3 tips for getting your articles published

Nothing screams you’ve got authority and are an expert quite like being published. And these days the options are far greater then before; traditional publishing and self-publishing of books, feature columns, op-ed pieces and one off editorial contributions. Distribution has expanded from traditional print newspapers and magazines and their online counterparts, to new digital only news platforms such as the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed (Canadian edition just launched this week) and local news sources such as VanCityBuzz.com which are gaining traction. Add to that well-read blogs, and there’s no shortage of publishing options.

So how do you get ink?

1. Pitching the idea: You can pitch media on an article idea, but in my experience having written for BIV, Strategy, Marketing Magazine, the Toronto Star, Cottage Magazine and Zoomer, a pitch accompanied by a solid draft or even tightly edited piece has always been what got me in the door. Knowing the audience demographics of the publication and reader interests in critical. Also knowing typical article lengths, topics covered in the past, and writing style is helpful. If an editor wants 700 words, don’t give them 750 because you can’t edit it any shorter. They will, and guaranteed they’ll chop something you wouldn’t have!

Pitch based on the geographic area of the people who will benefit from your message and find it relevant. Also keep in mind seasonal factors and lead up times, especially if it’s a magazine. For example a lifestyle piece I did for Zoomer Magazine about mother/daughter hockey passion ran in October, but was written and pitched back in March.

Think strategically about your email subject line when sending a pitch. Editors are writers and email subject lines are like headlines to them. As they scan their inbox, be sure to give them something that will grab their attention. Clever can be good, but don’t over complicate things.

2. The content: The who, what, where, when and why of the story is important if you are writing a pitch. But pay particular attention to the “why now” piece. Connecting your article to something timely is key to getting an editors attention. For example, my blog piece about disruption and flipping the airline model to charging for carry on and making the first checked bag free tapped into a current hot topic of frustrated flyers dealing with carry on restrictions and the approaching heavy summer travel season. It proposed a simple innovative solution. It also tapped into the growing use of social media as a feedback tool and the need for corporations to manage their brand through active engagement of consumer complaints. After the piece garnered considerable discussion the last couple weeks online and off, I blasted off a pitch to the Huffington Post last week to see if I could get pick up. Today, June 18, that piece appeared in their business section!

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Be original and different. If you’re giving tips, make sure it’s not something that could just be Googled. Tap your expertise. Give the publication something they couldn’t otherwise get access to. General, generic vanilla won’t work. But sometimes being the contrarian can work – see above. Countering conventional viewpoints and backing up your argument can make for a solid piece.

3. Contacting media: While tagging media on Twitter can certainly get their attention and cut through the clutter, in my experience this is best if there is a pre-existing relationship. Otherwise email is a solid place to start. These days it’s pretty easy to scope out contacts online for the editorial desk and feature editors. Use the method of contact they list – some will list emails, some Twitter handles only. Do follow up. Just because you don’t hear back right away doesn’t mean they might not be interested. Their in boxes get jammed, but most diligently comb emails for content. It’s their job to find gems, and yours might be what they’re looking for. Don’t call them by phone unless they’ve contacted you already for a story. And know their deadlines if you are trying to reach them. Texting a reporters cell directly is likely one of the best ways to get an immediate response if they know you. But this should really be reserved for breaking news events where you are looking to be quoted, or helping them with a story, not trying to get your own piece published!

All these points apply to being a guest blogger as well. I’d suggest picking 3 or 4 well written and leading blogs in your area of interest. Follow them for a couple months and get a sense of content and readership through the comments. Make valuable (but not spammy promotional) comments to contribute to the conversation. Then consider contacting the blog host about guest posting in the future. I’d also recommend having a solid portfolio of written work on your own blog, so your content and style can be reviewed easily. The synergy of cross posting and guest blogging can be great, especially if the two blog audiences are well aligned and both parties have something to benefit from the relationship.

And what do you do when you score the big one and get ink? Be sure to share it on your digital platforms, put it out on social media, and in particular if it’s a publication with reputation such as the New York Times or Huffington Post, be sure to add the bi-line to your bio, and their logo to your promotional materials. Getting ink is about gaining recognition as an expert. Put it to good use.

 

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is the next big thing. Select businesses have already figured this out, but the vast majority is yet to put it on their radar.

We’ve all got our “go to” guy or gal. That expert, the one you immediately think of when you need an area of expertise. We also all have certain people we follow, perhaps see as mentors, or just those that we have a tremendous amount of respect for. Influencers cross all age boundaries. An influencer could be an IT guru, a respected business leader, an amazing chef, a great writer or musician, a “dope skateboarder” (my son’s term not mine!), a fashion goddess, or someone who has a great music playlist. Influencers are highly respected and garner clout in their circles. (Incidentally “dope” means good in teenager1) Influencers are tapped in. They have tribes that follow them.

influencer

Influencers help take content to the next level. They lend credibility, and they help amplify reach and awareness, which in turn helps ensure the target audience, will consume the content.

Why are influencers so powerful? They have a pre-established audience that is receptive to their recommendations.

  1. Their followers trust them.
  2. They are a person, not a business or a brand, which makes them more personable and willingly received.
  3. Their voice cuts through the clutter of information overload, to their followers.

To get influencers onboard is to have their entire tribe working for you. And that’s pretty powerful stuff.

Consider this research into the power of influencers:

  • Offers shared by trusted advocates convert at a 3-10 times higher rate than offers sent by brands.
  • Customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate.
  • Brand advocates are 70% more likely to be seen as a good source of information by people around them.

So how do you harness the power of an influencer?

  1. Identify the primary goal of your marketing strategy. Are you building brand awareness? Wanting to achieve more engagement? Do you need to generate more leads? Or perhaps you’re more focused on retention and loyalty. Depending on your goal, some influencers might be more powerful in some areas then in others. Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve.
  1. Indentify influencer types. Influencers might be current customers, industry experts, bloggers, members of the media, business partners, or internal team members. It’s important to consider the types first, then move on to individuals. That will keep you focused.
  1. Within those types, select specific individuals. Consider their capacity to reach others through writing, speaking or broadcasting in some way. Consider their involvement in public or private groups, online and off. Look at their level of expertise in the chosen area. Consider their social media footprint, in particular on platforms and in channels where your target market spends the most time. Your initial list of influencers doesn’t have to be large to be powerful, but you do want to grow it over time.
  1. Create great content worth sharing. Stuff that’s authentic and not overly promotional. Something that keeps the trust between the influencer and their followers. Think one-to-one-to-many when creating content. Your content will not be blasted out to the masses. It will be shared to that one person first, who will then choose (or not) to share it with their many. Framed from this perspective it’s about them, not about you. Give them something that will make them look smart, funny, insightful or connected to an inner circle in some way.
  1. Nurture the relationship. Always acknowledge and thank those that share your content. Help them out in other ways. There doesn’t always have to be a personal pay off.

Many times influencers are already within your scope of contact, but further outreach is always good. How do you find them? Read blogs in your area of interest and see who publishes good content and who makes intelligent comments and contributions on other blogs. Follow folks on Twitter who tweet within a channel (or #hashtag) of interest, are employed in the industry of focus, or who keep popping up as active with something valuable to contribute. Comb LinkedIn for contacts. See who is active on Facebook or Instagram in your area of interest. Read industry publications for who is being written about and who is contributing. Old fashioned network, and get to know who the players are. Even pick up the phone! (How novel – yes you can still talk on those things)

So there you have it. Get out there and harness the power of that green goldfish leading the others. And get the influencers tribe swimming in your direction!

 

 

The airline industry: ripe for disruptive thinking?

A CBC news posting about Air Canada’s plans to police more stringently carry on bag sizes over the coming busy summer air travel months caught my eye this week. Anyone who travels regularly will relay increased frustration with the time delays and sometimes comical attempts to stuff big bags into the overhead carry on space in an attempt to avoid the fee airlines now charge for checked bags. I posted the article on Facebook with a simple suggestion that they should flip the model; charge a fee for the carry on and make the first bag checked free. I noted it would rid the airlines of the crazy delays caused by the inevitable need to check some bags at the gate, plus the practice would essentially allow business travelers, largely the traditional carry on crowd, to pay for the service of keeping their bag in sight so it doesn’t get lost, have a quick exit from the airport, and the overall ability to keep flights running on time. I’m willing to bet that the masses would once again flock to the cargo hold with their ballooning bags if it was a cost savings.

The problem would be solved.

Carry-on

My posting received significant likes and subsequent engagement on numerous occasions throughout the week speaking with colleagues. Challenging the industry, now global default convention, would allow Air Canada to stand out as an innovator. As it stands they will most certainly beg a backlash as customers who are turned around at security by the bag police, hit social media in an angry state. Doesn’t anyone at the airline understand the power of the wired consumer these days? And more importantly the role that customers service now plays in marketing?

I can almost predict the Twitter hashtags now: #stuffitAirCanada #AirCanada #GetStuffed or #IgotStuffed. I suspect it could gain the same traction as #IgotRouged or #AirCanada #rouged following the airlines switch of some pleasure traveler flights to smaller leg room Air Canada Rouge discount flights, which caught some pre-booked business travelers off guard. Got a clever suggestion? Post it here! Let’s start a hashtag movement. You know it’s going to happen…

Sometimes it’s advisable to step back from industry practices and do things differently. Samoa Air challenged convention by charging passengers for air travel based on their weight. Yes, you read that correctly! Admittedly they had a monopoly on the market, and could take such drastic measures to solve a flight weight issue problem in their small aircraft being used. I’m not sure this would be a popular solution in the US, given the general propensity to tip the scale generously, but boy would it ever garner a following of the skinny travelers! Just think, an airline you could actually use the armrest on. The mind boggles… Read more about the Samoa Air example here. Not only did the Samoa Air example disrupt the conventional model, they gained a tremendous marketing opportunity because it allowed the company to stand out and get onside with the customer – OK, the skinny ones I guess!

Meanwhile, Delta is trying to speed up boarding times by pre-loading carry on bags above passengers seats on some flights. The idea has attracted the attention of the Australian press. Link here to read more. Basically they are hinging a bet that they can be more efficient then customers at loading bags, and can deal with the need to check oversize bags on the spot without delaying flights. If executed well, it could also introduce an element of old fashioned air travel class to the experience of being transported in a large sardine can in the sky.  Given the article quotes a cost of $40 for every minute the aircraft sits idle at the gate, this move, if it sped things up, could save the airline a lot of money over the course of a year. It might also solve that pesky problem of that guy seated at the back of the plane dumping his bag in your overhead up front as he passes through.

At the root of all of these examples is the need to solve a problem creatively and cost effectively. Sometimes the best way to do that is to challenge convention and disrupt your industry!

 

Dove’s “choose beautiful” campaign reinforces commitment to long term strategy

Whether you love Dove or hate them, think they connect well with their target group, or are pirating a cause to hawk their wares, you can’t argue with the consistency or their messaging. Last week Dove launched another iteration of their “real beauty” campaign with #ChooseBeautiful, a global experiment spanning San Francisco, Shanghai, Delhi, London and Sao Paulo featuring women choosing to enter buildings through either the “beautiful” or “average” door. They filmed the results and documented reactions and discussion. At the heart of it is the message that women have the power to choose to feel beautiful. Have a look at the video here.

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I’ve written extensively on this blog about their previous campaigns, which I’ve included as links at the bottom of this post. What is most remarkable is Dove’s power of consistency. Ever since the campaign for real beauty was conceived in 2004, Dove have been very focused. They have had a purpose and message consistent over time that reflects their values, and I think there’s something to be learned in that for all of us. Here’s a brief look at that consistency:

Global market research in 2004 revealed that only 4% of women considered themselves beautiful. Subsequently Dove embarked on the “Campaign for Real Beauty” to empower women to be comfortable in the skin they are in.

2004: Fat or Fab? Wrinkled or Wonderful billboards. Deemed controversial at the time, the conversation began.

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2006: Little Girls (Released during 2006 Superbowl – tapped emotions and went mainstream).

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2006: Evolution (Featuring the Photoshopped girl next door becoming billboard supermodel) This won Grand Prix advertising awards globally and won the hearts of consumers. Remember this was before the great unwashed realized how photos could be manipulated.

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2007: Onslaught (A tour of advertising and its effects on young girls tapped emotional hot triggers particularly in the very industry that Dove competes in)

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2008: Pro-Age (Showing mature women in their skin and not much else)

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2010: Men Care (Launched during 2010 Superbowl)

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2013: Sketches (Featuring the forensic artist and blind sketches mirroring personal perceptions)

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2014: Patches (The beauty patch placebo – beauty is a state of mind)

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2015: Dove Men Care (Real strength during 2015 Superbowl)

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2015: Choose beautiful (Where door selection reflects personal perceptions)

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While there has been branching off into new product lines, and occasionally new targets markets when focusing on older women and men, the core value of the message has been consistent: natural beauty and empowerment trumps all. So what’s to be learned from all this? As marketers, I think there are 3 things:

  1. Have a purpose.
  2. Have a consistent message over time.
  3. Ensure what you are doing reflects your values.

Truly Dove has achieved what few other brands have – purpose, consistency and values through a well targeted message and fresh new creative over time.

Here are some direct links to previous posts about Dove on this blog:

Dove patches: from tricks to truth and remaining true to their positioning 

Dove Real Beauty Sketches: a campaign of a movement?

 

 

Is it “time” for Apple to disrupt again?

Last week Apple launched the long anticipated and rumor rampant Apple Watch. As with all things Apple, product leaks and speculation had been swirling for some time. While not widely available for retail until April, CEO Tim Cook’s launch week was aimed squarely at building momentum and desire. Starting at $349 and spiraling upwards to over $1,000 with deluxe bells and whistles, and even available in a gold plated $10,000 model, this is obviously a product aimed at affluent early adopters in advanced economic regions of the globe.

Apple_watchThe question then begs, who is the target market? And will it be deemed a necessary addition to an Apple dedicated owners suite of products to compliment an iPhone and likely an iPad and Apple laptop or desktop?

The watch itself appears a slick marriage of technology, fashion and lifestyle. Christy Trulington Burns, an American model currently representing Calvin Klein’s Eternity campaign was chosen to launch the watch, no doubt for her fashion credentials. She is shown training for a half marathon in Africa using the watches fitness devices, highlighting her charity, Every Mother Counts, which works to combat maternal mortality. You can watch a video about how she uses the watch here. Given the watches personal trainer capabilities, Apple Pay system to tap and go like a wallet, and hands free messaging, being able to listen and dictate messages and emails, as well as general web browsing capabilities on a micro scale, my take is that the target market spans the fitness buff, the fashion forward, and the tech early adopter in general, and anyone who has already committed to other Apple products with fierce loyalty.

As such, the tap and go wallet or the hands free messaging capabilities on their own are enough to be a disruptive technology with significant uptake.

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If you’re curious to learn more about the Apple Watch, here’s a link with some features and video about it.

Apple has a history of disruptive technology.

Just think about what the iPod did to the music industry, disrupting CDs and retail music distribution with iTunes. Just think about what the iPad did to ebooks, book retailing and distribution, and the way we interact with printed matter in general spanning to newspapers and magazines. And consider what the iPhone did to cell phone communication in general, launching the mobile internet, and a litany of apps we arguably can’t live without now, as well as disrupting the camera industry. One could argue their latest technology is now even disrupting their earlier technology. Why would you buy an iPod when your smartphone can hold it all? Maybe you don’t need an iPad mini if you have an iPhone 6 plus.

So could the Apple Watch do the same thing?

Certainly it changes the competitive turf for watch manufacturers. That’s a direct hit. What about credit cards and payment services? What about fitness bands like Nike Fuel and other fitness product devices? And what about smart phones in general? Could wearable voice activation communication eliminate the need to type on a device? It’s starting to feel a little like a Star Trek episode. Too bad Spock didn’t live to see it! The watch certainly could change the issue with distracted drivers texting. And it represents interesting challenges for faculty supervising students during exams.

Only time will tell once the early adopters have gobbled it up. If there is significant uptake, it certainly could be disruptive. There seems to a lot of buzz about wearable tech and the Apple watch could well be the gateway drug for broader acceptance.

What’s the lesson is all this for marketers?

I think we need to accept disruption and look for opportunity in it. Rather then fear the threats that come with it, focus on the changes needed now to possibly capitalize on shifts that could be coming. What might that look like?

  • Apps with simple interfaces suitable for super small screens.
  • Voice activated Apps.
  • Voice activated mobile friendly websites. While such a thing may not exist now, it likely will in the future. Perhaps I’ve just given you your next $1 million dollar idea?
  • Medical monitor of fitness vitals and wireless, remote one on one personal training.
  • Hotel room key free entry.

Remember, many people were stumped initially as to why we would all need an iPad when we already had a laptop and iPhone. And what on earth would we do with all those album covers if we could fit over 2,000 songs on a little thing called an iPod?

The marketing lesson ultimately is this: Sometimes we don’t know what we need until it arrives. And when there is significant uptake of a new disruptive technology, business needs to anticipate and prepare for the permanent shift taking place.

 

Recycling content for media publicity and social sharing

Weather is news when it is extreme. It generates a lot of word of mouth and sharing. And the last couple weeks have been host to some pretty crazy weather in Canada. Eastern provinces have been hammered by extreme cold. The west, Vancouver specifically where I live, has seen unseasonably warm with sunny conditions. Basically we have flowers and they have snow. This bizarre weather pattern has been of great interest to the media and the public at large.

CBC_weather_contrast_FBpostSo what better time to latch onto weather as a “media hook” with your content? That’s exactly what Terry O’Reilly, the voice of CBC’s radio program and marketing podcast “Under the Influence” did with his mid February show titled, “How the Weather Affects Marketing.” While not immediately obvious, if you listen to the episode it becomes apparent that it was actually created last year. He references “This years Super Bowl” being played in an open-air stadium in New Jersey. While I’m not much of a football fan, I do know that that game was played in 2014.

Terry recycled his content.

He used the weather hook to get further media interest and generate social sharing. This was brilliant marketing to further gain exposure for his personal brand and the show.

In a world where content is king, knowing how to leverage and potentially recycle it for media publicity and social sharing gain is really important.

But before we look at three insights to help you recycle your content, check out these facts from Terry’s show and how weather relates to marketing. It’s fascinating stuff. Or better yet, tune into the episode here.

  • When temps hit 21 degrees C (70F) BBQ sales jump 200%
  • When temps hit 21C hair removal products increase 1400%
  • Sunny and 22C (72F) is the busiest day of the week for motorcycle sales
  • Car battery sales soar after 3 consecutive nights of below 0C (32F), since many batteries older than 5 years will die in those conditions.
  • Anti frizz hair care product sales increase during humid weather, and volume-producing products increase in low humidity conditions.
  • Then there’s the “1 degree” phenomena of how sales are affected by only a slight change in temperature. 1 degree hotter leads to 240,000 more units of ice cream being sold each week in the summer, 4,875 more bug zappers being sold each week, and 2% more sandals being sold each week. 1 degree colder leads to 2% more soup being sold each week and 25% more mouse traps being sold. Who knew?

Here are three things you can do to leverage your existing content:

  1. Look up blog posts that generated comments or the most social shares. Come up with 4-5 new snappy headlines that could go with the content and share the link on your social channels. Keep the headline short and post an image with the link on Twitter and Facebook. I bet you’ll generate considerable views or more followers.
  1. Take a look at topics trending on Twitter or showing up in your Facebook feed. Check #hashtags, then go back into your content as see if there is anything you could creatively attach to that topic. Then re-post the link to your content, using hashtags of course.
  1. Read the paper and watch the news. Find out what is big news. Then try to attach your content to it. If the writer gave a Twitter handle in their article (most do) be sure to tag them in your Twitter post about the topic along with a link to your old content. The added benefit of this tactic is you will be viewed as an expert in your field, and the media might seek you out in the future for quotes or appearances.

In the spirit of this week’s theme, I’ve pulled 3 links below from previously published content on my blog, refreshed with new catchy headlines. Why not check it out?

Top 10 online marketing trends for 2015 

8 Trends to track in 2013 (Hey, why not see if they actually transpired?)

How Facebook found my luggage when Air Canada couldn’t (True story! For those who have heard me speak, you’ve likely heard this one as a signature story. For everyone else, have a read – truly this is social media at work and the power of word of mouth, or should I say word of mouse and mobile)

 

5 steps to amplify your content marketing

This week I’m pleased to introduce a guest blogger, Ivan Serrano. Ivan is a social media, business and finance journalist living in the Bay Area of California. He has written on notable sites such as Jeff Bullas, SAP and Tech Soup. I’m thrilled to have him on board to share his knowledge, great writing style and awesome infographic. Enjoy! - Mary


86 percent of brands are utilizing creating content as part of their digital marketing strategy. Interestingly, only 38 percent say that it has been effective. So does this mean content marketing has become ineffective? Not at all. The problem now is that there is too much content available to people that they cannot possibly consume everything within their lifetime. While great content is still important to build interest and brand loyalty, it’s even more important to distribute it. After all, if no one sees what you create then you have more or less wasted your time. You need to find ways to amplify your content.

Steps of Amplification

Many companies make the mistake of thinking about content amplification after they have already created their content. The problem with this is that you won’t know what metrics to track or what audience you are trying to appeal to. This can make content amplification much harder. For a more successful strategy, you should:

  • Set goals – Before you create the first sentence of your content, you need to first ask yourself what you want to accomplish: increased revenue, brand awareness, links, increase engagement or generate leads. Depending on your goal, the audience you reach out to, content you create and metrics you track will be different.
  • Find your audience – Creating the ideal profile of your audience will make it much easier to craft content specifically for them. This, in turn, will improve audience engagement.
  • Use your owned channels – Once you’ve created your content, promote it through your social profiles, email lists and business website. Make sure you update frequently so your business stays in the forefront of your audience’s mind. In general, you should post to your social profiles at least once a day and your website two to three times a week.
  • Utilize paid social ads – The problem with owned channels is that it is only as good as the audience you already have. With many of these sites decreasing the organic reach of updates, your posts will likely get buried quickly. After all, the half-life of a tweet is only four minutes. Paid social ads help put your updates at the top of your audience’s feed. Best of all, they are highly targeted to match your exact audience profile.
  • Get earned media – You can’t really control this one, but the more your content pops up in front of people the more likely they are to share it. Eventually it might even get in front of influencers who will address it on their own site. While there’s no magic bullet to accumulating earned media, you can and should perform outreach to influencers and news outlets that might find your content interesting.

The infographic below provides additional information on amplification from tools that can help you find influencers to remarketing methods.

Amplified-Content-infographic

Ivan SerranoIvan Serrano is a social media, business and finance journalist living in the Bay Area of California. Ivan has written on sites such as Jeff Bullas, SAP and Tech Soup. When Ivan’s not typing away, he’ll most likely be off practicing photography or watching his favorite sports teams with his friends. You can follow him on Twitter: @IvanSerrano55

Solving your marketing challenge in 3 hours or less. It CAN be done!

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of students to Montreal, Quebec in Canada as their coach, to compete in the Vanier Case Challenge. This annual competition draws on the best and brightest from 33 university colleges nationwide to test their mettle in applying marketing analysis and presentation skills in a 3 hour pressure cooker simulation. They present their solution to a panel of industry experts and university professors during a 20 minute presentation and 5 minute question and answer time period.  But before getting down to work, we did a little team building, exposing some who had never skated before to frozen waterway skating in minus 20 degrees! There’s nothing quite like a field of white before you in peaceful silence, being broken only by the sound of a gliding blade across snow-covered ice.

Montreal_team_skateBack at the competition the students delivered their personal best, but in the end were not one of the 6 teams out of 33 to advance to the second round on day two. There was a lot of excellent work presented that day that didn’t make it through. The real accomplishment was to have represented their college in such a highly regarded competition in the first place. Plus, there’s always next year! Essentially those teams did in 3 hours what I do for clients over several weeks in a consulting contract. Now there’s a humbling thought!

The process that my team was coached through is one all marketing managers and entrepreneurs could benefit from. Let’s have a closer look at the steps:

  1. Situation analysis: What are the known facts? What are our internal strengths and weaknesses? What are our external opportunities and threats? What possible strategies exist to combine strengths and opportunities? Strengths and threats? Mitigate weaknesses and opportunities? Mitigate weaknesses and threats? What time frame and budget constraints are we working within?
  1. Competitive landscape: Who are our primary and secondary competitors? How are they positioned? What is the bargaining strength of our buyers and suppliers? Is there a threat of substitute or new entrants?
  1. Our positioning: What is our unique selling proposition? – what we do that our competitors don’t, that our target market cares about, that is not easily copied? What segments of the market do we serve? Who is our target market? Where are we in the product lifecycle? Are we leaders? Followers? Challengers? Or nichers?
  1. The problem or opportunity: Stated simply, what problem or opportunity are we addressing?
  1. Alternatives: Given responses to the many questions above, what are some possible directions we could take? Specific actions to solve our problem? Specific actions to realize the opportunity?
  1. Evaluate, select and justify: What criteria should we consider to evaluate alternatives? – Cost? Profit? Customer satisfaction? Market share? Resources? Values? There are many possibilities.
  1. Execution: How would our recommended plan be executed? – Who would do what? When? And how? How would it reflect in our product or service? Price? Promotion? Distribution? What specific actions would be taken each quarter? How would we allocate our budget? Finally, how would we measure success?

I know, that’s a lot of questions…

If you have a business problem or opportunity you’re facing, try going through some of these questions to approach it in a methodical way. And if you’d like some guidance in the process, or to just have someone do it for you, give me a call. Triage and a remedy can be bought!

 

5 Super Bowl spots that deserve acolades for creative or strategy

Super Bowl Sunday came and went with great fanfare, even if it was just for the half time show. Seriously, didn’t Katy Perry rock it? The game was filled with drama and tense moments, that can only be summed up as, “The Patriots won the game, but really Seattle lost it.” What a nail biter ending. Here on the South Coast, which is darn close to Seattle’s Pacific North West, it was generally Seahawks territory, so we’re all wandering around shaking our heads in shame this morning.

But how about those commercials, the other piece of entertainment on showcase Sunday?

In Canada, the CRTC prohibits commercials that air in the US from being shown during the Super Bowl on Canadian networks. We got our own mix, which were largely unmemorable, except for the Budweiser hockey goal light spot, which easily could have been a Tim Horton’s commercial with a logo switch at the end. It’s a bummer, but thanks to the internet, our largely outdated communications policy hasn’t yet caught up to technology, rendering the blockage irrelevant. Plus, pre-releasing ads has become part of the ad buy strategy. Paying $4.5 million for 30 seconds during Super Bowl certainly might garner attention from the 184 million estimated viewers, but it’s also the price of admission to online viewing before and after the game, media publicity coverage, word of mouth and social media chatter that goes with the whole package. So, for my Canadian friends, and those in the US who may have missed the Super Bowl, here is my pick of five that will give you something to talk about in the office this week.

Here are 5 spots that deserve creative strategy accolades:

Budweiser’s “Best Buds: Lost Puppy

BestBuds

Clydesdales and puppies have little to do with beer, except when they’re buddies, and your beer is a bud. Building on last years “Puppy love” this spot has already won viewers hearts in pre-release being posted and shared widely on social media and #BestBuds trending long before the big game started. It was at 17.5 million views BEFORE the game? Not bad. Expect this one to be the most talked about.

McDonalds Pay with Lovin’

McDonalds_lovinThis one hits the emotional hot button as well. McDonalds reveals during the spot that from Feb 2-14, they will randomly select customers to pay with lovin’. The spot sets up some beautiful moments of exchanges between loved ones, and will no doubt generate a build up of media coverage and online sharing approaching Valentines day. Well timed for maximum spin.

Carl JR’s All Natural Burger

CarlJRBefore I’m called out for promoting this over the top blatantly racy, raunchy and sexist ad, I think it’s important to remember the male audience that was largely watching the game, and how this ad was to stop them in their tracks. That was the intent. It is full of inappropriate innuendos to be sure, but the strategy was to cause a stir during pre-release and play directly to Carl JR’s 18-24 year old male target. They didn’t make a national buy, so it is only viewers on the west coast who saw it during the game, but by being controversial they were betting that it would attract media coverage and be viewed online nationally by their target market, which it was. This was accomplished at a fraction of the cost of a total national buy. Well played strategically but I think the creative rolls back feminism at least 40 years.

NFL’s PSA against domestic violence

NFL_911When this ad landed it left rooms silent. It’s a first for the NFL to air a Super Bowl commercial against domestic violence. This haunting spot pairs a women calling 911 pretending to order pizza, with images of a house in disarray. We never see the perpetrator or the victim, but we become engrossed in the audio. It’s a clever representation of a woman unable to leave an abusive situation. Of course the NFL had good reason to get onside with this cause after the regrettable behaviour of some of their players caused the whole league shame. This one is a chilling and emotional touch down.

Dove Men+Care “Real Strength”

Dove_Men_CareThe Dove Men+Care spot hits the mark in a subtle way for how it reinforces the role of caring Dad against the backdrop of the brute physical strength of football players, and some instances of family violence at the hand of players, that the NFL has battled this last year. Dove is getting onside in a positive way, with a message that resonated with the middle aged, middle America males who watched the Super Bowl. It was on brand and on target.

So as entrepreneurs or small business owners, without a spare $4.5 million to spend on a Super Bowl ad, what was the take away? A resounding theme was that “emotion sells.” Capturing and sharing human moments associated with your brand or business could be as easy as using your iPhone and a little creativity. Strategically leveraging publicity, media coverage, word of mouth and social sharing is another area these brands excelled in. Again, you don’t have to have a big budget to accomplish any of those. Something to think about as you go about your business this week! What was your favourite ad?

Five keys to marketing success – learning from Target’s failure to hit the Canadian bullseye

This last week the announced exit of Target from the Canadian market was a piece of business news that dominated discussions. One does not enter a market with 133 stores and then pull the plug less then two years later without feeling an effect. That’s a lot of rent per square foot, retail sales and lost jobs you hear rushing for the drain hole being flushed from the Canadian economy. And there’s really no good reason for it to have ended the way it did. Many Canadians harboured a secret love affair for “Tar-jay” with all its chic savvy offerings and shelves of intrigue. At least that’s what they found south of the border. In Canada, the retailer seemed mired in supply chain and inventory issues, poorer quality of product, and a higher overall cost structure that was reflected in higher prices compared to competitors. They thought we’d accept it all in blind love, but we didn’t.

If anyone should have understood strategic competitive advantage it should have been retail battle veteran Target. And yet it would seem they misunderstood the competitive landscape, their target market and what was at the heart of their unique selling proposition.

All that to say, even the big guys fail. And when they fall, they fall hard.

target-logoI found the Target story an interesting backdrop for two events I spoke at last week, right in the middle of all the breaking news: A Small Business BC Marketing seminar for entrepreneurs on Friday and Mini Enterprise Conference, held at UBC on Saturday, the largest conference of its kind in Canada for grade 12 students looking to gain insight into the world of entrepreneurship.

There’s something inspiring about engaging with hundreds of the Lower Mainland’s future business leaders and those already rolling out their plans and dreams. While the questions from both groups where varied they all in some way lead back to five key areas. Curiously, one could argue, these are areas where Target also drifted when it entered the Canadian market. Let’s take a look, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Unique selling proposition: What do you do differently, that your competitors don’t, that your target market cares about, that’s not easily copied?
  1. Strategic competitive advantage: What combination of resources, systems, supply chain, cost structure, culture or product or service offering give you that unique positioning?
  1. Target market: How do they define their primary and secondary target market from a demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioural standpoint?
  1. Competitive field: Who are your primary and secondary competitors? What are their unique selling propositions and competitive advantages?
  1. Trends and external forces: What societal trends or external forces could affect your business over the next several years? And how have your prepared your business to benefit?

What makes small businesses viable and able to thrive is really no different than big business. That became very evident while discussing entrepreneurial dreams and marketing plans with the backdrop of Target’s failure with both groups.

So here’s my challenge to you this week. How would you answer the above five question areas? Can you define your answers clearly, without hesitation and with pride?