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?


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

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:


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.

February 6, 2018

Eight qualities every (great) social media marketer must have.

Social media icons coming from megaphoneIn my entire (nearly) 30 years of working with companies big and small in the tourism industry, never once did I hear an executive say, “Oh, we need more legal assistance?  Let’s assign that responsibility to the night auditor.”  Or, “We are short an engineer, so let’s task reservation agents to fix the HVAC during their breaks.”

So why oh why do so many executives think that anyone with a brain and a pulse can do marketing?  I’ve seen more unsuitable people deputized with marketing authority simply because they’re “bright and eager,” and because someone in power thinks they should have room on their dance card to take on more work.  This usually leads to disappointment on all sides.  Newsflash:  being a strategic marketer takes more than just being a people person.

The rise of social media in the marketing mix has only made this phenomenon worse.  Now, anyone with a Twitter or Instagram account is apparently capable of running point on complex social media strategies.

Not so.  And let’s be clear here:  this isn’t about schooling or having the right degree.  Sure, schooling helps a person acquire skills, but having a natural knack for something is essential to true success in a role.  And just like people have a knack for drawing, or singing, or mechanical stuff, or cooking… people have a knack for marketing… and ESPECIALLY social media.

If you’re looking to fill this role in your organization…or you’re just a bright-and-eager person aspiring to become a social media marketing guru…here’s a checklist of eight qualities that make this role successful:

  1. Has a sense of humor, and knows how/when to wield it
  2. Loves social media, all types, and is personally aware of and immersed in it
  3. Is an articulate and engaging writer, who favors the power of brevity
  4. Knows proper grammar, and (as importantly) how/when to relax grammar standards
  5. Has reliable judgment
  6. Keeps ego in check, and blends confidence with humility
  7. Has no fear of technology
  8. Embraces every nook and cranny of your brand, inside and out

Is a person with all eight of these qualities easy to find?  Nope.  But is it worth holding out to find and harness such a person?  Well… this person is your voice to the ENTIRE WORLD, in REAL TIME, with NO COMMUNICATION BARRIER.  You know, just that.  NBD.

Hold out.  Find that person.  It’s worth it.

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.”


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 31, 2017

How my doctor can improve your marketing skills.

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

Eight glasses of water

Once an enemy, now a bestie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 10, 2017

What a difference a word makes (in marketing).

The gods of marketing were smiling on me that day.

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

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

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

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

Folks. Be surprising. Be fun. People notice.

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

July 25, 2017

Why marketers hate social media.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely a marketer. Or maybe a business owner who worries about marketing. Or you – in some way – have a responsibility to make people want to buy/use a brand or product.

Poor you. Because this means you can’t enjoy social media like a normal person. Instead, this describes you:

You hop on to various social channels throughout the day (or maybe your eyes are just permanently attached to your phone) and you do stuff like…

  • Check to see how many new fans/followers are engaging with your brand/s
  • Check your ads and get annoyed they’re not performing better
  • Like, comment, share, and repost all things associated with your brands
  • Same for all the brands you may partner with, or in some way support
  • Study, notice, or obsess over the posts of your competitors
  • Check various hashtags to see if anything relevant to your brand is happening
  • Click through to media story links to see if there’s anything in there you can use
  • See things that give you ideas and wonder how you can do “that” for your own brands
  • Become fixated with the trending arc of a story that’s starting to go viral
  • Get seduced down the rabbit hole of exploring a story back to its origin

Sure, you see (and like) the occasional appearance of your friend’s new baby or your cousin’s dog. Isn’t that nice? Oh, he’s so adorable and she should…hold it. Did (insert hotel brand here) really just launch a new cocktail program that was written up in USA Today? Why theirs and not mine? WE have cool cocktails. I need to talk to our bartender about coming up with some new stuff right now.

When you think about it, it’s pretty insane. Social media ALREADY has the power to be domineering and addictive with its 24/7 access to up-to-the-second information. Handing that to a marketing-wired brain? It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. The result is… no peace, no escape. Your brain switch is held in the “on” position, whether you like it or not.

Not only is this unfair…it’s unhealthy. And EXHAUSTING. And it may be time to renegotiate your relationship with social media. Here’s an experiment that worked for me.

  • Pick one social channel (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest…whatever)
  • Strip it of ALL associations tied to work: unfollow accounts you follow just to keep up with work/trend information, and remove (or from this point forward, stop posting) any posts related to YOUR work/brands/business.
  • Think about what you love and what brings you joy. Flowers, animals, food, technology, books, movies, fashion, nature, travel… whatever. Go seek out accounts to follow that bring your passions – and ONLY your passions – into your feed each day. Don’t cheat and just look up BuzzFeed’s list of “Top 10 Instagram accounts to follow in (category of passion).” Go explore on your own. Find the obscure accounts that are posting amazing things, but never make the Top 10 lists because they don’t have a marketing machine.
  • Take off your marketing hat every time you use that channel.  That’s now your “safe space,” where you get to just be a normal human being.  Post stuff you love, and allow that feed to make you smile every time you check it.

Yes, if you happen to be in a job that dovetails with your passions (as I am with travel), you risk falling off the wagon a bit. If you don’t have the willpower to resist obsessing over ideas, then don’t include that particular passion in your “safe” social channel. Surely you have other passions?

A few months ago, I tried this with Instagram. I unfollowed a ton of accounts (if you were one…sorry), and sought out a delicious mix of new accounts that ended up being roughly 40% dogs, 30% music, 25% friends, and 5% travel. And since then, my Instagram feed brings me nothing but joy.

Now, it feels wrong to derive so much joy from a social community and not give any back. So I thought about how I could contribute consistent joy to someone else’s feed. And since I travel for a living, my phone is bursting with more than 3,000 stunning images of landscapes and nature around the world. Voila. My Instagram “purpose” is to feed the travel passions of others, and my sole use of hashtags is not for marketing star power or tracking…it’s so people with those passions can find travel inspiration through my posts. I don’t have a strategy for building my follower base, and I’m not tracking any ratios or stats. I just engage with Instagram for pleasure. OMG. I’M A REAL, NORMAL PERSON. It feels awesome.

If you want unvarnished, unfiltered, unmarketed, unbranded, and often jaw-dropping nature and landscape photos in YOUR Instagram feed, you should follow me at @chrismirandahere. Fair warning: I don’t market Redpoint’s clients (or anything), I’m not a travel photojournalist looking to build a brand, I’ll never have a sponsor, never do a giveaway, and unless you’re a golden retriever (like Barney, for example, who lives in Germany and has stolen my heart), I probably won’t follow you back.

Because I rekindled MY joy with social media. Marketers of the world…are you ready to rekindle yours? Try it. See what it feels like to not care how a post is performing. #magical #freedom #bliss