Drones, sharing economy delivery & revamped postal services: Distribution experiences disruption

The internet has offered a revolutionary way to promote and sell online globally, but at the end of the day, unless you’re selling something that can be digitized, it still needs to be delivered. As yet, Samantha can’t wiggle her nose and teleport it across the ether. Apologies for the age specific pop culture reference, but I just experienced a Bewitched moment!

The distribution and delivery of goods is experiencing disruption. Government postal services are reeling to reconfigure their infrastructure to handle more parcels and less letter mail, as much communication shifts online. Encumbered by expensive fixed costs and union contracts, this has been a challenge. Indeed, in Canada we are headed for a 5-year phase out of door-to-door delivery of letter mail in many urban areas. But parcels, that stuff you order online, are likely destined to become Canada Post’s bread and butter. At least that appears their hedged bet. Canada Post officially opened a new $200-million, 700,000 square foot processing centre by Vancouver International Airport recently. It’s meant to capitalize on major growth of e-commerce across Canada and the Asia-Pacific Rim. On an average day, the new centre will process 4 million pieces of mail, letters, and parcels. Being close to YVR and Canadian Border Services is very strategic. See a video tour of the new facility here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO6oo_K8bD0

Clearly Canada Post sees their competitive future in what traditionally have been the courier business, and the domain of FedEx, Purolator, UPS, Canpar and DHL. They’ve essentially gone from a crown corporation to a private business, whether they realize it or not.

On the other end of the distribution disruption spectrum, in the small packet local one-day delivery category, is Zipments. Launched in the US, and brought to the local Vancouver market in 2013 by Rob Safrata, owner of Novex Couriers, the business model is part of the “sharing economy”, a huge growth trend lead by successes such as vacation rental, Airbnb.com and private taxi service, Uber.com. Zipments (http://zipments.ca/) utilize drivers already on the road to deliver packages, mostly from retailers to customers who have ordered items online. Based on a similar model to Uber, a sales representative, a commuter or even a Mom already driving from A to B, is contracted to deliver the package. Drivers are independent contractors who earn $6-18 per delivery. They can log in with an app, and deliver packages when it works for them, based on their current location and where it needs to go. Safra has 25 lifestyle couriers working for him, and the company uses Nova Couriers as the back up. The company has signed on several large local companies such as MEC and Purdy’s and is solidifying agreements with several large national retailers. This is definitely a disruptive and innovative move in the same day delivery service category.


And then there’s the promise of drones, those remote controlled helicopter things that Amazon and Google are looking to use to completely innovate and disrupt the delivery category. Amazon has applied to the Federal Aviation Authority to allow the commercial use of drones for package delivery, essentially allowing the shopping giant to map the sky. Click here to see a video of Amazon Prime Air in action – quite something: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98BIu9dpwHU

So what’s the marketing lesson in all this? I’d say there are two. Even something as traditional as distribution and delivery of goods can be disrupted and businesses have to respond to remain competitive. Big or small, this example illustrates that competition can come from many different angles. And given some of these changes afloat, if you’re in the business of delivering goods purchased online, as a marketer, you’ll likely see opportunity in these examples from a cost and speed perspective.

Leveraging your personal brand – the Sam Sung story

I love Apple products, but I have to say right now I’ve become a huge fan of Samsung, as in “Sam Sung” the man, not necessarily Samsung the product. Sam is a former Apple employee, an irony not lost on many, when reading his business card that states: “Sam Sung, Product Specialist, Apple.”

Sam_SungNow working for Halloway Schultz & Partners, a recruiting firm in Vancouver, Sam put his name on the line recently through eBay for a good cause. He auctioned off his old Apple uniform and business card to raise money for Children’s Wish BC and Yukon, an organization that grants wishes to terminally ill children. The auction closed on Aug 15, and the top bid was $2,653 US ($2,894 Cdn) from a buyer in Germany. While there were several bids topping $10,000 they were later proved to be invalid by eBay. He plans to donate back all funds raised. What an incredible gift to a worthy cause.

Sam_Sung_auction_finalAvid readers of my blog and past newsletters may well recall my interactions with Sam Sung. It all started when a customer of his Pacific Centre Apple store posted a photo of his business card and it went viral. You can read the original post here: http://fiveminutemarketing.com/2012/11/sam-sung-a-specialist-for-apple/

While I picked up the viral chatter initially from a friend in Australia, and then another in the southern US, I was actually able to confirm it was indeed true, rather than a hoax, as many were speculating at the time. I subsequently had several interactions with Sam as an employee at the store (and yes I have his business card), and we’ve stayed in touch since his move into recruitment. Perhaps most memorable is his wicked Scottish brogue, having moved to Vancouver from Glasgow Scotland several years ago. The juxtaposition of his accent and obvious Chinese heritage was somewhat disarming in Vancouver, a heavily Asian populated city.

This selfless act to auction off his former uniform and business card for a good cause is a terrific way to have leveraged his personal branding and identity. Indeed Sam has noted that while an employee at Apple he was quite uncomfortable with all the attention his name drew. It was only after he had left that drawing attention to it seemed appropriate, and then not specifically for personal gain.

Still we can note that he has brilliantly leveraged his name, brand and identity via a social cause. While his chosen charity was the primary benefactor, there is no doubt that his identity as a recruiter will benefit in an industry where personal integrity is critical.

This story really helps drive home the fact that when you do things for others, it will no doubt benefit you, perhaps just not directly. It was far easier for Sam to gain publicity around this initiative since he made it about others and not himself. His name and the irony of being a former Apple employee had curiosity, but it was the charitable component that gave it traction and made it attractive to the media. By giving people a reason to share his story he gained far more coverage and social media sharing than he would have otherwise. Both a terrific cause and a great guy benefited. It was brilliant marketing.


Achieving authenticity: What can your marketing learn from a misfit vegetable?

This week I’m looking at authenticity. Initially I’m going to introduce you to a cool campaign out of France utilizing authenticity in food marketing, but we’ll end by contemplating a grander application of authenticity and what you really stand for, in your branding and positioning.

Really, should your strawberries have cosmetic enhancement and look like they are fresh out of botox treatment, artificially enhanced for show? Or should your chicken look like it’s been on steroids at the gym prior to hitting your plate? North Americans have been culturally programmed to believe that bigger is better. Pumped up and genetically enhanced, “supersize me” has taken on a whole new meaning in the produce and poultry isle. While the organic movement has shifted some behaviour, it is a segment of the market only. In much of France to call something organic or free range is actually redundant, at least at small shops and the markets. A lot of food in France has been indigenously organic for years. Slightly imperfect or blemished is more apt to be considered authentic than subservient, if we could apply a class structure to produce. But in North America we largely relegate the undersized or imperfect to waste. And apparently this wastage was becoming a creeping issue in France as well, at least at the supermarket and food chain level.

Enter the inglorious fruits and vegetables campaign.

Intermarché, a supermarket in France was inspired to take action after a global study estimated that 1/3 of all food produced, or 1.3 billion tons, gets wasted each year. While it can be assumed that there is also waste contribution from restaurants, there is a lot of produce grown that never makes it to the shelf, simply because it is not pretty enough. Shallow but true.

The inglorious fruits and vegetables campaign was an appeal to the head, utilizing rational thought and the desire to not waste food, rather than the heart, tapping emotion, and perhaps empathy for unwanted misfit veggies, admittedly an angle North Americans likely would have responded to.

Normally double pronged carrots, incompletely formed lemons and not exactly elegantly morphed eggplants don’t make it to the shelf. But why shouldn’t they? They’re good food.

17912This Youtube video, currently at over 2 million views, demonstrates how the campaign used logic, rather than emotion, and authenticity to move produce. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2nSECWq_PE

Consumers were urged to eat 5 different varieties of previously rejected fruit and vegetables and receive a 30% discount on their purchase for doing so. They were assured the taste was good as the usual variety, a claim reinforced with the production of inglorious soups and fruit juices made from the produce. Intermarché bought from growers the products they usually throw away. They gave them their own labeling and their own isle.

The results?

- 1.2 tons average sale per store during the first two days.

- An increase of 24% overall in store traffic.

- Increased awareness about food waste.

- A lot of conversation in social networks – over 13 million people reached after one month.

- A media frenzy of publicity and free coverage.

At its core, this was a campaign based on logic: stop food waste. But ultimately it demonstrates how their marketing process was authentic. They told and sold the way it is. They showed the way fruit and veggies actually look when not edited.

While I love the cleverness of the campaign, it’s the invitation to consider how powerful being authentic can be in your marketing efforts that excites me. When you are clear on what it is you do, what you stand for, how you are different without apology, and you tell and sell that message truthfully, you’re left with something pretty authentic. I think it would be refreshing to see businesses dump some of the botox or steroid enhanced boastful marketing, and just show up the way they really are, being personable and knowledgeable. That’s the approach I strive for in my e-newsletter and blog, and I thank you for your continued readership.

Opportunities in the sharing economy

Sharing, it’s a hard concept for some to grasp, particularly when our society has been driven by acquisition and ownership as a demonstration of success. I’ll admit freely that as an only child (albeit with cousins by the dozens that often made me feel like a sibling), I didn’t get schooled early on sibling rivalry and sharing. Thank goodness my own kids, a little over 3 years apart, seamlessly interact and support each other almost like twins. They get sharing. So do many of their peers and those in their early 20s. It’s an interesting millennial phenomenon, as offspring of their baby boomer, often ex-hippy, parents.

sharingeconomy_globeslide-920x517Largely aided by technology, the sharing economy is turning the traditional business model on its ear. This new model is based on facilitators connecting supply and demand, where the company doesn’t really own any assets per say, but they connect people who do, who want to share. At a basic level it teaches people to trust each other again. Think hippy commune attitude, helped by technology and layered with an app, add a dose of capitalistic commerce and a dash of social responsibility, and you get the sharing economy.

One of my regular readers, pointed out last week in an email how there is likely heavy industry advocacy in certain sectors to prevent taxi style find a ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft from entering certain markets. Indeed Uber has been incredibly successful in 41 countries and over 84 North American cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. But yes, Vancouver is not one of them. And I loved the observation about the missed opportunity for car share companies like Zipcar and Car2go placing cars on either side of BC Ferries terminals. Indeed with pricing topping $80 for a car a driver on some routes, the prospect of being a walk on for $15 and simply grabbing a car on the other side is an appealing one. It’s possible BC Ferries has made it difficult to secure parking stalls for car share vehicles, but I suspect it wouldn’t take a huge slice out of their revenue pot to facilitate it, and they could regulate the number of cars with the privilege. They might actually get more walk-on business in the process, and since this option would only fit the needs of a small segment of car and driver ferry business, it’s not a huge threat. Frankly I’d call it a missed opportunity for both parties at this stage.

So let’s tour a current list of sharing economy businesses and then brainstorm ways this trend could be applied back to your own offerings…

Airbnb: Travelers can rent a room or a whole home. They service over 34,000 cities and have over 600,000 listings in 190 countries. This San Francisco startup is the poster child of the collaborative consumption/peer economy sector. www.airbnb.com

SnapGoods: A site for lending and borrowing high-end household items, such as cameras, kitchenware or musical instruments. www.snapgoods.com

DogVacay: Rather then begging friends and relatives to take fido while then take a holiday, dog owners can leave their dog with a host offering a cheaper option than a kennel and a more comfortable place to stay. Available in Vancouver right now, this one is apt to take off on a larger scale. www.dogvacay.com What a CTV news spot about it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIZTbgmHRuE

Taskrabbit: A mobile marketplace for people to hire people to do jobs and tasks, from delivery, to handyman to office help. The site has 4,000 Taskrabbits on the service nationwide who bid to do tasks that are posted by people looking for a service. www.taskrabbit.com

Tabl: An offering of pop-up restaurants by individuals, who perceive themselves to be handy in the kitchen, post glossy menus and invite people to dine in their own homes. Offering an enticing and adventurous dining experience, currently in the UK, people can list their in home restaurant offerings or dining event on the site. This one is bound to take off on a global scale. www.tabl.com

Getaround: This service allows people to borrow cars from others. Owners who are out of town can also leave a car with Getaround, who will rent out the car, clean it and take care of it. The company covers a $1 million insurance policy, and currently operates in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago and Portland. www.getaround.com

Zaarly: Kind of like Taskrabbit, but focused specifically on house and home care services such as cleaning, painting and lawn and garden care. It’s basically a marketplace of handyman services where you can hire someone or list yourself for hire. www.zaarly.com

Lyft: A ride sharing service that allows folks to secure a ride from regular drivers who then take a “donation” for their service because it is not a taxi company. www.lyft.com

Uber: Using everyday cars for everyday use, and claiming to be better, faster, and cheaper than a taxi, Uber invented the ride share concept.

Fon: Enables people to share their home wifi network in exchange for free wifi worldwide when traveling from anyone of the 7 million people in their global network. www.fon.com

Poshmark: Buy and sell clothing by shopping the closets of women across North America. www.poshmark.com

The New Customer

So who is the primary target for the sharing economy? 18-34 year olds – let’s call them the “new gen renters”. This largely millennial group currently makes up 31% of all rental travelers and is the primary target for other shared services and goods. Psychographically and behavior wise, they make their decisions not only on cost savings, but on achieving unique experiences – and that is a key understanding. There’s also a healthy dose of anti-establishment and pride in breaking from traditional ways of doing things. Often a social responsibility angle will seal the deal.

So bearing in mind this target group, what other areas might be prime for the picking in the share economy?

- If we can share cars, why not boats? (Granted I’m sitting on a cottage deck right now watching boats out of Pender Harbour, so it’s a top of mind response, but why not?)

- Cottages? Cabins? (Still trying to regionalize myself on the terminology. Sorry, but my back east roots are hard to change, if it’s on the water, it’s a cottage…) While Airbnb no doubt covers this on some level, a service specializing in unique or remote getaways is an experience with a desirable share component.

- How about city tours? Hire a local guide or hire yourself out a la Taskrabbit style. Guides could specialize for foodie interests, the sports enthusiast, or other specialized interests.

- How about childcare? I realize this is a more precious asset than a car or perhaps fido, but I see definite potential in linking young Moms and shared childcare arrangements. While this happens informally in many areas anyway, being able to find care via an app wherever and whenever you are like Uber or Lyft for a ride could be an amazing offering.

The sharing economy is a disruptive business model, and one we would be well advised to consider, rather than dismiss. What marketing opportunity might you find in this trend? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Re-imagine with abandon. Learn to love disruption.

It would seem that summer has officially kicked into gear. Holidays can be a great time to recharge for many and re-imagine for some. In my experience entrepreneurs by nature are often doing the latter. We’re always thinking of new and exciting ideas, and it’s frequently when we step away from the busyness of life, that the best thoughts come forth.

For those of you who have attended one of my keynotes or workshops, you’ll know I am a big fan of disruption – at least from a marketing perspective. Disruptive companies challenge convention, change their product or offering in a unique way, and usually alter one of the 4Ps of marketing – product, price, place (distribution), or promotion. The really disruptive ones take a run at all four. Re-imagining is the first step to disruption.

So this week, I’m going to challenge you to do just that. Re-imagine something about your business or your life with an eye to disrupt your category. To get the creative juices flowing, we’re going to look at some examples from the hotel and travel industry. I figure that’s in keeping with the holiday theme and just might engage you if I happen to have landed in a hammock with you (on your iPad of course!) Cubicle farmers, take this as your opportunity to look busy…

Disrupting the accommodations industry: Airbnb was founded in 2008 in San Francisco as a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world – online or from a mobile phone. They boast 15 million plus guests, 34,000 plus cities, with 600,000 plus listings worldwide in 190 countries. At the forefront of the “sharing economy” they essentially brought the eBay and Craigslist approach to accommodations, branding the portal for listing and booking like a higher end hotel chain, and ensuring some turnkey standards of the experience along the way. It’s no mistake that two of the three founding partners come from an industrial design background. The other is an engineer. While initially dismissed as a niche offering, a recent round of financing now pegs them at a $10 billion valuation, making them worth more than most large hotel chains including the Hyatt and Wyndham. Yes, they are the world’s largest hotel chain, and they don’t own a single property, nor have the expense of property maintenance or staffing. Airbnb is a classic example of disruptive innovation. They started with an under served market and are now moving mainstream. Cleverly they are now extending beyond the leisure market and appealing to business travelers. It’s the same moving mainstream model that Southwest and Westjet airlines both used successfully. www.airbnb.ca disrupted the product, the pricing, the promotion and the place (distribution) of the marketing mix.

AirbnbThe first Ace Hotel opened in 1999 in Seattle, WA. It was a transformed halfway house, meant to appeal to the creative class. The hotel partners had previously founded Rudy’s, an edgy Seattle barbershop concept that eventually expanded to more than a dozen West Coast locations. There are now Ace Hotels in London, LA, New York, Palm Springs, Portland, Seattle and Panama. The properties are all unique pieces of architecture, renovated to reflect impeccable attention to design savvy detail, and offer authentic experiences reflective of their particular locations. The Portland location is run by classic hipsters, serving Stumptown espresso, and locally grown spelt bread with unsweetened hazelnut spread for breakfast. While most rooms have classic king and queen style beds, some can be had with bunk beds or shared bathrooms at a cheaper rate. Rooms are furnished with locally sourced artisan fare such as hand knit blankets and pottery, flatscreen TVs, free wifi, and many have an acoustic guitar, turntable and vinyl records – just because. The stairs are encouraged, there are bikes to use and they’ll loan you an umbrella. You get the picture. They proudly boast that their authentic approach is why people want to sleep with them. Enough said. Ace Hotels disrupted the product experience, went from initially serving a budget market, to being able to serve a very top end market at top end prices – many times in the same hotel, disrupting the pricing model. They also disrupted promotions simply because they don’t advertise. They let word of mouth do it all. www.acehotel.com

Ever wonder why check out has to be at 11am, when check in is 4pm, and there might not even be anyone taking your room anyway? So did the Olsen Hotel, a stylish 5 star hotel in Melbourne, Australia. They offer the world’s latest check out. Their promotion means that if your room is not needed by another guest later that day or even the next, you can stay on absolutely free. All you need to do is call reception in the morning and find out when the next guest is due to arrive. It’s simple and it’s honest. There are no limits, so technically if there is no booking behind you, you are welcome to continue as long as you like – quite revolutionary. Of course the hotel is popular, so the likelihood of a huge extended stay is probably limited, and most travelers have some sort of schedule that would prevent over indulgence, but the fact that they’ve erred on your side and were honest about it, makes them a winner. Of course they encourage folks to post photos to their Facebook page or on Twitter and Instagram telling others about their overstay, or what they did with their additional time in Melbourne. The value of the free publicity gained I’m sure far exceeds the costs of awarding some late checkouts or extended stays for free. Check out this short video about the promotion. http://vimeo.com/53397052 It’s a cheeky and memorable visual. The Olsen disrupted the product and service offering by challenging industry convention. They also disrupted the promotions model by brilliantly leveraging social media in their favour.

While more and more hotels are adapting a pet friendly policy, the industry standard is still to leave fido at home. France has been a leader in this area for decades. Seems the French know how to treat their furry friends like family. I remember cycling in Corsica with my husband, and seeing a couple of customer’s dogs scurrying about chasing a cat in the kitchen of the quaint little restaurant we were dining in. It was memorable particularly because of the barks, squeals, shouts and the emerging pot of bouillabaisse we had ordered; all delivered like things were normal. When in Whistler we often stay at the Coast Blackcomb Suites, primarily because there is an included buffet breakfast that will feed two hungry teens, but also for the pure entertainment and convenience of bringing the dog along. My theory is that human nature is a great regulator. Usually only well-behaved dogs are paraded since the poorly behaved ones are a reflection on their owner. They do have pet-free rooms for those who may have allergies, and they simply charge a $25 fee for the dog, donating 10% of the fee to WAG, the local animal shelter. Nice. They disrupted an accepted industry policy, kind of like the Olsen Hotel.

Disrupting the airline industry: First came Derrie-air Airline, a fictitious airline trumped up by a Philadelphia newspaper running fake ads, to prove people still read newspapers. The premise was simple enough. Sell airline seats by weight, just like meat at the deli. If you weigh more, you pay more to fly. The promotion dates to 2008 and the accompanying website is now defunct, but the ads touting Chicago for $1.40/lb were brilliant.

derrie-air-airlinesFlash forward to 2013, when Samoa Air became the world’s first airline to charge passengers by the pound – for real! Seems the nickel and diming for an extra bag wasn’t doing it, and they cut to the heart of the problem. When passengers book, they note an estimated weight for the fare to be calculated on, then when they check in any discrepancies are recalculated along with the inclusion of their baggage weight. Current charges for flights off the island range from .44 to .94¢ per kilo. Could this be the way of the future? What do you think? Here’s a link to a video of the news item: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/plane-travel-by-the-pound-samoa-air-says-charging-passengers-by-weight-is-paying-off/ Samoa Air disrupted the pricing model for their industry.

Disrupting the car rental industry: Conventional wisdom says when you need to rent a car in a visiting city while on holidays or for business, you turn to a conventional car rental company like Hertz, Budget, Tilden or Avis. But what if you are part of the “sharing economy” (think Airbnb success), that says, why own or rent when you can simply share? Car share co-ops have sprung up in urban centers worldwide. Initially targeted at locals who need a car occasionally but not wanting to pay to service it or park it expensively year round, car share companies are now targeting travelers with success. At Zipcar for example, with one simple annual membership, you can access cars around the world. Memberships start at $6/month and driving rates are $7-8/hr. The best part is cars are often available in convenient locations throughout a city. Picture a tourist or businessperson who simply needs it for several hours and doesn’t want to pay for an entire day or parking. Cars can be located with an app on your phone, booked on online on the spot, and a keyless entry code is sent to access them. Zipcar is set to disrupt the car rental industry through product distribution and booking, as well a pricing. www.zipcar.ca

Hopefully these themed holiday disruptions will cause you to re-imagine and disrupt something about your own business. Or maybe they’ll simply serve as inspiration for your next holiday booking, and that’s OK too!

When marketing goes to pot!

Perhaps only from the perspective of the left-coast of Canada could come marijuana infused marketing. Yes, marketing that has gone to pot – literally. No I haven’t lost my mind. Trust me, there will be a marketing lesson in here at the end…

Last week I picked up a tweet from @HiddenWeedYVR. It came via @VancityBuzz which I follow. It noted how someone was hiding bags of weed, then tweeting photo clues. As of last Friday morning they were at 927 followers and currently sit at 3,175 followers. Not huge, but growing.

find_weed_tweet@HiddenWeedYVR is a follow up idea to @HiddenCashYVR that has apparently had a segment of Twitter followers in Vancouver all a buzz tweeting photo clues for randomly dispersed $100 bills placed throughout the city. @HiddenCashYVR with over 24,000 followers was inspired by @HiddenCash, a phenomena started about a month ago in San Francisco. Their random acts of $100 kindness gained them a following of over 460,000. Since then copycats have sprung up in Texas, Tampa, Nashville, Vancouver and the UK.



But back to the bag of weed. Who would do this?

I realize it was launched one day prior to National Donut Day, but surely that’s not some odd placed juxtaposed snacking humour? I think more likely it could be the beginning of a larger campaign, one where the organizer has a vested interest in ramping up a huge Twitter following quickly, albeit from a highly targeted group. They did tag @JodieEmery (wife of Mark Emery, an outspoken political activist), as well as news organizations @CKNW and @VancouverSun and @HuffPostBC. I’ll stay tuned on this one and let you know if it goes anywhere.

Yet another marijuana infused marketing spin comes from Mega iLL, a restaurant on Kingsway at Fraser in Vancouver, that sells marijuana oil-infused pizza. Yes, before the pizza gets baked, it gets baked. The extra ingredient is added for $10, and only to those who are over 18, and who have been prescribed marijuana by a doctor. As specialized segmented products go, I’m pretty sure their offering is exclusive in Canada. Apparently the idea was inspired on a trip to Cambodia, where the owner experienced Happy Pizza, a product using a similar oil infusion process. Here’s a video if you want to learn more: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/only-in-vancouver-marijuana-oil-infused-pizza-on-the-menu-1.2591380


And just when you thought I couldn’t possibly spin this one any more, yet again from the left-coast of Canada comes a new distribution angle for marijuana.

A vending machine.

Pot_vending_machineYup, only in Vancouver. The machine is located at BC Pain Society, 2908 Commercial Drive, and targets to dispense safely for medical purposes to users who have a card, issued by their medical doctor that certifies they need marijuana. While it’s not directly marketing the use of pot, it is an interesting change to the model of distribution.

So why have I chosen educate you on more than you likely needed to know about access to marijuana on the west coast? Two reasons:

(1) I’ve given you something interesting to share and talk about with your friends. Inadvertently I have made you look smarter and more connected then you were before you read this. Hopefully you’ve had a few laughs too. That’s what good word of mouth marketing does.

(2 ) But most importantly, I’ve illustrated a couple disruptive marketing concepts:

  1. An unusual and memorable distribution model.
  2. What highly segmented target marketing looks like.
  3. How a business differentiates itself from competitors.
  4. Clever methods for gaining a large twitter following and getting noticed by the media.

I love the notion of disruption, and these examples are disruptive on so many levels. Have you seen anything out there that disrupts an industry or category? I’d love to hear about it and have you share it here.

Should New York Fries rebrand to Montreal Fries during the Stanley Cup hockey final?

I posed this question to my community of entrepreneurs this past Sunday in my weekly e-newsletter, as a creative example of taking advantage of timely events to exploit for publicity. The reaction was instant and went something like this:

- Love it Mary

- You should so totally call them and tell them to do this

- Can’t wait for the headline that credits some marketing consultant in Vancouver with this idea. That would be you, Mary!

The reactions were of course prior to the unbelievable news that Carey Price, Montreal’s star goalie, (who also took team Canada to gold at the Sochi Winter Olympics) had been knocked from the series with an injury sustained in game one. It was like someone had sucker punched the entire city of Montreal, much of Canada for that matter, as dreams of a run to the cup looked a lot less certain.

On Saturday we knew that Price had been crashed in the net at high speed, and had not finished the game. The back up goalie had replaced him, and it was based on the assumption that he would return, that many bullishly dismissed the 7-2 loss without Price between the pipes.

Suddenly my idea to rebrand New York Fries to Montreal Fries seemed more of a hedged risky bet, with a shorter potential for return…

While I’m still cheering for Montreal, returning to New York for two games there, having lost the first two on their home ice is a tough place to be. But let’s explore the publicity stunt rebrand idea anyway, since there are some marketing creativity lessons to be learned.

Hockey is a national pastime for many Canadians, somehow attached to our DNA, a collective experience referred to as “our game.” This years Conference final, one step away from the final round to the Stanley Cup, has given us something to cheer about with the Montreal Canadiens facing off against New York Rangers. I’ll pause here to admit that I am a Vancouver Canucks fan, but given we didn’t make the run this year, I have shifted my loyalties, albeit briefly.

Despite the fact Montreal is currently down two games; right now the city of Montreal is crazed for hockey.

And that got me thinking of timely promotional opportunities that a local Montreal business could leverage to gain media coverage and increase sales. What if New York Fries stores located in Quebec, renamed themselves Montreal Fries for the next couple weeks, or until the series ends?

new-york-friesIn case you think this is a crazy idea, there is a premise for it in the past. When Vancouver was in the Stanley Cup final against Boston in 2010, Boston Pizza locations in BC changed their name to Vancouver Pizza. It generated media frenzy in print, radio and TV, and no doubt increased sales, especially during games. Brad Bissonnette, Boston Pizza’s director of regional marketing at the time said they ordered up rebranding banners for all 62 locations at a cost of around $20,000. The media coverage, sales and good will far exceeded that investment.

Vancouver_PizzaTim Hortons, the venerable purveyor of coffee, donuts and hockey loyalty in Canada, reportedly had very low sales for their Boston Cream donut in Montreal the last couple weeks while the Canadiens battled the Boston Bruins prior to the conference final. Here’s a shot from the Tim Hortons location at Montreal’s Bell Centre. Not a big seller at the game apparently, that Boston Cream.

Boston_cream_donutsThere are three New York Fries locations close to Montreal in St. Clair, Gatineau and Hull. I called the Hull location on Friday to suggest the idea. The store manager mused with me, but was very non-committal, since they are a franchise. I then called their head office in Toronto on Wednesday morning and spoke to the Marketing Manager, Alyssa Berenstein. She thought it was a fabulous idea, but noted the timing would be awfully tight to do anything with it now and like much of Montreal she was feeling a lot less bullish about how long the series would now run. We did have a few laughs over doing something with poutine and sending some New Yorkers gravy and cheese curd covered fries.

This is the magic of marketing and promotions. You need to be tapped into timely events, be willing to do crazy things, and have the media contacts and savvy to leverage the story. You also need to understand that sometimes in the middle of a great idea, life happens. Montreal’s goalie, Carey Price, being out of the series has changed the dynamics of optimism and the willingness to take risks for New York Fries it would appear. It was such a great idea for those two days!

And what if Montreal somehow wins the series? There might be a french fry company wishing it had taken the advice of a Vancouver marketing consultant!



Getting Rouged

Whenever the marketplace coins a term for a negative experience that is your brand name, you have a big marketing problem. And that’s exactly what Air Canada experienced when their discount brand Rouge flights began service out of Vancouver last week.

Launched with great fanfare and expectations of success last July 2013, Rouge, a discount brand within the Air Canada portfolio, was meant to service the leisure market at stylishly affordable prices and give the airline a way to be more market competitive. Flight attendants adorned in chic, stylish, retro attire complete with John Fluevog shoes, promised to deliver exceptional service.

But to save costs, the flight experience was stripped down. Most notably there is 4-6″ less of legroom and no seat back entertainment unless you bring your own iPad or rent one onboard. This has irritated many flyers;  specifically those that booked and paid full rates for an Air Canada flight, and then found themselves on a Rouge plane.




Air Canada has selectively designated numerous non-business traveler heavy flights out of Vancouver as Rouge flights, and according to the airline they will continue to do so for sun vacation flights, designated European flights during the summer, as well as domestic and US travel to leisure destinations. Going forward customers will clearly see if they are booking a Rouge flight or Air Canada flight, but in the interim for existing bookings, the airline has chosen to email customers about the change to their flights. After a piece aired nationally on CBC TV featuring a complaint over the apparent bait and switch tactic that left a 6’2″ passenger feeling like a downgraded pretzel, Air Canada said it would provide a full refund to passengers who have been switched to Rouge and don’t want to use the airline. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/air-canada-customers-angry-over-bumping-to-rouge-1.2633845

But the damage has been done.

Flights have been switched, higher prices paid, and customers have been left in cramped seats. At the root is a feeling of deceit. And it’s left many complaining they’ve been “rouged.”

This statement is worth repeating:

Whenever the marketplace coins a term for a negative experience that is your brand name, you have a big marketing problem.

Here’s  just a small sampling of #rouged hashtag comments on Twitter:



Getting “rouged” is what marketers would call a “sticky” word. Usually sticky words invite positive publicity. Witness Lululemon and their April fools “Mansy”, the high cut one piece yoga suit for men https://www.flickr.com/photos/tobyvs/2371674531/ (warning: it isn’t pretty!)

Or Parisa wax inventing “backvertising” when they commandeered a hairy guy’s back to wax in their logo and parade him around Kids beach handing out samples. http://vimeo.com/7479018 (again a visual disclaimer is likely in order!)

But “I got rouged” will quickly become the brunt of negative jokes. Air Canada’s brand name Rouge has now become the lexicon for being taken. That’s NOT where you want your identity to be.

Adding to the fire is the apparent attempt by the airline to remove posted complaints from their Facebook page. But they’re still coming fast a furious, and Air Canada’s response is at times comical. I particularly like the exchange with a customer suggesting he could upgrade for a fee because he was tall… No kidding! https://www.facebook.com/aircanadarouge

At stake of course is profit. The closer spacing of seats and a reduced number of larger premium seats, allows the airline to put in two more rows, for a total of 18 more seats on an Airbus plane normally carrying 525 passengers. By using the newly configured plane on many non-business routes, the airline stands to increase profits substantially.

But at what cost to customer loyalty and brand value?

Given the initial stumbles and consumer push back, perhaps the name Rouge will be the colour of their financial statements. Or the colour on their embarrassed cheeks dealing with the social media fiasco.

And just in time for Mother’s Day this past weekend, our other national airline, Westjet, with their quirky sense of humour, put this ad out. With a wink and a nudge to Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal in the 1987 comedy “Throw Momma from the Train,” Westjet proves yet again the truth in their positioning line: It’s nicer up here.



Timely, irreverent, and fun. At least one of these airlines understands good marketing.





3 business cards that spark a conversation

If you’re like me, you likely have stacks of business cards you’ve collected at various networking events, sitting on or in your desk. While they serve at the time as trophy proof that you made some connections at an event or meeting, the contents usually end up in an electronic database of some sort, for easy retrieval later and follow up. In fact I’ve encountered a couple times recently where folks don’t take cards anymore, simply preferring to snap a photo for their paperless system. But in a sea of mediocrity, and with so many shifts to digital, the common business card is being neglected by many as an opportunity to stand out and sell.

So what if your card tied uniquely to your business beyond just the logo, image or words? What if it was so creative, that it became instantly memorable ahead of competitors? What if it stopped people in their tracks and begged for a conversation?

This week I profile three Vancouver companies with creative business cards that do all of those things.

Flow Yoga:

I love this one for Flow Yoga. Turning their business card into a rolled yoga mat is a brilliant way to show what they do. Printed on spongy material like an exercise mat, the design demonstrates creativity and stylish flare, very much in keeping with their downtown yoga and wellness center feel. www.flowyogavancouver.com The card is interactive, in that it begs to be unrolled, and it would most certainly spark a conversation about the company.









Yaletown Plumbing:

And how about this one for Yaletown Plumbing? The plunger may well be the first responder tool for many plumbing malfunctions, so it has become an identifiable icon for the profession. Why then have a card, when you could have a cute as a button mini plunger? The logo, phone number and website is all the information really needed, and it fits perfectly in a memorable way on the plunger. Printed on mass, they were an affordable giveaway. And while they may not fit well in a wallet or cardholder they would definitely become a conversation piece. I somehow envision the card plunged and stuck to the toilet or some other bathroom or kitchen surface once he’s done as a calling card! A quick visit to their website indicates a modern approach, promising fast, affordable, clean and reliable plumbing services, with a retro feel. www.yaletownplumbing.com You somehow sense immediately that this will not be your iconic butt crack plumber in a shabby old truck, arriving late and over billing you. This is going to be a business connected with technology, creative, and very service oriented.








BC Adventure:

An edible business card printed with vegetable inks on a piece of beef jerky? Admittedly it’s not your average business card, but it makes perfect sense for a wilderness survival training company specializing in adventure holidays. Nothing like a piece of flavoured dried beef to hold you over out in the wild! This card speaks volumes about what they do beyond the copy and website link.




All three of these cards would spark a conversation. That’s what makes them so unique and memorable. They are sales pieces in their own right. While you may think of your business card as a simple piece to convey contact information, there is so much potential if executed in a creative way.


I’d love to know about unique cards you have seen, or perhaps have as your own, and why they are conversation starters. Until next week, be creative and spark a conversation!



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

I’m a huge fan of Dove. I love the approach they have taken over the last 11 years with their “real beauty” campaign, advocating empowerment and beauty from within. I’ve commended them many times for remaining true to a big idea, as part of their brand values.

That said, they’ve taken some heat with their latest campaign installment called Dove patches. It was launched globally in 56 countries last week to prove that beauty is a state of mind. The video documents a social experiment where several women wear a “beauty patch”  for two weeks, supposedly containing a breakthrough medical ingredient. They were to document through a diary and video how they perceived their own beauty while wearing the patch. The women recruited were not actors, and there was no association with Dove up front. They were thought to simply be participating in a clinical experiment by Dr Ann Kearney-Cooke, a clinical psychologist. During the two-week trial, the women experienced a boost in self-esteem. However at the end of the experiment, the patch is revealed as a placebo. It has no magical powers, rather beauty is revealed to be a state of mind. View it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGDMXvdwN5c


It’s an empowering message, and one certainly in keeping with Dove’s positioning.

The idea of conducting an experiment with hired professionals is not new to Dove. In April 2013 they hired a forensic artist to sketch how women viewed themselves and to contrast that with how they were viewed by others, in an effort to dramatize female self-criticism for the Dove sketches campaign. Dove Real Beauty sketches was a run-away viral hit, shared widely on social media and viewed by over 62 million on Youtube. View it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk Currently Dove patches is at just over 13 million views

The placebo effect is a well-known phenomenon, and this application certainly proves it. I have to admit though, I felt for the women initially once the fake medicinal ingredients were revealed. They did appear gullible, and that was not Dove’s intent.

However, I do believe the basis for the experiment and what it reveals, even if I had a hard time sharing their emotional reaction to the results at the end. By taking a risk to demonstrate the outcome, Dove earns credit for celebrating the insight that beauty does not come from a bottle, but comes from within.

Make no mistake; Dove is trying to convince women to buy their products, but what company isn’t? The inspiration to remain true to the “real beauty comes from within” theme takes guts, and certainly separates them from their competition. To sustain that approach and keep it fresh for over 11 years is commendable.

And there in lies the lesson for us all. Competitive advantage is often the result of a unique sustained brand position relative to competitors. So here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. How are you positioned differently from your competitors?
  2. How is that reflective of your values?
  3. And what are you doing to keep your message fresh, while remaining true to your position?

Until next week, be inspired, keep it fresh, and remain true to your brand.