ve got a plan to address them.

iOS 14 Update – Coming Spring 2021 (exact date unknown)

Biggest headline:  At some point soon (likely with the iOS 14.5 update), iOS will require all third-party apps to offer an opt-in prompt (see above image) that allows users to choose whether or not they agree to being tracked.  Also, the conversion tracking window is dropping from 28-days to 7-days, which will make your conversion metrics grossly inaccurate.  Hotel decision-to-book processes are not often contained within seven days.

Impact on your marketing:  This impacts Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more.  Facebook is the biggest worry, especially if you’re using the Facebook pixel or doing any type of targeting or retargeting that relies on tracking in some way.  The wide swath of iOS (iPhone) users who opt out of tracking will now be an unreachable audience for tailored marketing.  This will reduce your advanced targeting options, as hyper-personalization and targeting lookalike audiences won’t be possible.

The iOS update will also result in inaccurate conversion data.  A large portion of your audience will now be untrackable, both because of the opt-out AND reduced conversion tracking window.  Note:  you likely won’t see the impact as instantly as flipping a light switch.  People update their settings on their own time – many take months before doing it – so expect this to feel like a quick slap and then a slow burn of increasing opt-outs over time.

Learn more here:

 

Google Page Experience Update/Core Web Vitals – coming Summer 2021

Biggest headline:  Page speed, which measures how fast your website loads and is ready for interaction when a user first tries to access it, will play an even greater role in a website’s Google search engine ranking.  A new suite of metrics called Core Web Vitals (CWV) will measure the elements of your site that are impacting its speed (see the three CWVs in the image above).  If things are out of whack, the report on your Google Search Console (also available at PageSpeed Insights) will tell you precisely what needs to be fixed in order to pass the CWV assessment.

Impact on your marketing:  Google plans a staggered rollout of this update starting mid-June 2021, with full completion by the end of August.  This is important, and you absolutely should correct any issues that are causing your site to fail a CWV assessment.

However, if you don’t have this done by June 15, the world won’t end.  Page speed is definitely a prominent factor in how Google ranks your website (because page speed impacts user experience, which is of top concern to Google), but it’s still just ONE of many factors used to determine that ranking.  Your site won’t get buried instantly because of a CWV fail.  In fact, Google has made it clear that relevant content still beats page speed in terms of ranking.  So even if your CWV are subpar, if you have excellent, interesting, unique, and effective content for searchers, your website can still rank high in search results.

However… do pay attention to your CWV because Google makes it crystal clear what you need to fix if you don’t pass.  Why allow fixable items to drag your page speed down?  Pro tip ->  check your CWV after you do any major content update to be sure nothing uploaded knocked your CWV out of whack.

Learn more here:

 

Cookies Changing to FLoC on Google Chrome – coming 2022

Biggest headline:  In 2022, Google Chrome will no longer allow websites to use third-party cookies, and it intends to replace them with a new approach called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).  This means you’ll be able to track individuals ONLY while they’re on your own website.  When they leave and go elsewhere, you can’t follow them around and lure them back with retargeting ads.  Instead, you’ll be able to target “cohorts,” which are interest-based groups (sorted as such by Chrome) sufficiently large enough to maintain individual anonymity.

Impact on your marketing:  If you’re doing any sort of tracking and retargeting on Google, this will impact you greatly.  Google hasn’t released any information yet on how FLoC will work.  We don’t know what advertising tools will be available, nor or any specific details that would help you gear up for the tactical change.  But at the very least, this is going to force you to learn new methods/tools, upheave your conversion patterns, and disrupt formerly reliable marketing channels.

Google says its preliminary trial data shows that using cohorts leads to similar results and advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.  But so far, they’ve shown no proof and leading digital marketing authorities are rightfully skeptical.  So basically…we don’t know much but we know it’s coming.

Learn more here:

There’s only one article here because concrete info isn’t available yet, but here’s the most up-to-date overview (at the time of this posting) of what’s going on with FLoC.

 

OK, that’s a lot to absorb. These three major changes coming to digital marketing are a BIG deal and can be daunting to consider.  So if you need a quick palate cleanser for your brain, check out our past blog posts about the marketing power of biscuits and bunnies.

March 10, 2021

Five signs that your tourism marketing strategy is weak.

If you’re responsible for tourism marketing in any way, do you recognize any of these five signs in yourself or your organization?

  1. You have no written document that correlates your big picture business goals and marketing’s role in achieving them.  Or, you have one, but it’s collecting dust on a shelf and you’re not using it to make day-to-day marketing choices.
  2. You have no tactical goals for each marketing channel you use…meaning you post on socials because you’re just keeping to a frequency calendar, or send out hastily-prepared email blasts monthly because it’s your “monthly newsletter” or because you have rooms to fill in the next few weeks.
  3. You are often undecided about where and how to spend your time and money.
  4. You disrupt your marketing plans often with “shiny new toys” you read about or hear about when a conference speaker touts them as the best marketing tool ever. (I’m lookin at you, TikTok, Clubhouse, and all your shiny new social cousins as examples.)
  5. You plan a lot of tactics that you never have time to execute well, and a mismatch between resources and planned activities constantly sabotages your success.

These are five key signs that your tourism marketing strategy is weak and – brace yourself – that underlying weakness is plaguing your entire strategic marketing foundation.  Further, I’m willing to bet on the source of the weakness:  lack of clarity in your big picture “why” and lack of fortitude to stay singularly focused on achieving that “why.”

Here’s what I mean by that.

You may be frustrated when your tactical marketing initiatives don’t work as you had hoped.  That ad campaign… that social media channel…that PR program.  That “thing” you did.  You checked all the right boxes and got the technical logistics right.  So why didn’t it yield strong results?  Or perhaps it yielded results that looked good on paper (i.e. lots of clicks) but didn’t impact your business through conversions or deepened, valuable connections.  Either way, it’s frustrating.

Simply put, marketers (especially DIY tourism marketers) all too often jump right to the “how,” when they think about executing a marketing plan.  I’m gonna post on Facebook five times a week, do a monthly email newsletter, and place ads with my regional chamber and in state/provincial tourism guides.  They’re not taking the time to back up and say “why am I doing marketing…what are the business goals I’m trying to impact the most with my marketing choices?”

Why do I know this is true?  Because Redpoint has done marketing and consulting for hundreds of tourism businesses of all shapes and sizes and we see it every day.  Tactical choices made out of habit, or because they fit someone’s comfort zone, or based strictly on budget… choices which keep marketers busy but don’t actually move the needle on the organization’s business goals.

Here’s a quick, simple example.  Let’s say that you’re a hotel that realizes your customer base is heavily dependent on families and you want to diversify more, to protect your business from seasonal imbalances in family travel patterns.  So, yes…you can absolutely consider using all the channels you have in your current toolbox, such as email, PR, Instagram, and Google adwords.

But the WHY (diversify our customer base) should inform the HOW, meaning how you choose and use each channel and tool. You might be posting on Instagram all the time…but are you using it strategically to diversify your customer base and deliberately attract couples with no kids, or groups of friends traveling together?  That requires more than just doing your obligatory daily post…it requires a strategy that ties back to the overarching business goal of diversifying your customer base.  And then…bigger picture:  is Instagram even the right channel for that, or should you be looking elsewhere to achieve that goal?

None of this is easy because it requires the one precious resource that’s most scarce for us all:  time.  We lack the time to sit and think about our big picture strategy goals, and then further to think about how various tactics can be engineered to achieve those goals.

We see this especially with DIYers in tourism – the innkeeper who does marketing in his/her spare time, the marketing coordinator or executive director at a destination that has no budget to hire an experienced marketer or agency, etc.  So, don’t beat yourself up if any of those five signs your tourism marketing strategy is weak describes you or your organization.  You are not alone.

Here are some further resources that will help you get on a path to strengthening your underlying strategic marketing foundation.  Grab a beverage and a snack and just sit and read them…and think about how you can use the insights to recast your own strategy.

Why you should spend more time developing your marketing strategy.

Seven terms they didn’t teach you in budgeting school.

The strategic plan no one ever saw coming for the Vermont Attractions Association.

How consistent, singular-focused marketing in Kennebunkport ME made off-season way less “off.”

Just remember:  awareness is the first step toward solutions.  So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a sounding board, I’m here for ya:  miranda@redpointspeaks.com.  Just holler.

February 18, 2021

Pop-ups are a smart, fun business and marketing idea.

woman holds a blue colored drink at the pantone cafe

If you own or market a hospitality or tourism-related business, you should explore and embrace the concept of pop-ups… especially in the pandemic era.  Here’s why.

First, they couldn’t be more aptly named.  In the world of business and commerce, a pop-up is a temporary business venue that appears in a specific location and remains for a limited period of time.  This could be a single day, a week, months, or even a year.  The point is that it’s clear from the start that this place isn’t meant to be permanent.  And with pandemic uncertainty casting a shadow over business plans and financial stability, we are all wary of investing in anything permanent.

Pop-ups are a business strategy and marketing tool that’s been used for years in a wide variety of industries, not just hospitality and tourism.  Some examples:

The appeal of pop-ups to the brands that create them are easy to see:  they’re flexible, temporary, come with low/short-term (if any) overhead, and they foster a sense of urgency for consumers.  And if you’re popping up within the location of another brand (like Bandier and NuFace above), you also get the halo effect of aligning with that brand, as well as an introduction to its own customers…who, if you’ve chosen your brand partner wisely, are likely to be interested in your own brand as well.

Hospitality businesses – restaurants, attractions, hotels, and more – can use the concept of pop-ups in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Hotels offering pop-up shops for retailers/attractions in their lobbies and public spaces: this could be great for community relations partnerships (with, say, a local craftsperson, bookstore, or museum) or a more high-profile brand partnership (a major clothing line, beauty products company, liquor company, famous chef from the city where you draw most of your guests, etc.).  It’s a meaningful guest experience enhancement, and also allows for some effective cross promotion.
  • Hotels producing their own pop-up shop, whether it’s a pop-in boutique with exclusive deals and experiences (like Away and Nordstrom), or an actual, physical pop-up shop located in a city you wish to target for potential guests.  This pop-up could be a stand-alone storefront, or nestled within a retailer that makes sense for your brand.
  • Restaurants trying out new concepts before making a full-fledged leap into a permanent location, or popping-up in a new city before settling there.  Lots of restaurants/chefs are teaming up together, to produce pop-up concepts within established restaurants for a win-win:  restaurants get paid for use of their space when they’d otherwise be closed (i.e. a dinner-only restaurant allowing pop-ups at lunch) and chefs/owners who want to do a pop-up get a fully-equipped location for it.  See how the Boston restaurant scene is absolutely thriving on pop-ups during the pandemic.
  • Attractions hosting pop-ups in the form of mini-experiences of their offerings… wherever they can reach groups of potential guests who might be lured to their main location:  grocery stores, highway rest areas, large retailers or parks in cities where their potential guest base lives, etc.

The point is…this temporary nature is precisely the reason why the concept of pop-ups is well-suited for pandemic-era business strategy.  You can try things, be playful, and test the waters without heavy, permanent investment.  It could open up the freedom for you to experiment with things you might not have considered during “normal” times…by now, consumers are well accustomed to the concept of pop-ups and eagerly embrace them.

For more inspiration – and I mean fabulous, creative inspiration – this article gives some sound advice on what to consider when creating a pop-up, as well as 15 of the most imaginative and successful pop-ups produced in recent years, like the Pantone Café in Monaco which offers menu items aligned with the signature Pantone color chart (like the Pantone blue drink above).  The Organic Valley pop-up is a particular fave of mine…fun, sassy, and brilliantly done…and I don’t even use half-and-half!

February 3, 2021

We’re all just suckers for homemade cake.

I speak at tourism and leisure conferences around the world and I gotta be honest:  I can’t recall the food I’ve eaten at any of them.  It’s not that the food was bad… it just wasn’t memorable.

Except for one time.

At the Annual General Meeting of the Miramichi River Tourism Association in New Brunswick Canada, the desserts served after the meeting were all homemade by the committee members of the Miramichi Folksong Festival.   Naturally, my colleague Gina and I had to pose for a picture with the bakers:

Redpoint staff and the Miramichi Folksong Festival committee pose at the dessert table.

And please drool for a moment over one of the cakes:

Picture of chocolate cake with white icing and kisses on top    Close up of slice of chocolate cake with white icing

Now…why is this so fabulous and what can you learn from it?  Three things:

  • It was unexpected to find such a deeply personal touch at a large business conference, so it not only made a memorable impression, but it also warmed my heart.
  • Cakes and pies are all made by SOMEONE, so even when they are purchased and served en masse from a bakery or your catering kitchen, they can still be considered “homemade.”  But the fact that these were made in home kitchens by the very ladies (and gent) who served them spoke to a level of effort and care that made me feel extraordinarily welcome.
  • Seeing all the attendees flock around the dessert table chatting with the bakers about what they baked brought a special warmth and sociability to the event.  It made guests (and especially me, the out-of-towner) feel more connected to both the event and the organization hosting it.

So, hospitality businesses, I’m not saying you need to start baking all your cakes at home and having Ethel and Barb serve them.  But think about how you can bring that level of personal touch, effort, and care to your guests.  Can you tell the story behind a special dish made in your restaurant?  Hand deliver something unexpected to a room?  Give them a small treat at checkout made by your chef (or better yet…your housekeeper, because it’s unexpected?) to enjoy on the ride home?  Have one of your chefs, gardeners, or housekeepers hang out in the lobby one day to chat with guests and answer questions about their job?  You get the idea.

Do these things cost time and money?  Sure.  But if they make a lasting – and perhaps Instagram-worthy – impression, the investment will pay you back in spades.

Need more convincing?  Check out how these tiny design details make a big difference and how even accountants can have fun with marketing.

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.

October 7, 2020

Four Ways to Beat Pandemic Fatigue in Tourism Marketing

Let’s face it.  Tourism and hospitality marketing is going through a brutal patch with this Covid-19 pandemic.  Trying to align your marketing strategy with the ever-changing circumstances is like trying to take direction from a Magic 8 Ball.

And what makes it worse is that everyone – even within the same organization – has a different opinion on the best approach to tourism marketing during a pandemic.  Keep spending or pull back to conserve resources?  Talk incessantly about your safety measures or go more for the “business as usual” vibe?  There’s no point in marketing because the pond of fish got too small.  This is the best time to market because even though the pond is smaller, those fish are the ones ready and willing to bite.

But here’s one thing everyone can agree on:  it’s exhausting.  The uncertainty sucks a lot of the fun and satisfaction out of marketing… not to mention the permanent state of tension about our jobs, finances, health, and the state of the economy.  And now that we’ve been in this madcap coronavirus purgatory for more than six months, we’re prime candidates for “tourism marketing pandemic fatigue.”

chris laying across chairs in blue leopard pajamas eyes closed hugging stuffed animals

Me, owning pandemic fatigue.

Characteristics?

    • Loss of purpose (does this really even matter given the state of the world?)
    • Indecisiveness (the future is too unpredictable to choose a path so I’ll just freeze)
    • Box-checking (it’s too draining to be creative and do more than the minimum)

You may not even be aware you’re suffering from pandemic fatigue because it’s a sneaky little bugger.  It’s like an invisible slow leak in a tire…diluting your performance (and that of your marketing program) without drawing attention to itself.  And so you just keep putting one foot in front of the other daily, checking off tasks and trying valiantly to control things beyond your control.

Listen up, marketers.  Don’t take pandemic fatigue lying down or you’re gonna end up as one irreversibly flat tire by the time this pandemic phase is over.  Use these tips as a daily touchstone to patch the leak and breathe fresh air into your mindset.

1. Remember who you are.  Marketing’s job is to be interesting, attractive, engaging, and informative…regardless of circumstances.  Inspiring people is baked into our job descriptions.  When everyone else – from operations and finance to maintenance, HR, and administration – is battered and overwhelmed, it’s our role to stay positive, focus on opportunities, and make people want to travel.  Now more than ever, people want to be entertained while being informed…they want to dream of normalcy and joy…and they want to plan things that will bring fun back into their lives…and they are counting on YOU to give them these gifts.  So yes… what you’re doing matters a lot to people.  Remember that every day.

2. Refill your own cup daily.  Lots of people roll their eyes when they hear the phrase “self care,” but there’s a reason airlines make you put your own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs.  “Marketing” is a thing, but “marketers” are human.  If you don’t refuel and refresh yourself as a human – daily – you won’t have the mental and emotional resources needed to keep returning to the battle of inspiring others.  Being a cheerleader during difficult times takes massive amounts of energy and it’s your responsibility to replenish the depletion constantly.  Whatever refreshes you – coffee, silence, wine, meditation, dogs, exercise, showers, solitude, naps, music, and so on – think of it as an essential part of your job right now.  Make time for it.

3. Pick a lane and own it.  If uncertainty over the best path is constantly weighing you down, stop trying to plow through despite not being at peace with your choices.  Budgets, content, strategy… the more time and energy you waste second-guessing yourself, I guarantee you, the less effective your efforts will be.  Yes, you need to be nimble and adapt to evolving circumstances, but nothing dilutes the power of marketing like hesitancy.  If you’re still uncertain about spending, sharing your safety measures too much/not enough, hard selling vs. brand awareness, the marketing channels you should be using right now, or anything else… stop, sit back, and think about it until you reach a decision.  Need a sounding board to talk it through?  Just holler.  miranda@redpointspeaks.com.  No strings.

4. Have faith in marketing, even if today’s results seem dismal.   This is a huge test of your beliefs as a marketer.  My experience over nearly 30 years as a tourism marketer is that a consistent voice and presence – through economic crisis, natural disasters, crime waves, weather disappointments, high season, low season, shoulder season… whatever – gets the best overall, long-term ROI.  Your conversion volume may be way lower than usual right now, but you’ve got to keep investing in your awareness equity.  People don’t stop interacting with life because of a pandemic.  They plan and dream and build anticipation.  And once they’re willing and allowed to travel, you want them to think of YOU.  Will you be able to trace just how much your consistent marketing led to direct sales because you stayed top of mind?  Nope.  But that’s where the faith part comes in.  You’ve got to believe it works or that whisper of doubt will sabotage your success.

Listen, I get it.  It sucks to be in this position.  But we’ve all survived other rough circumstances in life and we’ll conquer this one too, as long as we fight the fatigue.

And if you heard James Earl Jones’ voice as Mufasa when you read the words “remember who you are,” I salute you as my humor soulmate and suspect you’re gonna be just fine.

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.

February 19, 2020

Tiny design details can make big memories in hospitality.

The bedside table at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh made me swoon with joy.

Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh bedside table outlet

It was such a pleasure to be spared the usual contortions of locating the closest power outlet to the bed: it was directly under the outlet icon.  The fact that it was done in such a clever way was just a bonus…and ensured that I’d remember it.

Design details like that might seem insignificant, but actually they wield tremendous power.  Guests on mental autopilot or simply focused on other things are instantly snapped into focus on YOU.  It cuts through their mental clutter and seduces them into being present in the moment, aware of their surroundings, and with a small zing of pleasant feeling toward you.  Without that design detail, they are perhaps allowed to be indifferent toward you…and in the competitive world of hospitality, that will never do.

I thought the groovy-looking fish on this cabinet in a guest cottage at Basin Harbor in Vermont was simply a decoration…

Closed fish design drawer at Basin Harbor

 

…until I noticed the tiny knob:

Open fish design drawer at Basin Harbor

 

And when I walked into a gas station restroom in upstate NY, this was the last thing I expected to see:

flowers in rest area bathroom

 

Did it make me smile after two hours of grueling traffic?  You bet it did.  Seems silly, but it really did.

You can unleash this design-detail power in literally any aspect of guest touch points.  You don’t have to do it EVERYWHERE at EVERY touch point… in fact, that would create sensory overload and then dilute the power of the surprise.  And indeed, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary or cost a ton of money…it just has to provide an unexpected “ah-ha” moment.

Look at these Do Not Disturb (DND) signs at The Quarterdeck Resort in Nova Scotia:

Do Not Disturb signs at Quarterdeck Resort

Magnetic DND signs solve soooooo many problems, especially for hotel rooms that open directly to the outdoors.  And anyone who has ever been annoyed by their DND sign falling off the doorknob or blowing away in the wind will instinctively – and involuntarily – think “wow that’s cool” the moment they see these.

But bear in mind that while clever design details are guaranteed to leave a positive impression on your guests, #DesignFails are guaranteed to do precisely the opposite.  Behold, this Montauk NY cottage resort, where our ONLY door to the outside was clearly at odds with the DND sign:

Design fail for Do Not Disturb sign

Luckily, I had a bandaid in my travel bag, so we were able to (literally) doctor the DND sign to the glass door.

And here’s a parting tip.  Design not your thing, or maybe you’re afraid of the cost?  You can achieve the same zing-of-joy with clever signs.

February 5, 2020

Is “chaos marketing” right for your brand?

Popeye's Chicken SandwichIf you’re a marketer, there’s a good chance you watched the debut of Popeye’s chicken sandwich last summer and salivated over more than just the chicken.  The viral headlines were fast and furious, and the escalation of customer demand was ABSURD.  And when the sandwich sold out of all stores in less than two weeks, with no new inventory projected for at least another month, you’d have thought people in the world were being deprived of oxygen.  The clamor both online and in real life hit a fever pitch.

The upshot to Popeye’s?  Sure, people were upset.  But Popeye’s scored $65 million in earned media value in just two weeks alone, and desperate chicken-lovers downloaded the Popeye’s app to “be the first to know when the sandwich is back.”

So, was it an inventory miscalculation and total disaster…or a bold marketing move designed to create demand and engagement?  This comment by restaurant consultant Aaron Allen sums things up beautifully:  “Marketing is high-fiving each other and supply chain is getting dirty looks and management is in between trying to weigh out the pros and cons of what’s happened with it.”  (See this awesome story in Vox for the juicy details on how it all went down.)

I lean toward the belief that Popeye’s knew it was going to happen (come on…sold out nationally in less than two weeks?… no one could be THAT far off projections) and did it anyway.  This is a form of “chaos marketing,” when a brand deliberately chooses a marketing tactic or position that it KNOWS will make consumers unhappy, taking the risk that the upside from all the attention will be worth the negativity.

Now, lest you think this is exclusive to American brand marketing extremism, the US in no way has the market cornered on such outlandishness.  In Scotland, popular Irn-Bru soda made a billboard that featured a cow saying “When I’m a burger, I want to be washed down with Irn-Bru.”  And in Argentina, all Burger Kings don’t sell Whoppers on the day that McDonald’s donates money to charity for every Big Mac purchased (does this make people feel warm and fuzzy?…no, they are royally pissed that they can’t get a Whopper on the day they want it.)  The list goes on.

Using chaos in marketing isn’t exactly a new thing.  What IS new, however, is how frequently marketers are proactively reaching for it as a tool…and how comfy brands are becoming with embracing the negative onslaught to garner the upside potential.

You can thank the increasingly cluttered digital landscape for that.  With more digital channels to fill than ever, media outlets are constantly looking for viral moments to feed consumer appetites.  And as social algorithms get more stringent, it’s the most outrageous, thumb-stopping, and jaw-dropping tidbits that get the holy grail of unpaid shares.  The media may not be creating these viral moments, but they’re catching the ball thrown to them by brands and then fanning the flames of conversation around the subject.  And nothing catches fire faster than chaos.

So, as a marketer…do you have chaos envy?  If you get stars in your eyes over the lure of results like “$65 million in earned media,” and think you should dip your brand’s toe in those seductive waters, consider these points first:

  • Recovering from chaos requires a confident brand.  How deep are the bonds with your customers?  How loyal are they?  Can your relationship withstand some disapproval or frustration?
  • The stakes are intense for luxe brands with high price points.  When a greater share of their wallet is on the line, consumers are less forgiving and hold brands to higher standards.  It’s tough to reclaim that trust once it’s broken.
  • Frequency of purchase plays a starring role in rebounding from chaos.  Do you really want to mess with someone’s once-in-a-lifetime purchase, vacation, or experience?  You may only have a small window of time to make an impression on a potential (or one-time past) customer.  Squander that precious moment with a negative touch point and you might never get a chance to reap the upside.
  • “Real” chaos – natural disasters, epidemics, violence, travel bans, etc. – can strike without warning at any time, making “planned” chaos akin to borrowing trouble.  You spend a lot of time and money trying to prevent chaos and crisis from harming your business.  So is there ever a good, safe time to cultivate it deliberately?
  • Your skin (and your executive team’s skin) needs to be thick enough to weather the negativity.  Listen, you asked for it…don’t freak out and lose your nerve when all goes according to plan and people are trashing you on social media.
  • Besides the marketing and social teams, the operations and guest service teams need to be on board and fully prepared.  You’ve got to ALL be in it together.  I’m sure Popeye’s didn’t expect customers to threaten employees at gunpoint or sue for false advertising, but things went there because the world is unpredictable.

And that’s really the whole point:  it’s unpredictable.  You may think you’re engaging in controlled chaos, but once you ignite that spark, the fire has no master.  And not every chaos story ends up as a hilarious skit on Saturday Night Live.

January 7, 2020

The best marketing lesson from The Princess Bride.

This ridiculous & clever, slapstick & intelligent, goofy & hilarious story is probably the last place you’d look for a brilliant marketing lesson.  And yet there’s a hidden gem in there too good to miss.

If you don’t know The Princess Bride (book published in 1973, movie debuted in 1987), it has thoroughly earned its fanatical cult following.  The movie has an absurdly all-star cast, and they do a magnificent job of bringing to life this (at its most basic) plot:  peasant boy tackles numerous obstacles on a quest to rescue princess from evil prince and achieve true love.

Here’s the scene all marketers should worship.  In this scene, Westley (blond dude and the story’s hero) is just brought back from the dead by a pill from a Miracle Man (duh), and he’s instantly tasked with figuring out how to storm the guarded castle.

Click the image to watch:

Westley and Inigo solve a problem

Here’s the line that matters:  Why didn’t you list that among our assets in the first place?

See, in problem solving, it’s human nature to reach for the tools we know best and the ones most commonly employed for that job.  It never occurred to Inigo to list “wheelbarrow” or “holocaust cloak” among the available assets because in his mind, he pictured the solution to the problem as a typical one:  three men storm the castle using their own personal strengths to fight their way inside.  His version of problem solving has this anchor:  we use the tools we know how to use, and hope for the best even if there’s only a 50/50 chance of success.

Westley’s version of problem solving is:  what’s a solution that will DEFINITELY work, and then how do I acquire the tools to make it happen?

Here’s why marketers often solve problems more like Inigo than Westley:

  • We’ve made assumptions that tools aren’t right for us, even if we actually know very little about them other than their existence.
  • We’re unaware of the existence of tools that could be useful to us because we’re not always on the hunt to learn about new things.
  • We’re in a hurry, so we choose the easy (known) path instead of taking time to apply strategic thought and creativity to pursue possibly-unfamiliar options.
  • We are wary of risk-taking…and in general, we prefer to do things we’re good at because it feels unsettling to act with uncertainty.

But as a marketer, it’s your responsibility to inject a bit of Westley-like thinking into your approach on a regular basis.

This doesn’t just mean embracing new tools (true, a TikTok strategy may not be the right fit for your brand, but how do you KNOW that unless you understand how it works and how other brands like yours are using it?)…it also means looking beyond the traditional approach and usual tools.  Launching a new restaurant and want to get the locals to become regulars?  Inigo toolbox:  local newspaper/online/radio ads, start an Instagram/Facebook/Twitter, send a press release.  Westley toolbox?  Go door-to-door at local businesses with baskets of free food and special offers.  Send personal invitations to individuals in the community for complimentary tastings.  Offer a different item on the menu free each night for the first month of opening.

Do those things cost money?  Yes.  Is that just a different way to spend your marketing budget?  Yes.  But in certain circumstances, initiatives like that might be a more effective way to reach your goals.  At the very least, they’re worth considering.

Traditional and familiar tools will always have their uses, so don’t throw them away entirely.  Just remind yourself to look beyond them constantly and learn more about what you don’t know.  Then you too can find true love in marketing and live happily ever after.