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.

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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. https://www.facebook.com/JeanneLaughs/ 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 http://kayfrances.com/ 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 mary@fiveminutemarketing.com 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.

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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.

5 Tips to get more earned media

You can’t beat the credibility of earned media. In an era where it seems we are all fighting to be heard above the noise within social media, it is easy to dismiss the simple and massive reach of more traditional media methods. All successful print and broadcast channels these days are also amplifying that content via digital means online, which means you actually achieve even further clout should you get coverage. And, once that coverage is online, it is there for you to further broadcast it through your own channels. The magic of course being that it is third party endorsement, and you can attach your success to the media’s brand.

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Achieving media coverage is a pretty compelling value proposition and certainly one worth devoting some effort towards. So here are five tips to make the task simpler and increase the likelihood of success.

1. Know a reporters expertise. Reporters are inundated with press releases and pitches daily. If it’s not related to their area of coverage, they will hit delete. Ideally you are familiar with a reporters beat and have read or heard their stuff. Over the long term this will also gain you a respectful relationship with them, so that when you do send them something well targeted, they are more likely to respond. If you’re always shouting to everyone, nobody will listen.

2. Make the reporter look good and help them serve their audience. Your real job in writing the pitch is to make that reporter look good to their boss. The best way to do that is to help the reporter serve his/her audience. The reporter lives and dies by how they serve their audience. The media outlet is also in the rating and social sharing game. They are obsessed with going viral. They want a story that readers or viewers will share online. The bottom line here is: it’s about them, not about you. If you can frame your pitch from that perspective, you will be ahead of 95% of the pitches sitting in reporters email boxes right now.

3. Send media a story they are hungry for. What is in the news right now that is hot? (Britain’s bid to exit the UE? Donald Trumps bid for presidency? Forest fires? Global warming? Foreign ownership and real estate prices? The Tragically Hip’s final tour?) The news can be international, national or local, but you should frame your take on it from the geographic area where you are and where you want to achieve coverage. What are some trends of interest? Is there a celebration day that is relevant for timely coverage? (Father’s Day in June, July 1st Canada Day or the 4th of July in the US for example) Lists are hot. Browse the headlines of Buzzfeed or the Huffington Post and you’ll see lots of lists – The 5 things you need to know… How to get a promotion in 3 easy steps…) Lists are good because they are finite, organized, have a takeaway and are shareable. They’re also ideal for a population conditioned to receive information in bite size nuggets, which is increasingly the case in our time-starved society. The key here is to look at the publication or station you would like to target and see what would fit with their editorial style and reader or viewer interest. This of course requires you to do some homework, but it is that work which will help you stand out from others.

4. You absolutely, positively need a compelling subject line. I’m talking email subject line here, but it could also be a catchy headline on Twitter if you were tagging or personal messaging a reporter on Twitter. Make the subject line clever, but simple. Shorter is better, and if you’re not sure how it will display on mobile (which is where it is most likely to be previewed or deleted), send yourself a test to your mobile device. These days your subject line needs to be mobile friendly. You want that headline to display fully and grab the reporter to click and read more. Frankly it doesn’t matter what is in the email if the recipient never makes it past the headline. Do your research, and model the existing style for the particular media you are targeting with your pitch. Check what kind of headlines they write. Get creative and draft yours in a similar light. Just remember while clever is good, don’t over complicate it.

5. Keep the pitch short, simple and tight. If your communication is written poorly or is unclear, a reporter won’t have time for you. Make sure you tell the reporter what is in it for them and their audience right at the very beginning. Essentially respond to questions such as, why is this relevant, and why now? Try to make a human and emotional connection. Put a short bio and contact information at the end. The reporter will read the headline, if it captures their interest, they will skim the text. Keep all of this relatively short, and again, remember the context of mobile viewing. Send yourself a test copy. Did it grab you? How long did it take to skim the copy? Sometimes an image within the body of the email (no attachments!) can tell the story quickly and hit an emotional hot button. If you’ve got an image that tells the story in fewer words, by all means use it, but be sure to size it right for the email so it loads quickly and displays properly. Again, send yourself a test first to your mobile device.

Of course these points are just about how to get the reporters attention. There is a lot more to consider if you score coverage, especially if interviewed. Practice thinking and talking in sound bites, since your interview will likely be edited.

Content marketing & the REACH factor

It used to be that advertising was all about planning reach and frequency. To a certain extent it still is for paid efforts, but when you’re trying to milk free platforms, like your own anchored content through blogs and enewsletters, as well as social media, earned media and embedded editorial, REACH is the name of the game. You CAN control frequency of your own platforms, but not the frequency of earned media. And earned media is a major pillar in your media empire.

Media reach matters.

That point was driven home to me this past week. My son Alex Charleson is a professional longboard racer. He was the 2015 IDF World Junior Champion. We don’t get to choose what our kids get good at! He is currently ramping up for the world circuit, and in an effort to promote himself and benefit his sponsors who pay for his travel, he got his branding and media in order. Call it a prompt from Mom, and a little insider consulting advice. He now has his website up and running www.alexcharleson.com, and linked out and back to all his sponsors and social media channels. While doing that, he finally posted a video to Youtube that was shot last year in Colorado. That prompted the guy who shot and edited it to submit the video to “People are awesome” which has a substantial media reach through Facebook (over 3 million who follow the page and receive daily featured videos), Youtube (with over 1.1 million subscribers) and the www.peopleareawesome.com website  (with over 3.6 million subscribers) and countless media features on platforms such as CNN, FOX, TED, Huffington Post, TIME and SUN media.

Low and behold, the video got featured April 27. Link here and scroll to that date to watch it.

My son got the heads up it was being featured about 8 hours after it was posted. The friend from Sweden who had filmed and edited it was a few time zones ahead of him. I watched it on Facebook over coffee in the morning and then shared with friends. It was at 164,000 views, which I thought was pretty remarkable. I went to refill my coffee, and then checked back on the post. It had gone to 167,000 views – up 3,000 in about 2 minutes. That’s when I went investigating the REACH of this channel and was blown away. Within 24 hours it had gone to 276,000 views. Currently it sits at over 335,000 views.

PeopleAreAwesome_FBpost Why the fixation on a longboarding video?

Besides being out marketed by an 18 year old, which still hadn’t had a shower that morning, he had taught me an incredibly important lesson.

The REACH of your media matters. Few of us have platforms with that kind of subscriber base, but if we can tap into earned media with that kind of reach, their vehicle will do all the heavy lifting for us. All apparently while you’re taking a shower!

We of course want to build our owned media platform reach as well as followers on social media platforms, but at the end of the day, we’re unlikely to have the same degree of reach and influence as an established media player. So why not focus on getting earned media on those big number platforms, and then share it out on our other channels – our owned and rented platforms?

In Canada those big reach players might include: The Globe and Mail, Canadian Living, CBC, Huffington Post or Buzz Feed. In the United States CNN, Fox, NBC, the New York Times and Time magazine are but a few. Obviously crazy popular video sharing platforms fall into the mix too. I am now officially addicted to “People are awesome” for my daily adrenaline dose!

Content marketing: A strategic slow boil to sales success

Content marketing is when you produce content (articles, images, videos, podcasts, white papers, info graphics, blog posts, books etc) or earn coverage that is tied to your brand, and distributed in such a way that it positions you well in the mind of your target consumer, and over time it causes them to do business with you.

Think of it as a slow boil.

Content-Marketing

Here are 5 tips to becoming more effective at using content marketing as a strategy.

1. Know your audience. Who do you serve? You need to know whom you are speaking to, because that will drive both the message and content as well as the media choices. Is it B2B or B2C? Think demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioural profiles.

2. What are their needs? This will drive the content. If you’re selling cosmetics to teen girls you might produce videos about how to apply eyeliner. If you’re a realtor you might show before and after staging photos to sell a home. If you’re a landscaper, you might share helpful spring pruning tips. You get the idea. Content marketing should be valuable to your target audience.

3. Where do they hang out? This will drive your media choices. To a certain extent some of your choices for producing useful content will drive your media used, but this step needs to be purposeful. I suggest you consider what combination of owned, rented, earned, embedded and paid media will work best. If you want to learn more about these concepts, link here. Essentially you want to think strategically about what platforms are going to have the greatest clout with your target audience. For my particular audience it is a combination of an enewsletter, blog and several published books (owned), LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (rented), news features such as CBC, BC Business (earned), writing articles for publications Huffington Post and Business in Vancouver (embedded), and strategically boosting Facebook posts and Google ad words, as well as traditional direct mail (paid).

4. Outline your content and media-planning calendar. Once you know who your audience is, what they need, and where they hang out, it’s then a matter of mapping it all. This is where you can refine it even more. Perhaps they need certain content at particular times of the year. Diarize a cycle that you will contact media with an earned media pitch. I readily admit to having a plan and then deviating from it sometimes. I think you need the flexibility to respond to timely events that may be of interest to your audience. Ditto when pitching media.

5. Manage your time. I diarize days and time to write weekly, since that is my primary content marketing tool. What you do will vary. I also suggest diarizing when you will post content to social platforms. Tools like Hootsuite are great for helping you schedule time released content all in one go. I set my stuff up weekly and then leave it alone. Social media can be a huge time waster. I suggest focusing only on those platforms that really matter to your audience, and use scheduling and dashboard management tools to minimize the time to set it all up and monitor it. It can take time to contact media pitching an idea, but the resulting coverage if earned, can be very valuable. This is especially true once you re-purpose it through your other owned and rented channels.

Of course you might have a few other ideas to add. Feel free to comment if you’ve found something particularly effective!

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.

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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.

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.

HansBrinker_curtain_blanket

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.

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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.

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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.

How #WestJetChristmas Miracle 2015 earns authenticity in the jaded airline space

Leading brands know who they are, and more importantly who they ARE NOT. They are conscious of what matches their style and resonates with their audience. They find authenticity in the space that they occupy.

Westjet is one of those brands.

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Westjet has been doing the Christmas miracle since 2012, an annual feel good campaign of sorts, that spreads good cheer in their community. There’s certainly no denying that they also benefit strategically from the effort in terms of publicity and earned media, but that objective is not the sole root of the exercise. Or at least it doesn’t appear that way.

Here’s a little primer for those who may not be familiar with the entire Westjet Christmas Miracle history.

In 2014 they helped an impoverished town in the Dominican Republic. Check out a video about the campaign here.

In 2013 they surprised guests flying from Toronto to Calgary with gifts that they had wished for earlier while talking to an online Santa in the boarding lounge. Those gifts famously rolled off the luggage carousel upon arrival in Calgary. View it here. 

In 2012 they did a flash mob at the Calgary airport, surprising passengers taking the red-eye to Toronto. This campaign was their Christmas Miracle venture. View it here.

Even Air Canada got in on the philanthropic act in 2014, with their own version of feel good marketing, when a couple pilots entered a well know Canadian expat pub in London, and bought a round for the crowd – literally a round trip return ticket home to Canada for the holidays for everyone in the room. Check out that video here. The Air Canada campaign was heart felt, meaningful, and no doubt deeply appreciated. I fly Air Canada often, frankly because they have a better schedule to some destinations, and also because their Star Alliance points program is linked to global carriers. But here’s the thing. Air Canada did not authentically own the “Christmas miracle” promotional space. Westjet did. Authenticity can’t be bought; it is something that must be earned. Individuals and companies earn authenticity through everyday actions, which collectively allow them to claim the space over time.

And that’s why this years #WestJetChristmas Miracle 2015 featuring employees carrying out 12,000 mini miracles in 24 hours was so powerful. Westjet empowered their 12,000 employees to commit random acts of kindness on December 9th, and then record them through words, photos and video on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pintrest. There were flights home for Christmas given away, a family vacation to Disney World, but also donations to dog shelters, food for soup kitchens, help for a senior to clean their apartment and put up decorations, random candy canes, toy donations, and many more. The campaign kicked off in London UK early morning, and carried on through 38 airports and cities through out Canada that the airline serves, as well as US destinations, the Caribbean and Hawaii. The company also encouraged citizens to commit their own random act of kindness and to share it on social media with the #WestJetChristmas hashtag. In encouraging others they boosted the reach up to 31,793 mini miracles from their 12,000 employee numbers. That’s pretty awesome. Now one week after the Dec 9 Mini Miracle day, Westjet has released the summary video. Within the first 12 hours of launch, it had achieved over 92,000 views. Watch it here.

Why does all this matter?  I think it all comes back to authenticity. Campaigns like this resonate with a target audience when they come from an authentic place. There’s something to be learned in that for your own marketing efforts. Know who you are, and more importantly, who you ARE NOT. Forget about trying to emulate your competitors. Customers will see right through it. And never loose sight of what you do well, and own it. Westjet owns friendliness and compassion in the airline space. That’s a valuable position, and not something easily earned. But they’ve done it through consistent actions.

So here are three questions to reflect on for your own marketing efforts: What do you do well? Why do you own it? How are you authentic in that space?

What does Amazon’s move to open a new brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle signal?

It’s been said that everything old becomes new again in time. But has the time come for the online bookstore to go back to its roots, with actual physical locations?

Amazon opened a physical bookstore in Seattle in early November 2015.

The store is located in University Village, an upscale outdoor mall that is already home to thriving Apple and Microsoft stores. The company calls the location a physical extension of Amazon.com. Books are displayed face out and each contain an Amazon.com customer rating and review card. Books are selected based on popularity, sales and pre-orders. Prices are the same as online. The heart of the offering encourages what other stores fear – browsing then buying online. It’s retail showcasing but with a twist. The company doing the showcasing owns the well-established online business. And they’ve got a solid supply chain management system for delivery, whether digital or physical, through their growing network of warehouses, courier contracts and soon to be drones.

Many in business, and in particular the book business, were a bit mystified by Amazon’s move to open a bookstore in Seattle at the beginning of November. And they seemed quick to dismiss the move as having little impact on other competing bookstores. Link here for USA Today news coverage of their opening.

Amazon_Seattle_store_tweet

 

But that opinion may be missing the point entirely. Selling books is not the path to riches. This only appears to be about books. They’re the test. Seattle is well known as a research area for Amazon. This is where they premiered Prime before rolling it out globally. I think the same could be true of this new approach to “showcasing”. Although Amazon started with books for their online sales model, the company now sells pretty much everything. Indeed their competitive advantage is in the online mass merchandising of items and the efficient delivery system that they control from tip to tail. I think this is about experimenting with the showroom concept and then applying it across all their product lines – far beyond books, and potentially with far reaching global applications.

The secret I believe lies in discovery and tactile touch. As humans we crave this process as part of the shopping experience. And as choices become more complex and online offerings grow exponentially, it becomes harder and harder to discover organically. We start to look to those who will curate the content for us and show us what is worthy of our time.

Curating physical content and assisting discovery is what this new move from Amazon is all about. And it could signal a very disruptive move across all industries as online shopping matures. Many stores are already frustrated with browsers who access product knowledge of staff, view the product in person, and then go online to purchase. In 2013 an Australian specialty food store started charging a $5 just browsing fee to enter the store. If customer bought product they were refunded the fee. I don’t think penalizing customers that way is progressive, but it certainly signals frustration at loosing sales to online after educating customers.

So might showrooming be the way of the future? Does Amazon’s move signal retail disruption?

 

 

 

When marketing goes to pot

This post also appeared Nov 19, 2015 in the Huffington Post Canada (Business section) as a shorter edited version. Click here to view that article.

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image6Like opening the window and getting a breath of fresh air, the Liberal party swept to power in Canada recently with a “sunny days” attitude. Under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Generation X has taken power, promising open communication and a team approach with an agenda for change. It would seem collectively Canada is destined to return to more traditionally left leaning social values.

One of the more potentially controversial policies promised by the Liberals is the legalization of marijuana. Whether we agree with it on not, Canada is likely to see marijuana openly available for sale within the next four years.

Pot is about to get hot.

I liken the opportunities for marijuana to the new frontiers that alcohol marketing faced after prohibition ended in the US in 1933. While there are age and legislative restrictions in place governing alcohol, its promotion is legal, and increasingly more sophisticated. Take one look at the shelf of your local liquor store or a glossy magazine and it’s a bounty of brands, stylish logos and labels, where it’s as much about defining a segments lifestyle as the actual product. I expect the same will eventually be true for the business of pot.

When I was in Colorado earlier this year on business, I observed stylishly upscale dispensaries which felt more like entering an Apple store then a place to buy cannabis and accessories. Various strains were displayed in jars, alongside tablets where customers could look up origin, medical uses, quality standards and positive and negative effects in a self serve manner, free of pressure. You could open jars to sniff and smell samples. Halogen directional lights and sparse design elements otherwise gave an industrial design feel. There was not a lava lamp, beads or a dodgy character in sight.

Groundswell

Groundswell, pictured here, and Euflora are already doing this in Colorado.

So what might the future of this industry look like in Canada once pot is legalized? And what marketing insights might there be for businesses unshackled by legislation as they grow quickly in the age of digital?

To get some insight I interviewed two industry leaders in Colorado. Chris Sams is the CEO of Marijuana Marketing Guru, an arm of Jemsu , a large SEO company in Colorado. His company specializes in marijuana advertising, search engine optimization, “cannabusiness” web design, and analytics and reporting. Olivia Mannix is the Co-founder of Cannaband, a niche marketing agency created as a specialized off shoot from their parent company Marca, a general marketing agency. Canabrand specializes in branding and identity, market selection, and ensuring all parts of the brand are congruent and on strategy. As such, both CEOs saw an opportunity for specialized marketing services to the industry when Colorado legalized marijuana in January 2014.

While sale and distribution is legalized, there are still many restrictions. But they have found that those restrictions present creative marketing opportunities. Chris Sams noted that the use of social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is limited, since marijuana advertising is prohibited on those platforms just like the promotion of pharmaceuticals and alcohol. But since a lot more consumers are searching online for information, having a strong website and being optimized for search is key. The company has also had success partnering with blogs to do advertising on sites. He sees the combination of a push strategy through ads and blogs and a pull strategy through SEO as progressive digital marketing opportunities. Olivia Mannix at Cannabrand, sees the broad reach of media and publicity as a key component to maximizing exposure in a restricted environment. She sited her client Neos, and their cannabis infused vapourizing pen, as an example. Since the sale of cannabis is restricted to those over 21 in her state, they had found an ABC affiliate TV station in Colorado where 70% of the audience was over 21 years. The “Adventurous Life” TV spot they produced was lifestyle focused and didn’t show the product, appearing to meet all legal restrictions for advertising. When the spot was pulled at the last minute they were able to create a PR story around it, which was picked up by Bloomberg Business and its outreach to national news outlets, creating 250,000,000 media impressions within a week. Cannabrand has also been successful getting New York Times and 60-Minutes coverage for their client Mindful, as they shifted the branding from a medical use position to the recreational user.

Beyond the promotional opportunities created by restrictions and the obvious opening up of the distribution chain through dispensaries and online, there were three other marketing trends they observed.

1. Segmentation. There are two broad segments, medical use and recreational. Both executives saw growth and greater acceptance in the medical use of CBD products for pain management, appetite control and cell generation involved in the treatment of cancer, MS, epilepsy and Aids. But they agreed that recreational use held the greatest growth opportunity.

2. Targeting. “We definitely see segmentation in the industry and capturing a wider audience across all segments,” noted Chris Sams of Marijuana Marketing Guru. Within the recreational use segment, these were the areas where both interviewed saw growth.

  • Women: Whether we’re ready for suburban Mom’s on a “rocky mountain high” it would seem they are a prime target for expansion beyond the traditional youth, or Cheech & Chong stoner market we are perhaps predisposed to think of first as users of marijuana. Notes Mannix, “Women are the new vertical growth. Vaping is of interest since it is discreet, there’s no odour, they can control the amount of product, and there’s no calories like alcohol and edibles. Plus lighting a burning a flower appeals to women.” She also noted that women like to get together to try products, they are prime targets for high-end accessories, and they are a natural for spreading word of mouth in their networks.
  • 25-35 year old urban professionals: Sams noted that the 25-35-yuppie market prefers the upscale and professional branding approach, which has emerged as a way to present product in a legal and appealing way. Dispensaries have popped up in locations to better serve this market. And services such as “Bud & Breakfast” stays for $500/night are clearly targeting an upscale market.
  • Athletes: This target group is a blend of medical and recreational use, seeking CBD products for cell generation and healing properties.
  • Baby boomers: Mannix referred to this group as “Those over 50 who were coming out of the cannabis closet.” This was the original hippy generation who had a high likelihood of experimentation in their youth. Now largely with grown children, not needing to set moral standards, or frankly seeing the benefits of legalizing an industry to protect youth from indiscriminant producers, they have become more accepting of legalization. And with that, they are seeking relaxation and perhaps a revisit to their youth.

 3. An explosion of products and services. Of course there is an expansion of dispensaries, but it goes far beyond that. With push back sentiments from anti-smoking, the two biggest product growth areas were with edibles and vaping. CBD products for medical use were also a large growth area. But even within traditional weed, there are strains and brands with different properties and benefits. Then there’s the paraphernalia like pipes, vaping pens and infusers to further round out offerings. And not to be out done, services have also gotten into the offering with pot tours, events and festivals, growing schools, marijuana cooking classes, and smoking lounges and social clubs. “I’d say that the diversity of products, now that it’s recreational use, have quadrupled in the last two years,” notes Sams. “It’s no longer a dispensary system, there are new products across the industry.”

So is Canada ready for this?

Cannabrand just announced a plan to expand their brand into Canada. Olivia Mannix, Co-founder notes, ” We’ll be looking for strategic partnerships with talented creative shops and PR firms in Canadian cities.” It seems Colorado, having seen the future, is ready to prosper here. It’s quite clear from a business and marketing perspective, that the opportunities for the industry are endless.