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.

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.

December 3, 2019

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

budgeting meme from elfIt’s budget season, y’all.  This means many of you are armed – or are scrambling to get armed – with that pristine, oh-so-buttoned-up spreadsheet that will guide your marketing spend choices for 2020.  And while it may be pretty and precise enough for your mom to put on her refrigerator, there’s only one thing that should matter to you:  is it sound and will it work?

Here’s how you can ensure that it is and it does:  be aware of the silent – but often deadly – influences that shaped the foundation for your choices.  Here are seven vital budgeting terms that will help you evaluate your budget’s potential for success with a realistic eye:

The Plus Ones.  Marketing plans and budgets have history, and the longer the business has been operating, the more opportunity for a budget to be sabotaged by plus ones.  These are things invited to be on the budget by someone else – perhaps someone who was in your shoes years ago, or perhaps YOU years ago, when you had different priorities or goals.  They are not relevant to the current marketing party you’re planning, but it’s the path of least resistance to keep them…and maybe even bend your plan a bit to accommodate them, even if that’s not really the best move for your goals?  Tip:  identify your plus ones and if they aren’t a good fit, show ‘em the door.

Shiny New Toy Syndrome.  Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I watched a tactic, initiative, or direction get added to a plan/budget because someone in charge (of marketing or of the company) read an article or attended a workshop at a conference on a hot new “thing” emerging in marketing.  “THIS IS THE COOLEST THING EVER AND WILL SOLVE ALL OUR PROBLEMS!” Er, no.  It won’t.  Because Shiny New Toy Syndrome is cousin to Get Rich Quick Syndrome and Lose Weight Fast Syndrome, and we all know how THOSE work out.   There is a place for adding shiny new toys to your efforts, but unless you integrate them properly into your overall plan and – in many cases – adapt your entire culture to make them a success, they’ll just throw your money and time out the window.  Shiny new toys just don’t work when you dabble.

The Invisible Sledgehammer.  There’s no line item called “time” on your spreadsheet, but it’s an invisible force best not overlooked.  Lack of time to do things properly has destroyed the effectiveness of many immaculate budgets.  For each line item on your budget, do you have enough staff/time/bandwidth to perform research, decision-making, planning, setup, execution, follow-through, evaluation, and evolution?  Because if not, you should reduce the number of tactics you’re planning, and redirect those funds into the remaining ones.  You’ll see a greater ROI both short- and long-term with this choice.

Half-Pregnant.  A spreadsheet of tactics and costs is only half the picture, and yet I can’t tell you how often I ask new clients – sometimes multimillion-dollar businesses – for their marketing plan and get handed a spreadsheet, full stop.  Folks, this is “half-pregnant” … it ain’t gonna give you that ROI baby you so deeply desire.  You need marketing goals (aligned with your business goals), and a thoughtful strategy to achieve them, carefully selected for the purpose, and integrated to produce results.  A spreadsheet just details how you’re going to pay for it all.

Approval Purgatory This one’s not easy to combat because its origins vary dramatically by business (too many cooks, indecisive owner, cumbersome process, etc.), but there’s a good chance that several tactics within your plan/budget won’t move forward because no final decision will be made…and you probably know this in your heart from the get-go. Approval purgatory is the bane of a plan/budget’s existence because 1) you waste an absurd amount of time talking about things with no resolution, 2) stuff sits on your budget/plan falsely creating an expectation of results, and 3) these items weigh you down by injecting negativity into the mix AND distracting you from focusing on the good stuff.  Tip:  scratch items likely doomed to approval purgatory off your list.  When they’re ready for baking, I guarantee they’ll resurface on their own.

JOMO.  You’ve heard of FOMO?  How about you embrace JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out?  You can’t do it all… truly, you can’t.  Your budget probably isn’t unlimited.*  So if you try to cram too many things into your plan/budget, you’ll end up scattering all your resources for little ROI.  Tip:  deliberately choose to NOT do certain things, until you can devote the labor and financial bandwidth to do them properly.  You will not go out of business by doing fewer things well, and you will be pretty giddy at the success that comes from deeply harnessing the power of the tactics you choose to deploy. Choose wisely, for sure, but I hereby bless you to strike a bunch of stuff from your plan AND FEEL GREAT ABOUT IT.

Initiative Envy (healthy & unhealthy).  It’s healthy – and smart – to look at what your competitors and colleagues are doing in marketing, and to evaluate if such things could benefit your business as well.  It’s not that you identically copy their effort, but rather, you see how well an initiative is performing for them and you explore the use of that tool for your own purposes.  What’s UNHEALTHY – and yet happens sooooo often – is adding an initiative or tactic to your mix (summarily and without strategic thought) just because a competitor is doing it…and you don’t want them to have an edge on you.  If your competitor is getting tons of press (for example), that’s not your must-do cue to go out and hire a PR firm.  Your business culture and operation may not be currently well-suited to handle a PR effort, and therefore, without adaptation, you’ll be disappointed in the results.  So, be thoughtful:  get ideas from what others are doing, but don’t automatically assume those things will work well for you too.

Lastly… a bonus tip, pulled from our way-back blog archives, but still as true as ever today.  The scrumptious dumplings at Buddakan taught us that you can’t find love on a spreadsheet.  And love – the hospitable magic that endears us to guests – is essential in travel and hospitality marketing.  Make sure your plan/budget isn’t so tight that there’s no room to give love to guests.

* PS – if your budget IS unlimited, here’s my email: miranda@redpointspeaks.com. Have I got a marketing agency for you. 😉

November 5, 2019

Here’s what “living the brand” really means.

There’s a store in Brooklyn called The Superhero Supply Co, which sells – among other things – a fine selection of capes, cans of antimatter (sizes: large and small), and sidekick utility belts (assorted colors).  It’s not a party/costume store, where you’d go to buy a signature Captain America shield or Wonder Woman golden lasso.  It’s where a REAL superhero would shop for his/her OWN gear.  Quite literally… a supply store for superheroes.

Until you get to the shelving on the left side of the back wall.

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co hidden doorOne section of the fully-stocked shelves actually swings out (if you know the trick) as a secret door.  What’s behind the secret door?  A classroom, where kids can experience workshops to foster their creative writing and imaginative thinking skills.  There are evening and weekend sessions for kids aged 6 – 18, and they also offer after-school programs, host school field trips, and more.

Think about this:  the entire purpose of this business is to inspire kids to release and cultivate their imagination.  Would this be possible in an ordinary classroom?  Sure.  Is it 10,000 times more effective in a hidden classroom that’s the secret identity of a store that sells supplies to superheroes?  Duh.  Their imagination is sparked before that hidden door even finishes swinging open.

THAT is what “living the brand” really means.

It’s not about having a carefully-crafted mission statement and/or brand positioning written down on paper…it’s about how that mission and positioning come to life at all touchpoints of interaction with your audience.  It’s not saying you’re something.  It’s being that something.  As the ol’ saying goes… walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

Let this magical place inspire you to evaluate your OWN state of “living the brand.”

We see brand-disconnects all the time in the tourism industry, such as…

  • Hotels that say they’re gracious, yet nickel and dime guests with fees at every turn.
  • Destinations that say they’re artsy, yet feature boring, standard wayfinding tools onsite and online.
  • Ski resorts that say they’re edgy and epic, yet offer typical F&B options and vanilla interior design.
  • Attractions that say they’re fun, yet make ticket-purchasing and parking acutely painful.

Listen…I get it, it’s hard to live the brand.  Who wants to give up fees?  Or convince owners to invest in renovations?  Or fight town councils on signage regulations?  Or – WTF, Chris? – figure out a way to make parking fun?

But “living the brand” makes marketing’s job less expensive and more effective.  Your marketing dollars will have to work less hard to keep guests tethered, and – even better – transforms them into ambassadors, inspired to share your story with the world.

You may think it’s no big deal if you’re not living the brand at every single turn, but each off-brand touchpoint is sabotaging your trust with guests.  And an erosion of trust sabotages loyalty.  And a lack of loyalty ultimately means…buh-bye.

So, even if the step-by-step impact is intangible to measure and impossible to trace, living the brand is vital to your business goals.  Strap on your own cape and find a way.  The ROI is worth it.

For more information about the creative engine behind the Superhero Supply Co, click here.  Superheroes in Brooklyn, big foot hunters in Boston, secret agents in Chicago, time travelers in LA, and many more…the business concept is just pure magic.

 

October 23, 2019

Why I love Weed.

Last week, as I was leaving Weed Orchards & Winery in NY’s Hudson Valley after a day of apple picking, I uttered the words that every attraction, hotel, restaurant, and destination longs to hear:

We just HAVE to come back here again.

And I wasn’t alone.  A bunch of Redpointers and their families were with me, and they all felt the same way.  Future outings were planned before we even walked to the parking lot.

How did Weed accomplish that?  How did they seduce a bunch of been-there-done-that marketers into a loyal romance with just one visit?  With three smart moves:  energy, experience investment, and onsite marketing.

Energy:  Except for the peacefulness found among the sprawling orchards, that joint was JUMPING.  An emcee/DJ playing music in the front courtyard area and acting like a cross between a circus barker and welcoming committee.  A live band in the back patio and picnic area (near the outdoor bar, how convenient), creating a distinctly different entertainment space from the front courtyard area.  Wagon rides over here.  Wine tastings over there.  At every point, people directing you…guiding you…suggesting something for you to do/try/see.  Impression left on guest:  vibrancy, life, texture… “I would never get bored here.”

Experience Investment: The typical apple-picking attraction playbook is… orchards + farm store/bakery.  You wouldn’t think of spending an entire day there, nor would you think “I could come hang out here every weekend.”  Not so with Weed.  In a well-organized guest experience area, they offer four dining outlets (each serving completely different menu items, one exclusively devoted to cider donuts), two music/entertainment areas, several bar areas, a bakery, face painting, a playground, wagon rides, corn maze, petting zoo, a winery, produce for purchase, and a shocking array of indoor and outdoor seating areas.  And that’s not even counting the pick-your-own orchards, gardens, and pumpkin patches.  Impression left on guest: “I could come here every weekend and have a completely different experience…with my grandma, my neighbors, my besties, or my toddler.”

weed orchard mapOnsite Marketing:  The moment you arrive, you’re handed a map of the whole place (see pic), and then this happens in your brain:  Whoa.  What’s this?  I can pick peaches?  Nectarines?  Vegetables?  When?  Not now?  So, when?  I’ll come back.  Wait… is that a corn maze on the other side?  Where’s the winery?  Oh, there…not too far from the donuts.  And so on.  Supplementing that are the helpful signs around the place, and ohhhhhh… that emcee/barker.  She delivered the perfect blend of fun commentary (“there’s  no donut line right now!”), promo teasers (“don’t miss our pumpkin festival next weekend”), and smooth marketing lines (“tag us on social media @weedorchards”… “bring home a bottle of our crisp Seyval Blanc”… “it’s hot out!…try a wine slushie at the winery…um, not you, kids… adults only”).  Impression left on guest:  I need to come back…there’s so much to do here.

What’s my point?  THEY DON’T SKIMP AND THEY DON’T FUMBLE AT THE GUEST EXPERIENCE GOAL LINE.

I can just hear the objections that would typically occur in the executive planning and finance meetings of such a business:  Why do we need a band when we have a DJ?  Why have different foods at each outlet?  We can’t just hand out a plain old photocopied black-and-white map… it would have to be designed and printed and we don’t have the money for that.  And on…and on…and on.

Kudos to the team at Weed for – in my opinion – making all the right choices.

And if you think they spent too much money unnecessarily?  Well, ask yourself this:  how much are the words “we just HAVE to come back here again” worth to YOUR business?

August 14, 2019

An Instagram lesson from “The Dress.”

Recently, I learned about a dress available at fashion retailer Zara that has its own Instagram account.  At the time of this writing, The Dress had 21,000 followers.

Zara The Dress

The Dress (credit: Zara)

Not being a fashionista myself – whatever the opposite of a shopaholic is (shopaslothic?), I’m it – I figured that following The Dress on Instagram wouldn’t interest me… except as a marketer.  Because the thought of a dress having more followers than some of our clients is mind blowing, and just a teeny bit depressing.  I needed to know its secret.

Before I looked at the account, I tried to imagine what kind of content The Dress could offer to keep an audience engaged and growing (because when I first learned about it a month ago, there were only 13,000 followers).  Pics of The Dress in different locations?  Suggestions for jewelry, shoes, or other accessories that best complement The Dress?  Fan photos sent in wearing The Dress?  It’s true I’m no fashionista… but why on earth would anyone care enough about THE SAME DRESS to see pictures of it repeatedly and voluntarily?

So I looked.  And then I knew:  it’s not The Dress.  It’s The Voice.

OH, THAT VOICE.  The woman who created and manages the account, stylist Faye Oakenfull, sees the world through a clever lens…and that bit of brilliant, humorous cheek comes through with each post.  If she’s even half as good a stylist as she is a content creator, her fashion services should be in demand for eternity.  I scrolled through so many posts, and was smiling the entire time… and even though I’m not into fashion, and I was only looking at this account as a marketer doing research…in the end, I found myself clicking “follow.”

Because if this account brings me a shot of joy every time I see a post, then I’ll make room for it in my Instagram feed.

The Dress – and The Voice of The Dress – offers a valuable lesson for anyone managing an Instagram account in a lifestyle industry like travel, tourism, and hospitality:  you need to EARN your place in a person’s feed.  How?  Here are two useful suggestions:

Be entertaining:  That doesn’t necessarily mean funny… it means ENTERTAIN them.  Bring joy to their day.  Inspire them.  Make them think.  Surprise them.  And yes, make them laugh sometimes. Stop thinking about what you want (or need) to sell, and stop doing obligatory posts (with no thought, and at the last minute) just to check a box and keep to a posting schedule.

Be relevant:  Never ever forget that your audience is made up of individual people… and they are all doing different things and leading different lives at the time they see your post.  Why should they care that you’re having a happy hour special today when they live 1,000 miles away?  Talk to them as humans having a conversation (“This cocktail at today’s happy hour is so delicious, we won’t judge when you lick the glass after it’s gone”… pic of the cocktail, then swipe for pic of person hilariously actually licking the glass), not as a brand doing marketing (“Two for one happy hour specials on the patio today!”).  The former gives them a relevant sensory connection…the latter just pushes a transactional sale.

The Voice of The Dress does both – entertainment and relevance – beautifully.  And when my mother hears that I’m following a dress on Instagram – me!…who grew up as the tommiest-of-tomboys and tried to wrestle myself out of every dress she put me in – she’s going to laugh her head off.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if she buys me the damn thing for Christmas. (New idea for an Instagram account:  Mom Gets the Last Laugh).

Learn more about the story of The Dress here.

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