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 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 power 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.

Customer Service = Golden Rule of Good Business

Customer service has emerged as a critical differentiator that influences people’s choice of restaurants, banks, cell phone providers and even doctors.

Customer service has emerged as a critical differentiator that influences people’s choice of restaurants, banks, cell phone providers and even doctors.

A smiling face, attentive service and an extra-mile effort can set a business apart from its competition. Far apart. Yet, customer service isn’t always a management priority. Big mistake.

A hotel, restaurant, bank or telecommunications company can lose customers over poor, disengaged or surly service. A doctor can lose a patient or a PR firm can lose a client for the same reason.

Once upon a time, good customer service meant the customer was always right. But customer expectations have expanded. Now, good customer service relates to all touch points of the customer experience – from greeting at the door to paying the bill.

A friendly server or accommodating bank teller doesn’t guarantee a positive customer experience if a diner gets the wrong meal or a bank deposit winds up in the wrong account. A top-credentialed doctor may be bypassed by a prospective patient because of a reputation for not being empathetic.

Customer service reputations spread by word of mouth. Now they spread more quickly and more widely on social media and rating reviews. Who wants to hire a contractor who doesn’t meet deadlines or go to a restaurant with watered down drinks?

While you still may ask your tech-savvy college friend for a recommendation on a new camera, you still will check out your camera options online. Pew Research has found 40 percent of US adults almost always review online items they are looking to purchase. Another 42 percent sometimes check out prospective purchases. Virtually all Millennials check out products online. In addition to price and product features, online reviewers want to know about return policies, the quality of your customer service.

Pew also found almost 50 percent of patients searching for a doctor, whether for primary care or surgery, go online. MedData shows almost 50 percent of doctors ignore online reviews about them. Big disconnect that can put a medical reputation at risk.

The rise of online rating reviews has ironically underscored the value of the old-fashioned suggestion box. Allowing a customer to vent on a comment card gives a business owner instant feedback that might replace a nastygram on Twitter.

Online reviews include checking out business websites and profiles, which argues for including testimonials to the quality of your product – and your service. They take on even greater importance because not all online reviews are reliable – or even true. Yelp claims 127 million reviews and Angie’s List brags about 10 million verified reviews, which means there is a lot of commentary out there. Providing your own messages in the words of real customers can be informative, useful and prudent.

Testimonials, however, can’t cover up sketchy customer service. To avoid souring your reputation, take pains to stress to your employees the importance of quality customer service. The best way to show you mean business is to lead by example. If you treat your customers like gold, your employees and coworkers will notice and follow your golden rule.

Dogs as Avatars that Humanize Advertising

Who can’t associate with the pure pleasure of a day at the spa – even if that satisfied smile is on the face of a dog.

Who can’t associate with the pure pleasure of a day at the spa – even if that satisfied smile is on the face of a dog.

Dogs are man’s best friend – and evidently mankind’s most favorite advertising meme.

Dogs appear in all kinds of ads for cars, beer, camping, eyewear, clothes,  junk food and even magazines. And that doesn’t count ads about dog food, dog adoption and service dogs.

Dogs dominate advertising because they are cute, expressive and cheaper than real actors. They have been and continue to be advertising mainstays because people have a preternatural bond with dogs.

In today’s world, work dogs are less likely to pull wagons than pull on our heartstrings.

Dogs dominate advertising for everything from cars to eyewear because people trust dogs more than most spokespersons.

Dogs dominate advertising for everything from cars to eyewear because people trust dogs more than most spokespersons.

As human segmentation has become more byzantine, advertisers can still divide the world’s buyer personas into dog lovers and cat people. Dog people are by far and way in the majority. When that majority sees cavorting canines, they turn into consumer mush. That’s why you see so many dogs in ads.

Some ads are subtle. A dog is part of the domestic support system for a woman undergoing chemotherapy at home with Neulasta. Subaru has a “Dog Tested. Dog Approved” campaign to sell sports SUVs. There are ads with wisecracking dogs, dogs that drive, dogs trying to lose weight and dogs that steal Doritos from little kids. Dogs are avatars for people and co-pilots for consumers. Ironically, dogs humanize ad pitches.

While infatuated with their own furry companion, dog lovers are polygamous in their adoration of other pups  – in person and online. Beggin’ Strips, the dog face for a bacon-flavored pet treat of the same name, has more than 1 million Facebook fans.

Have we succumbed to Planet of the Dogs or is there some more practical meaning to all this? The most useful lesson to learn is that dogs evoke emotions, and emotions sell. When a dog looks soulfully into a camera, it mirrors the emotional connection you have when your own pup stares up at you. Dog is familiar and family.

In our age of distrust, most of us trust dogs more than commercial spokespersons (except for George Clooney, whom you never see with a dog in his commercials.) We also believe dogs reflect our own moods. When our dogs hide a bone in the backyard, it reminds us of the past due bill we haven’t paid. We believe dogs smile at us and their unbridled, tail-wagging excitement at the smallest things stirs some long-lost excitement in us, too.

Shamelessly trading on a canine has limits, but based on the number of ads with dogs as central characters or with cameo appearances, there aren't many limits. Creating an emotional bond is the path to consumer heartstrings, which often lead to their purse strings.

Making Your Product or Idea Remarkable

The Fidget is hardly innovative and may not really be useful, but it it remarkable and flying off shelves in toy stores and sidewalk vendor tables. 

The Fidget is hardly innovative and may not really be useful, but it it remarkable and flying off shelves in toy stores and sidewalk vendor tables. 

Make your product or idea remarkable to stand out. Remarkable means having a unique quality that is useful or compelling enough to have people remark about it.

This insight by master marketer and author Seth Godin can be a guide to how to get noticed in a noisy world. Being different or new is not enough, Godin says, to turn heads. You need a way to put your product or idea on the tip of the tongues of your consumers.

Godin’s point isn’t new. He has been talking about his “purple cow” for years. People would pay little attention to cows along the road. But paint a cow purple and people will take notice, document the purple cow on the smartphones and share it on social media.

Seth Godin says the way to being heard above the din is to make your product or idea the equivalent of a purple cow, which people will stop to see, document with their smartphones and share with friends on social media.

Seth Godin says the way to being heard above the din is to make your product or idea the equivalent of a purple cow, which people will stop to see, document with their smartphones and share with friends on social media.

Godin has noted “the greatest invention since sliced bread” wasn’t an instant success. It took 15 years and Wonder Bread marketing to take the idea from the product dumpster to a kitchen table mainstay. Great idea, but commercially worthless until moms started trading tips about how to save time in the morning making school lunches for their kids.

Advocates for word-of-mouth marketing have profited by following Godin’s advice. They spend less time trying to collect Facebook ‘likes' and more time cultivating connections. A few thousand passive followers isn’t the same as 100 passionate fans who engage, share and influence. ‘Love' trumps ‘likes' almost every time.

What Godin suggests is infecting the brains of customers. Infectious videos, stories or social media posts spread organically in a way traditional advertising doesn’t. The infection can come in the form of new, valuable information, an aha moment or an entertaining vignette.

Empowering consumers is the underlying secret to Godin’s theory or remarkability or word-of-mouth marketing. Instead of pursuing statistical impressions, Godin and word-of-mouth markets work hard to impress consumers and give them the tools to talk and share. The voice that counts comes from the person who shares.

Making a product remarkable, Godin warns, can take you way out of your comfort zone. Marketing to the masses is passé, and so is making a middle-of-the-road products that try to make everyone happy, but wind up being bland. “Playing it safe is the riskiest strategy of all,” Godin says. He urges product designers to be an outlier and aim for the edges, which can generate what we often call consumer “buzz."

All this may discourage entrepreneurs who fixate on innovation. But as the invention of sliced bread illustrate, a great idea only becomes a great product once people view it as remarkable.

No better example exists than the Fidget gadget – a mindless spinning device that has captivated a wide audience and captured an exploding market. You’ve never seen a TV ad or infomercial about it, but you have heard friends talk about it or watch celebrities fiddle with it on talk shows. No one will put this device into the innovation hall of fame, but it looks ready to take its place on the honored shelf of remarkable products.

The Business of Political Conversations

Heineken brought together six people with opposing views on feminism, climate change and transgender identity who assembled a table, met face to face and found a measure of common ground.

Heineken brought together six people with opposing views on feminism, climate change and transgender identity who assembled a table, met face to face and found a measure of common ground.

Arguments continue to rage over whether or not corporations should enter the political fray. There are ample examples, such as the recent Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, that show the perils. But the latest "Worlds Apart" ad from Heineken shows how it can be done successfully – and usefully.

While the Pepsi ad featuring Jenner joining a protect and then handing a Pepsi to a police officer seems disingenuous, the Heineken-sponsored encounter of non-actors with radically different views on feminism, climate change, and sexual identity is more genuine. The Pepsi ad more closely resembled a sappy musical as opposed to the Heineken ad that comes across like a mini-documentary. The Jenner ad is the cutting room floor while the Heineken ad went viral on YouTube.

The Pepsi ad’s subtext is that the world’s problems could be solved if we shared a soft drink. The Heineken ad’s premise is that we can see the world differently over a beer when we engage with people with different views. Simple acts of kindness, such as sharing a soft drink, can ease tense situations but are unlikely to change anyone's mind, let alone end racism. 

However, there is evidence to support the notion that talking face-to-face over a table while sipping a brewski can produce view-altering perspectives. As shown in the ad, the man who questioned the legitimacy of someone being transgender ends up admitting the world of black and white may have a lot more gray in it that he recognized.

Heineken promotes its light beer with lighter TV commercials featuring comic and prankster Neil Patrick Harris. The beer maker also has used the Academy Award winning, sleep-eyed actor Benicio del Toro as a spokesman. In one ad, giddy American tourists confuse him with Antonio Banderas. This is what you normally expect from beer ads.

Brands are feeling pressure to be more relevant and do more than spit out feel-good ads. They are being encouraged to enter the political conversation. Everyone knows this is dangerous territory, for a big national brand or for a smaller local one. You can become an instantaneous cocktail party joke or turn some heads with a compelling story.

The Heineken “Worlds Apart” ad has drawn its share of cynicism, but it nevertheless provides some useful guidance for brands dipping their toes into these troubled waters:

  • Make the connection between your brand and your story believable. People can have candid conversations while sharing a beer. The familiarity of a common table allows people with opposing views to establish rapport, talk and engage.
  • Don’t expect to make everyone happy or to love you. They may not even buy your product. The objective is to gain awareness and respect by contributing more than foam to the river of conversation about issues that matter.
  • Avoid awkward or phony staging. Virtually all commercials are staged, so the secret is to make them not appear staged or to use the staging to advantage. Heineken made staging part of the story – participants assembled the table where they met and talked. It conveyed a sense of teamwork before the big reveal that sparked the actual conversations.
  • Think carefully about the point you want to make. The last thing you want is to resemble an unwanted intruder in a conversation about a serious. Heineken took on flash point issues but put the emphasis on the transformative value of talking about them with people of differing viewpoints.
  • Have a strategy, not just a one-off idea for a creative ad. Not every ad has to be political, but your loyal customers – and your fierce detractors – will be watching where you stand your ground. You need to be true to your brand promise and firm on your political positioning. 

Navigating the choppy seas of politically charged conversations is not just a skill to be mastered by big brands. Increasingly, all businesses are being asked to step out of the shadows and into the hot heat of public discussion. For many businesses, this is uncomfortable and even out of character. However, the price of being in business today is being part of the solution.

From Lab Coats to Online Sensations

 The March for Science over the weekend attracted thousands of people who have never participated in a protest, injecting fresh blood into a venerable event to celebrate Earth Day. Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

 The March for Science over the weekend attracted thousands of people who have never participated in a protest, injecting fresh blood into a venerable event to celebrate Earth Day.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The March for Science injected fresh blood into Earth Day celebrations over the weekend. The peaceful demonstrations that took place in more than 600 locations around the globe reminded us of the value of a fresh idea to enliven a venerable event.

Earth Day traditionally has been devoted to people clearing stream banks, planting trees and promoting recycling. Donning the clothing of protesters with knitted brain hats, shark outfits and periodic table T-shirts, thousands of people voiced support for science and gave us a line for life: “There is no Planet B.”

Perhaps more important, the marches made headlines and flooded social media. Suddenly Earth Day was a thing again.

The marches provided red carpets for scientists tied at the hip to their laboratories to step out and talk about the social benefits of scientific inquiry and the dependence of science on bipartisan government funding. For many scientists, it was their first time hitting the streets to speak their piece. 

The March for Science was a global phenomenon from city streets to frozen Antarctica to the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The March for Science was a global phenomenon from city streets to frozen Antarctica to the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Amid fretting over the potential for politicizing science, the march for science underscored the consequences of undervaluing and underfunding scientific efforts. The marches drew more than nerds in lab coats. Media reports indicated crowds included school teachers, science enthusiasts and curious kids. And, of course, people alarmed at climate change deniers in charge of governmental agencies responsible for addressing climate change.

From a marketing point of view, the March for Science created headaches for organizers faced with an unrelenting diversity of interests. But the confluence of diversity turned into a part of the overall message. Marchers talked about science small and large, the advances in fields from medicine to energy production. There were marches in the nation’s capital, on every continent and in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

The immediate topic animating the marches were Trump administration budget proposals that scalp funding for the National Institutes of Health and climate change research sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. But marchers in Cambridge in Great Britain and Santiago, Chile demonstrated more for the universal role of science and science education in promoting progress. As one sign summed up, “Sin ciencia, no hay progresso.”

While typical Earth Day activities produce pictures of people in natural settings, the March for Science produced a string of pictures of people in the middle of cities carrying clever, often iconoclastic signs. Politico.com created a gallery of some of the best signs including a man in a Santa suit (My workshop is melting), a woman in sunglasses (Got the plague? Me neither. Thanks Science!), an anonymous hand extending up through umbrellas (Truth) and a serious-looking man (No science, no beer).

However, the best sign by far – and the one likely to endure – is “There is no Planet B,” which pretty well summed up the message of all the marchers.

Because of the energy released during the march, the March for Science is likely to become an ongoing movement, sustained by social media. It literally will be a street event that shifts to a sprawling, diffused online presence. The March for Science will stand for how to turn widespread frustration into a focused force.
 

Instagram Lights Up Content Marketing Strategies

Starbucks has been a star on Instagram, using the social media platform to keep its face forward, reinforce its brand personality and announce seasonal drink offerings.

Starbucks has been a star on Instagram, using the social media platform to keep its face forward, reinforce its brand personality and announce seasonal drink offerings.

When you think of content marketing, Instagram doesn’t immediately leap to mind. That could be a mistake.

Susanna Gebauer, writing for The Social Ms, provides eight Instagram marketing case studies that show how brands are using this social media platform to light up their brands.

One of the threads running through the eight case studies is that marketing on Instagram isn’t radically different than marketing anywhere else. The demographics of Instagram users lean younger, but the key ingredient for success remains quality content.

Not surprisingly, NationalGeographic has one of the largest followings on Instagram with its vast collection of captivating photography from all over the world. National Geo has multiple accounts to cater to the particular tastes of wildlife lovers, and those segmented categories are visible on its Instagram accounts.

600 million active monthly users 300 million active daily users 95 million photos uploaded daily Instagram engagement rates are 2X other social platforms 4.2 billion “likes” per day 68 percent of Instagram users are female 77.6 million users are in the United States 28 percent of Internet users ages 18-29 are on Instagram To date, 40 billion photos have been posted on Instagram Pizza is the most prevalent post on Instagram Instagram influencers can charge up to $100K per post

600 million active monthly users

300 million active daily users

95 million photos uploaded daily

Instagram engagement rates are 2X other social platforms

4.2 billion “likes” per day

68 percent of Instagram users are female

77.6 million users are in the United States

28 percent of Internet users ages 18-29 are on Instagram

To date, 40 billion photos have been posted on Instagram

Pizza is the most prevalent post on Instagram

Instagram influencers can charge up to $100K per post

Photography is a staple of Instagram, and studies show that shooting and sharing photos with a brand can build an intense loyalty. Your brand strategy can be built around letting your customers show why they love you.

Office space provider WeWork also has tapped into the visual dimension of Instagram by encouraging people to post pictures with their pups at the office. The interactive outreach is intended to generate fun and fuzzy user content while building a sense of community around people – and dogs – at work.

Contests are no strangers to Instagram. Gebauer points to a campaign that asked women to post photos of themselves in Adidas Neo gear using the hashtag #MyNeoShoot. Contest winners were invited to model in a professional photo shoot. The hashtag drew 71,000 mentions and the Adidas Neo Instagram account added 41,000 followers.

Influencer marketing works on Instagram. Alaska Airlines partnered with eight Instagram influencers to launch its #WeekendWanderer campaign. Qantas formed a long-term relationship with the @GaryPepperGirl and her 1.6 million followers to generate brand loyalty.

Humor is an infectious content marketing tactic, which works its magic on Instagram, too.  Frank Bod, an Australian body and skin care product maker, uses Instagram to post funny pictures of customers and coffee, which is essential ingredient in the company’s product line. Posts are made with the #letsbefrank and come with zesty captions.

Storytelling has its place on Instagram. No Your City, a New York digital production company specializing in documentary web series, shares viewer-generated pictures and videos that tell stories about the cities where they live. The company features some of the submissions and undoubtedly gets ideas for its own productions.

Like other social and digital media channels, you need a strategy to be successful on Instagram, where on average 95 million photos are posted every day among the 300 million or so active daily users and 600 million active monthly users. Engagement rates on Instagram are relatively high, so it is fertile territory if you learn how to make Instagram work for you.

Gebauer notes Kayla Itsines, who sports more than 5.6 million followers, started out as a novice on Instagram. “She got herself some help and learned quickly,” Gebauer wrote. “She is now a master marketer of her fitness app and products. She tells stories with her images.” Just as important, members of her community spread stories about Itsines' app and products.

As would any smart content marketer, Itsines doesn’t put all of her eggs into one basket. She has a blog and website, publishes Ebooks, manages Facebook and Twitter accounts and has an app. Itsines has a content marketing strategy, and Instagram fits into perfectly.