August 31, 2017

How my doctor can improve your marketing skills.

It was an innocent medical encounter, long ago, having nothing to do with marketing.  And yet, it yielded some of the smartest marketing advice I’ve ever received…and then passed on to others.

Eight glasses of water

Once an enemy, now a bestie.

At the time, I was overhauling my nutrition and diet strategy.  During my annual physical, the doc asked me how well (or not) I was adapting to the new habits I was aspiring to achieve.  I then let loose a tirade about how bloody hard it was to drink eight glasses of water a day.  Who drinks that much water?…I said.  I’m not a camel preparing for a desert journey…I said.  Water is boring…I said.  And on…and on.

The doc (very wisely) let my tiny tantrum wind down and then he quietly said:  “So just drink two.  That’s two more than you were drinking before and still great progress.”

Damn the man.  Did he have to be so sensible when I was so clearly irrational while detoxing from my soda-juice-coffee habit?  I instantly felt sheepish and agreed that yes, I could manage two glasses a day.

Fast forward fifteen years.  I’m sitting with an innkeeper client who’s got an overwhelming to-do list, and is ranting about the pressure of doing daily social media posts.  I’ve got a million things to do…he said.  I don’t have time to think of new things to post every day…he said.  Social media is annoying…he said.

Feeling like a wise old Yoda, I let his tiny tantrum wind down, and then I quietly said: “So post every other day.  Or three times a week.  The world won’t end.”

Here’s the thing folks.  We place requirements on ourselves that are meant to be guidelines…and yet we treat them as sacrosanct law.  Guidelines must be weighed against reality, and it’s often perfectly fine if a compromise is achieved.  Are daily posts on Facebook recommended for a brand?  Yes.  Is three per week still better than none?  Yup.

In marketing, frequency is great, but consistency is VITAL.  So, can’t do monthly newsletters?  Do them bimonthly.  Can’t do weekly blog posts?  Do them biweekly…or monthly.  Overwhelmed by trying to keep your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter updated?  Pick one and really OWN it.

The point is this:  by trying to reach impossible and often arbitrary frequency requirements, you’re more likely to either…

  1. Fall behind and feel like you failed
  2. Freeze completely and end up doing nothing at all
  3. Check the box…but miss the goal

So…relax, people.  Be kinder to yourself.  Make consistency your priority, and then decide on frequency you can live with.  You can always increase when the rhythm gains a foothold in your life.  Case in point:  I’m up to an eight-glass-a-day water habit now.  I mean…it only took me fifteen years but still.  Progress.

August 10, 2017

What a difference a word makes (in marketing).

The gods of marketing were smiling on me that day.

While leading a group of Canadian culinary tourism delegates through Philadelphia on an educational best practices mission (what’s that, you say?…learn more here), we stumbled upon a stunningly artistic city utility box, like so:

Yes, I’m a ham. However, I’m also an educator by nature, so this box became a teaching moment. We paused here on our walk to discuss the power of surprises and the marketing opportunities that come from turning ordinary things into unexpected pops of joy.

When the spontaneous lesson concluded, we continued on our walk. And not five minutes later, one of the group exclaimed “Oh my god, look at that sign!”…and all the delegates from Taste of Nova Scotia turned toward the entrance to Sweet Box Bakery:

The exclaimer gave me a quick look, as if to say… “did you plan this?” I just dropped a small curtsey and said “I rest my case.”

Folks. Be surprising. Be fun. People notice.

Learn a bit more about Philly’s painted utility boxes here.

July 10, 2017

Dogs + vodka + love = marketing.

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

Tito's "Vodka for Dog People" Ad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 8, 2017

Bathroom branding…it’s a thing.

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

Unless there is a clever sign on the door.

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

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

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

Timber Lounge

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

wheelchair

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

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

Hotel on North Bathroom

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

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

Lilac Bathrooms

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

February 29, 2016

Social media + cool things = your free sales force.

My nephew is going to eat at Roast Sandwich House with his friends, thanks to a picture posted on Facebook (which he doesn’t use) by a girl (who he doesn’t know). Here’s the story…followed by a million dollar marketing question: 

Some girl Amanda (a stranger to me as well) posted this picture on Facebook of Roast’s “Buffalo Organic Chicken Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese.”

IMG_0640

A gent named Chris liked her photo. I’ve not seen or spoken to Chris in around five years, but we’re friends on Facebook. And that photo appeared in my news feed because Chris liked it.  I knew the moment I saw it that my nephew would LOVE it…but I’m not friends with him on Facebook (because no self-respecting teenager uses Facebook).  So I took a screen-shot of the post and texted it to him.  He responded with all sorts of “OMGs” and drooled on his phone…and next thing you know…he’s gathering up friends to go eat there.

So basically, a friend of my friend of five years ago recommended a sandwich to my nephew and his friends. And none of us have ever spoken or discussed this in any way…and most of us are strangers.

Now… here’s the million dollar marketing question: What if Roast Sandwich House offered boring sandwiches?

NO ONE takes a picture of a plain ol’ turkey sammich. Why bother? But a Buffalo Organic Chicken Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese?  That sucker earns you bragging rights on social media.  So, yes…it might be harder on the operation to produce AMAZING sandwiches.  And it might require more ingredients.  And it’s probably much more work.  But it made Amanda take a picture and share it with her friends, and that marketing power is priceless.

The point is…be interesting. Be different.  Be unexpected.  Be unique.  Make the time…make the investment…dedicate the brainpower.  If you do unusual things or offer unusual products, people will want to capture and share the story.  And you’ll be rewarded with an exponential (and free) sales force…even if they’re not on Facebook.

Thank you, Amanda…whoever you are. And you’re welcome, Roast Sandwich House…as you’ll be seeing a lot of my nephew in the future.

November 5, 2015

Your belly button is a marketing tool.

Consumers suck, don’t they?  They need to be rewarded for everything…liking things, sharing things, buying things, answering things.  It’s maddening.

Well marketers, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We’ve conditioned people to chase carrots and respond to hoopla…which means we’ve ALSO conditioned them to ignore stuff that’s boring, predictable, trite, and unrewarding.

Where does this leave email subject lines?  At the top of your “spend brainpower here” list.

Think about it…all the time and energy you spend creating the perfect email content is 100% for naught if people don’t open it.  And when sifting through the barrage of daily incoming emails, consumers use three main criteria to determine which ones will get their attention:

  1. How much they care about you vs. how much they care about the rest of the senders sitting in their inbox.
  2. How much time they have available when your email arrives.
  3. Is the content going to be worth their time?

And #3 is why subject lines should get your brainpower.  If your marketing email subject lines are things like “August Newsletter” or “News from (company name)” or even something a little more specific like “Winter Packages at (company name)”… you are relying on the first two criteria – which are beyond your control – to supply the magic open sesame of consumer response.

But if your subject line is something like…

We don’t make linen. (Chilewich, a textile company)

I hate purple. (Also from Chilewich)

The ecosystem of your belly button. (American Museum of Natural History)

Have you ever wanted to create a chocolate sculpture? (South End Kitchen, VT)

Get serenaded by Harry Connick, Jr. (Hotel on North, MA)

…you’re using the subject line as a lure to snap desensitized recipients to attention.  It’s likely that 80% or more of the emails they receive each day have boring subject lines.  Make yours interesting and you’re one notch closer to seducing them into hearing your message.

Here’s the best part.  If you pay heed to #3 (teasing interesting content)…and then you actually ensure that the content IS interesting…over time, it’s going to positively impact #1 and #2.  Remember: marketers train consumers.  And the more you train them that your emails are interesting, the more that #1- they will care about you and your messages, and #2- no matter when your email arrives, they will make the time to read it.

It’s a delicious cycle of persuasive marketing goodness.  And soon you will find that consumers – those picky, aloof, what’s-in-it-for-me monsters we marketers have created – will suck just a little bit less.

October 9, 2015

Catch more flies. Make more money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work & Class House Rules

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

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

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

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

September 23, 2014

Postcards: low-tech “social media” marketing.

Dig those crazy postcards, kids.

Dig those crazy postcards, kids.

The postcard is making a comeback…and not as a communication tool, but as a social media marketing tool.

Having postcards available for guests to purchase at your business is one thing.  Giving them out for free and offering to mail them – including postage – is quite another.  In marketing-speak, that’s the old school version of “encouraging a share.”

I’ve stumbled across two noteworthy examples of this in my travels recently.  The first was at P.J. Clarke’s, an institution among NYC bar/restaurants (since 1884).  A note at the bottom of the menu informs diners they can ask for a P.J. Clarke’s postcard to write out, and then give to their server to apply the required postage and mail.  (Side note…I had planned to do this, but the food coma from the Cast Iron Skillet of Baked Mac & Cheese with Peas & Bacon rendered me incapable of writing.)

The second – and brilliant – example (pictured here) was at Stratton Mountain Resort.  Perched in a place of honor on the front desk, a plexiglass cube filled with colorful postcards beckons travelers to drop a note <ahem, marketing piece about Stratton> to good ol’ Aunt Mary back home.  You can’t miss it…and you automatically get an itch to do it.  While standing there, I got the added joy of hearing the kid next to me ask his dad, “What’s a postcard?”… and then, of course, he had to send one to his friend back home.  (The hilarity continued when he had to text his friend to get the address, which is the only fly in this marketing ointment…who knows anyone’s mailing address anymore?)

Why are postcards sent by guests a smart marketing tool?  Because they’re…

  • Highly visual
  • Different and noticeable
  • Inexpensive
  • Fun for the sender & recipient
  • Turnkey and low maintenance

Postcards never get flagged as spam, they don’t need specific keywords to be found, and they are likely to be tacked up on the recipient’s refrigerator or bulletin board, quietly radiating subliminal marketing messages with every casual glance they receive.

When was the last time you could say that about your OTHER marketing tactics?

“Social media”…indeed.

August 26, 2014

Surprise! Creating guest surprises is harder than it looks…

Last Christmas, the Canadian airline WestJet surprised a plane full of arriving passengers at baggage claim by delivering fully wrapped gifts they had just specifically requested from “Santa” only hours before at their departure gate.  (If you haven’t seen that video, grab some tissues and watch it here.)

To date, the WestJet Christmas Miracle video has received nearly 40 million views on YouTube, making it the envy of hospitality marketers around the world.  Marketers – and their CEO bosses – watched longingly as the media attention spotlight on WestJet grew brighter and the video view count grew higher, and they all had the same thought:  I want a “WestJet video” for MY brand.

Alas, most of them are likely to retire with “I wish I had a WestJet video” still on their career bucket list, and here’s why:  surprises – especially of that magnitude – are bloody hard work.

Pulling off a surprise like that requires precision timing, which requires a recipe of planning, staffing, money, creativity, and problem solving.  You cannot fumble at the goal line.  You cannot plan a “partial surprise.”  You can’t get the timing “almost right.”  You get ONE SHOT.  So you have to make it count, or every bit of investment you put into it is a big ol’ waste.

This leaves no wiggle room for indecision, executive in-fighting, budget paralysis, miscommunication, or distraction from the focus.  And that’s a lot to ask of ANY brand, at ANY size.  That “little” five minute video required four months of singular planning attention, 150 WestJet employees, an extraordinary budget, and extensive marketing resources in two cities.  Such a level of orchestration deserves every bit of brand-envy it receives, because marketers worth their salt know it’s a rare phenomenon.

To determine if your brand has what it takes to successfully leverage the magic of surprise – at any level – ask yourself…

  • Do we embrace fun?
  • Do all our in-house departments work together harmoniously, and if not…can they?
  • Are we comfortable taking risks?
  • Are we willing to spend unanticipated money if needed to protect the surprise all the way to the finish line?
  • Do we complete our regular, non-surprise-oriented projects on time, and with precision?

If the answer to any of those questions was “no,” then you should think twice before investing a ton of resources into planning a one-shot-deal surprise for your guests.  You will save yourself a lot of misery (and money) by using other tools in your marketing toolbox instead.

Parting tip:  If you ARE planning to create a big surprise, keep this in mind…the bigger and cooler the surprise, the higher the bar is set for next time.  Case in point:  for my keynote address at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference in April, Redpoint surprised the audience of 250 people with beer, pretzels, costume accessories, and a New Orleans style jazz band (watch the trailer).  Two months later, the Vermont Ski Areas Association wanted a similar surprise for their annual conference…but what fun would it be to orchestrate the same surprise?  So Redpoint cajoled the kind folks at Ben & Jerry’s to create an exclusive ice cream flavor – Vermont Powder – just for that conference, and we delivered it to the audience in a surprise moment punctuated by a song we “wrote.” (Watch the Hot Sardines perform that song here.)

It was all great fun, and we had a blast doing it.  But now people start to salivate the moment they hear that I’m the keynote speaker, and (sorry, mom) it ain’t because they think I’m pretty.  Lesson learned:  human nature = “oooh, what’s next?”

Ah, well.  Redpoint is up to the challenge.  Save your pity for WestJet…they have to top way more than beer and ice cream.

January 25, 2013

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

Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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