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

Freshly_baked_pot_pizza

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.

rouge

 

 

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:

rouged_tweets

 

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.

Momma_on_plane

 

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.

Flow_Yoga_bus_card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Yaletown_Plumbing_bus_card

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

http://www.bcadventure.com/adventure/wilderness/survival/educators.htm

BC_Adventure_bus_card

 

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

Dove_patches

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.

Veet’s Don’t risk dudeness dud: lessons from a consumer backlash

I have to preface this weeks post with an admission that I’ve secretly feared Veet (previously called Neet) ever since I was 13. And it’s not because of some misguided teen hair removal exercise. One of my friends had Neet put in her hair during a high school initiation day, and clumps of it fell out in her hands. This image, as an insecure adolescent, is still vivid in my mind. It will also likely have you questioning what side of the tracks my high school was on! This piece of baggage explains perhaps why, even after all these years, I felt some vindication this week towards a product I grew to dislike.

If there was ever any doubt that the consumer is now in control of shaping brand messages in the age of social media, this week delivered living proof. Veet, a women’s hair removal product, announced with great fanfare, that their new Don’t risk dudeness campaign would launch during Dancing with the Stars on Monday. After it aired, consumer weighed in, and it would appear that the reaction is not what the company had anticipated. The backlash was so swift online, that by Wednesday morning Veet had yanked the ads and issued an apology on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/veet.

Veet_dudeness2

For those who haven’t seen it, the man wakes, strokes the leg of his sleeping companion draped over him, to a rude hairy awakening. The person in bed beside him appears as an exceptionally hairy bearded man, who states in a women’s voice, “Yeah, I know, I’m a little prickly, I shaved yesterday.” Then the prescriptive voiceover wraps up, “Don’t risk dudeness, use Veet wax strips. Feel womanly around the clock.” The bearded guy then magically transforms to a women in the final shot. If that description begs for a full visual, you can still view the spot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxCHLXQffsg.

There were two other spots in the campaign. One where a girl in a sleeveless dress hails a cab, only to be passed up, as she appears transformed into the same bearded hairy-pitted man. The hairy dude also appears getting a pedicure, meant to shame all women who thought they could hide their legs while getting those toes painted. The subtext is clear, our norm as a society is men have body hair and women don’t. While shaving, make-up, hair care and heels may well be something many women enjoy, advertising leads us to believe that they’re really not optional.

There in lies the rub.

There’s a certain shaming implied that appears prescriptive. Some viewers even saw homophobic overtones and found that questionable. Beyond the “agree or disagree” with the hair removal argument, I think there was something even bigger wrong with these spots: they forgot who the target market was. Yes they’re edgy, and on some level funny, but in a young male humour kind of way. I usually love funny ads. But the humour in these spots was at the expense of the woman who is supposed to be the target market. One friend summed it up best, “These spots were likely created by a couple guys in their 20s at 3am and approved by a male creative director.” They remind me of how the Old Spice “Creepy moms” ads forgot who actually buys the product for teens boys living at home, when they took aim at Mom. Veet got a few laughs for exposing a known truth, women often host stubble, but in doing so they alienated their buyers by teasing their insecurities and making them look foolish.

There have been other brands targeting women who made this type of misstep. Likely the most memorable was Motrin with an ad intended for young mothers who carry their babies in slings close to the body. Their attempt to bond with their customers backfired when a number of online Mom’s were offended by the suggestion carrying their babies this way was “fashionable” and they were outraged at the suggestion that they looked “tired and crazy.”  Johnson & Johnson, Motrin’s parent company missed the cues of outrage online and didn’t learn of the backlash until it hit mainstream broadcast and print media. Other than the obvious need to monitor social media if you’re going to play there, they learned very quickly to not mess with Mommy bloggers on maternity leave.

At least Veet was closely monitoring consumer opinion, and responded quickly. But it sure does beg the question how the creative could have gotten that far, and been so wrong. Here’s the apology listed on their Facebook page Wednesday:

“Hi…this is the Veet marketing team in the US. We just wanted to let everyone know, we get it – we’re women too. This idea came from women who told us that at the first hint of stubble, they felt like “dudes.” It was really simple and funny, we thought. To be honest, the 3 of us could really relate to these real-life moments and they made us laugh. Not everyone appreciated our sense of humor. We know that women define femininity in different ways. Veet helps those who choose to stay smooth. Our intention was never, ever, to offend anyone, so we decided to rethink our campaign and remove those clips. Thank you for letting us know how you feel.”

It also appears that Reckitt Benckiser, the British company that owns Veet, was trying to distance themselves from this US based blunder, in order to protect their brand reputation globally. The company issued this statement at the end of the week:

“This is a US advertisement, and has only been aired in North America. While the current advertising campaign for VEET running in the USA has been well received by most consumers who appreciate its wacky, tongue in cheek humour, it has also provoked a great deal of comment. We take our responsibilities very seriously and the ad was carefully reviewed before it aired. However we are very concerned by any misinterpretation of its tone or meaning, and in the light of the feedback received we have decided to withdraw it. We would also like to apologize for any offense it may have caused. That was certainly not our intention.”

So what can we learn from this, even if we are not a global brand with a huge marketing budget?

  1. It’s absolutely critical to know your target market well so you don’t offend them.
  2. For many brands there is a difference between influencer and actual purchaser. Again, know which one you’re talking to and don’t offend the purchaser.
  3. Test your creative. Then test your creative.
  4. Consumers will control the final message in the age of social media. Get used to being judged.
  5. The way you respond to being judged is now part of the campaign.
  6. And as any teenager who has ever posted something online that they regret has learned, you can NEVER really withdraw a campaign. The “Don’t risk dudeness” Veet ads will live on popping up like a Whack-a-mole at the fair, because nothing makes folks want to see something more, than being told they can’t view it.

And perhaps this final piece of advice might sum it up best: Be brave, be creative, but be careful!

Disruptive “first kiss” content marketing: taps emotion, vulnerability & voyeurism

This week Melissa Coker did what most advertising industry folks would have thought impossible. On a budget of $1,500 (and she only actually spent $1,300), she created a content marketing viral video sensation for the fall line of her LA based fashion label, Wren, that as of March 24 had achieved well over 69 million views on Youtube. The 3-minute video, shot artistically in black and white, was called, “First Kiss” and featured 20 strangers who were paired up and asked to engage in the vulnerable act of kissing each other for the first time. The content marketing component was very low key. Apart from the word “Wren” appearing in small type in the top corner at the very beginning of the film and then disappearing, there is very little to tie it to a business. The folks participating were Coker’s friends, a collection of singers, designers, and musicians. They were all wearing Wren label clothing, but that is not at all obvious. The film shifts from initial awkwardness, through emotional vulnerability, to discovery, and adds a dash of humour at the end, as one persona asks, “What was your name again?” Amongst the 10 couples, it mixes in naturally what are societal taboos for some: an older woman kissing a younger man, two guys kissing, and two girls kissing. According to Coker, the participants didn’t know the names of the people until they walked on camera (no advanced Googling!), and some were actually in relationships with others. Perhaps they were issued a day pass for the film?!

If you’re curious and you’re not yet one of the 66 million, you can view the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpbDHxCV29A Coker pushed the initial link via email to 21 friends last Monday, saying she had produced a new video and requested they share it if they wish. That was it. We can assume the participants likely shared with their circles as well.

The Wren fashion label http://wrenstudio.com/ is positioned as “free spirited exuberance, restrained elegance and low-key sophistication.” Melissa Coker founded the company in 2007 after working in editorial at Vogue, W and Details. The line is now sold globally through retailers in the US, Canada, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Spain, UE, Kuwait, Puerto Rico and Lebanon. She also does significant sales direct to customers online throughout the world.

You know you’ve hit the mother load when you invite a parody on late night talk shows. Jimmy Fallon featured his take on the video this week – pretty much the same as the original, but using puppies and kittens. It’s adorable: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaGAkU_K_EY

This video success really points to the future of viral branding. And it’s an example of content marketing at its finest. While some called the company out for tricking them, once they realized it was for a clothing company, most saw the universal appeal and vulnerability of a first kiss for what it was: authentic and emotional. That’s what made it so shareable. The fact she did NOT having a big budget or advertising agency behind the idea, further added to the authenticity.

So why did it get shared by so many and hit over 66 million views in less than a week?

  1. It was emotional and showed universal vulnerability
  2. It tapped the “voyeur” in human nature – to get a peek at what you’re not normally allowed to see.
  3. It was surprising and nudged our need to discover – we want to see what happens. It also begs the question; did any go on a date afterwards?

We could certainly argue that the real reach was likely far greater than 66 million, since “First Kiss” also became a news item within traditional broadcast media such as TV and newspapers. Many forget that to reach the many, they first have to reach out to one, and give that one person a reason to share it with their community, thereby achieving the many. I call this the “power of one.” That’s exactly what Cocker did with her artistic film. She made it about others, not about her business. She provided them content, that when shared, allowed them to appear smart, connected, funny or insightful. Her CONTENT motivated others to share because it made them look good. While this is a subtle shift of thinking, it’s an important one. The Wren label was simply tied to the content in an elegant and restrained manner, not unlike how she positions her brand. Brilliant.

And what was the bottom line return on this investment? Coker claims traffic to her website is up 1,400% of which 96% are new visitors. Sales are up 13,000%. No there is not a misplaced zero in there.

Not bad for a budget of $1,300 which apparently covered food, babysitting and lighting.

You can see an interview with Melissa Coker on the making of the video here: http://www.bloomberg.com/video/how-wren-got-20-strangers-to-kiss-for-first-time-nMvu5y7CSri9xMTk13CXpQ.html

Until next week, be creative, be entrepreneurial and love what you do!
- Mary

PS: A little shameless self promotion follows. I will be moderating this event for Business in Vancouver this Tuesday, and I’ll be chairing the roundtable discussion on social media that follows the panel discussion. You may wish to check it out.

Business in Vancouver presents The Business Excellence Series: Marketing to Increase Sales breakfast, March 25th at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Where are the best places to find sales prospects? And once found, what can you do to grab their attention and engage them in your product or service? Astute marketers know it is essential to get the right message to potential customers via their website, social media and promotional materials, but is the message the same when trying to close a deal? BES: Marketing to Increase Sales will tackle the strategies and processes that get you in front of the right clients and engage them just as they are ready to buy.

Time:
7-8am: Registration & breakfast
8-9am: Panel discussion
9-10:15am: Roundtable sessions

Panelists:

Jamie Garratt
President and Founder, Idea Rebel


Jim Little
Chief Marketing Officer, Shaw Communications


Jeff Lucas
General Manager, Traction Creative Communications

Moderator:

Mary Charleson
President, Charleson Communications
Price
Subscribers: $59
Non-subscribers: $69

Register now

Location & behaviour based targeting: When does it get creepy?

 

Location and behaviour based marketing holds great promise for marketers. The wealth of customer data being collected online via social media use, combined with the ability to data crunch and layer in predictive analytics, plus the rapid growth of personal device use such as smartphones and tablets, renders the possibilities dizzying. This is virgin territory and I fear that our moral compass may be tested long before our legislators can catch up, if that is even possible, given data is warehoused globally and subject to different codes of use. So as we reach for the new shiny object, that is location and behaviour based targeting of messages, I do think it worthy to consider how far is too far. There is a fine line between exceptionally well-timed communications, and feeling you are being watched or stalked.

When does this hyper personal targeting become creepy?

I’m going to lead with a personal story, because it’s the one that brought my thoughts on this topic to the surface. For the past month, my mother has been hospitalized. Complications of poorly managed type II diabetes, high blood pressure and general old age that comes as you approach 90, had taken its toll on an independently living senior. I’ll spare you the details of a system that knows well how to care for patients, but is hopelessly broken when it comes to discharging and supporting independent living. Prior to finally getting her out, I was at Lions Gate Hospital and had had a very emotional conversation involving discussions on assisted living and cognitive assessments with one of several well meaning team members, but hopeless system bound bureaucrats assigned to my Mom’s case. I was feeling exhausted navigating advocacy in unfamiliar territory. I stepped away from the meeting, checked my email and Facebook page, and that’s when this sponsored post appeared in my feed.

It was from Kasel Care, claiming to be BC’s most compassionate home care for your loved ones. On one level it was a timely message of sorts, but it was also incredibly creepy. Had Facebook combed my messages to friends, noted my Mom was hospitalized, knew I was from North Vancouver and by default the hospital would be Lions Gate? Where they able to put enough tags within the predictive analytics to make me a likely candidate to receive this message? Or even creepier, was the GPS on my phone and location being Lions Gate Hospital at that particular moment, somehow tied to it all? In case you think I’m a little neurotic about this, all of the above tactics are possible and are currently being used in isolation by marketers. It all just seemed way too personal to me. It is possible that Kasel simply bought females 45-65 in BC or North Vancouver, knowing the likelihood of caring for an aging parent was high. But I am troubled at the thought of the content of my posts being put into a predictive analytics data bank, which I do think was highly likely.

A friend told me an interesting story recently involving his daughter and her cell phone carrier. Rogers had sent her a text offer for data roaming to the US. As it happens, she was about to take a trip with some girlfriends to California. The curious thing here is, she hadn’t posted via any social media news about the imminent trip. She had however been texting to her travel companions. It was the only medium that had transmitted knowledge of her travel. Had Rogers scraped her messages? It all seemed curiously suspicious to her Dad who works in IT and analytics. It was good timing for an offer, but it left her feeling watched on some level. Another customer might not have thought about it twice and simply accepted the offer, thinking, “How lucky is that to get this deal right now?” That’s why this stuff is so hard to navigate.

I’ve received sponsored posts for Growers Cider at happy hour, right in the middle of online conversations with girlfriends about needing to get together for drinks. Because it wasn’t personal, I dismissed it as serendipitous timing. It did seem a little Orwellian if it was tied to predictive analytics and behaviour based profiling though. Soma with your cider anyone?

Then there’s the infamous story of how Target knew a teen was pregnant before her father did. Their data tracking had allowed them to profile items purchased, to the point where they could actually predict by items bought in the first trimester, if a customer was pregnant – thereby allowing them to engage on a personal level with offers appealing to an expectant mother. Trouble was, they sent a card to a teen girls home, and her father intercepted questioning why it had been sent. Turns out Target knew something Dad didn’t. That’s just too personal. Here’s the Fox news coverage – not really the kind of publicity your company needs!

http://video.foxnews.com/v/1470704607001/target-knew-teen-was-pregnant-before-her-dad/ This example goes beyond creepy and ventures into respecting privacy and using data respectfully.

Coming full circle back to home care support. You may be wondering if I called Kasel Care? No I didn’t. I did check their Facebook page, but from a different device and later in the day, since I feared the tracking might escalate on my phone. I simply did not want another reminder showing up in my Facebook feed unexpectedly, of this emotional issue. While they may well have an excellent service that I should know about, the lingering question of feeling tracked bothered me.

What is the ethical application of predictive analytics and data mining? That is a huge issue we will be facing as marketers. The question becomes, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And if you do, how does it reflect on your business?”

Every individual has his or her own personal boundaries of what is acceptable personalization of a message or offer. There might be cultural influence, values, and past experience at play. What is OK to one may not be to another. This is a grey area indeed. Legislation won’t begin to catch up with it quickly enough.

So I guess the bottom line is to let your moral compass guide your ethics on this one and try to think broadly about how the message may be received by your target group. The relationship you secure with your customers may well depend on it.

So, have you received any notable behaviour or location based messages, in particular on your mobile device? Did you respond favourably or unfavourably to them? Why? I’d love to hear your stories. I think this will emerge as a huge issue going forward as marketers are forced to address responsible use of technology and consumer touch points.

Until next week, make ethics a virtue.