May 29, 2018

This “Blind Date” concept wins at marketing.

This idea – Blind Date with a Book – is so brilliant, I just stood there admiring it for several minutes while my marketing brain lit up with joy.

At Book Culture on Columbus, a reader’s paradise on the Upper West Side of NYC, there’s a center table piled with books wrapped completely so you can’t see their titles.  A label on each one gives you clues to the book’s content, like so:

Blind Date with a Book

Trying not to look like a creepy stalker, I hovered around the table for a long while…just to observe the reactions of people who stumbled upon the table for the first time.

Here’s the big headline:  every single person HAD a reaction.  Some thought it was the coolest idea in the universe, some said they’d never buy a book sight unseen, some wanted to rip off the wrapping and see if they guessed correctly, some thought it was a unique gift for bookworms.

But…  Everyone.  Had.  A.  Reaction.

Do you know how hard that is to achieve?  Breaking through the cluttered awareness of busy shoppers, amidst a sea of tables and shelves and displays and gifts and noise?  Nearly impossible.

But Blind Date with a Book achieves it, because it’s rich with multi-faceted marketing power:

  • It’s the bricks-n-mortar answer to the online suggestion algorithms (“If you like this, you’ll ALSO like…”) that the Amazons and Spotifys of the world have trained us to crave.
  • The power of secrets and surprises…people can’t resist the mischief.
  • It addresses a business need with grace, whimsy, and a consumer-facing benefit:  the titles are all picked by staff because they’re worth a read, but for whatever reason don’t get as much purchasing love as they should.
  • It connects with people…engages them, and definitely makes them smile.
  • No question it gives shape to the store’s personality…anything unexpected and fun like this ignites a positive feeling for the brand.  Even if you’re not the type to purchase a wrapped book, you still think they’re cool for doing it.

What’s the moral here?  Stop reaching for the same old sales and marketing tools.  If Book Culture had wanted to push slow-moving titles, they could have done a sale or marked them as “Staff Picks” or whatever.  All usual tricks for bookstores, and all standing a 50/50 chance of getting people to care.

But wrap up a book in brown paper and call it a Blind Date?  Winner.  Hands down.

May 2, 2018

One small question can lead to BIG ideas.

Thinking visual

So…you know “those” marketing people?  The ones who seem to have a dozen (or 100) spectacular ideas every day?  Chances are, this question plays in a continuous loop in their brains:

What could we do with this?

“Idea people” get inspiration from everything they encounter, every single day.

While browsing social media: Oh, an underwater filmmaker/choreographer performs a jaw-dropping dance in the world’s deepest pool?  What could we do with this?

While reading an online newspaper: Oh, a restaurant in Maine is only accepting reservation requests by postcard?  What could we do with this?

While subtly eavesdropping on a nearby subway conversation and trying not to be creepy about it: Oh, Jennifer Garner is doing an (adorable and oh-so-fabulous) pretend cooking show on Instagram?  What could we do with this?

Every new bit of sensory input is an opportunity to spark a new idea.  Maybe we don’t need an actual DANCE underwater… but could one of our clients benefit from cool underwater filming?  Or is there something we can do with the world’s deepest pool?  And POSTCARDS.  That’s an unusual way to use postcards.  Is there ANOTHER way we can use postcards in an unexpected fashion?  Or can one of our clients accept reservations in an unusual way?  We’re about to plan a big conference… can postcards play a role in the attendee experience?

And Jennifer Garner.  Can we just hug her?  Or partner with her?  Or can one of our clients send her a recipe to try?  Or can they do their own cooking show?  Wait… she tried to make bagels and it was REALLY hard.  Is that true?  If it’s hard… can we do a bagel-making class at one of our restaurants?  Are bagels a thing?  Do they pair well with prosecco (doesn’t everything)?  What about bagels for dinner?  Or Bagel Turndown Service at a hotel?  Is there a National Bagel Day?

<must…turn…off…brain…>

The point is…it’s not about copying ideas.  It’s about using a germ of one thing to springboard into a new idea.  Maybe related…maybe not.  It’s kind of a long stretch to get from Jennifer Garner’s cooking show to launching Bagel Turndown Service at a hotel.  But it all starts with… what could we do with this?

If you are ever stuck for an idea, make this your magic phrase.  Open a magazine, surf the web, take a spin on social media, go to a shopping mall… pay attention to the things that grab you and think what could we do with this?

Yesterday on the subway, I saw a woman carrying a Yorkshire Terrier in an Easter basket, and the dog was wearing tiny little bunny ears and a tiny little bowtie shaped like a bone.  RANDOM.  Believe me.  You don’t even want to know how long my “what could we do with this?” list was.

April 10, 2018

Marketing works better when you get out of your own way.

Last year while consulting with a hotel client, we decided together that a certain kind of in-room marketing piece and promotional offer was needed to spark interest (and reservations) in their restaurant.  They were TOTALLY jazzed about the idea and their in-house design team was going to “get right on it.”

It’s a year later and no piece was ever produced.  The reason?  Marketing, finance, and the executive team couldn’t come to an agreement on details… how long the promo would run, how deep the discount would be, and how the piece would be designed for the room… a door hanger?  Something to place on the bed?  Hanging from the bedside lamp?  Table tent on the vanity?

It got too hard to shepherd to the goal line, and so it’s still sitting in approval purgatory.

And yet, they are still banging their heads against the wall in frustration over the empty seats in the restaurant.

In contrast:  last month, I was traveling through the tiny town of Blackville, New Brunswick in Canada, and I stopped at the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Burke’s Diner for a quick snack.  While waiting for my food, I noticed the napkin holders in the dining room:

Burke's Napkin Holders

Are those promo flyers slick and perfect?  Nope.  Are they even smooth and unwrinkled?  Nope.  Did a marketing team sit with the finance team for weeks, and then do a presentation to executive management before sending the idea to the design team to execute?  Pretty doubtful.

But do they work?  Absolutely.  I ate there just once, and even *I* know that Friday is Steak Night, and so forth.

Here’s the moral:  GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY.  That hotel client I mentioned above?  They are not alone.  We see that sort of stalling-due-to-lack-of-agreement all the time.  And folks…it’s hurting your business.  Because while you’re gearing up for the United Nations Talks of Marketing, your restaurant seats are still empty.

Doing something is better than doing nothing, and things can always be changed, evolved, or removed.  Just find a way to forge ahead.

And if you’re ever hungry in the Blackville area, here’s Burke’s version of a “light snack”…

Pile of Fries

FYI, there’s a grilled cheese under there somewhere.  #prizeunderfries

February 22, 2018

If you want brand engagement, just be human.

There I was, innocently chopping vegetables for a salad at my kitchen counter, my mind on a million other things while my hands worked on autopilot.  And then, without warning… the little tomatoes seduced me.

I had picked up the container to peel back the cover, when my eye caught the writing on the tab:

Cherub Grape Tomatoes with "Lettuce Out" tab Cherub tab "Lettuce Out"

Seriously.  “Lettuce out?”  Produce packaging with a sense of humor?  It’s corny and goofy and oh-so-endearing, and I am not going to lie:  I giggled audibly.  And that particular salad brought me a great deal of joy.

Why?  Because THE TOMATOES MADE A JOKE, people.  In this world of legal jargon, marketing buzzwords, and brand manifestos, a simple salad pun like “lettuce out” is unbelievably charming and disarming for consumers.  I didn’t really have an opinion of my tomatoes before.  Suddenly, I cared.  I felt like the folks at NatureSweet® must be pretty cool and groovy…and human.  Real people, not a faceless sea of business operations.  And I liked them.  As if they were a single person, making a one-on-one connection with me, in a very unscripted, informal way.

Learn from this, folks.  It cost them nothing to add this dash of personality to their packaging, and yet it did more to inspire my warm feelings than any expensive ad campaign ever could.  Not convinced?  How about…

The napkins at Chipotle Mexican Grill:

Chipotle Napkin

 

The inside of a Dove® chocolate wrapper.

Dove chocolate wrapper

 

The tip jar sign at Cape May Brewing Company:

Tip jar at Cape May Brewery

 

The point is…brands spend a ton of money on marketing and chasing brand loyalty, and yet they miss these simple, often no-cost opportunities to quietly worm their way into people’s hearts.  With that one little lettuce joke, I became a “Cherub Girl,” just like the guy who once told me he’s an “EverRoast® Man”…except I’m not just using it as a pickup line.

November 3, 2017

Burnt croissants…a marketing home run.

Don’t these look appetizing?

birdies bread croissants

Believe it or not, they do to smart marketers.

The wise folks at Birdies Bread Co in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia truly GET social media. Speak with your brand voice, be real, let your hair down, and say things that connect with people. This post about a burned batch of croissants nails it all for four key reasons:

Cuts through Clutter: among the never-ending sea of photos in a person’s news feed, THIS photo will make them stop and read the message

Tugs at Kinship: it gives the warm “we feel ya” fuzzies to anyone who’s ever screwed up a recipe

Engaging Humility: it says “even professionals ain’t always perfect…we’re human too,” which is endearing and accessible and oh-so unintimidating

Inspires Trust: future marketing messages will be more credible because the audience knows they’re not trying to hide flaws

Many brands and businesses aren’t comfortable allowing their flaws – and human side – to peek through on social media. It feels like a huge risk to expose imperfections. But when done with care and thoughtful judgment, feathering in some fun, “we’re human” candid-type posts are EXACTLY the right way to get the most out of social media.

And just to tell both sides of the Birdies story… this:

birdies bread yummy baked goods

That right there is some tasty marketing, folks.

 

September 27, 2017

How to arrest attention (pun intended) using social media.

This is a complaint I hear often:  We put a ton of time into social media and it’s like nobody is listening.  And then they blame the algorithm.

Poor things.  I feel like a therapist when I pull them aside and hit them with some radical candor:

Psst.  It’s not the algorithm.  It’s YOU.

Because the way most brands do social media, nobody IS listening.  Most businesses – at least in my industry, which is travel, tourism, and hospitality – do their scheduled, obligatory posts like clockwork… often carefully vetted in advance by executives who crave control over all marketing messages.

That’s the key issue right there:  the forum of social media rewards nimble and impromptu risk takers, and penalizes scripted, safe automatons.  And I don’t mean the algorithms reward and penalize…I mean the audiences.  Algorithms do indeed shape who sees your stuff…but algorithms are influenced by audiences.  If enough folks engage with your stuff, the algorithm rewards you handsomely.

Here’s a magnificent example.  The Lawrence Kansas Police Department sells these t-shirts:

Twitter shirt of Lawrence Kansas PD

And if you spend just 10 minutes scrolling through their Twitter feed, you’ll be rolling on the floor howling with laughter.  And then you might even click “follow,” despite the fact that you live nowhere near Kansas.  I did.

The population of Lawrence is around 95,000.  The Lawrence Police Department has a Twitter following of 63,000.  If the New York City Police Department wanted to have the same ratio of followers-to-population, it would need 5,610,000 followers.  It currently has 431,000.

And engagement with LKPD tweets is absurdly high…a recent tweet got 550,000 likes and 174,000 retweets.  Reading that will make lots of social media marketers swoon with envy.

Why is the engagement so strong, and why is their social media effort so successful?  Five key reasons:

  1. It’s not just an obligatory marketing tactic…it’s used as a tool and grounded in solid purpose (connect with the community and make them want to listen to the police). That North Star anchors their entire effort, so it never loses its way and becomes white noise.
  2. It’s an ongoing dialogue, happening in real time.  Even promotional messages feel natural and organic…not scripted and salesy.
  3. They promote the bejesus out of their social channels every chance they get, even offline (see t-shirts above for living proof).
  4. It’s entertaining (and therefore shareworthy).  Say what you will about human attention spans, but the fact is…we gravitate toward things that make us laugh and feel good.
  5. It persuades, not just informs.  Like so:

INFORMS = “Don’t drive around Road Closed signs into flood water or you may get stranded.”

PERSUADES:

Lawrence Kansas PD Tweet about Flooded Car

The bottom line is…they invest the time AND the risk AND the focus.  Social media – when done right – requires diving into the deep end fully clothed.

So, you may be spending a lot of time “doing” social media, but how exactly are you spending that time?   If you spend more time planning than actually engaging with audiences, flipflop that ratio and you’ll see a difference.

Or, you could just give it all up and become a Lawrence Kansas police officer.  It seems fun.

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.

September 28, 2016

The secret to extraordinary guest service.

Two years ago, Sandra the housekeeper at the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia stole my heart and forever sealed my loyalty to that hotel.  I thought the happily-ever-after story ended there…but I was wrong.  It gets better.

Since that famous visit (the blog post about it was read/shared more than 100,000 times), I’ve returned to the Delta Halifax often.  And given the widespread recognition of the story, it’s not surprising that many of the staff there know me, or at least know who I am.  I treasure the bond that we’ve forged, and their extraordinary guest service has remained intact on each visit.

The guest in me revels in that consistency.  But the hospitality business counselor in me realizes that the stakes are getting higher and higher with each stay.  Can they keep hitting the mark EVERY SINGLE TIME?  Surely, they’re bound to be off their service game at some point.  What’s going to happen to this magical bond between us when they disappoint me for the first time?  What’s going to happen when they fail?

Happily, on my most recent visit, I learned that The Delta Halifax will NEVER fail at delivering extraordinary guest service.  I discovered their foolproof secret, and here it is:

After a grueling five-hour drive, I arrived at the hotel at 9:30pm…parked right in front of the door, flew out of the car, ran past the front desk agent, said nothing but “Hi, I need the ladies room before I can check in,” and then scooted out of sight.  When I returned to the front desk, the agent (who I didn’t know) had my room keys ready and said, “Welcome back, Ms. Miranda…we have you in Sandra’s section, and will you be needing assistance with your bags before we park your car?”

I didn’t ask how she knew who I was.  Perhaps I was the last check-in that evening.  Maybe they have a photo of me in my guest profile.  Who cares?  I was just grateful for the friendly expediency and headed back outside to deal with luggage and car.

The young bellman gent who shepherded me (and seven large bags and boxes) to my room was also unfamiliar to me, though he too also seemed to know me.  While chatting, I asked how long he’s been working there.  Answer:  three weeks.  After he got me settled into the room, I asked him if I needed a valet ticket for my car.  Answer:  “No worries, Ms. Miranda, we know who you are…just call down when you’re ready for the car and we’ll bring it around.”

I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I said, “You just started three weeks ago…how on earth do you know who I am?”

Answer:  “Are you kidding?  You’re a legend here.  I learned about your pillow story during my orientation, and everyone who works here gets excited when you’re coming back.”  Cue mouth agape and slight sting of happy tears on my part.

But wait.  There’s more.

I gave him a $25 tip when he left my room…that was a lot of heavy baggage AND he parked my car.  A minute later, he knocked on my door to give the 20 back because he thought I mistakenly gave him the wrong bill.  Seriously.  I almost gave him ANOTHER 20, just for being adorable.

Adorable gent gone, I surveyed the room.  Yes, my special towel-pillow was there, with a welcome note from Sandra.  And this time, she upped her game, surrounding my complimentary bottle of water with hearts that she hand cut out of paper water coasters.

fullsizerender-8Life was good.  I was home.

But now I was curious.  Was it JUST me?  It seems that my blog post had earned the hotel some measure of recognition among its peers and corporate office, and Sandra was certainly given praise for her role in the famous pillow story.  But was everyone in this hotel extra nice and helpful to me just because I got them positive attention?  I needed to know.

So the next day, I sat and observed…at the restaurant, in the lobby, outside on the benches.  I watched every single staff member interact with guests at various points throughout the day.  And guess what?  It’s not just me.  They may not know everyone’s name or face, but good heavens…they are THAT NICE AND HELPFUL to everyone.  I saw anticipatory, gracious, and extraordinary service at every touch point – servers, bell staff, maintenance dudes, front desk team, executives walking around…every interaction, with every person.

How was this possible?  The Delta Halifax is NOT a small hotel.  But surely they can’t have simply hired every amazing person in the city?  And surely they can’t just hand out a training manual and teach people good judgment on how to be gracious without being annoying?  If that were possible, then every hotel in the world would be a giant bundle of amazingness.

And then, upon reflection, it hit me.  It’s pride.  Staff at the Delta Halifax are instilled with a sense of pride in the hotel, and in each other.  They enjoy nurturing the hotel’s stellar reputation, and they conspire together to make guests happy.  They care deeply – collectively and as individuals – that guests are made to feel welcomed, special, and loved.  And…here’s the best part:  it’s genuine.  They don’t just act it.  They FEEL it.

Yes, there’s a Delta employee training manual.  And yes, there are workshops, brand standards, performance reviews and all that jazz.  But let me tell you something, folks:  you can’t teach pride. 

Full honors go to the executive team at the Delta Halifax for fostering that culture, because this type of environment can ONLY exist if the management team encourages it, shapes it, rewards it, and reclaims it when it goes astray.

Hospitality managers everywhere…here’s what you can learn from this story.  If your guest service isn’t extraordinary, find out why your employees aren’t taking pride in your organization and fix it.  Why should they love working for you?  Why should they care?  What are you trying to achieve together for your guests?  Fix that, and I guarantee you, all your guest service issues will go away.

Delta Halifax…I take my hat off to you.  You have my loyalty as a guest, and my respect as a hospitality business counselor.  I don’t know exactly how you instill that sense of pride in your staff, but you know what?  I don’t want to know.  Keep that part of your secret, and I’ll just keep coming back to enjoy the magic.

PS:  On the second morning of my stay, the server at breakfast automatically brought me cream with my coffee because she remembered I asked for it on the first day.  Just sayin’.