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.



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.


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, 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.









Russian disabled parking campaign uses 3 components of great storytelling

It’s hard to believe it’s Nov 2nd. I was out last week on a pumpkin retrieval mission with my daughter leading up to Halloween. Last year I left it too late and the only thing left was an oversized and overpriced green and white squash, which we carved into Casper the ghost, given its kidney shaped figure. After three stops and sold out pumpkins, it was starting to look like a repeat of last year.  The outing seemed doomed to failure; it was taking too long, it was raining and my head felt like the size of the pumpkin we couldn’t find, with a head cold moving in.

It was in this state that I pulled into a disabled parking spot to be able to quickly snatch what appeared to be the last pumpkin on the north shore. We had spotted it driving by.

I need to preface this with the disclosure that this is not something I would normally do. When I’ve had the occasion to drive for those requiring assistance who have disabled parking privileges, I’ve developed a clear understanding of the need to be close to the entrance, and the extra space for things such as walkers. The decision to park there briefly was a lame move clearly made in the fog of a head cold and a need to get home to bed.

Call it karma, when this clever campaign to combat this exact problem, popped up in my Facebook feed Friday morning! Seems I’m not alone. At least not in Russia, where apparently 30% of drivers routinely park in disabled spots. This has to be the cleverest campaign I’ve ever seen. You HAVE to watch the video!



The video shows how a hologram appears over disabled parking spaces when able-bodied drivers try and park there. The hologram features different people in wheelchairs berating drivers with things like, “Yes, I’m real. Please find another place to park.” The installation was courtesy of Moscow-based advertising agency Y&R on behalf of a Russian charity, Dislife.ru. The installations appeared in shopping malls and business centers in Moscow including the largest mall in Europe. But beyond the installation, the point was to film how it worked, and capture driver response. Then allow those photos and video clips to become news. That was the power of this campaign.

But at the heart of it, was something more. Why was it so effective? This campaign contained three components of great storytelling:

  1. It tapped emotion. It wins hearts then it wins minds.
  2. It was unbelievable. While holograms may have been introduced in Star Trek, they are not a common occurrence in everyday life. The application of technology is fascinating. Unbelievable becomes instantly shareable in the age of social media.
  3. It shared a universal truth. Each of us everyday sees disabled parking. It is a story we can all relate to. This is especially true if we, or someone we know need to use those spots legitimately.

So what’s the lesson in all this, other then “don’t mess with karma” and respect the proper use of disabled parking spots?

Good marketing uses storytelling at its heart. Stories are memorable and shareable. A year from now your customers are unlikely to remember the details of your current offering, but they will remember your story, and how you made them feel. And if that story in some way taps emotion, is even the slightest bit unbelievable and raises their curiosity, and is at its heart something they can relate to, you will have struck marketing gold.


10 reasons why “Sid and Nate: Drive thru rookies” went viral

This week Tim Hortons uploaded a series of commercials to Youtube featuring Nova Scotia hometown boys, Sidney Crosby and Nate MacKinnon serving up coffee at the Dartmouth Tim Hortons Drive Thru. The stunt was called “Sid and Nate: Drive Thru rookie”. The pair bumble their way through orders, charmed surprised patrons, and peppered their speech with just enough “sorry’s” to make something already pretty Canadian, even more so. It’s a series of ads destined to be aired more widely, but not before the chain ensures they garner lots of word of mouth plus a good dose of media tossed in. If you haven’t seen the spots, have a look at the Youtube link here.

The original stunt was conducted and filmed back in July. Here is a tweet from July 28

Crosby_TimHortons_TweetIt garned CBC TV coverage at that time. Have a look here.

But the timing to leverage additional WOMMM + M (word of mouth, mouse & mobile + media) was now, because that’s when hockey season is set to ramp up. Plus, as the weather turns colder and Canadians head to the rink, coffee is perhaps more on their mind then in the summer.

Here’s a sample of media received just this week:

Huffington post

Global TV

Toronto Sun

So, weaving all this back to lessons for word of mouth, mouse & mobile + media, let’s consider why this campaign works so well.

  1. Strong visual: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts with visuals helped fuel the initial WOMMM + Media. But it was arguably the Youtube video that injected the latest round of coverage. All these media had strong visual components. So did TV and newspapers that got on board. And let’s face it; Crosby and MacKinnon are not hard to look at. Plus they’re hockey heroes. Any picture with them will garner interest.
  1. Use of a #hashtag: Normally things that go viral have a #hashtag. I’ve looked, and as best I can figure on Twitter and Instagram, this campaign DID NOT receive one! It screams for a #DriveThruRookies. Perhaps a missed opportunity by Tim Hortons? I’m pretty sure their ad agency would have suggested one! Hashtags help channel content so that people who hear about it through media or WOM can quickly tune into the conversation.
  1. They understood timing: While WOM is subject to timing for tapping when people might care more, the media is absolutely governed by it. Media looks for stories that play out well for when their audience will care. Canadians care about hockey at the end of September. Back in the summer while camping and travelling, hockey was not top of mind. There is far more mileage to this campaign uploading those videos and generating media now then back in the summer.
  1. It got the attention of powerful social media users: Tim Hortons has over 350,000 followers on Twitter, over 120,000 followers on Instagram, and over 2.7 million likes on Facebook. There are about 10,000 subscribers to their Youtube channel. Simply by promoting it through their social channels, they got immediate exposure. Add to that, some well-known sports and media folks in those databases, and the exposure became exponential.
  1. Media monitor online media for stories: Both online and traditional print and broadcast media monitor online for stories to cover. Twitter is heavily used by reporters to find breaking news. Because they are in the business of gaining readers, listeners, viewers or followers, they need to know when something is “hot.” Twitter is their tool to find stories and detect if they are growing. Online feeds traditional media, and traditional media such as print and TV or radio broadcast, in turn feeds online again. It becomes a vicious circle of momentum building. That cycle explains why the story got exposure back in July and again gained momentum this past week.
  1. Discredit authority, poke fun at a hero: It’s fun to watch two guys who are stars playing hockey mess up the simplest of orders. The heroes are made humble, which makes them more personable.
  1. The use of humour: Of course the spots are heavily edited, but that was done to make them fun and entertaining. I have a hard time believing Sid the kid is that funny all the time. The repetitive “sorry’s” left me chuckling.
  1. Media craves the bizarre or unusual: Driving up to a Tim Hortons Drive Thru is pretty usual for most Canadians. Being served by your hockey hero is not. In the face of ISIS terror, faltering economies or an election campaign running a marathon, lighter news sells. This one delivered surprise and everyday Canadians response. We lapped it up.
  1. The use of celebrity: Not only did the spots feature celebrities, they tapped their social media circles, which had extensive reach.
  1. The power of storytelling: It’s human nature to love a story. This one had classic story composition: A hero or villain, a tragedy or challenge, a climax and resolution. The people entering the drive through were characters that helped flush out the richer details through their reactions and responses. They became heroes along with the hockey stars. It’s a story that will continue to unfold, as the people who were filmed continue to tell their story of meeting these hockey stars at the drive thru.

Ultimately it was a very Canadian feel good story. A perfect match for the Tim Hortons brand in Canada. And it followed the 10 point formula for going viral perfectly. Here’s my question to you: How could you tell your story using these 10 points, to generate more word of mouth, mouse, mobile plus media?




Marketing SOS: 5 Tips to minimize distractions

SOS is an international code signal of extreme distress used especially by ships at sea. But the SOS I want to talk about here is “Shiny Object Syndrome” in particular as it relates to our limited attention spans, constant interruptions, the need to chase down endless links online, monitor social media push notifications, and in general spending our days multi tasking in endless distraction. Let’s face it, it’s a nasty environment to try to stand out and get noticed in your marketing efforts. Collectively our target audiences are incessantly chasing shiny objects daily.

SOS_logoSo how does that play out on your business website and in your social media?

Are you spending your marketing efforts to land people to your website, only to entice them with a shiny object that chases them away? Framed more directly does your website contain countless links to videos hosted on YouTube, articles hosted on other media sites, or an endless parade of social media buttons that beg to be pressed? On one hand we want lots of back links to content, in particular content hosted on reputable sites, as links since it boosts our SEO. That article in the Huffington Post or New York Times immediately rockets you to the top of the respect list, but once there, do your readers return? And haven’t you been told that you need to get more followers, friends, subscribers and likes because it builds a following? But the very act of enticing folks to those pages, away from your site, also increases the likelihood that they will become further distracted while they’re chasing the next shiny object. We’ve all done it – linked to Facebook for an article, checked our newsfeed while there, and “poof” off we go looking at some other new piece video or quiz result. My fellow speaker friend Jane Atkinson calls these phenomena squirrels chasing nuts. Once they’re gone, they are not coming back to your content.

So how do you stand out, fuel search, build a following, while grabbing and holding the attention of an increasingly distracted audience? Frankly it’s a quandary.

The secret may lie in simplicity.

I got a glimpse of that earlier in September when Vancouver was hit by a massive windstorm, knocking out power to over 400,000 residents in the Lower Mainland. We personally were without power for 3 days. While it was an inconvenience for sure, many people I spoke to actually remarked that they enjoyed the serenity of being forcefully unplugged. Some played board games. Others made dinner on the BBQ and then sat around a family dinner table by candlelight and talked. We got out Scrabble and played for several hours. We made our own music with voice, piano and guitar. It was all so simple and there were no distractions.

What if your marketing could land in an environment of few distractions and one of peace? Here are a few ideas to achieve that.

1. Pick personal engagement media and be consistent: One of the reasons I stand by a regular newsletter is that it is one-to-one communication and personal. It’s permission based. Readers have granted me the key to their inbox and it’s an honor. I know I’ve got their undistracted attention for 5 minutes each week if I keep up my promise of providing value and arriving with predictable consistency. For my readership, the weekend, and Sunday morning in particular is a time of less distraction, one where they’re still thinking business, just in a less hectic state. Depending on your audience, I don’t think the date so much matters, but the consistency once chosen. (*If you’d like to view sample back issues of my newsletter or sign up yourself, click here to check it out)

2. Schedule social media posts to arrive at times when your audience is more apt to be receptive: Scheduling can be done within Facebook for business pages for example, but a more time efficient method is to use a dashboard service such as Hootsuite, where you can schedule posts for all your social media platforms for an entire week.

How you use scheduling will vary by audience. An entertainment company might use Thursday evening for people planning their weekends. A healthy food take out company might use the 3-4pm window weekdays, knowing that busy Moms and Dads will be on smart phones waiting to pick up or drop off kids and be looking for a solution to dinner. A client targeting downtown business people might consider having posts show up during morning commute, for those riding transit, or during lunch time – both times when folks tend to be focused on scrolling their smart phones.

3. Host content on your site as well as offering links for SEO: By all means post videos to your YouTube channel for search and organic discovery, but consider hosting the really important ones directly on your site as well. Then visitors can view the video and remain on your site undistracted. I’d suggest a similar approach for media coverage and article links. Hosting the content on your site ensures it can be read or viewed without leaving, but also providing a link to the media site where it appeared gives the authority angle while also boosting back link SEO.

4. Tame down or remove unnecessary social media distraction buttons: This one is a little contentious. You want visitors to be able to like and follow you on social media, but you don’t want it to be the first thing that causes them to immediately leap away from your site. A measured approach would be to make them easy to find, but not the equivalent of a neon banner when they first land.

5. Consider the use of non-digital to engage: Digital by its nature is distraction friendly – a dine and dash rather then a full course meal. We read differently on digital platforms – skim reading rather then taking more time. We expect links as we search for that next meal to graze. Non-digital media such as direct mail offer far less distraction. Tell me this – if you received a hand written post card in the mail tomorrow, would you not read it? A handwritten note by mail is a rarity these days. If you’re looking to be personal and not compete with other distractions, that’s about as simple as it gets. Kind of like having the power go out!

So beware how SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome) can foul up your marketing. Perhaps it’s time to consider the time, place, media and context of your message from your customer’s perspective, with the goal to hitting when there are fewer distractions.


What Iceland and Sweden can teach us about social media marketing: Trust & authenticity

Trust and authenticity.

You can’t buy it. You just have to earn it. And the only way to earn it is through being yourself and not hiding behind corporate speak or bureaucracy. That can be a challenge for some companies as they grow and figure out how to manage their message online using social media.

Enter Iceland and Sweden. Arguably, they aren’t corporations, but they are countries with a lot at stake. Tourism is a major industry in these far reaching northern areas, and nobody jets off there for a weekend like going to Vegas.

This spring, and continuing into this fall, Iceland is targeting global travelers with the help of a few friendly Gudmundur’s. 4,000 of them to be exact. Apparently there are 4,000 guys and gals named Gudmunder in Iceland out of a population of 329,000. Go figure. The Gudmunder’s have become “the world’s first human search engine.”


Launched as the #AskGundmunder social media campaign highlights the diversity of year-round experiences in the country by allowing people to submit questions on Iceland’s social media channels using the #askgundmunder hashtag, and one of 4,000 Gundmunder volunteers will respond to the question – unedited, and with authenticity. It’s a really cool initiative based on trust. Would you be willing to give the keys of your social media to 4,000 employees? Too scary? How about 5-10? I’m willing to bet for many readers, that is still scary enough. The approach is based on trust, and you know as a potential tourist, you’re getting the authentic goods. You can read and watch more about the campaign here.

Three years ago, Sweden launched a campaign called “The Curators of Sweden” where the country essentially allowed different citizens each week to tweet as the manager of the @Sweden Twitter account. The idea was to bring the voice of Sweden to Twitter. Arguably Sweden is a progressive country and socially liberal, but it was still an incredible act of trust to make such a move. It played out politically well too, as a demonstration of free speech in a world increasingly muffling citizens in many countries. You can learn more about the campaign through this recent NPR radio interview celebrating the third anniversary of the campaign.

But it’s what both of these campaigns have in common that really intrigues me: Trust and authenticity. Is there something to be learned here in our approach to social media for business? I think so. The more human you are, faults and all, the more authentic you will seem. People buy from those they know, like and trust. Authenticity is a huge part of that equation.





You live or die by your database: 10 ways to grow your list

Businesses live and die by their database and how it is used to communicate with and serve customers. Your database is a lifeline. And your list is like a marriage. Any day you’re not feeding and growing your list is a day you’re losing it.

The key is to have a mindset of service and value. Companies need to serve the people on their list and spend time answering this key question: how can I grow their capabilities and connections? The value component is what they give away – knowledge, sometimes for love and sometimes for money.


Growing your list should be among your top objectives. You list is a “digital asset”. You own it. Basically all other marketing efforts should serve to drive the growth of your list.

So what are some ways to grow your list?

  1. Social media: Ensure all social media leads to content, and that content should lead to the list. Whenever you share a blog post on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for example, that blog post should be posted in a place that prompts an email sign up.
  2. Pop-ups: I was never a huge fan of pop-ups until I witnessed how they could grow a list. They key is to have a pop-up what allows you to set criteria such as a time delay for the person visiting the site and for them to be recognized so they are only served a pop-up once a month for example for repeat visitors.
  3. LinkedIn lead to something free: Perhaps give away a summary sheet or a report and have those that link be prompted for a newsletter sign up in exchange. This can be done on any social platform, but in my experience, LinkedIn is the most successful in terms of quantified people interested since you can select groups who might be specifically interested.
  4. Compelling blog posts: You can’t beat good writing and good content. It leads to people wanting more and subsequently subscribing.
  5. Cross promotion: If you know others in the online community who might have a list that compliments in terms of offerings and target market, you could consider cross promoting each other.
  6. Simply ask: This one is obvious, but often ignored. Simply asking current subscribers to share your newsletter on social platforms or to forward to friends with the suggesting that they subscribe is a simple and easy way to expand your list. The power of referral is very strong.
  7. Twitter: I started scheduling a few tweets amongst my other material where I simply suggest that you can “get my best stuff weekly” by signing up, then including a link. It amazes me the people that come in this way!
  8. Run a contest: The contest could be on Facebook where you post a link to an informative article and then have people enter to win a copy of your e-book with even more material.
  9. Event sign ups: I always offer people who attend my seminars the opportunity to sign up for my newsletter. The key is to make sure they opt in and you don’t just collect business cards and add them yourself. You need to be compliant with regulations on how you build your list. Permission based and double opt in is the law.
  10. Referral: Every several months I send out a personal request to a handful of business contacts asking them for 3-4 referrals each that might also enjoy receiving this type of information. It’s a personable piece of communication, and it genuinely works. They are always quality contacts, and often turn into clients down the road.

I’m sure there are other clever ways to grow your list that you may be using. Why not share them here?


10 Reasons Why #DeadraccoonTO Became a National News Story in One Day

On July 9 a raccoon died in Toronto. By July 10 it was national and international news, which begs the question – why? And more importantly, if you’re in marketing – how?



Although it’s unlikely, for those that missed the story, a report of a dead raccoon was called into Toronto City Animal Services the morning of July 9th, and despite a timely initial response, the raccoon was not taken away for over 14 hours. In the ensuing hours a growing vigil spontaneously sprung up around the raccoon, as news of its untimely demise and neglect by city authorities went viral online and in the media. You can read all the details and see the Twitter visuals on Buzzfeed.com

Why did this story go viral?

  1. Strong visual. It was a toss up between poor taste and touching to see a dead raccoon up close with vigil items such as a framed photo, a rose and a condolence card later added. The key was visuals being added as the story unfolded, including a video of his final departure with a city worker. Everyone has a camera and video at their disposal these days on their mobile, so the fact that visuals told the story in a play-by-play fashion by random citizen reporters further added to the appeal.
  1. Discredit of authority. If there’s one universal appeal, it’s critique of those in authority, especially when they mess up, as became evident as the day unfolded and the raccoon remained unclaimed. Whenever the little guy can take revenge on the big guy, or someone with authority, the story will gain traction. In this case it was city workers. But it could just as easily be a business, an individual or an organization.
  1. The story got a #hashtag. Within a couple hours, as the story gained momentum, someone applied the hashtag #DeadraccoonTO. From that point on everyone on Twitter who was talking about it used the tag, which made it easier to “channel” the content and see how interest was building. It also allowed others to immediately tune into the channel of conversation and understand the whole story from a multitude of reports and perspectives.
  1. It tapped human psychology. There were a number of elements at play, but most prominent was “Statistical numbing” which helps explain why a single victim moves us more emotionally than many. It’s why we care about one child in a war zone with a survival story more then reports of 100s killed. Urban raccoons are not something we normally care about as a perceived menace. But given a single one in distress, it took on an emotional angle. You could also argue that anthropomorphism was at play, where human characteristics are applied to things no human. The vigil that grew resembled a roadside human death, complete with a framed photo of a raccoon, a rose, a condolence card and a candle.
  1. It got the attention of powerful Twitter users. Key to a story going viral online is the impact of key influencers. In this case several users with large numbers of online followers took to the story. Prominent was Toronto City Councillor Norm Kelly.
  1. Media monitor online media for stories. Both online and traditional print and broadcast media monitor online for stories to cover. Twitter is heavily used by reporters to find breaking news. Because they are in the business of gaining readers, listeners, viewers or followers, they need to know when something is “hot.” Twitter is their tool to find stories and detect if they are growing. Online feeds traditional media, and traditional media such as print and TV or radio broadcast, in turn feeds online again. It becomes a vicious circle of momentum building. That cycle largely explains why the morning of July 10 local and national news sources where talking about the raccoon, and why you likely saw it on some social media platform within the day.
  1. The use of humour. You might wonder where the humour is in a dead raccoon, but they found it. It was suggested online by someone on Twitter, that in solidarity for the lost raccoon and his forging urban counterparts, those citizens of Toronto leave their garbage can lids open for one night. Someone also posted on Twitter an image of Stephen Harper in parliament, with head bowed, obviously out of context, suggesting that the government of Canada was going to hold a national day or mourning.
  1. Media craves the bizarre. Starved of Rob Ford antics, the citizens of Toronto obviously needed new fodder. Enter the raccoon. The reality is that in the face of other important hard news such as ISIS terror or the plight of Greece in the EU, bizarre news sells. Call it human nature to want to hear about weird stuff. Perhaps its escapism from reality, but media knows that odd things make great headlines, and great headlines gain a following.
  1. The use of celebrity. Tagging a celebrity is usually good for gaining traction, since their followers, usually in the hundreds of thousands, will chime in. In this case, someone tagged a Drake photo, suggesting he was concerned for the raccoon. Momentum continued to build.
  1. The power of storytelling. It’s human nature to love a story. This one unfolded throughout the day. It had classic story composition: A villain, a hero, a tragedy or challenge, a climax and resolution. Along the way various characters added themselves to flush out the rich details. It was a story told live and developing, but the plot was built out by contributions of all who added online details to help tell it and spread the word. Never under estimate the power of storytelling for universal appeal, especially if you allow others to participate in how it unfolds.

Who would have thought a little raccoon that died could gain so much attention. The story certainly is an insightful example of how things go viral.

Triple threat media: Earned, pushed & paid

Media for our marketing efforts really fall into 3 buckets. I call them your triple threat if you get the combo right. The 3 buckets are: earned, pushed and paid.



  1. Earned media: We don’t pay for this media and we have little actual execution control over it, but we can certainly influence how it is attained. Earned media can come in the form of an article being printed about you, a TV or radio broadcast featuring your business, or in the online world, that article appearing on a website, blog or featured in video or audio form on someone’s site or podcast. The key is, the material is actually produced and hosted by someone else other than you or your business. Earned media can also come in the form of earning the right to have a submitted article that you wrote published on a news site, blog, or in actual print. Here, while you produced the content, it was still published, hosted and distributed by someone other then you or your business. Earning the right to have someone distribute in some way your stuff means you were worthy on some level. Your business was deemed successful; you were doing good, or what you submitted to be published was in some way of interest to the distributing media’s audience. That’s how we get earned media on our side. Earned media is awesome and authentic, but it is also the most labour intensive.
  1. Pushed media: Pushed is all the media that you personally “push” out there. It could include the anchored content from your blog, enewsletter, podcasts, website, infographics, whitepapers, videos or tips sheets. Pushed media is also content that you push and broadcast through social media channels – be it photos, comments, article or video links etc. While social media by its nature should provoke two-way engagement, the first act of engagement is to put content out through channels to reach a defined target, in order to have the basis of engagement. Pushed media feels like the new frontier with endless channels and a seemingly hungry audience. It can be like sipping from a fire hose at times. Pushed media is totally within your control, but you need to either curate content or create it, and the effectiveness is dependent on the reach and how well targeted your social media footprint is. The space is also getting more crowded making it increasingly difficult to stand out.
  1. Paid media: Paid media is that stuff, you guessed it, that you pay for. I classify paid media in both digital and traditional form to include paid placement of ads in print, broadcast, outdoor and direct for example, as well as paid targeting and boosting of online digital content such as paying to boost Facebook posts to a targeted audience, or paying for Google ad words. Paid media is within your control and can be either hyper targeted, or offer a mass broad reach like no other media option. Paid media has fallen a little out of favour with some folks currently enamored with push and earned media, but it’s clout should not be under estimated.

The honest truth is, while earned media may appear the holy grail, a solid combination of earned, pushed and paid is really what drives broad reaching awareness to a defined target audience. The reason for that is, the components of pushed and paid allow us to highly select an audience, ensure large numbers of exposures, and to a certain extent ensure multiple repeat exposures, that generally result in elevated awareness or whatever the defined goal of the campaign originally was. I’ll go one step further and suggest, not unlike when rock climbing, that at least 2 points of contact are needed to maintain balance, and 3 to be moving forward. The same applies to your media buckets. If you only have one, you will literally be just holding on. You need at least 2 of earned, pushed and paid, to achieve balance, but adding the third could really propel things forward.

3 tips for getting your articles published

Nothing screams you’ve got authority and are an expert quite like being published. And these days the options are far greater then before; traditional publishing and self-publishing of books, feature columns, op-ed pieces and one off editorial contributions. Distribution has expanded from traditional print newspapers and magazines and their online counterparts, to new digital only news platforms such as the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed (Canadian edition just launched this week) and local news sources such as VanCityBuzz.com which are gaining traction. Add to that well-read blogs, and there’s no shortage of publishing options.

So how do you get ink?

1. Pitching the idea: You can pitch media on an article idea, but in my experience having written for BIV, Strategy, Marketing Magazine, the Toronto Star, Cottage Magazine and Zoomer, a pitch accompanied by a solid draft or even tightly edited piece has always been what got me in the door. Knowing the audience demographics of the publication and reader interests in critical. Also knowing typical article lengths, topics covered in the past, and writing style is helpful. If an editor wants 700 words, don’t give them 750 because you can’t edit it any shorter. They will, and guaranteed they’ll chop something you wouldn’t have!

Pitch based on the geographic area of the people who will benefit from your message and find it relevant. Also keep in mind seasonal factors and lead up times, especially if it’s a magazine. For example a lifestyle piece I did for Zoomer Magazine about mother/daughter hockey passion ran in October, but was written and pitched back in March.

Think strategically about your email subject line when sending a pitch. Editors are writers and email subject lines are like headlines to them. As they scan their inbox, be sure to give them something that will grab their attention. Clever can be good, but don’t over complicate things.

2. The content: The who, what, where, when and why of the story is important if you are writing a pitch. But pay particular attention to the “why now” piece. Connecting your article to something timely is key to getting an editors attention. For example, my blog piece about disruption and flipping the airline model to charging for carry on and making the first checked bag free tapped into a current hot topic of frustrated flyers dealing with carry on restrictions and the approaching heavy summer travel season. It proposed a simple innovative solution. It also tapped into the growing use of social media as a feedback tool and the need for corporations to manage their brand through active engagement of consumer complaints. After the piece garnered considerable discussion the last couple weeks online and off, I blasted off a pitch to the Huffington Post last week to see if I could get pick up. Today, June 18, that piece appeared in their business section!














Be original and different. If you’re giving tips, make sure it’s not something that could just be Googled. Tap your expertise. Give the publication something they couldn’t otherwise get access to. General, generic vanilla won’t work. But sometimes being the contrarian can work – see above. Countering conventional viewpoints and backing up your argument can make for a solid piece.

3. Contacting media: While tagging media on Twitter can certainly get their attention and cut through the clutter, in my experience this is best if there is a pre-existing relationship. Otherwise email is a solid place to start. These days it’s pretty easy to scope out contacts online for the editorial desk and feature editors. Use the method of contact they list – some will list emails, some Twitter handles only. Do follow up. Just because you don’t hear back right away doesn’t mean they might not be interested. Their in boxes get jammed, but most diligently comb emails for content. It’s their job to find gems, and yours might be what they’re looking for. Don’t call them by phone unless they’ve contacted you already for a story. And know their deadlines if you are trying to reach them. Texting a reporters cell directly is likely one of the best ways to get an immediate response if they know you. But this should really be reserved for breaking news events where you are looking to be quoted, or helping them with a story, not trying to get your own piece published!

All these points apply to being a guest blogger as well. I’d suggest picking 3 or 4 well written and leading blogs in your area of interest. Follow them for a couple months and get a sense of content and readership through the comments. Make valuable (but not spammy promotional) comments to contribute to the conversation. Then consider contacting the blog host about guest posting in the future. I’d also recommend having a solid portfolio of written work on your own blog, so your content and style can be reviewed easily. The synergy of cross posting and guest blogging can be great, especially if the two blog audiences are well aligned and both parties have something to benefit from the relationship.

And what do you do when you score the big one and get ink? Be sure to share it on your digital platforms, put it out on social media, and in particular if it’s a publication with reputation such as the New York Times or Huffington Post, be sure to add the bi-line to your bio, and their logo to your promotional materials. Getting ink is about gaining recognition as an expert. Put it to good use.