Meeting and Marketing to Your Buyer Personas

Effective marketing isn’t about talking louder. It involves sharing smarter. Creating and interacting with buyer personas can help you put a face to your consumer, understand their pain points and follow their journey to your doorstep.

Effective marketing isn’t about talking louder. It involves sharing smarter. Creating and interacting with buyer personas can help you put a face to your consumer, understand their pain points and follow their journey to your doorstep.

In marketing, telling your audience what you want them to hear should take a back seat to sharing what they want to hear from you. It is a distinction with a definite difference. It is the fundamental meaning of the customer comes first.

Marketers aim to deliver a key message regarding their product, service or idea. That, after all, is the point of marketing. However, pushing a message is only part of marketing.

The other, equally important part is crafting a message that an audience will notice, care about, remember and act on. This part of marketing requires research and insight into what your audience is interested in, where it looks for information and who audience members trust.

Few products, services or ideas appeal to everyone, so one of the roles of market research is to pinpoint the target audience whose members would value, need and be willing to pay for what you offer.

Target audiences usually aren’t monolithic, which is why marketers develop (or should develop) buyer personas. These sketches – which can include fictional names, illustrations, hobbies, favorite brands, habits, motivations and pain points – turn a target audience into a series of human faces instead of rows of statistics.

Buyer personas also serve as a flight plan for messaging by tracing the consumer journey, so marketers know where to focus their energy, time and resources to connect with their intended audience – and how to close a sale. Walking in a consumer’s shoes makes it easier to identify and empathize with that consumer.

Developing buyer personas can be hard work, but it also can be fun. It certainly is useful. When you visualize your audience as people – even generalized types of people – you are more likely to think about what they want to hear, not just what you want to tell them. And that can make all the difference in whether a key message hits its mark or veers off into the vapors.

Many non-marketers (and perhaps even some professional marketers) may be unfamiliar with buyer personas. They don’t follow a particular formula. The best ones have a creative bent. The most useful ones derive from actual contact with consumers.

There isn’t a formula to follow to create buyer personas. The only criteria that matters is your fictional buyers fairly represent your actual consumers.

There isn’t a formula to follow to create buyer personas. The only criteria that matters is your fictional buyers fairly represent your actual consumers.

Alexa posted a blog with 10 examples of buyer personas from a range of sectors, adhering to a wide variety of styles and formats. In some cases, consumer pain points were conveyed as consumer frustrations, but the variations prove the point that how you compose buyer personas may be less significant than whether you create them.

Unlike statistics that are spewed from an algorithm, buyer personas can be easily modified as experience dictates. You may get it wrong the first time. But the good news is you are focused on the right end of the marketing megaphone.

You are assessing and responding to where people are at and how to reach them. You have evolved from sending a message to sharing one. It’s a big difference, and an even bigger deal.

Humor as Your Brand Signature

Duluth Trading capitalized on the intrinsic humor of men’s ill-fitting underwear to create a brand signature that is memorable and touching. Don’t laugh off humor as a way to give your brand a defining signature.

Duluth Trading capitalized on the intrinsic humor of men’s ill-fitting underwear to create a brand signature that is memorable and touching. Don’t laugh off humor as a way to give your brand a defining signature.

Duluth Trading makes men’s underwear and women’s tank tops funny. Its owners are laughing all the way to the bank because it turns out humor sells.

Buck Naked Underwear, Free Swingin’ Flannel, Uncramp Your Crouch Khakis and Warm Your Chestnuts Fleece Work Pants are marketed with what you might call cheeky humor. Never too offensive, but clearly and lightheartedly delivering the point. Appropriate because, for some reason, men’s underwear is funny.

The company’s brand personality has connected with male and female consumers. Net annual sales have risen from around $150 million in 2013 to an expected $450 million this year. Year-over-year sales growth has reached as high as 40 percent and should exceed 20 percent in 2017.

Duluth Trading has bucked the retail trend by increasing the percentage of its sales in-store as opposed to online and expanding the number of brick-and-mortar outlets every year.

Other brands use humor, too, to turn a buck. The Dollar Shave Club runs ads implying a conspiracy or incompetence at retail stores to prevent selling shaving gear to would-be customers. In one ad, a man who grabs a razor is shot in the neck with a poison dart by a store clerk. The Club’s launch video in 2012 showed the company CEO riding a pitchfork around a warehouse and cracking jokes. It became a social media favorite.

Allstate Insurance, whose tagline is the “Good Hands” people, used sick humor to underscore its brand value. Through a character called Mayhem, played by actor Dean Winters, Allstate reminds people that “stuff happens” – an accidental portable grill explosion, changing a tire in a downpour and being captive at a dull family gathering because of a dead car battery.

Winters has portrayed a hungry raccoon, a pooping pigeon and fog in Seattle. During a football bowl game, he played a nerd burglar who broke into an actual couple’s home who announced on social media they were going on vacation and sold their belongings online. It was a social media hit and helped Mayhem become as recognizable as Geico’s Gecko and Progressive’s Flo, who not so coincidentally is a comedian.

Infusing humor into your marketing rests on a few basic principles. What you are infusing must be humorous. And it can’t cause offense. Both parts of the equation can be tricky.

In the case of a brand, humor is in the eye of the consumer – that is, the buyer. Discomfort in the crotch may make a man grumpy, but it makes a wife an eager buyer. The Buck Naked underwear ads make women beam and reach for their smartphones.

Offending with humor is as easy as spilling mustard from a hot dog on your shirt. Making people appear like klutzes isn’t flattering, but if you can humorously show that animals, inanimate objects and weather fronts can conspire against you, your audience may laugh as they check out their insurance coverage.

With men growing out beards every day, shaving is a bother, only made worse by the hassle of getting the right razor and shaving cream. Turning this frustration into a cartoon while being offered a chance to have shaving gear shipped to your door would make any man with stubble smile.

Injecting humor into your brand doesn’t have to result in guffaws and belly laughs. All you need to do is earn a chuckle and a little space in a consumer memory. The humor doesn’t need to rival Jerry Seinfeld, just come off as clever, maybe a little offbeat and eye-catching.

Humor can be especially welcome at a time when the news is dour and people are polarized. Laughter is one of the few things that can cut through anger and angst. As long as it doesn’t feed the anger and angst.

Brands should consider humor, but not jump online until the humor has been tested from as many angles as relevant. Know the risks. Adjust accordingly. Keep it straight if in doubt.

However, don’t underestimate a gut feeling. An experienced PR team strongly advised against adding “Killer” to “Dave’s Bread.” Adding “killer” wasn’t necessarily funny, but it became the offbeat defining signature for the brand.

The punchline: Don’t laugh off the use of humor as your defining brand signature.

A Good Nonprofit Name Makes a Mission Memorable

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but may not provide a clue to a nonprofit’s mission. A good name can make a mission clear and memorable.

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but may not provide a clue to a nonprofit’s mission. A good name can make a mission clear and memorable.

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ but is the same true for a brand? Maybe not. A good name is an important clue, sweet or otherwise.

Companies, as well as nonprofits, go to considerable lengths to pick names for their organizations, products and services that attract consumers and donors. They want a name that conveys their brand personality, if not describing what the brand is all about. Think “Jet Ski” or “Salvation Army.”

Shakespeare’s famous line from Romeo and Juliet suggests the separation between a name and its essence is illusory. A rose is a rose, after all, no matter what you call it. The contemporary dilemma is to select a name that is unmistakably linked to what it is.

Lots of brands and products have names with no apparent intrinsic meaning. All of those drug names you see in commercials come to mind. To the extent that you attach a thought to the drug name, it may be on the list of its possible side effects.

The lesson to draw from ubiquitous drug commercials is that their meaning is conveyed by visual imagery – someone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis being able to play with her grandchildren or someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease being able to go on a hike.

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Brands have logos to go with their name. In the case of high-profile brands with million-dollar advertising budgets and loads of product placements, logos can become everyday familiar – Nike’s Swoosh is a perfect example. Some companies (Intel, American Family Insurance) associate their name and logo with an earworm jingle. Others (Jack in the Box) have characters. Some nonprofits (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital) command national attention because of their size and the connections of their founders.

For many brands and most nonprofits, more cost-conscious tactics are necessary. One of the most cost-effective tactics is a good name combined with a logo, tagline and iconography that provide a visual explanation and leave a memorable impression.

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While the Pittsburgh Zoo is a self-explanatory name, its black-and-white iconography underscores a sense of playful discovery. The logo for the Bronx Zoo features animals, too, and uses the elongated legs of giraffes to give it a sense of place near Manhattan. The Tour de France uses a unique script that forms a logo and emphasizes its Frenchness.

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Finding a name that conveys meaning and has the potential to become familiar is the core challenge of building an identity. Names such as World Wide Fund for Nature, Doctors Without Borders, Feeding America, Stand up to Cancer, Save the Whales and Teach for America are evocative and instructive. You have a pretty good idea what these nonprofits do. While they all have excellent logos, their names are the pack mules of meaning.

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One of the secrets of these names is they incorporate each nonprofit’s mission. They use short, concrete and powerful words. They roll off the tongue. Some of the best nonprofit names (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers – MADD) form easy-to-remember acronyms.

There is no fixed formula to devise a brand or nonprofit name. But a good place to start is exploring simplified ways to express a mission and turn them into inspirational names, taglines and images. Then test the names and imagery with staff, stakeholders and donors. It is an iterative process, but not rocket science.

The effort is worth it. A solid name can create a second “first” impression, pump up morale, increase financial support, perk interest on social media and redouble commitment to the mission. That would be a sweet-smelling rose.

Confronting the Reality of Fake Reviews

Online consumer reviews are here to stay, so businesses are wise to pay attention to them and respond proactively when a negative comment appears or risk having a reputation distorted and possibly even smeared.

Online consumer reviews are here to stay, so businesses are wise to pay attention to them and respond proactively when a negative comment appears or risk having a reputation distorted and possibly even smeared.

Almost all consumers say they consult online reviews, but eight in 10 admit they can’t always spot fake reviews, according to a new survey. That should serve as a warning to businesses to police their online profiles and respond proactively to negative comments.

Taking down reviews poses its own perception issues, as Trip Advisor can attest after a public outcry over hotels, resorts and restaurants scrubbing negative reviews from their profiles.

The annual Bright Local consumer survey, which began in 2010, has shown continued growth in consumer use of online reviews. The most recent survey indicated 97 percent of consumer respondents said they looked at one or more online reviews in the past year. Growing reliance on online reviews raises the stakes on fake reviews.

Fake reviews can either be paid compliments or unfairly harsh criticism. In both cases, they can distort a reputation. Nearly 80 percent of consumers responding to the survey say they read a fake review during 2017. Twenty-five percent said they had seen a lot of fake reviews.

“Whether they’re paid-for-reviews making a business look better than deserved or damaging reviews written by people intending to cause harm, these fake reviews could have dramatic ramifications on the fortunes of local businesses,” Bright Local said. “And with more people than ever expecting high star ratings, even one rogue review could cause businesses to drop out of favor.”

It isn’t just businesses that should be concerned. People who rent condos and apartments on their vacations receive reviews by unit owners, which can affect future ability of renters to book desirable places at the best prices and with lower or no security fees.

Clearly, businesses cannot ignore their online reviews or take a meat cleaver to posts that are unflattering. The best approach is to encourage consumers with positive experiences to write reviews. Many consumers will respect an honest appeal for a review from a business owner who acknowledges the importance of online reviews.

Businesses can gain some cred by responding to negative reviews, by owning the cause of the bad experience, offering to make it right with the reviewer and describing steps to avoid a recurrence. In many cases, negative reviews can be avoided by immediately addressing consumer complaints, whether fully warranted or not, in the spirit of “the customer is always right.”

ReviewTrackers has found that more than 50 percent of consumers expect to hear from a brand after they post a negative online comment or review. The most demanding consumers look for a response with 24 hours and, if a response isn’t forthcoming, may post more negative comments.

Another approach, practiced locally by the Landmark Ford dealership, is to promote its positive online reviews, inviting consumers to read them. When a negative post occurs, the dealership apologizes and offers to take the issue offline and resolve the matter. Survey findings indicate that a quick response can persuade a disgruntled consumer that the business cares, even if it has screwed up.

There are companies that specialize in burying or buffing off critical comments. Be wary of approaches that consumer can and will view as inauthentic. Nobody likes critical comments. But a critic who is heard and satisfied can become brand zealot. You never have enough of those and the best way to earn one is by turning criticism into compliments

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Newsjacking Not for Thin-Crust Competitors

The founder of Papa John’s Pizza blamed declining sales on slipping NFL viewership because of players kneeling during the National Anthem. Joining the cultural chorus on kneeling players opened up Papa John’s to online snark from its pizza competitors.

The founder of Papa John’s Pizza blamed declining sales on slipping NFL viewership because of players kneeling during the National Anthem. Joining the cultural chorus on kneeling players opened up Papa John’s to online snark from its pizza competitors.

Newsjacking can be an effective, inexpensive marketing PR strategy. It also can backfire, as Papa John’s discovered last week.

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter joined the cultural chorus of deploring NFL players who kneel in protest during the National Anthem before games. In an earnings call, he blamed the protests on his chain’s declining pizza sales. Rivals didn’t hesitate newsjacking Schnatter’s newsjacking.

Domino’s said its pizza sales were up, not down. Pizza Hut said NFL protests had no impact on its sales. DiGiorno Pizza went to the mattresses on Twitter, mocking Papa John’s faltering stock price and claiming in one tweet: “Better Pizza. Better Sales.”

Hopping aboard a trending story, known as newsjacking, is a tried-and-true way to gain attention on the cheap. Schnatter got attention all right, but paved the way for competitors to newsjack at his expense. Good reminder that newsjacking is a lot like chess. You have to think seven moves ahead, not just where to move your pawn.

Newsjackers need to prepare for blowback, a lot like confronting the school bully. If you aren’t up to fighting back, maybe you shouldn’t start the fight, even unintentionally.

DiGiorno newsjacked Papa John’s comment about declining sales to promote its own brand value, triggering a snarky exchange that DiGiorno seemed better prepared to wage than Papa John’s.Write here...

DiGiorno newsjacked Papa John’s comment about declining sales to promote its own brand value, triggering a snarky exchange that DiGiorno seemed better prepared to wage than Papa John’s.Write here...

DiGiorno has an online reputation for being chippy. When Papa John’s responded to DiGiorno by tweeting: "Frozen pizza = the pizza equivalent of a participation trophy," DiGiorno went for the throat, pointing out previous Papa John’s high-profile delivery gaffes and repeating claims it plagiarized DiGiorno.

One observer noted that if you lack the stomach for a “snarky social media” exchange, you should think twice about getting into one.

In this case, the problem started when Schnatter tied his personal views with his brand’s personality. Whining about a sales drop and blaming it on kneeling NFL players was a neon invitation for a social media bitch slap. Even when you are the official pizza of the NFL, complaining about fan drop-off is like serving jam to ants at a picnic. In addition to swipes by competitors, Papa John’s is fighting off a neo-Nazi website that declared it the official pizza pie of the alt-right.

If there were maxims on social media, one would be that there aren’t any rules. If you jump into the pool, you can’t complain about snakes in the water. Wrestling with reptiles may not be fun, but it can be healthy for a brand if you hold your own. DiGiorno has a chip on its brand shoulder and uses a combative online personality to fend off snark about frozen pizza. Schnatter knows his competitive circle and shouldn’t have been surprised by his rivals teeing off on him.

The bottom line is that newsjacking isn’t a spectator sport. Don’t bring a pizza cutter to a knife fight. If you have a thin crust, maybe you should stick with traditional advertising.

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The Rise and Fall of Power Posing

Amy Cuddy inspired with her power-pose promises to boost confidence and testosterone, but faltered when critics pointed out her research was flawed, serving as a cautionary tale about how to respond when your great idea turns into post-midnight pumpkin.

Amy Cuddy inspired with her power-pose promises to boost confidence and testosterone, but faltered when critics pointed out her research was flawed, serving as a cautionary tale about how to respond when your great idea turns into post-midnight pumpkin.

A 2010 study co-authored by social psychologist Amy Cuddy generated widespread enthusiasm for power posing to give speakers enhanced confidence and an actual metabolic lift. In the years to follow, efforts to replicate Cuddy’s research failed, her co-author distanced herself from the original findings and Cuddy has been subjected to harsh ridicule, especially on social media.

It is a cautionary tale about how an idea can go from godsend to garbage in the virtual blink of an eye, as well as the obligations of propagators of new ideas to talk candidly when the ideas don’t prove out.

The New York Times Magazine published a long article October 18 about Cuddy, her TED talk on power posing that popularized the technique and the acrimonious aftermath following searing criticism from fellow psychologists over her research methodology. The article is long, but well worth reading.

Cuddy became famous for asserting that power poses strengthened confidence and resulted in physiological changes by boosting testosterone levels and lowering stress-related cortisol levels. Many communications consultants, including CFM, added references to power posing into their training sessions. We urged speakers-in-training to amp up by making a “V” with their outstretched arms or plopping their feet on a desk. Trainees, even ones who seemed skeptical, avowed the technique boosted their confidence before speaking.

While “feelings of power” may result, subsequent research using larger samples and more rigorous evaluation didn’t confirm power poses produced any measurable physiological benefits. When critiques of power posing hit social media, Cuddy and her work were savaged. She became the poster child for shoddy science in social psychology.

Cuddy wasn’t alone in being criticized for her research techniques, but her high profile as a speaker and writer made her a convenient pin cushion for the criticism. How Cuddy responded – or, more precisely, didn’t respond – to the criticism is the lesson for others who have a great idea that turns into a post-midnight pumpkin.

When the criticism splashed onto social media, Cuddy mildly defended her research and findings, then more or less stopped talking about power posing. She continues to speak, has written a book and is working on a new one. Her career isn’t over, but she hasn’t cleaned up the messy picture in the background of power posing.

Admitting errors isn’t easy for anyone. In Cuddy’s case, she hasn’t admitted her conclusions were based on what has been shown to be faulty research. After a few power poses, she should.

Even if power poses don’t give speakers a testosterone rush, they do seem to bolster confidence before and during a speech – not a small thing for people with a deathly fear of speaking in front of a crowd. Owning up to this reality would clear the air and encourage speech coaches to keep recommending power poses for timorous speakers. (In our media training, we have and continue to pitch power poses as a confidence-builder, not a metabolic miracle.)

False or misleading claims, whether based on research or not, are common. Too many appear to be intentional. For those claims that are well-intentioned, but wind up with inadequate on inaccurate validation, setting the record straight is the way to go to preserve integrity – for a brand, an organization or an individual.

Power poses don’t harm anyone. They just aren’t the elixir Cuddy extolled. Many false or misleading claims can cause harm and the public should be informed. Whether or not there is any harm to users, failure to admit claims were false or misleading can cause lasting harm to a reputation. A reputation can withstand and even be enhanced by honest admissions, especially when expressed in the larger public interest.

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Corporate Social Responsibility in the Public Interest

After loads of stories and lots of handwringing about opioid addiction, a major retail pharmacy chain is stepping up to restrict the size of opioid prescriptions to protect patients, spur public dialogue  and galvanize a broader response to a national epidemic.

After loads of stories and lots of handwringing about opioid addiction, a major retail pharmacy chain is stepping up to restrict the size of opioid prescriptions to protect patients, spur public dialogue  and galvanize a broader response to a national epidemic.

CVS has gone from battling tobacco use by youth to joining the fight against opioid addiction. In the process, it is providing a textbook example of corporate social responsibility (CSR) that is relevant, instructive and counter to its self-interest.

When CVS stopped selling cigarettes in 2014, it gave up a $2 billion per year business. Now the pharmacy chain will restrict the size of opioid prescriptions, which also could mean lost sales and profits. The restriction, which will go into effect February 1, will limit opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin to a seven-day supply. The average opioid pill supply prescribed by US doctors has climbed from 13 days in 2006 to 18 days in 2015.

Eileen Howard Boone, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy, says CVS tries to balance profit and purpose. The company’s CSR strategy is called “Prescription for a Better World” and focuses on “building healthier communities, protecting the planet and creating economic opportunities.”

What sets the company’s CSR program apart is its willingness to buck self-interest. No question, the decisions to stop selling tobacco products and restrict the size of opioid prescriptions are intended to build goodwill. But they are not happy-foot contributions to popular causes. They are actions intended to galvanize broader movements to address significant social challenges.

There have been a lot of stories about the woes created by opioid addiction and plenty of handwringing about what to do about it. The CVS decision is a tangible step to reduce the amount of pills in circulation, collect and dispose of unused pills and educate patients about the risks of the long-term use of opioids. It is the first national retail chain to restrict opioid prescriptions.

“We are strengthening our commitment to help providers and patients balance the need for these powerful medications with the risk of abuse and misuse,” says CVS Health President and CEO Larry J. Merlo. CVS claims to manage 90 million patient prescriptions through 9,700 retail pharmacies.

CSR activities are good business, but no often enough bad for business. CVS demonstrates a more compelling form of CSR by taking actions in the public interest, not its self-interest.

 

Seeing Business Opportunities in Marketplace Gaps

Would you be happy if someone came to your door with a warm, late-night cookie? A Portland couple thought so, which is why they created After Dark Cookies (and Bryce the cookieman) to fill a cookie-craving gap.

Would you be happy if someone came to your door with a warm, late-night cookie? A Portland couple thought so, which is why they created After Dark Cookies (and Bryce the cookieman) to fill a cookie-craving gap.

One of the best new business strategies is filling a gap – real or perceived.

Portlanders who develop a late-night craving for something sweet can now call After Dark Cookies to order made-from-scratch cookies delivered to their door. That beats slipping on jeans over your pajamas and driving to the nearest convenience store.

Drivers who want to make sure they get good insurance at the best price can go to EverQuote™ and compare prices and discounts online. This avoids hopping from one auto insurance company website to another and entering your information over and over again.

Some of the best gaps are often discovered by people frustrated by the service they receive – or wish they could receive. The founders of After Dark Cookies dreamed up their business idea by wishing they could have a warm cookie late at night. The EverQuote entrepreneurs took to heart complaints from motorists annoyed at the difficulty of comparison shopping for car insurance.

A useful trait in spotting gaps is listening to friends, associates and even strangers talk about day-to-day life irritations – what marketers call “pain points.” You need to probe beyond mere griping to explore the depth of the irritation and whether there is any service or product in the marketplace that addresses it. Once you nail down the nature and frequency of the irritation, you can research cures for their itch that can turn into businesses.

After Dark Cookies landed on a rather obvious solution – homemade cookies delivered to your doorstep. Other problems can be more challenging, so it might help to think about solutions and the problems they could solve. Drone technology is a great example. Building owners and contractors use drones to inspect skyscrapers. News organizations use them to capture on-the-scene footage, as they did dramatically in the hurricane surges in Texas and Florida. What else could drones do or do better than what’s available today? It’s a high-fying way to search for on-the-ground problems to solve.

Another gap-filling technique is to discover a bright new service or product that is available someplace else and then copy or franchise the idea for your local market. Creative copying fills a gap before the originator of the idea has the time and money to fill it.

Governmental actions create gaps. New regulations usually mean new compliance procedures. Many companies subject to the new regulations would welcome a streamlined way to comply without a lot of additional paperwork. Governmental opportunities also can create gaps. A Portland company markets its signature-gathering services to nonprofits that don’t have the manpower to collect 1,000 signatures to qualify for Oregon’s Charitable Checkoff Donations list.

Sometimes the gap is just the distance between two services that no one has thought to connect. Netflix went from mail delivery of your favorite films to live streaming them. Shopping malls have added solar arrays to generate electricity for electric vehicle recharging stations and to sell back to utilities.

Gap searching may not be as easy as laying on your couch yearning for a cookie, but it doesn’t require rocket research either (unless the gap you want to fill is in outer space). Don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel to become an entrepreneur. Just look for the gap between the wheel and the road.

Your next brilliant business idea may be right in front of your eyes – in what you don’t see on the market.

Mouth-Watering Marketing for All Seasons

Pappardelle’s pasta shop in Seattle tempts taste buds with recipes and visually appealing pictures of orzo and other fall dishes.

Pappardelle’s pasta shop in Seattle tempts taste buds with recipes and visually appealing pictures of orzo and other fall dishes.

Changing seasons offers a mouth-watering opportunity to tantalize customers with familiar favorites.

My wife and I love pasta and always make a point to stop at Pappardelle’s pasteria in Pike Place Market when we are in Seattle. We received our fall invitation to return with a visually tempting email from Pappardelle’s that featured stone-ground coarse mustard penne mixed with beer-braised brats. It made me want to lick my computer screen.

Seasonal favorites are a great way to remind customers, even loyal ones, that they should return for more. For food purveyors, it is a no-brainer. But almost any business can conjure up a seasonal connection.

CPAs, for example, can point to the calendar, noting there are only a few months left to identify and execute some tax planning to reduce the bite next spring.

Garden shops and hardware stores can predict the coming rains and encourage customers to fertilize the lawn one last time this year and check out the downspouts.

Auto dealers can invite customers to a wine tasting to look over the remaining crop of last year’s model cars, for sale at a discount.

Appeals can speak subtly by their color palettes, and even more demonstrably with good imagery. Pappardelle’s email led with a fetching image of fallen leaves on a green lawn with a backdrop of trees with orange and golden canopies. Message delivered. What’s for dinner?

Once you grab a viewer’s attention, you need to keep feeding their appetite. Pappardelle’s included a recipe for its penne brat concoction, noted the return of its savory blends of orzo and promoted its monthly winner of a 4-pack of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. There also was a link for a coupon to receive free shipping. Where do I click?

This kind of marketing is very much customer-centric. You could let customers know what you have for sale or what services you offer, but that might fall flat if customers just glanced on by. Summoning succulent memories with a captivating picture of your product draws in customers and extends the time they spend looking at what you offer. I immediately entered this month’s contest.

“We have our Autumn Harvest orzo, a beautiful savory blend of pumpkin, sage and chestnut,” tempted the Pappardelle’s email. “Make sure you get a pound or two for this October and November because it’s sure to perfectly compliment whatever meals you’ll be preparing this fall.”

Just as important, the email noted, “It’s only September, but don’t procrastinate or it will be next year before you know it and you will have forgotten all about the pasta you wanted to buy.” Make your marketing mouth-watering enough so customers don’t forget or procrastinate.

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Turning Customer Feedback into a Labor Day Message

The CEO of Marriott International turned positive customer feedback into a Labor Day message to Congress.

The CEO of Marriott International turned positive customer feedback into a Labor Day message to Congress.

Customer feedback is a ready, often fulsome source of content. The CEO of Marriott International turned some positive feedback into a brand-embellishing blog that also delivered a powerful message on Labor Day.

Arne Sorenson reviews lots of customer feedback, much of it critical. “I’m fine with that,” he writes. “An important part of our culture is believing that success is never final, so we learn from customer feedback.” It turns out there also are lessons to learn from positive customer feedback.

Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, turned a customer feedback email into a powerful message about immigration.

Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, turned a customer feedback email into a powerful message about immigration.

When Sorenson opened one email, what he read was a heap of praise for one of his employees named Ismeta. He says the email wasn’t the first one he received praising Ismeta, who has worked at Marriott properties in the Chicago area.

The email said, “She truly is a lovely, lovely person with a rare quality for being able to connect with people in such a way that brings out the best in all of us and making you feel so welcome.” Sorenson said she was previously praised for “her cheerful attitude” and “demonstrating Marriott’s spirit to serve.” One fan suggested Marriott should feature Ismeta in a “training video on how to treat guests.”

Good stuff and a smart move by Sorenson to share customer kudos for Ismeta. But he did more.

“At a time when the debate in Washington is focused on building walls and reducing legal immigration, my thoughts turn to Ismeta,” Sorenson reflected. “Our economy and our society benefit from immigration done right.”

Ismeta left Bosnia almost 20 years ago after losing family members in a brutal war, Sorenson said. “Picking up the pieces, she made her way to Germany and then to Chicago.”

He continued, “Ismeta’s life is now an American story, an expression of this country’s ability provide opportunity to those willing to embrace it. She is making the experiences of our guests better, she is making Marriott better and she is making our country better. And I can’t think of better feedback than that.”

Sorenson sent his message to Washington, DC. “The conversation on immigration seems to be one of extremes,” he wrote. “We need to make sure our borders are secured as well as our airports, but we also must recognize that immigration is essential to numerous industries – including hospitality – and that so many immigrants are contributing to the greater good of our country, just as millions of immigrants have before them, my family and like yours included.”

Not bad for email with the subject line: Customer Feedback. Read your customer feedback and contemplate what it tells you, and what you can share about it with others. You may discover a surprising source of uplifting content.

The Not-So-Secret to Starbucks Addiction

Starbucks has cultivated a lot of loyal customers who find its coffee shops inviting, the service friendly and the branding subtle. They also appreciate the friction-free ways they can buy their morning cup of joe.

Starbucks has cultivated a lot of loyal customers who find its coffee shops inviting, the service friendly and the branding subtle. They also appreciate the friction-free ways they can buy their morning cup of joe.

I am addicted to Starbucks – and I don’t drink coffee. I’m not alone.

Starbucks does a lot of things right. Clean, inviting coffee shop atmospheres – usually equipped with electric plugs to charge laptops or smartphones. Constantly evolving menus of drinks and snacks (and here and there wine). Friendly baristas who wish you a good day even when you don’t tip.

Some of the smart stuff Starbucks does is subtle. Like coffee cup sleeves that deliver brand messages. The current sleeve touts Starbucks’ commitment to hire veterans and military spouses (“10,000 and counting”) and was designed by the daughter of a Navy SEAL. The previous sleeve contained short testimonials of Starbucks employees enrolled in company-paid online college classes offered by Arizona State University (my daughter is enrolled). The sleeves reflect major corporate commitments that align well with its consumer base.

However, Robbie Kellman Baxter, who wrote The Membership Economy, says the smartest thing Starbucks does is reduce the friction in buying a cup of coffee. The Starbucks loyalty program, she explains, is tied with ease of purchase.

“Unlike punch cards of old, Starbucks cards usually start as gift cards, which the member connects digitally to a personal account from the Starbucks website,” Baxter says. “The member can add money to the card, either electronically or at the register. Why is this important? Because it removes a layer of friction, in that members only need their Starbucks card and not two cards or a card plus cash.”

Starbucks has taken its loyalty program even deeper with an app that allows coffee consumers to pay with their smartphones instead of pulling out a physical card of fumbling with cash. The app also allows consumers in a hurry to place mobile orders, so they can bypass any line or the cash register to retrieve their drink.

An inviting atmosphere, non-intrusive branding and frictionless purchases account for why Starbucks remains so popular. What is hard to fathom is why more consumer-facing companies haven’t emulated some of the Starbucks savvy.

The Shane Company has gotten the message. Instead of repetitious ads that tout buying diamonds in Antwerp, the jewelry company has bedecked its exterior with signs that say, “What are you waiting for?” and “Ask her now.” The jeweler offers a comfortable, non-threatening sales floor. Customers are quickly greeted and hooked up with a sales person. You can get your ring cleaned and checked without a second thought. It invites customer to show off their rings on Shane’s Instagram and Twitter feeds.

Back to Starbucks, loyal customers invariably return, even though serious coffee drinkers think places like Stumptown serve better coffee, because it just feels right. The Starbucks secret to loyalty is not really a secret.

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

User-Generated Content Extends Your Marketing Bench

If the quest for fresh content for your content marketing efforts exhaust you, ask for help. You can ask for user-generated submissions you can share or for user participation in project partnerships that create new content.

If the quest for fresh content for your content marketing efforts exhaust you, ask for help. You can ask for user-generated submissions you can share or for user participation in project partnerships that create new content.

The constant quest for new content can exhaust brand managers. Sometimes the answer is to ask for help.

Here are two imaginative examples of how help in content creation can be found:

Making songs out of interviews

The manager of the Blind Boys of Alabama, a Grammy-winning singing group that made its debut album, 70 years ago, decided to look for new lyrics in the reflective words of the group’s founding members. He arranged for interviews of Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain, then sent transcripts of their interviews to some songwriters.

He got back 50 submissions, which became the foundation for the musical group’s latest album, Almost Home. One of the songs Carter performs on the album, Let My Mother Live, contains lyrics that were direct quotes from his interview – “Let my mother live ‘til I get grown.”

The inspiration for the interviews and the outreach to songwriters had a simple origin – Carter and Fountain had long, colorful lives. “The arc of their lives,” explained executive producer Charles Driebe, “mirrors the arc of some very important and sweeping changes in American and the American South.”

Driebe added, “They have a unique experience with those changes, and the things that they’ve lived through, which are very good fodder for songs.” The new album is proof. The songs are fresh, while the lyrics are authentic.

Hope Is Project

Sarah Takako Skinner, who goes by Takako, is a photographer who has made her mark with something called editorial portraiture. She seeks to blend emotional and artistic risk to produce pictures that expose risk, fear or passion. Takako’s work is visually challenging.

Now she is applying her photographic technique on a project to help people “photograph hope.” Takako arms subjects with a camera to capture pictures that express how they feel.

One project participant tracked his daily ups and downs of being transgender. After initial reticence, the man warmed up to a camera perpetually in hand and began capturing candid and revealing photographs, some pedestrian, others swirling with emotion.

“The Hope Is project is a project of change and impact focused on the discovery and harnessing of the power of hope – via an inspiring photographic process,” according to the project’s website. The ultimate goal is a “global conversation about hope” based on a “partnership between art and purpose.”

Both examples are imaginative forms of seeking user-generated content. You don’t have to produce an album or a multinational photo exhibit to recognize the value of asking for help to power up your content.

The ask could be as simple as inviting customers to suggest brand-related topics they would like to learn more about, share their experience with a brand or tell a personal story that connects with the brand.

Our firm proposed and helped stage Mac and Cheese contests that invited Tillamook Cheese consumers to show off their cheesy creations. Well known chefs judged the entries. The contest created buzz and provided grist and human-interest stories for earned media and social media that centered on the Tillamook brand.

Jimmy Fallon asks his followers to provide tweet-sized stories in response to weekly “hashtags” such as #MomQuotes, #HowIGotFired and #MyFamilyIsWeird. The submissions Fallon airs are hilarious, with strange stories even deranged comedy writers couldn’t come up with. Many of the tweets are posted on Fallon’s website.

Another approach is to invite others to partner with you on a project, much like in the two examples. Writing music to go with the words of singers or shooting photographs that express personal emotions are content creations in their own right.

When asking for user contributions or partners, make sure to go all-out in publicizing your request. Asking for user-generated content is part of the new wave of content you get when you ask for help.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Effective Teams and Collective Intelligence

Effective teams require more than brainpower. They need emotional intelligence and collective intelligence that allows each team member feel safe to express thoughts and ideas, even if they are disruptive – and perhaps because they are disruptive.

Effective teams require more than brainpower. They need emotional intelligence and collective intelligence that allows each team member feel safe to express thoughts and ideas, even if they are disruptive – and perhaps because they are disruptive.

Working in teams is a new norm in business, but all teams aren’t created equal. Google has conducted research to find out what makes the best teams click. One of the attributes is a bit surprising.

Google has identified five forms of collective intelligence that enhance team success. The most important, Google says, is providing a safe-zone for team members to say what’s on their mind and share ideas.

Google has identified five forms of collective intelligence that enhance team success. The most important, Google says, is providing a safe-zone for team members to say what’s on their mind and share ideas.

Project Aristotle was started by Google to study the effectiveness of teams. The research found two key characteristics – everyone contributes to the conversation and team members have an above-average ability to read other people’s emotions.

If emotional intelligence is a key factor in determining team success, how do you go about forming effective teams? The first instinct is to bring in the brightest lights in the categories relevant to the team’s work. You can ask everyone to bone up on emotional intelligence – and get some mentoring if they are deficient.

But Google kept digging and discovered other factors are important to team success. Julia Rozovsky, Google’s people analytics manager, realized that smarts and emotional intelligence weren’t enough to ensure success. How the team functioned and group norms were critical factors – “traditions, behavioral standards
and unwritten rules.” You might call it the collective intelligence of the team.

As Rozovsky told Inc., the five top factors include:

  1. Dependability – team members fulfilling assignments on time and meeting expectations.
  2. Structure and clarity – teams have clear goals and team members well-defined roles.
  3. Meaning – work holds personal significance to team members.
  4. Impact – team members buy into the team’s purpose and foresee positive impacts.
  5. Psychological safety – security to say what you think and take risks.

The last factor is the most interesting, and evidently the most significant factor, because taking risks can mean disrupting a team. But Google’s research found creating a judgment-free zone at team meetings unleashed ideas and opinions that otherwise might not have been expressed, enhancing chances of overall team success.

The finding reinforces the old saying, “Two heads are better than one,” but takes it a step further by underlining the importance of respecting all the brains in a room.

Savvy Sponsorship Embodies Mayo Brand Message

Miracle Whip celebrated its 84-year-old history by sponsoring a women’s basketball team consisting of 80+ year old players who grew up with the iconic mayonnaise and embody the brand’s message of enduring heritage.

Miracle Whip celebrated its 84-year-old history by sponsoring a women’s basketball team consisting of 80+ year old players who grew up with the iconic mayonnaise and embody the brand’s message of enduring heritage.

A testimonial by LeBron James may be beyond your financial means, but what about a team of 80-year-old female ballers? You could afford them, but would you ever think to ask them?

Leave it to a mayonnaise icon to make the connection. Miracle Whip, which debuted in Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition in 1933, is turning 84, so some clever person in the marketing department thought of a way to mark the birthday. Kraft-owned Miracle Whip sunk its sponsorship dollars into the San Diego Splash, a women’s basketball team whose players are 80+ years old. (A couple of players are in their 90s.)

Talking to AdWeek, Marketing Director Matt Carpenter said he was looking for a way to underscore the heritage of Miracle Whip. Then he saw a segment on espnW about the San Diego Splash that showed inspiring footage of the women sinking baskets and competing vigorously. “Just seeing these ladies touching people of all ages lined up with how we think about our brand,” Carpenter said.

It didn’t hurt that many Splash team members grew up with Miracle Whip as a favorite condiment. Team member Jean Field said, “I’ve been a Miracle Whip fan since I was 3 years old. My grandparents had it in their icebox. My mother had it in her refrigerator. And it’s been in my refrigerator and my kids’ refrigerators for years.” You couldn’t write a better ad script than that.

Carpenter hasn’t decided whether to feature the team in any Miracle Whip ads. For now, he is content with letting his brand’s association with the Splash whip away on social media.

San Diego Splash team members have their own cards sporting basketballs bearing the Miracle Whip logo.

San Diego Splash team members have their own cards sporting basketballs bearing the Miracle Whip logo.

The Splash sponsorship is clever for several reasons. It involves an organic connection between a brand and consumers that isn’t phony or pumped up. Sponsoring an octogenarian women’s basketball team is different without being kitschy. The sponsorship creates content that is perfectly suited for social media sharing. And, not unimportant, it is an affordable marketing investment, even for enterprises with far less cash than Miracle Whip.

Carpenter said the sponsorship includes contributions by Miracle Whip to the team’s scholarship program, paying for the team’s league fees and buying new gear. The players won’t have to buy any Miracle Whip for the rest of their lives, either.

Marketers shouldn’t overlook out-of-the-box possibilities for memorable associations, through sponsorships or other connections, that embody the message your brand wants to send.

Personal Branding by Employees Benefits Business Bottom Lines

LinkedIn has become much more than a place to look for a new job. It has emerged as a hub for personal branding that can benefit business bottom lines as well as employee satisfaction.

LinkedIn has become much more than a place to look for a new job. It has emerged as a hub for personal branding that can benefit business bottom lines as well as employee satisfaction.

LinkedIn has evolved to more than an online job hunting site and emerged as a hub for personal branding.

“When LinkedIn launched, it was primarily an online resume and e-networking site and its functionality was geared toward job search,” says William Arruda in an article for Forbes. “Today, with features like Groups, Influencers and Blogging – and dozens of other career-boosting enhancements – LinkedIn is the place to manage and advance your career.”

The evolution of LinkedIn is not in perfect parallel with corporate thinking about employees engaging on social media at work. Some still view social media activity as a waste of time. But, according to Arruda, other companies are taking a more forward-looking view and encouraging employees to build reputations on platforms such as LinkedIn.

Impressive statistics developed by MSL Group back up Arruda’s point:

  • Brand messages reach more than 500 percent further when shared by employees in their networks versus the same messages shared via official brand social channels; and
  • Employee-distributed brand messages are shared 24 times more frequently than official brand messages.

Because of its professional orientation, LinkedIn is an effective vehicle to demonstrate thought leadership and expertise and share your community and civic activities. You also can show your ability to write coherent sentences. It is a content marketer’s dream come true.

While email and one-on-one chats over coffee can keep you in touch with your existing close-by community, LinkedIn allows you to expand your community to different business sectors and geographical locations. There is an argument that diversifying your community leads to new gateways to personal and business growth. It is an intentional strategy to get lucky in finding contacts that open doors you never dreamed possible.

Participation in LinkedIn groups or reading comments from influencers can be learning opportunities that you can repurpose with your reflections in your blog.

When employees develop and enhance their personal brands, there is a risk others will come calling to steal them away. The job search aspect of LinkedIn remains. But employees leave for lots of reasons. Encouraging your employees to build their personal brands may provide satisfaction and a great reason to stay put and take on greater responsibility.

Touching and Tasting Real Things in a Digital World

In a digital world, people still want to touch, taste or smell real things before they buy them. Brands and nonprofits would do well to remember to include real experiences in their marketing outreach.

In a digital world, people still want to touch, taste or smell real things before they buy them. Brands and nonprofits would do well to remember to include real experiences in their marketing outreach.

In our digital world, we often overlook the potential impact of physical objects that people can see and touch.

A great example are the 58 benches in Manchester, UK that are designed to look like books and have been decorated by schoolchildren with scenes from their favorite titles, such as “How to Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell. Spread around Manchester, the 58 eye-popping benches are hard to miss. And they are serving their purpose – to encourage young kids (and their parents) to read, increasing the community’s overall literacy level.

It would not be hard to conceive of a similar campaign on digital or social media. But the physicality of the benches are more than subliminal reminders that books are something you hold in your hands while sipping a cup of hot chocolate.

Brightly decorated book-shaped benches invite young children in Manchester, UK to read and Girls Build holds summer camps in Oregon where young girls can learn how to hammer, paint and solder. Both are examples of using real experiences to achieve community objectives.

Brightly decorated book-shaped benches invite young children in Manchester, UK to read and Girls Build holds summer camps in Oregon where young girls can learn how to hammer, paint and solder. Both are examples of using real experiences to achieve community objectives.

The benches will be focal points this summer in Manchester for a series of literacy-related events, storytelling sessions and book swaps staged by more than 20 collaborating cultural venues. For some and maybe many children, it will be their first encounter with these venues. Ditto for their parents.

The Manchester book benches should inspire others to consider how they to take advantage of experiencing real things. Girls Build runs summer camps that give girls from age 8 through 14 the opportunity to work with real construction tools. They wear hard hats, safety glasses and ear protection as they build a playhouse.

Like the Manchester book benches, the Girls Build playhouse has layered impacts. Girls experience using real tools to hammer, paint and solder. The experience gives them a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Even though only a small fraction of girls who attend the camps in Portland and Grants Pass will go on to become tradeswomen, all of the girls who attend the camp say they feel more self-confident they could take care of a home repair problem.

There is also a Kids Culinary Camp in Portland that gives youngsters a chance to learn how to cook food, from pastries to pasta, as well as safely handle knives in the kitchen.

Touching and seeing is equally important for adults. Many retailers – even Amazon – see the value of combining a brick-and-mortar presence with online sales. It is has become common for customers to try on clothes or shoes in a physical store to see how they look and feel, then order them online while in the store.

No question that the digital expands the reach of individual consumers and gives them access to consumer information not available in a physical store. But, at least so far, you can’t feel a fabric or check out the fit online.

Costco recognizes the power of tasting things before you buy them as it regularly offers aisles full of samples. Auto dealers rarely sell cars without a test drive. Jewelers under the magic of putting a sparkling diamond into a handsome setting and then slipping on someone’s finger. Ice cream parlors let you taste different flavors. Experiencing the real thing matters in the consumer journey.

In the rush to embrace digital media marketing strategies, brands, nonprofits and public agencies shouldn’t forget the irresistible urge people of all ages have to touch or taste the real thing. Someday virtual reality may include touch, taste and smell, but not yet.

Baseball as a Metaphor for Life – and Marketing

Baseball is a metaphor for life and marketing. You can success 30 percent of the time and be an all-star. You can be small, but still hit a homerun. You can be discounted, but still come through big time.

Baseball is a metaphor for life and marketing. You can success 30 percent of the time and be an all-star. You can be small, but still hit a homerun. You can be discounted, but still come through big time.

Baseball is the national pastime and a metaphor for life – and marketing. Really.

If football proves that brawn overwhelms skill, baseball shows spunky little guys can be all-stars. You can be in the Baseball Hall of Fame despite failing at bat two out of three times over a career. A slugger can pulverize a pitch 400 feet and make an out, while a slap hitter can turn a 45-foot infield single into an RBI, game-winning single. A batter can look like a louse by striking out, then come up the next time and hit a homerun. A pitcher can strike out the side, then lose the game by giving up a homerun that wins the game foe the other team.

Pretty impressive life lessons: Player size doesn’t determine success. Failure doesn’t deny greatness. Everyday singles mean as much or more than towering homeruns.

Many people deride baseball as boring. It is anything but. The game is freighted with strategy. Nine players trying to find a harmony in defense on every pitch versus a single player trying to defy the odds and hit the ball safely in the field or over the fence. Pitchers employ deception with fast balls, curve balls and screw balls. Batters are like bettors picking the perfect pitch to hit. They are exemplars of everyman.

Jacob Cashman wrote a blog with four examples of how baseball is a metaphor for life.

  1. As Yogi Berra observed, “The game isn’t over until the fat lady sings.”  Cashman paraphrased Berra with, “What happens at the beginning might have no relevance at the end.” Baseball teams play nine innings and a lot can happen. The same is true in marketing. You may strike out at first, but you can adjust and double down at your next at-bat. One of the advantages of digital media is the ability to track results so you can see in real time what works and what doesn’t and adjust accordingly.
     
  2. High achievers in baseball fail a lot. You can be all-star by getting hit three out of every 10 times you bat. But unless you get into the batter’s box and take your cuts, you won’t have any batting average. Failing is just part of the game – in baseball and in marketing.
     
  3. Baseball players aren’t all the same. The skills it takes to play shortstop are different than what it takes to be a catcher. Pitchers are a whole different animal. But on a team, they blend their skills to score runs and prevent their opponents from scoring more runs. What differentiates baseball from football, for example, is that individual players at the same position can vary enormously. Left tackles in football universally have to be big and agile because they protect the blind side of the quarterback. An outfielder in baseball can be like 6-foot, 7-inch Aaron Judge or 5-foot, 11-inch Brett Gardner. In a recent Yankees game, Judge hit a single and walked while Gardner hit a grand slam homerun. Don’t judge a talent by their looks. Find out how they can play.
     
  4. One of the longest winning streaks in Major League Baseball history belongs to the Oakland A’s, a team that runs on a meager budget and tends to collect baseball misfits. Oakland won its 20th straight game when a player no other team wanted – and Oakland’s manager doubted could be a Big League contributor – hit the game-winning homerun. Don’t bet on miracles, but don’t bet against them, either. Sometimes the miraculous can occur by handing someone a bat and giving them a chance to contribute. They could make you look like the marketing manager of the year.

Turning Your Quirky Side into Strategy

 Quirkiness can be a charming way to cause a double-take or a deeper look at your product, service or idea. Check out your quirkiness quotient to see if it can provide a promotional boost.

 Quirkiness can be a charming way to cause a double-take or a deeper look at your product, service or idea. Check out your quirkiness quotient to see if it can provide a promotional boost.

In a world full of bad news, sometimes a little light-hearted humor helps. Like when you see a bunch of men’s faces sprouting wooly heads of hair and beards. You have to stop for a moment and chuckle. Maybe you will wonder if you need a fist full of wool.

Quirky design can be an effective marketing strategy by surprising your eyes. It makes you do a double-take. With shriveled attention spans by eye-weary consumers, that’s about as much as you can hope for.

Zombies are quirky, but not especially playful. Quirky works best when its subject matter is playful. Like curving wooden cabinets that would be a perfect fit in a Dr. Seuss book. Or little egg-like characters who share tips on proper etiquette for bus riders. Or a bicycle seat that doubles as a security lock to prevent theft of the bike – or seat.

Even though some car dealers still run TV ads with announcers who sound like bellowing circus barkers, many people prefer a subtler form of persuasion, a tiny dose of humor. You still need to sell a product, but you do it with a sense of style – turning wool yarn into men’s beards. (If you wrap a man’s face in a woolen mask, it’s not subtle – and not especially funny.)

Quirkiness doesn’t work on an island. It needs to mesh with product design. Thieves steal bikes and bike seats, so why not thwart thieves by turning the bike seat into an invincible bike lock. Oon designed a cute multi-shaped, fully functional power cord that you feel comfortable having in full sight.

A quirky design helps an otherwise bland product stand out. You can walk for miles inside an IKEA store and see rows of boxy cabinets. But you don’t always see curvy cabinets, tables designed for eating and ping-pong or a purse with arms, legs and a wry smile.

What may seem quirky at first can become beloved. The clean lines of the original Apple iPhone, which just turned 10 years old, reflected the simplicity and adaptability of its touch screen and sent frumpy cell phones on the road to obsolescence.

Granted, quirkiness can represent a marketplace risk. Don’t let your wildest imagination be your guide. But giving your imagination some room to roam can be healthy and result in a fresh, livelier perspective on how to package, market or design your product, service or idea.

If you need help finding your own quirkiness, read MAD Magazine or go see a Minions movie. If Alfred E. Neman and those lovable, mischievous yellow blobs of energy can’t excite your imagination, you might be better off sticking with stale ideas and leaving quirky surprises to others.

Marketing to Millennials and Boomers Together

Boomers and Millennials have their differences, but they also share a lot of interests, insecurities and needs. Marketers shouldn’t overlook what may be seem like improbable opportunities to woo them jointly for travel adventures, performance gear and financial advice.

Boomers and Millennials have their differences, but they also share a lot of interests, insecurities and needs. Marketers shouldn’t overlook what may be seem like improbable opportunities to woo them jointly for travel adventures, performance gear and financial advice.

Marketing to Millennials and Boomers may seem like speaking to polar opposites, but they may actually share some important similarities and needs that can make them interesting promotional partners.

To be sure Millennials and Boomers are looking at opportunities from the opposite ends of life, but they have some surprising things in common:

  • Millennials are curious about and want to travel the world before settling down. Boomers are curious about and want to travel the world while they are still physically able.
  • Millennials grew up with digital technology and use text messages to replace the telephone. Boomers are steadily embracing use of digital technology to replace going to retail stores.
  • Millennials are looking for affordable housing close to the action. So are Boomers.
  • Millennials take funny selfies with their friends. Boomers take funny selfies with the grandchildren.

It could be improbably playful – and profitable – to market to both at once.

You can’t overlook the significant differences between these age cohorts. But even differences have similarities. Many Millennials labor under crushing student loan debt and struggle to find jobs that pay well. Boomers are staring at retirement, often with inadequate savings and a financial and psychological need to keep working. Both could use sound financial advice, job leads and more flexible work options.

When Millennials travel in Europe, they usually take the train. Boomers increasingly book river cruises. But they wind up in many of the same locations. How they get there may matter less than what they do when they get there.

Millennials often postpone family life. Boomers are empty nesters. Without small children, both are free to undertake adventures to out-of-the-way places such as Nepal or Peru. They could go on a photo safari in an African savannah or a road bike tour. Shared adventure, not disparate age would be the common denominator for markets to promote.

The sense of fashion can vary widely between Millennials and Boomers. Yet both could value performance apparel. What each age group may be able to afford won’t negate both group’s interest in affordable accommodations through the likes of Airbnb. Millennials and Boomers may appreciate the convenience and safety of hailing a ride on Uber or Lyft. They each want to document important life events so want phones with quality cameras they can shoot great pictures and capture video.  They also will use technology such as live streaming to stay in touch and talk to younger children.

"Navigating Life Together"

"Navigating Life Together"

A deeply shared concern is economic security. MetLife has launched a new ad campaign called “Navigating Life Together" that capitalizes on the multi-generational appeal of employee benefit plans. It is an excellent example of marketing to multiple generations. 

The bottom line is there is natural link between Boomers and Millennials. Their coming of age has an eerie parallel. Young people are growing more interested in political protests. They couldn’t find better mentors than Boomers who grew up with protests against the Vietnam War and for civil rights. For many products and services, segmenting by age makes sense. But don’t overlook opportunities to see beyond age barriers to appeals without

Illustrations Can Be Hard-to-Ignore Eye Candy

Sometimes the way to impress people is through the light-hearted charm of illustrated characters who can make a rule readable or a message memorable.

Sometimes the way to impress people is through the light-hearted charm of illustrated characters who can make a rule readable or a message memorable.

The success of animated movies such as Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets prove cartoons have show power. They also have show-me power.

Spokane Transit developed an award-winning rider education campaign based on a cast of characters shaped like eggs. Called The Ridealongs, the cast ranged in age from young to old, male and female and even included a service dog – all representative of bus riders in Spokane and almost anywhere.

The assignment for this quirky band of riders was to illustrate, quite literally, rules of road that passengers could easily overlook or never notice. The colorful cartoon characters were harder to ignore.

Before the Ridealongs came along, Spokane Transit posted informational placards on buses and in transit plazas. One said, “Do not impede the safe operation of the bus.” That was replaced by a bright, playful cartoon with an out-of-control Bob yacking in the ear of bus driver Roger and included a catchy, rhyming headline:

“Please Leave the Driver Alone,
So We All Make It Safely Home!"

Hard to miss. Hard to ignore.

Illustration has eye appeal. When cleverly done and combined with equally clever text, illustrations can deliver a message that connects.

The roadblock is usually how to get started. Where do you get the ideas?” Who draws the cast of characters? Who can understand and execute your creative brief? Who can write your creative brief? What is a creative brief? Fair questions. But the challenge may not be as daunting as you think.

Here is where to start. Look at your business, product or service and ask if there is something important that customers fail to see routinely such as your website link, your value proposition or your brand personality. Ask yourself why. Do you talk in paragraphs?  Are you using dull photography? Is everything in black and white?

Spokane Transit wanted to remind riders of rules they probably know, but don't think about – leaving priority seats for older or physically challenged riders; avoiding loud music on their smartphones; not walking in front of the bus when picking up your bicycle. Transit officials listed some of the rules they wanted to reinforce. Then they hired college students to come up with some characters and concepts. That’s how the charming, egg-shaped Ridealongs were born. The rhyming headlines were a smile-inducing added benefit.

Cartoons may not be the answer to every marketing moment. But they can be just the eye candy that stops roving eyeballs long enough to make an impression and deliver your message, perhaps as no other form of content can.

When the occasion or opportunity is right, include illustration – quirky or otherwise – in your quiver of options. You might be surprised how possible and powerful it could turn out for your campaign. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.