Great brands always have a story

Branding is about more then image recognition for customers. Great brands give their customers something to belong to and talk about. They always have a story.

I was reminded of that last week while in Ontario cottage country visiting relatives and friends before returning to Toronto for some business meetings.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess many reading this have never been to Magnetawan. But those that have will likely know the iconic history of “Downtown Magnetawan” shirts. If you’ve been to the Mag, you likely own a shirt. And if you own a shirt you share the same story and knowledge of the place with others who have been there. Downtown Magnetawan is of course an oxymoron. You could blink and miss it, but that’s the point. This little town of 300 has a global brand. And it all started with a t-shirt.

For years the Downtown General Store sold the shirts. It was the kind of place that proudly boasted “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it” which pretty much summed up their approach to retailing. They had it all. Including the sought after shirts at the front, and a shrine of photos that people had sent them, sporting their shirts in places all over the world. Even former US president Jimmy Carter was pictured wearing one.


On two occasions, once in France and the other time in New Zealand, while wearing a Downtown Magnetawan shirt, I had a complete stranger run up to me and tell me they’d been there, which then provoked a conversation of our shared stories anchored in this little town.

Those that wear the shirt have a shared story. They’re members of a global tribe. And they always have an emotional connection to the place and their time there.

Unfortunately the General Store burned down in 2011, and with it the shirts, and the shelves of photos of people wearing them all over the world, methodically collected and display over the years. In a curious twist of small town politics, the Trademark to produce them remained dormant for five years, further adding to the story. Those that had a shirt then became part of history briefly locked in time. Thankfully this year the Home Hardware store in town acquired the rights to produce the shirts once again, and they are now proudly building up that photo shrine, selling the shirts in store and online, as well as helping people share their stories and photos through a Facebook page and the use of hashtags on Twitter @DTmagnetawan and Instagram.


So what’s the learning in all this?

1. Great brands always have a story. Downtown Magnetawan shirts had humble beginnings in a small town, and became a global brand simply through brand ambassadors wearing them in their travels. That’s a cool story. What’s the story around your brand?

2. Secrecy adds value. Everyone loves a secret, and if those in the know share knowledge about the brand not widely available, except to members of the tribe, it further ads to the appeal. Many people have a hard time pronouncing the name. It’s right up there with Penetanguishene, also in the area. But those who have been there can say it. Being so small, it’s a wonder that so many people have been drawn there from afar, but that is simply part of the secret of its appeal. Magnetawan is a town that joins Ahmic Lake and Lake Cecebe, a beautiful part of cottage and lake country.

3. Give people a way to share their story around the brand. For years the photo shrine helped tell the story of Downtown Magnetawan shirts, but now it is also told through online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

So there you have it. A story and a secret, and a way to share it among members of the tribe. Could great branding really be that simple?



Are you channel surfing or tuning in?

Consider the idea of channel surfing versus tuning in. We’ve all been in the presence of incessant channel surfers. Perhaps you’re even one of them. Surfers skip from channel to channel, certain they can multi-task and watch numerous programs simultaneously. Some just surf out of boredom, looking aimlessly for something to grab their attention. I’ve noticed this habit carrying over to social media as well. Perhaps you recognize it in yourself? Surely it can’t just be me! We skip from platform to platform, one video to the next, an endless crumb trail of links as we chase the shiny object of our fleeting momentary interest.


So here’s my question to you: Are you using the same channel surfing approach to reach out to your customers? Many companies seem desperate these days to keep up with all the new social media platforms and new features. Make no mistake, I think things like Instagram’s new “stories” feature will be beneficial for many. It’s a great feature to engage through visuals and invite one on one contact through messaging, rather then open comments. But it’s not for everybody. Building an audience on new platforms takes time and effort. Blab is super cool, but so was Periscope. Both require audience building. And the channel is only as useful as the reach of it’s audience. Plus the effort to utilize numerous channels often leaves us needing options to manage and schedule content (unless of course you have more then 24hrs in your day to deal with all this stuff). Twitter is a great channel, but there are a lot of people just scheduling content out into the universe in the hopes that it will break through the fire hose of other information. Their auto-responders reply to follows and comments. That’s not being personable or engaged.

We get folks to tune in to content when we engage a channel fully. But it means we need to be present and personable in that channel IN REAL TIME.

As many of you know, I advocate building your marketing presence leveraging the five pillars of your media: owned, rented, earned, embedded and paid. Within these pillars are media vehicles and individual channels. What really has become evident to me, as I’ve observed the actions of wildly successful marketers, is how they have all used the five-pillar approach, but more importantly, how they had selected one or two individual channels to truly engage their audience. Of course those channels were selected with their target audience in mind, and they had a strategy for what they wanted to accomplish in each channel. Seems simple enough eh?

Let me give you a couple examples from the National Speakers Association conference I attended in Phoenix, AZ recently.

Jeanne Robertson, a very successful keynoter and now theater circuit comedian, uses many platforms, but Facebook is undeniably where she truly engages her audience. Link to her Facebook here. It leads to many other places such as Youtube, Twitter and her website, but her primary “channel” is Facebook. Have a look at how she engages and is present in that channel. Note the recency of her posts, the personable responses, the type of “knowing” questions her readers post, obviously familiar with her stories as fans. She is tuned in, and so are her followers.

Scott Stratten, the “unmarketing” guy is another great example of the channel concept. Make no mistake, Scott is virtually everywhere online with his unconventional take on marketing mistakes, but he got his followers initially with a Youtube viral hit, and later as an early adopter on Twitter. @unmarketing is his handle there and he has over 183,000 followers on that channel. But here’s the curious thing: he DOESN’T AUTOMATE POSTS. He only posts in real time. And he only posts when he has something cool to share, and he is present on the channel in real time with exchanges that follow that post. By deciding to actually be social and not an automated app endlessly tweeting into the fire hose of content, he has garnered an audience that tunes in.

It’s not just online channels that work this way. Off line can be a goldmine. Kay Frances is another great example of someone virtually everywhere online for her motivational humor, but her channel of choice for engagement is direct mail. She has built a killer database and she sends out notes and fun promotional pieces to the people who hire her regularly.

I could go on with examples, but what really struck me was many of these successful folks had selected a particular channel to tune in with their target audience, and then they made themselves fully present on that channel. That’s the thought I’ll leave you with. Are you channel surfing, trying to be everywhere with your marketing, or are you tuned in on your channel of choice?

What do you think? Email me with your thoughts.  I’m present on this channel and always happy to hear from you with comments too. Or if you’re more into Twitter, my handle is @marycharleson


Why do people share online content?

This week I’d like to consider the question, “Why do people share online?” At the heart of understanding this is the key to making content go viral and increasing the spread of your content marketing. That’s pretty important stuff if you’re looking to increase marketing effectiveness for minimal budget.

A friend sent me a link to this article by Brent Coker, called: PR Secrets, How to go viral. Essentially he argues it’s about social currency. “People share things because they want to be seen in a certain way – your friend who constantly shares TED talks likely wants to be seen as intelligent, while your friend who shares memes wants to be seen as funny.”

Basically he is saying people will share if they think it will enhance someone’s opinion of them. My friend noted this was likely obvious, but she hadn’t made that link before.

I’d like to add my own spin on this, and ask you to consider this: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. IT’S ABOUT THEM.



I think the secret to having your content shared is to consider the next person in line to share, not yourself. Knowing my audience, if I give you something that you will in turn look good sharing, I have pretty much guaranteed you will continue to share the content. And the cycle will continue. That’s the secret of going viral. Essentially it’s less about making myself look smart, funny, insightful or connected to an inner circle. It’s about celebrating you taking credit for it.

Ruminate on that one for a while. It just might cause you to think differently about what you share and how you do it.

What Crocs, Uggs and Earth Shoes can teach us about good marketing

I distinctly remember the season I spent walking up hill. It was the year that earth shoes were all the rage. For those who weren’t yet born, or would just like to forget them, earth shoes had a sole with a higher rise at the front than the back. The width of the toe was also decidedly broad, presenting a less then sleek and glamorous look poking out from your jeans. Thank goodness flares were also in fashion, or we might all have looked like clowns. Take that back, I think I did anyway. Graced with size 11 feet at the age of 12, the variety of available sizes for my footwear fashion choices peaked early and has been pretty much in decline ever since!

But back to earth shoes. They were ugly, but they sold like hot cakes.


Just like Crocs, those very comfortable, colourful, holey things that really don’t belong in the same sentence as fashion.

crocsLikewise for Uggs, a decidedly bizarre hot weather footwear choice to emerge out of Australia that became all the rage with teen girls a couple seasons ago.


Each of these three items touted comfort over style, but in evoking desire for their comfort attributes, they became stylish despite themselves. Such is the strange world of marketing and creating demand.

What might we learn from Uggs, Crocs and Earth Shoes for our own marketing?

1. You can create desire for almost anything with good marketing.

2. But nobody will buy your product or service more then once if it doesn’t do what is promised.

While simple enough in principle, in practice we often overlook number 2, thinking that number 1 is where our efforts should be. Summed up another way – get good first. Then worry about how to broadcast your value. This message becomes particularly important in an era where word of mouth and word of mouse (online through social channels and off line the good old fashioned way) is so important. It’s also where earned media kicks in when your business becomes newsworthy. And as regular readers will already know, that earned media then begs to be leveraged through your owned and rented channels.

Have you ever bought something because of really catchy advertising, then been disappointed in the product or experience? Likewise have you ever bought something and been absolutely delighted, and then gone off telling everyone?

It’s all about getting good first. That’s the best marketing out there.


Disruption: How Tesla changed automotive marketing

Mark the date April 4, 2016 in your memory. At some point in the future, this date will have huge significance. Elon Musk is also likely to roll off your tongue with the same broadly shared recognition that the name Steve Jobs from Apple does. That’s because April 4th is the day that Tesla pre-sold 276,000 Model 3 cars worldwide, with an estimate to hit over 500,000 well before production even starts. Each person parted with $1,000 down payment on a $35,000 electric car that won’t even physically be available until late 2017. Other then photos, nobody has even seen one. They are however familiar with the very expensive high-end design savvy models currently coveted by many and driven by few.

Sound familiar?



Elon Musk has done to cars what Steve Jobs did to computing. He has disrupted everything. Although the existing premier Model S and Model X helped position the company as exclusive, no doubt the plan all along was for a major launch mid-market. In fact the survival of the company long term likely depended on it.

From a marketing perspective, the new Model 3 not only disrupts the existing automotive industry, it frankly blows it out of the water. I say that because it goes well beyond business, and enters the realm of economics, politics, and world power to have global energy not necessarily driven by oil. That shift now seems not only possible but also likely, with countries such as Norway and the Netherlands stating that they will prohibit the sale of gas powered cars after 2025.

Tesla’s disruption…

Product: Tesla makes electric vehicles only. And the cars are the epitome of art and industrial design meeting German engineering. This isn’t a pet project on the side, like their other major competitors. Nor is Tesla tied into the oil companies like some of the large existing manufacturers. Tesla has also demonstrated that they intend to build out the charging network, further altering what they are actually selling. Is it a car, or a transportation system? Will you buy charges? Get them free with purchase? Buy an annual membership? Whatever transpires, it will no doubt shake up all products and services within the automotive industry – delivery of power included.

Price: Previously Tesla vehicles were for the rich, clocking in close to $100,000 Cdn. The new Model 3 will retail for $35,000 US, putting it squarely in the range of many existing vehicles on the market. Because previous Tesla cars have been seen as so high end, and the Model 3 promises to have the same design sensibilities, it is perceived as being premium by the masses. That really disrupts the existing price structure of competing electric cars. How do they position against price now?

Distribution: Their distribution model doesn’t rely on dealers, or a showroom necessarily for that matter. Tesla sells direct. To date orders are in person or online. Sample cars are on display in a small showroom and test drives can be booked. Not that that mattered to the 276,000 people who put a $1,000 down on one recently. Further demonstrating that even a showroom isn’t needed. Truly, the cars can be bought online and then delivered.

Promotion: Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, Tesla has become a darling of the media, garnering hundreds of thousands of dollars of free global media publicity, simply by being newsworthy. What print and online they do all oozes class.

So why should we care about this type of disruption? Beyond the super cool factor of the car, how it will potentially change industries, politics, economics and world order (that’s a lofty list!)  it’s also just a great reminder that disruption represents both threat and opportunity.

How do you plan for disruption in your industry?  And more importantly, do you take time to think about how YOU or YOUR business could disrupt and do things differently? Think the 4Ps –  product (or service), price, place (distribution) and promotion. What of the four could you challenge or change from accepted convention? Perhaps you can disrupt multiples. Lots to think about for sure – but that’s the way tomorrows leaders are thinking today. What about you?

How to manage negative publicity: 5 lessons from Coors Light #BraveTheCold out of bounds skiing campaign

Somebody at Coors Light had a horrible, no good, very bad day last week. Several people at Rethink, a well respected Vancouver advertising agency responsible for the #BraveTheCold campaign, also likely had a sleepless night trying to put the breaks on creative that was set to launch that week, after negative publicity threatened to take over. And that doesn’t even credit the hundreds of thousands spent on scripting, casting, filming and editing in the first place that became unusable. Ouch.

The first ad in the #BraveThe Cold campaign featured amateur athletes competing in a crazy toboggan race. Appealing squarely to fun loving millenials, that ad went off without a hitch in February. But the second commercial that was to have launched last week, was called into question for how it encouraged out of bounds skiing and boarding. The ad featured an illuminating blue sign that doubled as a go ahead signal for the question “are you brave enough?” The signs used in the campaign were meant to promote the brand’s new temperature sensitive printed cans that feature a Coors logo turning icy blue once the can reaches optimum cold drinking temperature.

molson-out-of-bounds-ad Out on the west coast of Canada, the leaked online footage of the campaign set off a firestorm of negative media with BC Search and Rescue Associations. Members hit social media in outcry, and their concerns, picked up by newspapers and TV news stations gave the story prominence. We loose people in the mountains every winter through ill advised out of bounds skiing. They die a senseless death, and often rescuers risk their own lives in an effort to save them. There’s a huge financial, social and human cost.

I was initially contacted to provide comment from an expert marketing perspective, and by the time the story actually went to press, the Youtube channel previously displaying the video had been set to private. By the next morning the ad had been pulled, and by that evening Coors Light had apologized and promised to make a donation to Search and Rescue. Of course we all know that nothing ever really goes away once it has a life online, and the original ad can still be viewed by the curious here.

A quick Google search for “Coors Light out of bounds” reveals several pages of linked negative media coverage, including VancityBuzz, Global TV, CTV, CBC, the North Shore News, and of course BCSARA (BC Search and Rescue Association).



CTV news

CBC news

North Shore News

BCSARA (BC Search and Rescue Association) Statement on the ad:

The lesson here is social media and traditional media can work for you and against you. Rethink, a darling of the ad industry, well known for leveraging social media and traditional media to the benefit of their clients quite simply goofed on this one. They’re from Vancouver and should have known better. As I noted in one North Shore News media quote:

“It’s not like they’re in Toronto and they’re talking about skiing out of bounds being off the back of a hill in Barrie. With Rethink being in Vancouver, it’s no secret to them that when you talk ‘out of bounds,’ it’s a sensitive issue, especially on the North Shore Mountains.”

This is not the first time Coors Light, under the helm of Rethink, has fallen under the wheels of the media bus. In 2014, they made CBC’s “Marketing Fails of the Year” with their “Search and Rescue” campaign, where briefcases of Coors Light where left in public spaces throughout Canadian cities, inviting people who found them to take a selfie with the case and post it to Twitter, where they would be sent a code to unlock the case of cold beer. The package at Spadina and Dundas was reported as suspicious, and caused the TTC to reroute traffic as police shut down streets during rush hour. It was a great promotional idea that didn’t execute well with increased terrorism threats.

Sometimes brands invite media coverage to leverage their message further. In the age of social media and online sharing, that tactic can be a fantastic tool to harness word of mouth, mouse and mobile. But sometimes the result can be an unanticipated negative outcome. That’s when it becomes important to act quickly. To their credit, Coors and Rethink handled the out of bounds skiing situation in a very professional manner. There were five key insights:

  1. Research is important. Sometimes campaigns tested at the concept stage can kill cutting edge creative, but research can save the expense, grief and negative publicity if a campaign goes sideways after launch.
  1. Know your market. Being from Vancouver, Rethink should have been knowledgeable that out of bounds skiing was a highly sensitive issue. Had the campaign been created in isolation on the Prairies there might have been an excuse for this lack of market awareness.
  1. Act quickly when things go negative. On this front both Coors and Rethink deserves credit. They responded quickly to complaints and pulled the ad within two days.
  1. Triage the messaging. Coors initially stated they hadn’t wished to provoke, and then acted quickly to apologize once the ad was removed.
  1. Spin the positive. Although an amount and a date when the donation will be made has yet to be confirmed, Coors has said they will donate to the Search and Rescue Association to help fund back country rescue in the future. It’s a positive outcome unlikely to actually sell any beer, but a solid gesture.

Sometimes producing great creative means taking risks. Things don’t always work out. But in the age of social media, online sharing, citizen reporting, and transparency that works at the speed of light, you’d better have a plan in place if it things don’t go as planned.

March 30 update: Curiously someone alerted me to the ad playing on the Huffington Post site beside my article on this actually being the Coors #BraveTheCold out of bounds spot. Seems they have simply updated the sign to say “Take a new run” rather then “out of bounds” when the blue light goes on. It’s a clever way to dodge the bullet of accusations, since I suppose the waiting helicopter could be a heli-ski run. Click here to watch the revised spot. Coors Light and Rethink have taken a new run indeed.


Link here to my Huffington Post original article on the campaign. Link here for Outside Magazine‘s “Coors Under Fire for Out of Bounds Ski Ad” article featuring my thoughts as a marketing expert.

Leverage your content like a MEDIA MOGUL

One of the presentations I am often asked to do is “Think Like a Media Mogul: How to manage multiple channels and create content that positions your brand.” It seems to resonate with business owners and marketing managers who struggle with how to leverage smaller marketing budgets to get more visibility and clout.


With special thanks to NYIT (New York Institute of Technology) for this great banner artwork featuring a quote from a recent presentation I did for them, I’d like to present the concepts for the benefit of a broader audience. Three compelling reasons to build your media empire.

1. Authority: Be seen as the expert, the one who gets the calls, the quotes, and let’s face it, the business!

2. Search: Be the most visible. You want to dominate SEO without ever paying for it, simply because of the volume and quality of your content and knowledge.

3. Engagement: Build community; generate engagement with your brand, which ultimately leads to sales.

There are four basic pillars of your media empire:

1. Anchors: These are your media assets. Your assets include things like your website, blog, enewsletter, podcast, webinar, and video. As such, you own them, which is a good thing, since nobody can change the rules of how they are used except you. And you host them within owned properties of your media empire. Anchors are key players for search, authority and engagement. Ultimately you want your other three pillars to drive people back to your anchors. Your anchors are where you will convert exposure and engagement into sales.

2. Outposts: Think of these as rented property. Outposts include social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pintrest, Vine, Youtube etc. While you customize them like your own property, often decorating them like a home and taking ownership, ultimately someone else owns them and can change the rules at any time. They could charge you more rent, restrict your access, or use your property if they want to. But before you think of them too much like a nasty landlord, you must also consider the power and opportunity they can deliver. Outpost social media platforms have the ability to broadcast and share content, and by their nature, they offer two-way engagement, which helps build community around your brand. Outposts should be used to broadcast and engage, but ultimately drive people back to your anchor content. That’s where you own them and that’s where you’ll convert the sale.

3. Earned: This is third party endorsement. In the traditional sense it is when a print of broadcast media company publishes something about your business, giving it visibility, without you paying for it. But it could also include other online media like the Huffington Post, industry authorities through their social media, or well read blogs. Since it is an earned property and it can’t be purchased, it is coveted and valued. Usually these days coverage by other media outlets includes content online, which is great, since you can feed those links back into your outpost media engines and also feature it in your anchored content. If you earn media coverage, maximize the exposure as much as you possibly can.

4. Paid: This is the strategic stuff you do to boost and promote content online to a selected audience. It could include boosting posts, Google ad words, paid featured content, pop up ads or SEO. It used to be that a Facebook Like meant that everyone who “liked” your business received the post in his or her feed. No more. Organic posts have been choked down to less then 5% of those liking your page getting exposure. The good news is, boosting can be relatively inexpensive, and offer the opportunity to be very strategic and picky about who the post is delivered to. Of all the social media platforms out there, Facebook likely represents the broadest spectrum of the population, so depending on your offering this could be a strategically good route. Be sure to measure and monitor if you’re going to spend money on paid media.

Success comes when all four pillars are leveraged together.

The successful building of brand awareness through content marketing usually has at least three and oftentimes four of the media pillars. Original content is created and shared on several anchors. Outposts are used to broadcast widely and create engagement. If earned media picks up the story, it is fed back through outposts to generate more interest and ultimately drive people back to the anchored content. Sometimes paid is also used strategically to fuel outposts and drive people to the anchors, or to generate awareness and coverage by earned media. While the pillars of your media empire are separate entities, if used well with their purpose and unique abilities in mind, they build on each other offering you incredible media content clout.

Disruption: What is your data NOT telling you?

I love disruption. Not many people can say that. Disruption is a breath of fresh air to rituals and expectations. Leveraged well, disruption is an amazing marketing tool.

Take REI in America. They chose to CLOSE their store on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year in the US.


While some accused the retailer of simply pulling off a promotional stunt, the concept ran much deeper. The idea of closing so their employees and customers could actually go outside and play was in keeping with their brand promise of enjoying the outdoors. It struck an emotional connection with their audience. The fact that 1.5 million people then contributed content through social media to tell how they spent their day outside, of course added to the effectiveness. The company created the hashtag #OptOutside to help channel shared content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. And the press went crazy giving them tons of free publicity for rejecting Black Friday. They became a top news item nationally. It’s an act of bravery to close 143 stores on your traditionally busiest day. But it would appear that subsequent online sales actually more then made up for it. They were reportedly up 26%.

It was a clever disruption.

But here’s the real insight. Data analysis would have told them this was a crazy idea. According to REI analytics, visits are preceded by one of more digital experiences, especially using mobile. Getting people to the site and keeping them there is the end goal for REI. Putting up a closed sign on their website ran counter to everything analytics told them. So too did putting up a closed sign on their 143 store location doors for the day.

But what data can’t measure well is emotion and values. Data gives you tracked behaviour, but creativity and disruption allows for justified leaps of faith. In this case, REI realized that the message to reject consumerism for the day would resonate, especially if they were encouraging people to step away from online, and to get outside and connect with nature. It also played out well for how they valued their employees in giving them the day off.

Data is about the past, but it is often used to predict the future. And it can do a good job to a point. But the one thing for certain about data is that it can also blind you to leaps of faith that allow an emotional connection based on values.

Have a think on that the next time you get tangled up in the reeds of numbers and analysis.

Marketing disruption: Hans Brinker Hotel claims “worst hotel” status

Disruption can be a powerful tool.

The Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam claims to be the worst hotel ever. In fact, an official line from one of their ads claims, “The Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam. It doesn’t get much worse.” Without apology, they have made a successful business out of being awful. Click here for a first hand look at that housekeeping commercial. It will give you a whole new perspective on changing pillow cases! The assumption of course is that there is not a lot of competition to own the space of being bad. Check out their website here.

Apparently curtains double as blankets at the Hans Brinker, and their propensity to not replace light bulbs regularly and to leave the heat turned down, is simply billed as “being eco-friendly.” You get it. The Hans Brinker is something to be endured. Survival offers bragging rights, and that frankly is part of their “blue ocean” strategy.


The Disruption:

To truly understand how they can do this however, requires you to grasp who their target audience is, their competitive environment, their strategic competitive advantages (this may require a stretch), and how all of that can be successfully leveraged.

The target market for this hotel should be pretty obvious – students and youth in their 20s, single, budget minded, international travelers visiting Amsterdam, attitude of adventure, curiosity and risk tolerant. A one-night stay at the 127 room hostel will run you $35. Advertising slogans warn of no hot water, sparse rooms and filthy conditions. Guests are encouraged to dry off with the shower curtain to save on washing.

The Hans Brinker owns awful. Nobody generally wants to be the worst when it comes to travel and hospitality. But vying for the best is a crowded space. They recognized that their target market just might love their honesty and irreverent attitude. This position has allowed them to not only stand out from most hotels (admittedly that was the easy part), but it also allowed them to stand out against other budget accommodation options (the harder part).

Word of mouth & going viral

The best way to ensure powerful word of mouth is to give people something that makes them look smart, funny, insightful, or connected to an inner circle in some way. At the heart of word of mouth is powerful storytelling. The Hans Brinker is a story begging to be told, whether its as a travel tip, a survival story, or simply something that begs to be shared for pure entertainment. To that end, the company made visually sharing their story easy. They have a Youtube channel, where their commercials are posted, and they also encourage customers to post their own awful experiences. Certainly turns customer rating sites like Yelp on its ear – don’t you agree? Here’s their Youtube channel.

Recognizing that Instagram and Facebook were social channels heavily used by their target, they regularly post to those platforms, and encourage their customers to as well, tagging them #hasbrinker.












Choosing channels to leverage media

When picking a channel it’s important to consider your audience, the reach, and your personality.

The Hans Brinker heavily uses Instagram, Facebook and Youtube since their customers frequent those social media platforms. But they also know their customers, armed with mobile devices, will help with the heavy lifting of telling their story and personal experience. If you Google the Hans Brinker, the results and resulting earned media dominate the first 10 pages. Their approach is a model of anchors, outposts, earned and paid media.

The company has even published their own book on customer service – appropriately displayed on the floor to prop up a table leg, rather then with pride on a bookshelf.



The 4 pillar media approach

Anchors: Website, enewsletter and blog. The Hans Brinker publishes regularly to all of their owned platforms.

Outposts: This is their “rented” social media space, which includes: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. The hotel publishes content to these platforms that leads customers back to their anchored website, where the goal is to convert them to customers.

Earned: Because they have such an unusual position and funny story, they have earned print and broadcast media globally. Even travel rating services such as Yelp and Trip Advisor list them for all the wrong reasons.

Paid: The Hans Brinker does traditional paid advertising including print, broadcast, and outdoor. But the primary focus is digital, where they amplify their message through sponsored content directly to their target audience on mobile through Google ad words for search, and sponsored content on Facebook and Instagram.

So what insights might you draw from this example? (other then where NOT to stay next time you’re in Amsterdam)

  1. Disruption cuts through the competitive clutter. It’s a blue ocean strategy.
  2. Disruption can happen in the form of: price, product or service, promotion or the way you distribute.
  3. Disruption gives you a story to tell. Stories are at the heart of word of mouth.
  4. Disruption feeds content for your owned and rented media.
  5. Disruption will earn you media.

What do you think? Is this an effective strategy? Have you ever stayed at the Hans Brinker Hotel? (and are willing to admit it!) I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.

What 3 words will focus your 2016 efforts?

Welcome to 2016! For many of us the New Year brings promise and anticipation of opportunity. While I’m not a big believer in New Years resolutions, I do sit down each year and write out business and personal objectives and then break them out into smaller “to do” items. I then note those items in my calendar. It’s a remarkably simple system, and one that I’ve used since 1987. While I don’t have my notes from that year, I do have sheets dating from 1994, including a couple “10 years from now” vision sheets. I know it’s kind of crazy to actually have all of these in a folder, but it is absolutely remarkable to go back a review them annually to see how much can actually be accomplished when you engage this process.

Something that I have recently added is the idea of picking 3 words to guide the year. I learned this technique from Chris Brogan, and I love it! Rather then a resolution, it’s a theme for my objectives. For 2016, I’ve chosen the words share, leverage and celebrate.

3words Share: By nature I am a teacher. I love sharing knowledge with others, whether it’s in the classroom, the boardroom, on the podium, or at the keyboard writing. I’ll continue to share marketing insight through the spoken and written word as one of my themes for 2016, because sharing is at the heart of how I grow my actual paid income. My theory is that people buy from those they know, like and trust. Sharing is the gateway into that sequence. But the sharing theme will also expand into sharing more time with those I love, and energy and financial resources to support projects that I value –both personally and professionally.

Leverage: I’ve decided that 2016 is the year to stop trading time exclusively for money. There are only so many hours in the day, and there is only so much I can do personally. Leveraging will be about combining all parts of my business together to create income even when I’m not present. While I’ll certainly be maxing out the available hours to do what I love – speaking, writing, teaching and consulting, I intend to capitalize on being a marketing thought leader, and create several of my own courses. I figure after years of resisting the “teacher” label, I might as well just accept, and own it! But rather then trading my time for money exclusively speaking for a client or teaching a course, I’ll take the best of what I know and leverage the content. These courses will be aimed at business leaders, structured for the adult learner, and delivered in a format that works for that audience. In keeping with that focus, I’ll continue to drive the further growth of my list by sharing content. Last year the list grew by 80% while still maintaining unheard of loyalty at close to 50% opens. Leveraging the list and leveraging the marketing thought leader position will be a major focus for 2016.

Celebrate: I thought long and hard about the third word, since I wanted something that balanced both business and personal aspects. Celebrating is about achieving goals but also about savouring experiences. Celebrating is about knowing what you’re good at and accepting it. Celebrating is about being grateful, embracing the moment, and creating memories. As a theme, celebrate also goes beyond an individual focus, and allows you to celebrate others. I like that.

So here is where I toss it back to you. What will be your 3 words for 2016?

Leave a comment and share below, or email me directly. The process of thinking about them and selecting those words will guide tremendously both your business and personal efforts in the coming year.

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