Branding with emotion and giving presence this holiday season

Two much-loved global brands (with Canadian roots), Westjet and Lululemon, take the spirit of the season awards this week for marketing initiatives that stand out in a month traditionally fueled with excess and consumption madness. Hot on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday comes Lululemon’s holiday campaign “Give presence,” as well as the third in a trilogy from Westjet’s holiday miracle series.

Lululemon holiday campaign values presence over presents

I received a link to the Lululemon video last Monday from a loyal newsletter reader Jill, who said it hit her like an emotional brick that morning. Jill notes, “I had spent the day at work in front of two computer screens and my cell phone. At home I found myself with the TV on, laptop open, iPad and iPhone in each hand, catching up on emails, social media, and grabbing up Cyber Monday deals online for Christmas. I went to bed feeling overwhelmed.” I wonder how many of us can relate? And when she woke, she found (yes somewhat ironically since it was shared on social media), this video from Lululemon about giving presence instead of presents. It was a mirror resonating truth.









The #givepresence campaign features a number of yoga and meditation instructors and asserts that the greatest gift you can give this holiday season is your undivided attention. My favourite quote is by friend Daniel Laport, who states, “Everything that’s on your plate, you said yes to.” Isn’t that the truth? The video is currently sitting at 3.4 million views.

In a world of personal devices, and multi layered conversations online, it simply asks us to look up and give the moment you are in, your full presence. It seems like such a simple message, but one easily been forgotten in our busy and connected world. What makes it so powerful for the Lululemon brand, is that it is congruent with their existing brand values. Make no mistake, it is a marketing play, but they own the position with some authenticity, having wrapped the brand in their “Manifesto” of statements such as “Dance, sing, floss and travel” and “Friends are more important than money” since they launched. Individual stores are being given the freedom to envision how to embody the spirit of the campaign. That could be as grand as offering a customer a flight home for the holidays if they mentioned they weren’t seeing family this year, or something as simple as offering coffee to a guest on a cold day. They are also using unbranded hand addressed greeting cards to help spread the message of #givepresence.


After striking holiday gold with their Christmas miracle campaign last year, Westjet is back again for a third year, this time bringing presents to people in the Dominican Republic. But you could argue that they too were bringing presence, since the move is far from just a shallow marketing ploy. Westjet has been supporting the communities in the Dominican for some time building houses and giving back. Their “presence” in the country is genuine. Although I had spotted this one early in the week, once again a loyal newsletter reader, Victoria, had alerted me to it. Seems she had a soft spot for Westjet too, since the company supports the Global Initiatives program at Carson Graham, a high school in North Vancouver that has students participate in building homes in the Dominican Republic also.

If you somehow missed the 2013 Christmas Miracle, you can view it here. Last year, guest boarding a plane were given the opportunity to talk to Westjet’s blue Santa on screen in the departure lounge, and tell him what they would like for Christmas. Once the flight departed, Westjet employees at the destination city frantically shopped and wrapped the gifts, so they could be delivered down the baggage carrousel to the surprise and delight of passengers at the arrival city.

westjet-christmas-dominican_horseThis year they bestowed gifts to the people of Puerto Plata, one of the four destinations Westjet services in the Dominican Republic. Airline staffs have been visiting the community for several years to build houses in partnership with Live Different. This year they staged a beach party for locals, where after having talked to Santa electronically the previous day, they were treated to the arrival of gifts. What made the gifts so touching is how they differed so dramatically from the flat screens of last year (although I’m still getting over the guy who asked for socks in that campaign). This year, we see the arrival of a washing machine, a car engine, and a horse.

Westjet_Dominican_washingMachineThese are all items that arguably will benefit many, and in some cases fuel the well being of an entire community. At the end, blue Santa reveals one last gift, a playground for the community’s children. The campaign is centered on the company’s ties to the community. That is what makes it genuine. View the 2014 Dominican campaign here. It had posted over 2.5 million views within the first 5 days. It’s also interesting to hear the back-story on why they did it. View here: “Why we did it” video.

Three commons themes run through both of these campaigns:

  1. Both companies owned the positioning and values portrayed with authenticity. Their actions were congruent with their history, making it more than just a marketing ploy.
  2. The campaigns touched an emotional trigger. Share of mind is good, but share of heart is better.
  3. Both campaigns are about doing something for others, which inadvertently benefited them, but that wasn’t necessarily why they were doing it in the first place.

As increasingly businesses realize there is value in positioning around social responsibility or charity, I think it’s critical to note the importance of authenticity and actions being a reflection of existing company values. Well done Lululemon and Westjet, two Canadian global brands that can do us proud!


Inspirational small business stories to celebrate “October small business month”

This past week Small Business BC hosted INSPIRE, and annual event to celebrate entrepreneurship, and a kick off to Small Business Month in British Columbia during October.

Moderated by Judy Brooks, a serial entrepreneur in her own right, having launched built and sold three successful businesses, guests were treated to a panel discussion and insights from some of BC’s emerging and successful business leaders. Here’s a run down on the panelists and some insights from the evening that might benefit your business.

Kyle Vucko, Co-Founder, Indochino
As a University of Victoria student struggling to find a well made and good fitting suit at a reasonable price, Kyle recognized the potential to shake up the men’s online fashion world. He saw a missed opportunity in the space – delivering men’s custom apparel cost-effectively. So he dropped out of university, and spent three years in Shanghai, building a vertically integrated company that has done for the suit category what Zara did for fast fashion – deliver the goods quickly and inexpensively, and in Indochino’s case, custom fitted. While it initially was an exclusively online offering, he experimented with pop-up retail locations and today he has over 120,000 customers in 130 countries, and showrooms in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, New York, San Francisco, Washington, Philadelphia, and Boston. Not bad for a guy who gave up on business school.

Brian Scudamore, Found 1-800-got-junk, WOW 1 Day Painting, and You Move me
Inspired to launch 1-800-got-junk in the late 1980s while sitting behind “Mark’s Hauling” truck in a Kerridale McDonalds drive through, Brian realized there was an opportunity to apply good branding and a strong customer focus to traditional service-based offerings such as junk removal. The rest as they say is history. Today, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? has more than 850 trucks on the road throughout 170 locations in Canada, the US and Australia. In 2012 he met the founder of a unique, one-day painting company and together they created the WOW 1 DAY Painting franchise. Brian launched his third brand, You Move Me, a different kind of franchised moving company in 2013 in response to his own bad experience. I would venture a guess that this high school and university drop out knows more about business than many of his previous teachers.

Jim Wyse, Founder & proprietor, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
For 25 years, Jim was a property developer in the Lower Mainland, Whistler and Oklahoma City. In 1993, serendipity led him to purchase relatively inexpensive and abandoned vineyard land south of Oliver that has since become Burrowing Owl Vineyards, specializing in award winning wine, a fine dining restaurant and guest house.

Ravy Mehroke, CEO & Co-Founder, Bombay Brow Bar
Who knew there was business opportunity in convincing women (and maybe a few men) that monthly maintenance of their eyebrows, just like their hair, was a necessity? In 2010, sisters and founders Ravy Mehroke and Amy Minhas opened their first brow bar in Yaletown. In just five years, Bombay has grown to a highly coveted beauty brand with additional locations in Kitsilano and the Shangri-la Hotel downtown.

Although there were many great insights from these panelists, three themes really emerged as things to note for your own business growth.

  1. Great brands are wrapped in a story. Each of these entrepreneurs saw a problem or opportunity and solved it in some unique way that was hard for others to copy. And in doing so, they created an endearing story that has become the heart and sole of their branding and identity. Does your business have a story? And can you tell it in a compelling way?
  2. Mentorship matters. Without exception, all panelists credited strong mentors with helping them achieve success. Brian Scudamore spoke of his self made MBA – as his “Mentor Board of Advisors”. One of his notable mentors, Fred DeLuca, the founder of Subway, became a fast friend after Brian read his book and simply called him to talk. When is the last time you read an inspirational business book cover to cover and then contacted the author?
  3. A founder first inspires but ultimately must lead. It was very evident that all of these company founders were inspired to grow something unique and had no problem catching others up in that enthusiasm. But shifting to the leadership role had been a hurdle for some as the company grew.

I shared these highlights with subscribers of my weekly enewsletter last week, and then asked my readers to tell me their own small business story. In the spirit of highlighting small business in BC, I’m sharing their additional two stories below. Because not every business necessarily gets the recognition it deserves, and maybe this blog can help spread their stories.

Rowena List, CEO & Founder, Getting it Together After a successful career in sales and a move into management as a trainer, Rowena saw a need for self employed women to be more organized. At the time she started helping them organize their home office and clothes closet. Word quickly spread about her ability to simplify life and her clients expanded to corporate women in business and stay at home moms. They all shared one thing in common: overwhelm. Rowena helps clients keep it simple, live with less, live with purpose and get rid of overwhelm.

Natacha Beim, CEO & Founder, CEFA (Core Education & Fine Arts) Seeing herself as a teacher first and an entrepreneur second, Natasha established CEFA, Canada’s first private junior kindergarten school in 1998, for infants and children up to five years old. As a passionate and trained teacher, she was frustrated with what she saw as a gap in the market: preschools and daycare’s offering care and play based settings, but nowhere was there a place offering pre-learning in reading, writing and math, and exploring the arts. She saw an opportunity for creating an enriched curriculum combining core subjects such as reading and math with fine arts, including drama and yoga, to provide children with the freedom to learn and grow through play. Following the successful launch of her first school, she is now franchising the program across North America. Link here for her full story interview video.

As you can see, these additional two featured entrepreneurs have similar themes to their success as the SBBC INSPIRE recipients: their business and brand is wrapped in a story inspired by personal passion and they are leaders with a vision to help others.




Five steps to fuel word of mouth: Learning from Tim Horton’s recruitment pop-up store

Suppose you need to get the word out about something, don’t have a huge media budget, and you want to stand out from competitors. Sound familiar? It’s a challenge that pretty much every business has faced, but now, more than any other time in recent history, we actually have the tools to accomplish it. Enter social media, the increasing popularity of photo and video share platforms, the prevalence of mobile devices, and traditional media hungry for eye catching stories in order to stay relevant. Add a dash of creativity on your part and mix with human nature’s craving for story telling and sharing, and voila! It’s a recipe for success. So how do you do it?

Let’s look at a real life example from this past week: Tim Horton’s

While many Canadians are still reeling from the news of the imminent arranged marriage of their darling to US based Burger King, a suitor with dated plastic décor, seemingly oblivious to health trends with heart stopping massive burgers and a creepy plastic faced “King” mascot, they understand that to grow, financing and distribution inroads are needed. Of course the real challenge will be in growing the Tim Horton’s brand in the US beyond Border States, but in the mean time, the company is shoring up strength in the homeland.

Enter the campaign to find employees as quickly as they can to open restaurants. Tim Horton’s is looking to hire 5,000 new employees nationwide, of which 2,000 will be in Alberta and 250 specifically in the Calgary area. The communications challenge was simple: generate interest and excitement to work at Tim Horton’s in Canada. The traditional approach would have been through recruitment ads in store, online and in newspapers across the land – expensive and of questionable ability to actually deliver.

Tim_Hortons_pop-up_houseInstead the company created a pop up restaurant overnight in SW Calgary at 303 Oakfern Way in Oakridge. Literally, they transformed a home in a family neighbourhood into a Tim Horton’s restaurant overnight, with the objective of being open 6am-12pm Sept 23 only, and generating as much publicity around the surprise event as possible. The distributed gift baskets to the neighbours, conducted random acts of kindness, such as raking leaves, and of course treated the hood to breakfast with free coffee and donuts (the Next door-nut) with the message, “thanks for being our neighbour”. They had treats for dogs and their early morning walkers, and even used street chalk art to send the neighbourly message to come on down for breakfast. Promoting the use of #TimsNextDoor hash tag, photo sharing was encouraged to get the word out on social media.

Neighbour_donutAnd of course they invited traditional print and broadcast media to cover the event. In short, they generated buzz for the brand, which extended across the country courtesy of social and traditional media, and created an atmosphere of inquiry about working for the iconic brand. As a stand-alone stunt, it was no doubt expensive to execute, but I would argue the value of word of mouth, mouse and mobile via social media and traditional media could not have been purchased.

Link to Global BC news video coverage: This news piece alone generated 32,000 Facebook shares within a day, and over 600 Tweets. And that was just one news organization among hundreds. Print and broadcast outlets went crazy for the story because of the human-interest value to Canadians, and frankly the curiosity of the story.

What can we learn from this example about generating word of mouth these days?

  1. Stage an event that can be wrapped in a story: It’s human nature to want to share entertaining stories.
  2. Tap emotional triggers: In this case patriotism, and being a good neighbour were used. Humour is also a great trigger.
  3. Remember why people share: It’s about them, not about you. Give something to make them look connected, insightful, and in some way on an inner circle of knowledge. This piece got shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds because people wanted to be the first to tell their friends the crazy story or document the fact that they were there.
  4. Make sure the event is visual: With the increased prevalence of smart phones and photo and video sharing social media platforms, you want to invite sharing. Make it visually appealing and invite easy sharing and tracking with hash tags.
  5. Seed social media initially, but leverage traditional media as the second punch. Know that the reach of TV, radio and print will generate exponentially more online sharing, so make them a critical part of your media plan. News outlets need content, so be newsworthy.

Of course all this seems simple enough, but obviously having the creativity to come up with an idea is key. Well done Tim’s. And thanks for still spelling it “neighbour” in Canada despite those new American owners!

iKea’s iBook Book – Brilliant marketing

Amidst the marketing flurry around the latest announcement from Apple about their much-anticipated iPhone 6 and wearable technology, comes a brilliantly timed piece of marketing from Ikea.

In a world of high-tech, sometimes going low-tech or no-tech is the way to stand out. With my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I’d like to acknowledge how Ikea has taken a “page from Apple’s playbook” with the release of their 2015 catalogue.

Enter the bookbook. Or as I’ve decided to call it the iKea iBookBook.

iKea_iBookBookIf you have yet to see it, you MUST have a look at this ad. It is brilliant in it’s use of hyperbole to emphasize the attributes of the 2015 catalogue, framed from a play on technology perspective, meant to yank us back to the reality of enjoying a good old fashioned book, or in this case, a catalogue.

View the ad here:

The spot opens with, “Once in awhile, something comes along that changes the way we live, a device so simple and intuitive, using it feels almost familiar…” It then goes on to note that the new device has no cables or power, comes fully charged, uses tactile touch for navigation to browse, has no lag time loading images, and can be downloaded free through your mailbox or in person.” So why does this ad work so well?

  1. Timing. Make no mistake, in the world of advertising, this was a well-timed execution, meant to go viral on the tails of this weeks announcement of much anticipated new product from Apple.
  1. Parodies work. Especially when a company with a lot of online traction and social followers such as Apple, is the object of the joke. The parallels and poking clever fun at the way the product features are announced compared to an Apple commercial are striking. Parodies go viral because they are usually funny and entertaining, two key components for getting material shared.
  1. They zigged when the rest of us where still zagging. While it seems many brands jump on board the latest trends, getting caught up in technology and social media, Ikea was different by drawing attention to the old fashioned attributes of book browsing. In an age of ebooks and online everything, it made them stand out. Plus it called out the elephant in the room, the fact that people still like to browse a catalogue to shop, and it made it socially acceptable to admit it. Well done.
  1. It was optimized for social media. Of course this ad could have been placed on TV, but when the objective is to make it viral, allow your army of Ikea followers to use their media channels, and to no doubt generate free publicity and pick up from traditional media such as TV and print, why would you? Putting it on Youtube and making it easily sharable through social channels was a brilliant media strategy.
  1. Simple works. The communication is simple and the visuals are simple, in an iconic Ikea design sense. Even though the audio is in English, and much of the play on words rely on this, the concept of what is being communicated can be understood through visuals.

Well done Ikea. This is brilliant marketing.

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:

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, and private taxi service, Zipments ( 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:

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:

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.

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.

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

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. What a CTV news spot about it here:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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. 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.

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. 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: 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.

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:


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.