The little sign that could

Poised below a former iconic sign landmarking HMV’s presence at Burrand and Robson in Vancouver, is a little iPod sign. Appearing without threat, but determination like the children’s tale of the little red engine that could, it in fact did. Did topple an iconic brand from its throne.


HMV closed some months ago and now sits vacant waiting new tenants willing to pay high rent for a prime location. HMV was a victim in the end of changing technologies and distribution of its product. The fact that that the iPod was the product that introduced music digitization and sharing, and was ultimately the downfall of music sellers like HMV was poignant. Even more poignant since the iPod sign was the only thing left hanging in the store.

The iPad has recently disrupted another industry as well.

I was lamenting the closure of one of my favourite bookstores, Book Warehouse, in Vancouver recently. Although not encumbered by debt, overexpansion or an invisible cash flow, the owner was selling off the stock from multiple locations, and calling it quits. It would seem that the forces of increased online competition, a squeeze on margins, the emergence of e-books and readers, and a publishing industry reeling with the forces of technology and trying to redefine itself had taken its toll. That and the fact that the founders, all ready to retire were looking to sell their business at a time of great turmoil in the publishing and book industry.

But as the owner, an accomplished professional musician, said with a smile on his face the day I talked to him moving fixtures out of the Lonsdale location and packing up what was left of inventory to be donated to a first nations library, “The book business fed my music habit for over 30 years. I’m, happy!” Admittedly, it was a pretty positive spin on what could only be lamented as a huge shame in the face of changing technologies. A shame because there will be 5 less bookstores to browse in Vancouver. And a shame because, along with all the people who those stores have employed, the owners will not realize any equity from pouring over 30 years of time into the business.

Book Warehouse fended off the onslaught of big box bookstores in the 90’s when many independents failed. It withstood the ongoing price competition from online retailers such as Amazon. They had carved out a niche based on selling books bought back from publishers at huge discounts and then selling at bargain prices, while still achieving higher margins than their competitors. They were able to sell best sellers at huge discounts and still make money, unlike most competitors because their entire business model was based on low costs and no leverage. It worked for many years because it was not easily copied.

The lesson learned through these two examples? While you can have a defined market niche, a great product or service, and be at the top of your game, the external forces of technology and changing consumer habits can put it all into question. In the end every business must monitor and adapt to change.

The CHEMISTRY of great story telling

While attending a recent parent teacher interview, I drifted off momentarily while staring at the periodic table of elements on the wall. Perhaps still haunted by failed titration experiments, I reflected on how unnecessary it had all been in my current role as a marketing strategist. But then it hit me like only a 30-year delayed learning outcome could. I realized in that moment that solids, liquids and gases were great metaphors for traditional, social and viral media campaigns. Stick with me here. I think I’ve found use for chemistry in marketing…



Perhaps on a subliminal level I was reflecting on the BCAMA Vision Conference theme ( this year being “liquid content,” highlighting the concept of stories being told between web, mobile, TV, radio, print, outdoor and more. Essentially winning campaigns now strive to use cross-platform storytelling, rather than creating content for a particular medium.

Back to chemistry for a moment.

We know solids are rigid, containing particles with little free space, which are locked in place. Solids are like traditional media. We can buy, measure and control them, refining a combination of vehicles to target a defined segment of the market.

Liquids can move, containing particles that slide past one another, with little free space between them. They spread and assume the shape of the container they occupy. Liquids are that state of transition, where campaign messages flow into storytelling across a variety of media, both traditional as well as electronic.

Gases contain particles that move and slide with lots of free space between them. They are compressible, but ultimately prefer to be free. Gases are that final stage of transition where having moved through solid and liquid phases, the air born message has gone viral and moves about freely, uninhibited by word of mouth.

Perhaps this is why we can say that great campaigns start with good chemistry. They utilize the seamless transition between solid traditional, liquid electronic and social and ultimately become gaseous word of mouth to effectively combine multiple media platforms into rich storytelling.

Okanagan Springs Brewery was a regional brand with a limited budget. They decided to sponsor small private events such as “Jeff’s weekend fishing trip” rather than large corporate events like most national beer brands. The campaign started with traditional newspaper and radio ads driving people to the website where they could submit a video requesting sponsorship of their event. Visitors to the site were encouraged to vote for the events that they felt deserved sponsorship. Of course social media efforts by hopeful applicants further fueled the word of mouth on the campaign. Sponsorships were handed out monthly to the events with the most votes and those deemed worthy of free beer and supplies. The events themselves then became the ad campaign with photos being used on billboards and print ads, and recorded audio became radio spots. While there was a fluid mixed use of traditional, electronic and social media, arguably the unique storytelling element is what gave the campaign legs to achieve word of mouth viral success.

Challenged with telling people about the upcoming “Treasures Exhibit”, Science World affixed 2 oz of real 22k gold on the surface of a single billboard in downtown Vancouver and stamped it with a message about the show. While the value of the gold hammered micro thin was estimated at $11,000 – and the price of media placement for 4 weeks added significantly to that, as well as the work involved to actually create the billboard, the value it achieved in traditional newspaper, TV and radio publicity coverage as well as social media and viral storytelling was priceless. One simple idea combined with one traditional media billboard, spawned an irresistible story that was shared across multiple fluid platforms and ultimately went viral.

On some level all companies are telling a story. Consumers live and move seamlessly through different media environments in their day-to-day lives. Having your story follow and interact in different modes along the way makes it more compelling and a natural fit in their lives. And ultimately when you do that, it becomes more shareable. In the end, it really is all about the “chemistry of good storytelling.”

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2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report results

Recently 3800 marketers targeting both B2B and B2C segments were surveyed for the 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry report. Among the insights?


1. The top question marketers still want answered: How do I measure the effect of social media on my business?

2. The top benefits of using social media: 85% use it to increase exposure (the #1 benefit), 69% said it increased traffic, 65% use it to provide marketplace insights.

3. The top 5 social media tools being used: Facebook, Twitter, LindedIn, blogs, Youtube (in that order).

4. The amount of time being spent on social media: 59% said they use social media 6 or more hours per week. 33% said they invest 11 or more hours per week.

5. The social media tool marketers want to learn more about: Google +, introduced in late 2011, and currently used by 40% of marketers was a significant insight here with 70% saying they want to learn more about how to use Google + in their marketing efforts.

There’s tons more insights, including correlations of time spent and benefits realized, as well as drill down information for businesses using social media specifically in a B2B or B2C application. Download the entire report for yourself here.

It’s available for FREE until April 19, 2012.


Post, pin and promote. Public versus private posts. Taking advantage of Facebook Timeline changes.

April 4, 2012 marks the date when Facebook’s Timeline features will kick in for those who have not voluntarily made the change. While this date may pass by unceremoniously for some, it will mark a dramatic change in how to best use Facebook for marketing efforts. Here are four changes you should take note of:


1. Pinning your posts:

How it works: Pinned posts are page posts that you have chosen to display prominently at the top of your page. Pinned posts will remain there for 7 days, and after that they will return to the date they were posted in your timeline. Here’s a quick video on how to pin a post:

Why you should care: Now you can ensure content that positions you or your business is always what a visitor will see first. Although you might see all your posts as invaluable, you can now ensure the more trivial will not burry your gems.

2. Public post capability

How it works: Previously all Facebook posts were made to your “friends.” Now you have the option of posting to different groups such as friends, close friends, other groups you may create, or to the public. When you post to the public, you content becomes viewable to anyone on the internet and it is searchable. Managed well, this represents an opportunity for some. Here’s a video on how to change who views your posts:

Why you should care: Posting publically presents an opportunity to position yourself as an expert or authority. Public posts become content that Google and other search engines catalogue and rank. This is an invaluable tool for branding and increasing awareness.

3. Timeline

How it works: All posts from the past and going forward will now be indexed by year and month. Timeline also allows you to go back to old posts and highlight or hide them.

Why you should care: Timeline presents a marketing opportunity for you or your brand to tell your story. You can “go back in time” and post milestones that help give your brand a distinct identity.

4. Customized profile and cover banner photo

How it works: Previously Facebook users had a single profile photo. Now you will have both a profile photo and a cover banner photo that spans the entire top visual space of the page just like a website.

Why you should care: The cover banner image presents a branding and positioning opportunity. It can demonstrate your area of expertise, highlight what you care about, and in general create a more personal connection.

You should also note the changes to your privacy settings after the April 4 update. By default your past posts will have gone to timeline and they will be public, unless you change the settings. The good news is you can do a blanket change to make them all viewable to only friends again if you wish, make that your default going forward, or you can selectively decide which ones to delete or keep private. You can also preview what information is public versus viewable by friends. Here is a good video link to show you how to do all that:

Bottom line? The changes that Facebook has made are significant. Managed well, they represent a significant opportunity.