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

September 19, 2018

Even accountants can have fun with marketing.

“I was so inspired by all the fun examples you shared, but I work for accountants and we could never do anything like that.”

So said the woman who came up to me after my recent speech about inspiration at the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.  The speech highlighted the ways in which businesses can transform everyday customer interactions into inspirational, engaging encounters.  And as part of that, I shared dozens of examples from around the world…businesses using everything from tip jar signs to colorful portable toilets in order to make memories for customers.

My inspired-but-dejected accountant friend scooted away too quickly for me to show her a different point of view.  I mean…she hugged me, so she wasn’t THAT dejected.  But there was clearly a boundary in her mind:  other businesses like hotels and restaurants can have fun…accountants cannot.

Every scrap of my marketing DNA rebelled against that philosophy.  So in my mind on the drive home, I reviewed all the examples I shared in the speech, and this one leaped out… the hours of operation sign at Hot Dog Tommy’s in Cape May, NJ:

Hot Dog Tommy's Hours Sign

Wouldn’t it be marvelous for an accounting firm to have office hours from 8:57am to 5:02pm, with the tag line “we’re accountants…we’re precise?”

Their hours and that tag line could be shared in their email signatures, on their website, business cards, advertisements, and more.

And what does that get them?  A conversation starter.  A point of difference.  A personality.  A smile from a potential customer.

A way to be memorable.

And doesn’t EVERY business want to be memorable to its audiences?  Even you, accountants.  You want people to think of you over OTHER accountants.  So…without that tag line, your business card is ordinary.  With it?  You make an impression.

Any business can use nearly ANY touch point to make customers care about them.  No business has to be boring…that’s a choice you make, and you can simply choose to be interesting.  You just have to do it with care and thought to what makes sense for your brand and industry.  Accountants with hyper-precise hours?  YES.  Accountants with colorful portable toilets in the reception area?  Well…that will certainly make you memorable, but perhaps not in the way you want.

PS:  In 90 seconds, see how I prepared for this speech, and I’d be the biggest hypocrite in the world if this video were boring. Watch here.

 

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.

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’.