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

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 17, 2018

What makes you ding-worthy?

So…I feel a bit like a soulless drug pusher on this one, but hear me out, ok?

A growing issue is causing serious angst in today’s society:  people are addicted to their phones and they know it…and they don’t like it. There’s a movement afoot for these addicts to “resist the ding” and wean themselves from craving the need to keep checking their phone. And the psychological battle cry of “how to take back control” is a hot topic at business conferences, therapy sessions, family dinner tables, relationship counseling, and in mainstream media.  If this is news to you, here are two useful articles on the subject from NPR and Psychology Today.

But it’s a marketer’s mission to cut through clutter and get attention. And so we ruthlessly hunt for standout ways to infiltrate their phones: emails, text messaging, location-based promotions, social media (organic and paid), social media direct messaging, and <insert shiny marketing-tool-du-jour here>.

We WANT to be the ding that gets their attention. We WANT them to stop what they’re doing and embrace our message.

But think of the psychology:  more and more people are taking control of their own “ding dial,” fiercely curating which dings (if any) get their immediate attention, and – whoa – even turning off the dings completely in order to neutralize messages that masquerade as urgent.

Worse (for us)…in an effort to reduce the overwhelming daily assault of information through intrusive dings and silent accumulation, they are more discriminating in scrubbing their access points.  This means YOU (soulless, message-pushing marketer) are being judged continuously, and you are always just one frivolous ding away from getting banished.

So here’s what you need to ask yourself, marketers:  what makes you ding-worthy?  And you can’t do this effectively by looking at a single message’s value (i.e. this post, this email). You need to respect your role in the relationship with people’s phones and your value in their overall information landscape.  What earns you the right to continued access?  How do your dings foster Pavlovian-level satisfaction?

I’ll tell you the answer:  always-relevant content, and choosing frequency wisely.  Quite simply…don’t waste their time (or mental bandwidth) and make every ding meaningful.

Is this harder for you?  Yep. Does this mean you have to care more about THEIR needs than YOUR sales goals?  Yep.  Is this annoying because now you have to think more, and sometimes resist sending messages you REALLY REALLY want to send?  Yep.

But here’s the alternative:  would you rather be banished?  Because that’s what’s at stake now more than ever.

Marketing was never effective when it was too frequent or too frivolous. Desensitization and annoyance have always been at risk. But back in the day, those risks just wasted your money and time. People may have gotten annoyed, but they hadn’t yet – en masse – felt empowered to do anything about it.

But these days, technological assault has made people feel like victims and addicts, so when you annoy them, they not only feel empowered to banish you…they do it with a sense of righteous justice. Kicking you out of their phone grants them a joyous feeling of liberation.

And so yay for you, marketer!  You created a positive encounter with your target. The downside is that it came from them slamming the door in your face…and locking it.

So what’s the moral of this story?  Don’t ignore this growing social phenomenon, and adapt your approach accordingly.

In short:  Please ding responsibly. 

March 16, 2018

Five opening lines that sabotage your email’s success.

You want people to read your emails, right?  Then be mindful of these two powerful words:

PREVIEW PANE.

That little teaser allows people a glance at your email’s content before they open it, which makes your first sentence vital.  It can either hook interest and make readers want to open it instantly, or it can say nothing worthwhile and prompt them to triage its importance for another time (if ever).  This actually holds true even if the recipient is NOT using preview pane… who gets jazzed about reading an email with a boring opening line?

Here’s a hard truth:  most people begin emails with boring sentences simply because they’re being lazy.  It’s a crutch for warming up to writing what they REALLY want to say… a way to get their fingers moving on the keyboard.  But the fact is, you’re doing your email a huge disservice by overlooking the importance of your opening line.

Here are five of the most common “wasted” opening lines:

I hope you are well.
My name is (x) and I’m the (x) of (x) company…
I wanted to write you today to…
I am pleased to attach the document…
Hope you’re enjoying this weather!

Why are these lines wasted?  Because they’re either stating the obvious or making irrelevant small talk.  You may indeed truly hope the person is well, and you have my blessing to say that… at the end.  And you may indeed be pleased to attach that document…but who cares?  Perhaps instead, say why the document is/should be important to THEM.

Yes, it takes longer to come up with a compelling opening line (and please, for the love of Pete, please don’t start with the word “I”).  But it’s worth it.  I may not know you, or anything about you and your email recipients, but I’d bet the ranch that you’d rather have folks open your emails than glaze over them or just hit delete.

Bonus writing advice:  also be wary of the word “great,” using exclamation points, and the request to have things sent to you “ASAP.”  Check out these and other quick writing tips here.

 

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.

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.

June 28, 2017

The key to making a business announcement successfully.

Say you’ve just overhauled your guest service program.  Or completed a design renovation.  Or created a new HR program in response to staff issues.  Or launched a new brand.  Or website.

And then you sit down to write the email, press release, or speech to unveil it to your key audiences.  Here’s the one vital tip you need to make it effective and powerful:

No one cares how hard you worked.

Think about it. How many times have you heard a brand or company representative say

  • We’ve worked tirelessly to…
  • Our team has worked long and hard to…
  • We’ve been working day and night to…

Does that make their message any more meaningful to you?  Nope.  In fact, a few hard truths about human nature conspire to subtly undermine the successful reception of your announcement:

What’s In It For Me?:  Saying how hard you worked is blah-blah to the audience.  Your dedication is irrelevant…what’s the result that impacts them?  Wasting air time with blah-blah just risks losing their attention.

Skepticism Trigger:  The moment someone draws attention to how hard they worked, we subconsciously doubt it.  If you truly worked hard on something, the results would prove it.  Proclaiming it just makes the audience wonder why you’re trying to hard to convince them that you did your job.

Soliciting Gratitude is Resented:  Revealing how hard you worked – especially when you’re fixing a negative situation – only makes it look like you’re seeking a head pat.  And only adorable dogs can credibly get away with begging for head pats.  In humans, it usually just inspires exasperated eye-rolling.

Instead…just share your news straight up, including the benefits to them.  Like so:

On the new Redpoint website, you can explore our expertise with easy one-click sorting relevant to your needs, catch our company vibe instantly through photos and videos, and listen to music from our office live concert series.  Go check it out…we hope you find it fun and useful.

See how easy that was?  Now please DO go check out our new website…because it’s fun.  #ResistTheHeadPat

 

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.