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.

Vlogging to Boost Your Brand Persona

NASCAR driver Brennan Poole has strengthened his brand persona through weekly vlogging that brings his viewers along for the ride.

NASCAR driver Brennan Poole has strengthened his brand persona through weekly vlogging that brings his viewers along for the ride.

People scared of shooting video would be petrified of vlogging. However, the discipline of taking video everyday may erase self doubts and fears of self absorption while creating a brand-building source of content.

In a piece appearing in Inc., NASCAR driver Brennan Poole describes how he became attracted to vlogging and offers tips on how anyone can do it.

“At first, it was really awkward and weird and I wasn’t capturing a lot of interesting things,” Poole said. “Now I’m more comfortable. I don’t care as much that people are watching me walking around with a camera. I started not to care as much because I care more about getting the content.

Poole said the positive feedback loop from a growing number of viewers motivates him to keep going and getting better.

A key to getting better is having a schedule. “We try to put out videos every Friday so over the race weekend people can watch them,” he explains. “Every other week, I post a funny video just to have extra content. The following week, I post the vlog from the previous two weeks.”

Another tip is having a good, easy-to-operate camera. But capturing video on a smartphone works, too. “You can capture almost everything with your phone” because it is almost always accessible, Poole says.

Granted, Poole has the built-in advantage of being surrounded by a lot of noisy, fast, cool stuff. But Poole peppers his vlog with more commonplace fare, such as filming his favorite restaurants on the NASCAR circuit. He also chronicles how he strives to become a better race car driver. “Race fans enjoy that look at the sport, but it’s also fun for me,” Poole says.

Talking about video quickly gets around to the length of clips. For his vlogs, Poole says he tries to keep them under 10 minutes, but will go longer if the footage merits it.

“The key is to spend as much time as you can focusing on content, not on production,” Poole advises. “Ultimately the content is everything. Do that and soul’ll build an audience. No matter how technically great a video is, if it’s boring, who wants to watch it.”

The secret to capturing good video is being aware of interesting things going on around you and not being shy about whipping out your camera. It may seem strange at first, but with experience and a growing audience of viewers, it will soon become second-hand. Like Poole, you can bring your followers along for the ride.
 

How Digital Disrupts Public Relations

Digital has disrupted shopping, banking, newspapers, work and public relations. That disruption has created or amplified challenges facing PR professionals – from ethics to the liberation of self-publishing your own content.

Digital has disrupted shopping, banking, newspapers, work and public relations. That disruption has created or amplified challenges facing PR professionals – from ethics to the liberation of self-publishing your own content.

The digital age has disrupted newspapers, the workplace and shopping patterns. It also has disrupted the world of marketing and public relations.

Influential PR blogger Michelle Garrett identifies four significant ways digital media has changed the way PR works:

  • Crisis response now must be almost instantaneous and continuous.
  • Keeping something secret is even more impossible.
  • Free-flowing media creates new, challenging ethical dilemmas.
  • Self-publishing content is easy and cheap, but it isn’t always in sync with strategy.

In a piece published by Meltwater, Garrett says, “Everyone is online 24/7, creating a completely different environment for those of us who communicate for a living. While the Internet has made many facets of our jobs so much easier – like getting out press releases – it also has created an entirely new set of challenges.”

Crisis Communications

None is more obvious than crisis communications. With ubiquitous smartphones, an accident or incident can be online seconds after it occurs, with the news media and affected neighbors or customers close behind. There is virtually no time for a considered crisis response. The pressure is on to respond immediately and substantively.

The immediacy of crisis awareness demands more thorough-going crisis preparation. Organizations need to anticipate the most likely crisis scenarios they could face and identify in advance who would be the crisis team leader, the designated spokesperson and the go-to team for solid facts an information. Without hours or days to assemble a response, organizations need to have relevant background material ready to post or share with the news media, an active Twitter account to respond in real-time and a spokesperson who has undergone media training and knows how to deliver a crisp, clear key message.

A crisis has always posed a threat to a brand or a reputation. In the digital age, more scrutiny is given to the competency and timeliness of the crisis response. People may forgive what caused the crisis, but not forget how well you handled it.

Keeping Secrets

The walls have always had ears, but now they also have eyes. Trying to keep something significant or juicy private is increasingly harder, if not impossible. This has led companies such as Apple to “leak" their own secrets, sometimes using their own employees as the leakers.

If you want to avoid being scooped on your own news, find a way to scoop yourself.

Ethical Dilemmas

Avoiding obvious conflicts of interest or relationship conflicts have been part of PR since its founding. But now new dilemmas loom in what some call the “post-fact era.”

What responsibility do PR professionals have in making sure the press releases, op-eds, fact sheets and advertisements contain truthful statements and accurate claims? Are they, in fact, the guardians at the gate for the truth, even if that means refusing to take n a client or resigning from an account? If many if not most PR professionals perform ethically, what is there obligation to police their ranks and weed out those who don’t adhere to ethical behavior?

This involves a lot more than storming out a conference room door after losing a fight over how to message an issue or brand a product. It may involve pushing clients toward authenticity as the brand loyalty builder and ultimate customer relationship management scheme, convincing business executives that telling the truth has benefits.

Rushing to Self-Publish

Online channels such as websites, email, blogs, Ebook and social media sites offer built-in access to customers, clients, stakeholders and followers. You can bypass traditional media and send your information without a filter to an intended audience.

There is lots of content flooding online channels. The question is whether the floods are reaching the most fertile fields to generate clicks that lead to sales. The underlying question is whether the content is connected to the marketing strategy.

Not only does content need to be relevant to a viewer, it also needs to resonate. That can require punchy copy, a compelling story, informative graphics and engrossing photography. Nothing completely new in PR, but the tone and clarity need to match the milieu of today’s digital media.

As Garrett writes, you can post pictures from a Marvel comic book and earn clicks. But will it earn you a follower, brand loyalty or a sale? PR needs to evolve. You need to evolve to survive.

Taking the Leap into Digital Video

Video is a powerful component of marketing campaigns, so why aren’t more businesses using video content? Maybe they just don’t know how to get started.

Video is a powerful component of marketing campaigns, so why aren’t more businesses using video content? Maybe they just don’t know how to get started.

As New Year’s resolutions go, I admit mine was an odd one. Nothing life-changing like joining the Peace Corps or climbing Mt. Everest. Rather, I decided to focus my 2017 New Year’s quest on finding the answer to the following question:

If digital video is such a powerful and popular way to communicate a message and tell a story, why aren’t more organizations using video in their communications campaigns?

In other words, what’s hard about producing a video?

I’ve been asking this question to friends and clients for a few months now, and the responses I’m getting center around three common themes:

  • I don’t know how to get started
  • I don’t know what to say
  • I don’t know how to say it

Digital video is here to stay. And that’s great news for anyone who believes in the power of visual storytelling to communicate an idea, connect with people on an emotional level and move them to act. But here’s the thing, producing video content that accomplishes these important goals takes more than just whipping out your smartphone, hitting the Record button and hope you come up with something you can use.

Telling a story with video is a process. And if you’ve never produced a video, it can be scary. But don’t let fear of the unknown scare you away. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider taking the digital video plunge.

1.    Do I have a story that would lend itself to video? If you want to put a human face on a complex issue, persuade lawmakers or targeted groups about the impact of pending legislation or new programs, or create an emotional connection in the minds and hearts of a specific audience, then yes, telling a story using video is an unsurpassed way to engage your intended audience.

2.    How do I find the heart of my story? Most organizations think about their story in terms of “what we do.” Equally important is how the people your organization serves are impacted by what you do. As you plan your story, think deeply about what your organization is in the business to do, and why it matters. Then use those insights as the basis for unpacking your story.

3.    Who’s my audience, what’s important to them, and how do I reach them? In your early planning sessions, identify who needs to hear your story and why. What are the messages you want your story to convey? Finally, think about where your audience will likely see your video story: on your website, as part of a live presentation or on social media channels.

4.    What kind of video would work best for my audience? These days, “digital video” runs the gamut from moving visual images and on camera interviews, to whiteboard/illustrations and cartoon/animations. As you plan your video project, think about how you want to engage your audience and what video style is the best way to do that.

5.    Am I willing to make the investment? Producing a video story takes time, talent, a budget, plus the energy to see the process through from start to finish. Be clear about what you want to accomplish, your deadline and whether you realistically have the bandwidth to make it happen.

6.    What do I really need? Many times, organizations hire a video team that has the camera, lights and editing expertise, but lack the additional expertise in story planning, conceptualization and story production. Before embarking on a video project, figure out the expertise you have in-house and decide what you need to outsource. If you do hire outside video partners, be clear about what you need: a crew to shoot and edit your video or strategic partners that can guide you through the video storytelling process from concept to completion.

As 2017 rolls on, I’m still asking my New Year’s question to friends and clients alike. There’s no right answer to the question, just a lot of great ideas and insight. May this be the year you start creating digital video content for your organization. Be smart, do it right, and reap the rewards of connecting with your audience in a brand new way.

Holly Paige is co-founder of Portland’s Wave One Group, a creative agency specializing in video story development consulting and digital video content production. With a background in television journalism, video storytelling and digital media production, Holly loves helping local and global organizations untangle their messages so they can tell engaging visual stories about themselves and their businesses. You can reach Holly at holly@waveonegroup.com, and follow her on Twitter at @WaveOneGroup. Visit her website: www.waveonegroup.com

Averting Presentation Accidents with an Audience

Strive to make your electronic presentations electric instead of boring and polished instead of n embarrassing accident with an audience.

Strive to make your electronic presentations electric instead of boring and polished instead of n embarrassing accident with an audience.

Electronic presentations can be electric – or numbingly boring. They also can be accidents with an audience.

Here are 10 tips on making your presentation electric instead of boring and avoiding cringe-worthy operator errors.

  1. Make an impression not a script. What flashes on the screen should make an impression with the audience, not serve as a teleprompter for the presenter. That means presentations should have presentation value. Use eye-fetching photography or illustrations or informative charts with a sparse amount of text to reinforce key points made by the presenter.
  2. Tell a story. Organize your presentation and your presentation slides around a narrative. Think like a storyteller. Have a beginning, a plot, a denouement and an ending. That kind of architecture is easier for audiences to comprehend than a linear march through data or chronology.
  3. Keep it simple. Don’t make your audience squint at your slides. The message of each slide should pop. That requires designing elegant slides. Simplicity is a central feature of elegance. Your slides should give audiences a visual exclamation mark for what a presenter is saying.
  4. Ditch the dark. Dark slide backgrounds are passé. More to the point, they are usually hard to see. White backgrounds afford more design flexibility, including the use of spot color that draws attention.
  5. Use good art. Inky, fuzzy or flat photographs look inky, fuzzy and flat on screen. Blah slides can make a negative impression with an audience and divert their attention from your message. Good art may be subjective, but art with eye appeal is pretty easy to judge. There are ample sources of quality photography and illustrations that are royalty free or affordable, so there is excuse for offending the eye of an audience.
  6. Value negative space. Nothing can be something worthwhile on slides. You don’t need to fill every square inch of slide real estate with content. In fact, that’s counterproductive. Negative space guides the eye find what is important on a slide. Even when using a photograph to serve as a slide background, look for visuals that drive the eye to what you want your audience to focus on.
  7. Case your presentation venue. Bank robbers case banks. Presenters should case presentation venues. Will you speak from a podium or have a roaming mic? Will you activate your presentation directly on your laptop or with a remote? Are there electricity plug-ins nearby? Do you need an extension cord? Will you computer plug into with the venue’s projector? Is there a screen? Mundane stuff, but important pre-performance checks to avert embarrassing on-stage disasters.
  8. Pay attention to posture. The most scrutinized image on stage won’t be your electronic presentation slides; it will be you. People essentially listen to how you look. Your gestures, posture and inflections are tells for audiences. They sense confidence or uncertainty. They reveal mastery or fakery. They establish empathy or cause audience atrophy. The first audience for your presentation should be a full-length mirror to check how you stand and use your hands and arms. Tape record yourself and listen for annoying vocal ticks – such as “ummm”or “you know.” 
  9. Stage a dress rehearsal. Smart presenters are prepared presenters. They practice before they present in front of a crowd. They make sure their slides sync up with their key points and that transitions are smooth. They double-check slide transitions and animations. If they use video content, they triple-check that the video plays as intended.
  10. Practice. Practice. Practice. The best way to come across as a polished presenter is to practice. Presentations become electric when the presenter and his or her presentation are a force of nature. Words flow. Slides impress. When you are confident in your presentation, your body language conveys confidence. And your confidence moves audiences from watching a presentation to participating in an intimate conversation.

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.

Native Video Blowing Doors Off Social Media Engagement

Native video, such as this funny Under Armour bit featuring Tom Brady and his fake best friend, is generating a huge boost in social media engagement. You should try it to boost your online engagement – with or without Tom Brady.

Native video, such as this funny Under Armour bit featuring Tom Brady and his fake best friend, is generating a huge boost in social media engagement. You should try it to boost your online engagement – with or without Tom Brady.

Native video is what’s big and getting bigger on social media. And it’s really big.

We are talking about content loaded directly onto social media and viewed in-feed. It might be an iPhone video of a dog frolicking in the backyard or professional video posted by Fox News or CNN.

The growth of native video online engagement is fairly called staggering. Fox News earned almost 19.5 million engagements of its native video last October – and that was just on Facebook. As recently as January 2016, its native video engagement rate was around 5.5 million.

CNN’s native video numbers are smaller, but just as startling, with more than 9.5 million engagements on Facebook in October 2016 compared with 3.57 million engagements in January 2016.

Perhaps more impressive is that native video engagement levels are becoming the dominant form of engagement on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and even Twitter. Native video engagement represented 62 percent of all of CNN’s engagement on Facebook last October. For Fox, native video accounted for 48 percent of total Facebook engagement in the same month.

The growth in native video engagement is evident for many other publishers from BBC News to National Geographic.

The takeaway is pretty clear. If you want to boost engagement rates on social media, use native video content.

That’s not the whole story, of course, Quality content still matters. Cute dog videos will only carry you so far. But if you’re not thinking about video, you are missing the boat that long ago left dock. The key is having a strategy that includes video. Video has lots of uses, including posting it natively on digital media where it can targeted at specific audiences, just like other content.

The fascination with video is not a passing fad. In fact, chances are it will become even more dominant as more people figure out how and when to capture compelling video content and learn how to use laptop editors or apps to turn clips into productions.

Young digital natives can whip up a snappy video without breaking a sweat and post it on Instagram or other social media. So, hire a young person or ask one to be your mentor and start shooting your native video to boost your engagement.

Reach Your Audience by Filling 'White Space'

One way to cut through the clutter in the marketplace is to find trending topics, then look for the white spaces around the edges that you can fill with quality content and get noticed.

One way to cut through the clutter in the marketplace is to find trending topics, then look for the white spaces around the edges that you can fill with quality content and get noticed.

Breaking through and gaining attention in today’s crowded communications universe may seem insurmountable. But the secret to online prominence may lie in finding the white space in what’s popular and trending.

White space derives from visual arts. Also called negative space, it is the absence of any meaningful content that draws attention to the main objects. Painter Andrew Wyeth exploited what he called the positive space between subjects to give his art depth and realism. Sometimes portions of his canvasses contained nothing but switches of white paint.

In contemporary communications terms, white space means the margins between trending topics, the edges left uncovered and unexplored, but still of latent interest to the Internet herd. This is the place where you can stake a claim to attention.

Like a video game, finding white space is a moving target. It is not a destination; it is a gap you anticipate and exploit.

Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina World” shows the visual power of separating two subjects by a nondescript distance of what we call white space.

Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina World” shows the visual power of separating two subjects by a nondescript distance of what we call white space.

Finding white space takes concentration. You can employ social media tools to help, but the best detection devices are your eyes and ears. You aren’t watching and listening for what’s there. You are trying to decipher what’s missing.

When you find the hole – the white space, you need the savvy to know how to fill it. If something is missing, what will quench the thirst of the audience? This is a high-risk form of content marketing, but it offers a lot of upside with little downside.

You aren’t betting the farm on a major marketing campaign. You are betting you can spot an opening and close it with informative, relevant, useful and entertaining content that attracts an audience. To borrow a bad example, it is a lot like finding a date on the rebound.

Some have turned the exercise of looking for white space into a data plunger. But skip with cold waters and rely on your wit and intuition. Watch a story and see an opportunity. Be entertained by what you see, while being curious about what’s missing.

Your best opportunity to stand out is to stand in a space where no one else is present. You can get attention without a lot of competition. You can win the day by out-positioning your opposition. And you don’t have to push the tackling dummy an inch.

For better or worse, there is no pre-programmed formula for finding white space. You can use any tool you like, but your best resource is your own instinct. If you stay engaged and remain curious, you will inevitably see openings. Train yourself to chase those white space opportunities as soon as they appear.

White spaces aren’t permanent. They exist and cease to exist. You will thrive by exploiting their barren landscape and providing creative, compelling content that people are poised to hear. You will be the white knight that rides into battle with a fresh flag and a brilliant call to arms.

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.

Showing the Evolution of Engagement

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show caters to an online crowd, recognizing that a majority of viewers see the show when they want online. It is far cry from when viewer engagement with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno was attending their show on the Las Vegas Strip.

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show caters to an online crowd, recognizing that a majority of viewers see the show when they want online. It is far cry from when viewer engagement with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno was attending their show on the Las Vegas Strip.

When Johnny Carson and Jay Leno hosted NBC’s Tonight Show, fans engaged with them by going to Las Vegas to catch their stage acts. With Jimmy Fallon, fans of all ages engage with him online.

Carson, Leno and Fallon are great comics and entertainers. But the shape of their TV shows reflects changes in media, viewership and engagement.

People made it a point to stay up late to watch Johnny Carson kid around with his laugh-track sidekick, Ed McMahon. Leno inherited Carson’s loyal audience, but saw it dwindle as new ways of watching TV began eating away at Nielsen ratings. Fallon’s ratings dropped, too. But his Twitter followers skyrocketed.

Increasingly, Fallon’s Tonight Show is geared for audiences accustomed to watching when they please. One estimate says more than 70 percent of Fallon’s audience watches his show online. The show is also geared to lure in a wider audience through online engagement that turns into comedy bits on the show.

Each week, Fallon tweets with a hashtag inviting viewers or people who are just curious to submit their personal stories relating to his clever hashtag. On his Wednesday show, Fallon reads a selection of the best submitted tweets.  Here is one based on the hashtag #HowIGotFired.

Fallon crowdsources content. He invites viewers his social media sites, such as Tumblr, to send in funny photos and video clips. He engages many of his on-air guests in silly games, resulting in breaking eggs on foreheads, chugging beer and wearing outlandish outfits, which encourages viewers to replicate the games and send in their video 

Perhaps the biggest form of online engagement is through YouTube. Fallon, as well as Stephen Colbert and other late night show hosts, post a lot of material, packaged to be easily viewable and shareable. One popular segment featured Fallon in a lip-syncing contest with actress Emma Stone, which has attracted a staggering more than 78 million views. Another involved Fallon and Justin Timberlake as irrepressible young campers who vexed the camp counselor. These popular clips posted on YouTube boost viewership and attract a wider audience for the show.

For advertisers, the switch to online viewing and more digitally oriented content poses opportunities and challenges. Instead of relying on TV viewing ratings, they have to gauge social engagement and “softer” metrics, such as association. The upside for advertisers is that they can target more than just night owls and an older demographic.

Marketers are catching up, as evidenced by the shifting tone of advertising, which often adopts a humorous tone and quick-paced editing that matches the comedy of late night TV shows – and the continually evolving viewing patterns of online audiences.