Not Every Occasion is an Occasion to Advertise

Throughout the course of a year, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to link with current events or noteworthy commemorations, through messaging on social platforms. Anything from Mother’s Day, to the Golden Globe Awards, to mocking this year’s frigid winter can be considered fair game. In fact, no doubt one of the biggest events for brands to participate in is coming up on February 2nd – Super Bowl XLVIII. Eyes will be on you too, Oreo.

Inherently, most attempts by brands to connect with an event are advertisements. With proper thought and planning, most notably a smart creative team, such endeavours can work beautifully.

However, marketers and agencies need to realize that certain events or commemorations are so poignant, so important in our history, that they are best left untouched by brands. Or, at the very least, handled in a much different and more dignified manner than they are (for the most part) today.

The latest example occurred earlier this week, with the Martin Luther King Day holiday in the United States. Martin Luther King Junior was one of the most important figures in the history of the country, providing hope and leadership in the advancement of African-American civil rights – in the most dignified manner possible.

Yet what happened this past Monday? Many brands posted MLK Day-related content on their social accounts, with a number of brands tying in promotional messages.

Say what?

I’d like to think that most marketers and agencies have good intentions, but I must admit at times I have my doubts. MLK Day, the anniversary of 9/11, natural disasters and conflicts that we now bare closer witness to through social media – it’s becoming all too common for brands to fumble their way through posting content in relation to them.

In most cases, there is nothing to be gained for a brand in linking to such noteworthy events. In fact, brands place themselves at risk of (justifiable) backlash for their insensitivities.

I repeat: inherently, most attempts by brands to connect with an event are advertisements

Now, that being said, there is another approach worth considering. In fact, it’s actually quite a simple one.

Do something that matters.

Companies could make a donation to a charity that is somehow related to the event or commemoration, or better yet, encourage employees to volunteer in the community. Yes, contributing to a charity can be communicated through social media, but that’s not the point.

Not every occasion is an occasion to advertise.

Embracing Discomfort

oreoSometimes, I wonder if brands need to become better adept at embracing a certain level of discomfort.

What do I mean by that?

In my view, brands that are bold and openly portray their core values tend to build a greater sense of affinity amongst customers. People gain an understanding of what the brand, and company, stand for – and as a result, to a certain extent at least, potentially view the brand in a more positive light.

At the same time, in making a brand’s values known, no doubt there will be people – including current customers – who don’t share the same values and become turned off as a result. They may, in fact, be so vehemently opposed to a brand’s values that they stop being a customer.

And that’s where embracing discomfort fits in.

As a brand steward, are you prepared to risk alienating some people from your brand by conveying what your brand truly stands for?

Or, a related question, are you prepared to take a stand in sharing your values, potentially drawing a stronger connection and sense of loyalty from those who can relate to your values?

Over the last couple of years, a number of brands have come out in support of lesbian and gay rights. Starbucks, Oreo, and Gap to name a few. While it is sad, very sad in my opinion, that open support for LGBT rights is such a polarizing topic – these brands both embraced and made their values very clear, amidst backlash and boycott threats from a (thankfully) very small minority of the population. To these brands, I say bravo.

From a different lens another great example is Patagonia, truly a values-led business. Over the last couple of years, Patagonia has executed holiday advertising campaigns encouraging people NOT to buy their products. Yes, you read that correctly.

Why? Each jacket Patagonia produced leaves behind two-thirds it’s weight in waste, which contradicts Patagonia’s brand promise of investing in the environment.

There is no doubt that Patagonia embraced discomfort in moving forward with these bold campaigns. However in doing so, they reinforced their values, likely building and strengthening trust amongst customers.

What does your brand stand for? Are you prepared to embrace discomfort?

The Long Run: Thoughts on Effective Social Media Execution and Marathons

IMG_1917As I write this, I am just under one month away from the Chicago Marathon. It will be my second marathon, having completed the Vancouver Marathon in 2007. It’s also a bucket list item for me – one that I am looking forward to putting a checkmark beside!

In thinking about how I approach marathon training, I have come to realize that there are a number of parallels with respect to developing a social media strategy. No, I am not thinking about social media while I run, at least usually as sounds from Songza occupy my head! But I thought I would share a quick comparison here.

Proper Planning is Required

Unless you are a uber-athlete, you don’t just wake up in the morning and decide that you’re going to run a marathon today. Well, you could, but that certainly isn’t advised! At the same time, a brand shouldn’t just execute social media in an ad hoc manner.

Experienced marathon runners will tell you that a planned and disciplined approach is a necessity in preparing for the big race. Ideally, runners set up a training calendar months in advance, encompassing regular runs and workouts leading up to the race – geared towards the objective of completing the race by a specific time.

Brands need to approach social media with similar rigour, first establishing goals and then developing a plan focused on achieving the goals. An ideal framework includes an overview of strategies and supporting tactics, along with a detailed calendar.

Perseverance and Dedication

Most days, I absolutely cannot wait to go for a run. The mere thought of running is enough to energize me. However, I will admit, I do have mornings in which my bed feels a bit too comfortable, and an extra kick is required to get my feet onto the trails or pavement. When these mornings happen, I again think about my end goal of running the marathon, and I find a way – knowing that hard work in the short-term will lead to long-term gains.

Similarly, social media also requires perseverance and dedication. It takes time and resources for brands to develop the right infrastructure for their social activities, and even more time and resources to develop content and cultivate healthy communities of ardent fans and followers. At times it may seem overwhelming as community engagement builds, and brands need to respond to and engage with more and more people. But remember, each awesome experience you provide for individual people through social represents another step towards nurturing longterm brand affinity.

It Takes a Community

Yes, in many respects, preparing for a marathon is a solo pursuit. However, maintaining a focus through the long hours of training is a lot easier when you have a community of family and friends supporting you. It really can be a team effort, leading right up to the cheering as you cross the finish line.

For brands, having an active presence on social media is one thing. Developing a community of ardent fans and supporters, people who will actually advocate for the brand, is quite another. There are many ways through which brands can create community advocacy on social media – common to them all is a genuine, personable approach. One that makes brands likeable.

Tracking and Measurement

In training for a marathon, I benefit immensely by tracking my runs – including measures such as distance and pace. Doing so enables me to monitor my progress, with the end goal of completing the race within a specific timeframe in mind. If my pace doesn’t match what I need to achieve in training to attain my desired goal, then I either need to ramp up my training or recalibrate my race expectations.

At the same time, it’s critical for brands to track social media progress and activity, with end goals always in mind. For example, if a target has been established such as attaining 60% share of voice by year end, and the brand is currently only tracking at 40%, then the plan should be reviewed and perhaps adjusted. Investing in measurement and analysis goes a long way towards ensuring desired outcomes are achieved.

Long-Term Focus

A marathon is 42.195 kilometres. That’s a long distance! Don’t even consider running it as a sprint, or you’ll soon be out of energy.

Similarly, social media should be a long-term investment.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Image courtesy of Benjamin Lipsman.

Pour Me a Guinness, Please

For the most part, beer commercials are very formulaic in nature. The recipe tends to be quite simple. Start with some very beautiful women, throw in a wild adventure, and let’s not forget a dramatic voice-over, and then add a product close-up with a tagline that is completely meaningless and unoriginal. And there you have it. Air the spot during a football game, hockey game, or another event that speaks to the young male demographic – and what has really been accomplished? Likely not much.

Then there’s Guinness.

Guinness has a track record of very creative, evocative campaign executions that truly stand out, and one of their latest ads is truly no different.

Hat tip to BBDO New York for this gem. So far the commercial has been viewed over two million times on YouTube since being posted five days ago. I’ve also seen it on my Facebook feed several times, shared by friends who don’t work in marketing or advertising and don’t typically share ads.

Why is this the case? Why has this particular ad drawn so much attention?

There are a few reasons, and lessons for marketers.

It Evokes Emotion

The ad itself is very inspirational in nature. It speaks to wanting to help others, in a manner that brings fun and joy into their lives. It also speaks to everyday people – the ad, in many ways, is grounded in a sense of reality that most beer commercials do not contain.

The Narrative is Simple and Relevant to the Brand

There wasn’t much dialogue needed for this commercial. “The Choices We Make Reveal the True Nature of Our Character”.  Making the choice to drink Guinness truly says something about you and what you stand for. It’s a simple as that.

Production Quality

The commercial itself truly is a work of art. It’s visually appealing. It’s like watching a dramatic, one-minute short story. It provides entertainment value.

Really, it’s another form of Brandtainment. Wouldn’t it be great if more brands took a similar approach to advertising? Imagine people wanting to watch commercials. What a concept.

Think Digital: Educating Your (more traditional) Colleagues

Marketing and advertising pros who have cultivated strong depth and breadth of knowledge in digital and social are now, more then ever, playing a lead role in shaping strategy. Whether focusing on web, mobile, or social, or more than likely all three, a diverse skill set is absolutely required to develop thoughtful strategy – working at a company or an agency.

Make no mistake, a career in marketing is not 9 to 5 anymore. Perhaps it never was. The pace of innovation and change is too quick for that, and for a marketing professional to remain relevant it is critical to invest time and effort towards learning – learning about new technology, emerging social platforms, trends, and most importantly, the changing behaviors and media consumption habits of people.

That all being said, it’s easy to forget that there are still many in the industry – friends, peers, and colleagues – who perhaps aren’t in the trenches learning, and perhaps still have more of a traditional marketing and advertising mindset. Perhaps these people are the ones who, while understanding your recommended strategies, are a bit more skeptical. Perhaps they don’t know the true power of digital analytics in uncovering meaningful insights, or why nurturing relationships with social advocates can be so critical to your efforts.

But fear not, the power is in your hands! You have the torch, and the power to educate and inform – to turn your colleagues into digital and social savvy savants.

How can you accomplish that? Several ideas come to mind:

  • Host digital or social-focused marketing workshops. Depending on the needs of your company, you could cover a variety of topics. For example B2B marketers might benefit from LinkedIn 101 – a workshop on setting up a profile, and effective participation in groups (I led a workshop like this at Intuit). Alternatively perhaps an overview could be provided on the latest digital trends – spurring ideas for truly integrated, and interesting, marketing strategies.
  • Occasionally share relevant articles, along with your insights and analysis. Perhaps your colleagues don’t regularly read TechCrunch, Mashable, AdAge, or the latest from industry bloggers. But hopefully you do, and here’s a great chance to provide information on trends and case studies that could feed into your integrated strategy.
  • Thirdly, podcasts and books. Personally, I always have a book on the go and I also subscribe to a number of podcasts. Several that are worth recommending to your colleagues are Six Pixels of Separation, The BeanCast, and Marketing Over Coffee.

I’m certain that your colleagues and peers will appreciate your help in educating them about all things digital and social. The end result, in my experience, is usually improved understanding and collaboration.

Worth the effort? I think so.

Brandtainment

Brands that invest in creating content that entertains and delights are poised to stand out, through genuine fan engagement and sharing of the content. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Create a video, or a picture, or a blog post that in some way makes people glad they spent the time watching the video, viewing the picture, or reading the blog post, and they’re more apt to like what you created, comment on it, and perhaps even share it with their friends.

My question is very straightforward. Why are so many brands still creating boring content?

Here are a couple of examples of the kinds of videos brands should be producing more of. NBC Sports will be airing English Premier League games this year, and they created a very funny promotional video – “An American Football Coach in London”. The video could easel be a Saturday Night Live sketch, and in fact it stars SNL alumni Jason Sudeikis. One week after launching, the video has generated over 3.5 million views. Golden!

At Intuit, we were brainstorming triggers that would entice people to file their taxes using TurboTax in advance of the April 30th tax deadline. With a week left to go, I saw an ad on CBC mentioning that the NHL playoffs were starting on April 30th. Bingo! With the Maple Leafs returning to the play-offs for the first time in nine years, and the Canucks and Habs also participating, we found our trigger. Within 72 hours we assembled a team, authored a script and produced a video using iPhones – “The Great Canadian Face-off: Taxes vs. Playoffs”. No, we didn’t have SNL talent, but we did poke fun at the situation and managed to garner over 12,000 views.

(Guess who’s wearing the Canucks jersey!)

Brands don’t need to invest a lot of money to create an awesome video. However innovative thinking and creativity are definite musts. I foresee a lot more brands going this route in the future.

The Sky is the Limit (or is it?)

rocket-launch-67720_640There is a lot that I want to achieve over the course of my life. A lot. I consider myself to be an ambitious person, as I am very focused on working hard to achieve goals that I continually set for myself. There is just so much to experience and so much to learn in this great world of ours, it seems that my list of goals continues to grow and grow.

However, having ambitious goals is one thing. It’s quite another to orientate one’s mindset towards actually achieving them. Personally, over the last while, I’ve started developing my own plan outlining a path towards attaining personal and professional goals – inspired in part by Chris Guillebeau’s planning process.

As an extension of that, I’ve also been building a bucket list of things that I’d really like to do and accomplish in my life. The list is definitely a work-in-progress, as I add new goals based on recent inspirations or I remove those that have been achieved. I’m not ashamed to admit that some goals may remain unattained, whether through changing life circumstances or other happenings, but that’s not the point. It’s establishing the process that matters.

That being said, here is my bucket list. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few things I need to get to!

Ready to Take Flight

IMG_1272I always thought travel would play a huge role in my life. When I was young, I was fortunate to have parents who took me places during summer vacation. I loved our regular camping excursions throughout Western Canada and the US, and I was fortunate to experience Disneyland. Disney World, too. Every few years, we were able to go to Europe to visit relatives on my Dad’s side of the family; mostly around Munich and Austria, but I do have vivid memories of a trip to the Mediterranean and the former Yugoslavia.

My hunger for travel grew during my university years. During the summer semester breaks, I spent time exploring Canada and Europe. My first solo European trip involved a ten countries in twenty days adventure aboard a Contiki bus full of Aussie and UK “pub enthusiasts”. OK, as it turned out, it wasn’t quite my style of travel – but I did return to Europe a few years later for a summer backpacking adventure.

Perhaps the highlight of my travels was a year spent in Australia following graduation, coupled with time spent in Bali, New Zealand and Fiji. When I left for Australia, I felt the world was my oyster. I hadn’t yet established a career. In fact I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, except for one thing: travel and experience everything that the world, and the people of the world, have to offer.

Then, a funny thing happened.

I returned from Australia, not having met the beautiful Australian woman of my dreams to marry (which of course would also allow me to say down under!). I stumbled into a career in marketing, which mostly for the better, has engulfed much of my life. My career path, however, has not been straightforward. While I have traveled a bit over the last number of years, for a variety of reasons my adventures have not been as grande nor as adventurous as I would have liked.

The time has come to change that. For me, I am happiest when I am focused on true, genuine and awesome life experiences. “Experiences” is the key word. It’s a cliché, but life is short, and it’s time to start living it.

Recently I have been inspired by the local travel blogger community, through Toronto Travel Massive, as well as my good friend Jason Baker who is getting set to go on an adventure and share his experiences through The Imperfect Traveller.

I am working on an overall life bucket list, which I will post on this blog shortly. In the meantime, here are some travel-related highlights of what I currently have on the list.

Within the next year:

  • I will visit Chicago
  • I will travel to Peru, for the first time, and do the Inca Trail
  • I will do a multi-day bike trek, in either Eastern Canada or Europe

Within the new three years:

  • I will travel to Costa Rica
  • I will travel to Europe to visit distant relatives (and ski the Alps)
  • I will travel to India
  • I will do an adventure trip with my parents

With the next ten years:

  • I will visit all seven continents. Yes, including Argentina.
  • I will climb Mount Kilimanjaro

There’s more, but I think this is a good start.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, it’s time to start planning my next trip.

Thoughts on Rebooting

Thoughts on RebootingI recently finished reading Mitch Joel’s latest book, CTRL Alt Delete. In his book, Mitch shares thoughts on how businesses and professionals essentially need to do a reboot – transforming both processes and ways of thinking in order to survive and thrive in today’s rapidly evolving business environment.

Personally, over the last few years I have initiated a number of significant changes in my own career – shifting my focus to digital and social strategy after having gotten my start in traditional marketing, with a strong desire to play in the intersection of culture, technology and media. I can definitely relate to much of what Mitch articulated. What I have really come to realize however, is that the process of “rebooting” isn’t a one time deal – far from it. The truth is that businesses and professionals, from a career lens, must now constantly examine and adjust things as technology and people’s behaviours evolve.

Here are a few things that I am now thinking about:

1. Creating Utility Through Content

It almost goes without saying that any content a brand produces, whether for social, web or email, should somehow provide a tangible benefit and level of utility for readers. However, the stark reality is that people are getting absolutely inundated with content from all directions – and many brands are still not putting enough thought into what they produce. The end result? One big, giant mess of content.

It’s true that most content has value when it comes to search optimization and the long-tail. However, I think brands need to think much harder about what content they’re producing – perhaps with a “less is more” mindset. I am definitely keeping this in mind for a content strategy I am currently developing. I am also looking for ways to extend the overall experience people have when engaging with content – creating a richer experience through multimedia and deep-linking to my company’s website.

2. Escaping the Box

Over the last few years, I have invested a significant amount of time in digital and social strategy education – including reading an endless stream of articles online, maintaining a healthy diet of books through Amazon, and attending a number of events and conferences. I’ve certainly had my fill of digital and social. What’s missing, however, is exposure to new learning – perhaps not directly related to the discipline of marketing.

Gaining insights from a variety of subject areas can fuel inspiration and enhance creativity, potentially leading to unique and compelling solutions to customer pain points. Understanding digital technologies, including underlying architectures and opportunities for evolution, represent one such notable opportunity for strategists. Another might be learning a new language? Why? Because language is a gateway to culture, and a preliminary step in leads to better understanding – an asset given Canada’s diverse population.

To add further context, my friend (and digital strategist) Rachel Lane shared some thoughts on how she learns in her post “The Education of a Social Media / Digital Strategist“.

So, I am now looking at ways to branch out and broaden my exposure to new ways of thinking. In the immediate future, I am endeavoring to learn more about Design Thinking. Down the road, I intend to learn another language – this goal has now been added to my five year plan. There will be more added, but I think this is a good start.

3. Finding the Right Mix

This topic could entail an entire blog post … or even a series of blog posts. Lately I have read a lot of articles related to personal needs to “disconnect” more. I have felt the need myself. While I enjoy connecting with people online, much of the interaction is very “surface” in nature. At the same time, from a career perspective, it’s clear that 9 to 5 does not cut it anymore. At least not for those of us who work in marketing. The continual need to learn, combined with increased business demands and competition, necessitates that people spend more time focusing on their jobs and their careers.

It’s a reality, and one that I don’t mind because I love what I do. It’s not work. Case-in-point, I wrote the majority of this blog post on a Sunday afternoon.

However, I am still adjusting, and I realize that I need to find the mix that’s right for me. Increased career and job demands don’t necessarily mean that I need to be online all the time. So, I’m striving to manage my time better. I’m seeking (and planning) opportunities for quiet – for deeper thought, learning and reflection.

I’m also going to drink more coffee. No, not just for the sake of it!  I want to spend more time with people, reconnecting with people I’ve met before while also making new acquaintances – hearing their stories and learning from them. Hat tip to Elena Yunosov in part for inspiring me to do this.

These are a few things on my mind. What are some things that you’re thinking about?

Turning Search Insights into Content Gold

Photo: Giorgio Monteforti <http://www.flickr.com/photos/11139043@N00/>Content marketing has become an increasingly important focal point for many brands. However, even if a brand produces interesting, engaging and relevant for it’s core audience – efforts will be wasted if the content can’t easily be found or isn’t timely.

With that in mind, it’s important to consider the interplay between search marketing and content marketing, particularly with respect to social platforms. A key lever for “winning” the content game is providing content in timely manner – when people are looking for it. Having the right infrastructure and processes in place can help a brand do just that.

Here are several recommendations companies should consider:

  • Ensure that the search, social and web content functions are tightly intertwined. Team members should work closely together – or, if based in separate geographical locations, have regular calls. Establishment of strong relationships is key. In my current role at Intuit, I sit right across from our search manager and I speak with him daily.
  • Develop a mechanism through which search insights are regularly provided to those responsible for creating content. Through Google Trends, the search manager can create and share search insights that reveal what people are (and are not) looking for. Insights can, for example, include: most popular search queries, search queries that are rising in popularity, search queries that are declining in popularity
  • Be poised to act quickly based on insights provided. If search trends reveal gaps in your blog content calendar, have a writer available to create the content – perhaps an internal writer or a freelancer. If people are looking for content now that you intend to publish later, make the necessary adjustments to your content calendar.

Finally, and importantly, make sure that you are set up to measure the impact of your efforts!  Having the right content is one thing, to truly provide value it needs to be available when people are actively searching for it.