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.

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.

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’.

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.

January 12, 2015

Eat more lamb, Larry Bird.

We humans are an unruly lot…we are busy and distracted, and frankly, we just don’t like being told what to do.  This means that informative and useful signage is often overlooked as white noise competing for our attention amidst a barrage of sensory input.

Savvy businesses know a fool-proof cure for this:  unexpected humor that seduces people into reading the otherwise-boring sign.  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Not only do people read it…they get the message AND they are left with an impression of a business, company, or brand with a groovy personality.  Behold:

Bennett’s Store in coastal Maine could say “No Parking” or it could say…

larry bird

Wood ‘n Hart Farm at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market in Nova Scotia could say “Lamb for Sale” or it could say…

Halifax sign

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in NYC could say “Don’t Drink and Drive” or it could say…

Toll

An airport in Fort Lauderdale could say “Pardon Our Construction” or it could say…

airport sign

The Weylin B. Seymour’s glamorous event space in Brooklyn could say “Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom” or it could say…

wheelchair

These signs have stopped countless people in their tracks…and quite possibly prompted them to snap a picture just like I did.  Mission accomplished.

So, the next time you have something important – but boring – to communicate, take a few minutes to answer the question:  how can I make this message interesting?

Need more inspiration?  See what the Inn at Manchester did with their housekeeping tip envelope.  Seriously…if they can make THAT fun, anything’s possible.

July 9, 2013

Brilliant use of a housekeeping tip envelope.

They are a necessary evil.  And yet…it IS kind of weird that so many US hotels leave an envelope in your room, encouraging you (obligating you?) to tip your housekeeper.

I understand the need for it, as it’s easy to forget – or ignore – tipping someone you likely never see (and gratuities are often part of a housekeeper’s overall compensation).  But it seems so tacky.  No one likes it when a bellman or doorman stands there with his hand out, and the “begging envelope” is equally ungracious.

That’s why I laughed aloud with pleasure when I saw the housekeeping gratuity envelopes in the rooms at The Inn at Manchester in Manchester Village, VT.

 IMG-20130507-01750

 

Absolutely brilliant.  This envelope single-handedly…

  1. Creates a relationship with guests
  2. Makes people feel taken care of by a human being (not a fill-in-the-blank housekeeper du jour)
  3. Showcases the warmth and personality of the brand
  4. Surprises the guests and makes them smile
  5. Softens  “the ask” with a bit of humor

What’s the lesson here?  With a little bit of love and thought, you can find ways to make ordinary guest touch points create a lasting, positive impression.  And you can’t “fake” making something personal…if you put love into it, that’s what will shine through.

Case in point:  I saw this envelope when I was visiting the property with another Redpoint staffer just for a site tour.  And even though I wasn’t staying in the room, I wanted to give a tip to Alice and Ade…just for being adorable.

September 20, 2012

A marketing throwdown: worms, 1…PR professional, 0.

It’s a running joke among my friends and family that I find marketing lessons everywhere I turn.  And recently, worms taught me a pretty big one.

I stumbled upon this “Live Bait” vending machine while driving through the Muskoka Lakes region of Ontario, Canada.  I wanted a soda.  What I got instead was a new perspective.

Worms sold in vending machines?  It was like I discovered a new planet.  Though I don’t fish, and have absolutely no reason to ever purchase a worm, I thought this idea was the coolest thing ever.  Just like the Jetsons!  I took pictures, sent them to friends back in NYC (who shared my awe), and enjoyed the rest of my drive with that warm glow marketers get when they feel like they’ve discovered something truly “new.”

Until I got home, and then…Enter:  GOOGLE.

Turns out, worms are sold in vending machines all over the world.  As are gold bars, live crabs, mashed potatoes with gravy, bicycles, fresh bananas, sneakers, hypodermic needles (scary), eggs, freshly made cupcakes, inflatable inner tubes, and a host of other items that I had never considered vending machine material.

As I perused slide show after slide show of website articles revealing quirky vending machines across the globe, I felt like a dope.  I had fallen prey to the cardinal sin of the PR profession:  thinking something is NEW when it’s really just NEW TO YOU.  How many times have my partner Vickie and I cautioned our clients against this very same PR sin?  Shame on me.  “A” for enthusiasm… “F” for marketing savvy.

These worms reminded me of two vital rules of marketing:

  1. Google is the greatest tool in a marketer’s toolbox – see if your idea is new, find a unique solution to a problem, discover how other cultures conquer challenges…all in less than 2 seconds and without leaving your desk.
  2. Every new discovery is an opportunity – don’t be surprised if a Redpoint hotel client soon imports an Italian vending machine that prepares pizza from scratch, including freshly kneaded dough.

I’ve been exposed to a lot of quirky stuff in my 20 years as a travel marketer.  I know why fish wheels in Alaska are as treasured as Red Sox season tickets in New England, that women in Armenian nightclubs dance with themselves in the mirror to attract the attention of men, and that you can turn a tractor supply store into a bar in rural West Virginia (while still selling tractors) and no one will bat an eye.  Each new discovery has fueled my sense of wonder at the world.

But worms sold in vending machines trumps them all.  Why?  I thought it was so cool, it actually made me want to go fishing…just so I could buy some.

Now THAT’s good marketing.  🙂