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.

Super Bowl Ads Follow Advertising Trends to Digital

Super Bowl ads are still clever, creative and entertaining, but their real value increasingly comes from their extended shelf life on digital media – both before and after the big game.

Super Bowl ads are still clever, creative and entertaining, but their real value increasingly comes from their extended shelf life on digital media – both before and after the big game.

Super Bowl ads symbolize the winners and losers in the game of advertising. Instead of a dramatic single moment during a timeout in the actual football game, Super Bowl ads have become cogs in customer engagement strategies that begin long before kickoff.

“The evolution of something as iconic  as the concept of Super Bowl advertising gives us fascinating evidence of the powerful and unprecedented speed of transformation in the world of marketing around us,” writes Sanjay Dholakia in an online post titled, “What 50 years of Super Bowl advertising has taught us."

In the early days of the Super Bowl, advertisers generally ran their regular ads. That changed in 1984 when Apple, with the help of Ridley Scott, turned a single Super Bowl ad into a sledgehammer that crushed tradition. Since then, Super Bowl ads have become their own genre, generating heated anticipation before the big game and excited competition after the final gun sounded over the best, funniest and most clever ad. 

Dholakia observes that Super Bowl ads have been responsible for "lunatic” cultural behavior such as echoing the “WASSUP” line in a Budweiser commercial.

But the Super Bowl and Super Bowl advertising are not immune from TV-watching trends. Fewer people each year watch TV advertising. More people use streaming services. Ad blocking has become commonplace. Add to that a slipping audience for the NFL.

So instead of making the Super Bowl game the focal point of ad campaigns, advertisers have made ads part of customer engagement campaigns. The best example is Doritos and its long-running "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign that invites people to create their own ads about Doritos.  The campaign each year launches months before the game and has its own build-up with the selection of semi-finalists and online voting by fans.

The Doritos example has been mimicked in one way or another by other advertisers that have redirected their Super Bowl energy to digital media to stretch the shelf life of TV ads and provide more granular measurement of impact.

The Super Bowl, with all its hype and cross-ties with pop culture, may be one of the last TV events that holds the attention of a wide swath of American TV viewers. But the growth of digital media and reliance on customer relationship marketing may have helped salvage advertising during the Super Bowl.

The game has become for ad agencies what the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show is for dog owners and trainers – a chance to strut your best stuff. Most Super Bowl ads are entertaining, and a few are provocative. This year will be no exception, based on “leaked” ads that have been circulating for a week or more. The ad about Adolphus Busch’s perilous immigrant journey to America has gotten the best running start.

One thing hasn’t changed in advertising, Dholakia says. “There is still one marketing truth that comes through loud and clear in the Super Bowl ads – creativity and storytelling still matter."

Why Spin Is Spin, Not PR

Public relations and marketing are based on authenticity, not disingenuity. Spin at your own risk.

Public relations and marketing are based on authenticity, not disingenuity. Spin at your own risk.

Spin isn’t and shouldn’t be a public relations tactic, says Jane Dvorak, who is this year’s national chairwoman of the Public Relations Society of America.

“Truth is the foundation of all effective communications,” Dvorak said in a released statement. “By being truthful, we build and maintain trust with the media and our customers, clients and employees. As professional communicators, we take very seriously our respond suability to communicate with honesty and accuracy.”

Cynics and critics have labeled PR professionals as spin doctors for a long time. “Spin City,” the television show about a fictional local government in which the character played by Michael Fox is constantly trying to twist the truth, didn’t help public impressions of “spin.”

But the issue of public fibbing has burst to the forefront on the tip of the tongue of President Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway who coined the term “alternative facts” to explain the discrepancy over the size of inaugural crowds.

Most marketing communications are intended to inform and motivate potential customers or clients. Stretching the truth or hiding part of the truth when communicating with potential customers can boomerang by eroding trust or loyalty. You might get a sale, but lose the customer.

As Dvorak explained, marketing consists of telling stories about companies, organizations or associations. Those stories need to be authentic and true or else credibility can be at risk.

"PRSA strongly objects to any effort to deliberately misrepresent information. Honest, ethical professionals never spin, mislead or alter facts,” she said. "We applaud our colleagues and professional journalists who work hard to find and report the truth."

One long-time Portland reporter told me, “Burn me once with a story pitch that is untrue or misleading and you don’t need to bother to call me again.” As a former reporter and editor myself, I recall saying something similar to news sources who offered up sketchy details and questionable facts.

It’s understandable brands and their brand managers want to put their products and services in the best light possible. But that doesn’t mean a false light. 

PR professionals and marketers have a professional and ethical obligation to produce communications with accurate and verifiable claims. If their clients insist on spin instead of facts, then the right move for PR and marketing pros is to disengage and avoid damaging their reputation. Clients considering the alternative fact route would also be well advised to choose a different road to travel.

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.

Corporations Turn to Crisis Counselors in Wake of Trump Tweets

When the man with the most powerful two thumbs in the world makes you a target of his tweets, corporations are  seeking crisis counsel on how to respond. Photo Credit: AP/Evan Vucci/LM Ottero

When the man with the most powerful two thumbs in the world makes you a target of his tweets, corporations are  seeking crisis counsel on how to respond.

Photo Credit: AP/Evan Vucci/LM Ottero

Donald Trump’s pledge to create jobs is being fulfilled, but perhaps not quite in the way anticipated. Many major corporations, especially ones that do business with the federal government, are hiring crisis counselors to brace themselves for antagonistic tweets from the incoming President, who has the two most powerful thumbs in the world.

The pharmaceutical industry has seen its stock values plunge after Trump promised to bring down prescription drug prices. Trump’s threats to impose border taxes on imported cars prompted auto industry executives to play up plans to invest in US manufacturing facilities. Defense contractors and aerospace companies have felt the sting of Trump’s tweets and are promising reduced costs for new aircraft.

Competent crisis plans include advice on responding to Internet attacks, but few plans take into account attacks launched by the commander in chief. Tweeting by Trump hasn’t abated since his election and, if anything, has grown more pointed at policy targets and not just political foes.

“For the first time since the whole Internet revolution began, from the questions they have and from the look in their eyes, you can see the realization that [corporations] are facing a level of institutional, enterprise threat that obviates their whole crisis playbook,” PR strategist Richard Levick told Dominic Fracassa of the San Francisco Chronicle. “You might as well burn [those] crisis playbooks.”

Levick and others who provide crisis communications counsel urge corporations to assess their vulnerabilities and develop new crisis strategies. It apparently has become a booming new business opportunity for crisis counselors.

However, the advice on how to respond to a Trump tweet varies.  Some advisers encourage corporations that do business with the federal government or are subject to federal regulation to “genuflect” to Trump’s policy directions, especially when it comes to creating jobs in the United States.

Two examples – Alibaba’s president met with Trump and announced a plan to create 1 million US jobs by helping American small businesses sell successfully into Asian markets and Amazon’s pledge to create 100,000 full-time jobs in the next 18 months. Skeptics wonder whether all those jobs will materialize, but there is no doubt the PR value of the promises was highly valuable.

Other companies are banking on a Trump tweet boomerang. In his story, Fracassa said some corporations will see more upside in ignoring or capitalizing on Trump’s 140-character salvos. He noted Vanity Fair Magazine saw its subscription rate skyrocket after it ran ads ballyhooing itself as the “magazine Trump doesn’t want you to read.”

“Other companies will realize that the king doesn’t have a lot of clothing here,” Levick said. “At some point in the not too-distant future, a company will realize that there is greater value in being courageous and standing up to the president.”

Defending Against Hacks No Longer Optional

Computer hacks have become front-page news, but they become a very personal headache for businesses of all sizes unless you take steps to prevent cyberattacks or phishing.

Computer hacks have become front-page news, but they become a very personal headache for businesses of all sizes unless you take steps to prevent cyberattacks or phishing.

Hacking has become a front-page headline-grabber, but it also can be a very local headache for companies and individuals that get hacked. Hacking prevention needs to be on the agenda of many companies and high-profile nonprofits and individuals.

Cyberattacks have become commonplace and can wreak havoc with business operations, customer relationships and investor relations and expose companies to media coverage and legal actions.

After concluding a $25 billion deal to buy St. Jude Medical, Abbott Laboratories issued a software patch for the acquired firm’s heart implants, which the Food and Drug Administration warned were susceptible to hacking. A private investment firm had raised concerns a year ago about the potential for hacking, which St. Jude and Abbott dismissed as untrue.  The same firm now has questioned whether the software patch is sufficient.

You can appreciate how all that might cause palpitations in patients with St. Jude heart implants.

Yahoo was embarrassed by reports of massive hacking into its database, involving personal information of millions of users. American companies have routinely complained about industrial espionage conducted by hackers to gain access to proprietary technology and processes. Other publicized hacks accessed health records, bank accounts and, in the case of Ashley Madison, acts of adultery by married people.

And those are just the hacks that made into the public limelight. There have been thousands more that caused their own turmoil and resulted in personal or corporate losses. And a growing number of cyberattacks target small businesses, which often are defenseless.

When hacks occur, they can turn into crisis communications nightmares. So it makes sense to include strong protections against hackers as a best practice for businesses or high-profile nonprofits and individuals. Taking steps to bock cyber-intrusions also should be part of reputation management and crisis prevention plans.

Many companies possess sensitive information, including customer databases, which should not be undervalued. Intellectual property can be another prime target. Hacking also can be aimed disrupting services, which could cast a shadow of the reliability of a service or a business. And a hack in one company can migrate to a problem for another, as the breach of credit-checking company Experian did for 15 million T-Mobile cell phone customers.

Taking steps to prevent a crisis is usually the best crisis response. Protecting your cyber-flank has emerged as one of those important preventive actions you should consider.

Delaying because IT continues to evolve isn’t a very good defense if you get hacked. It’s like letting you teeth decay while waiting for a better toothpaste. Do what you can now and continue to monitor state-of-the-art improvements in cyber defense. Customers, stakeholders and other businesses expect companies with sensitive data to protect it. If you don’t, expect to be attacked by more than just hackers.

Remember It’s Brand + Journalism

Brand journalism is an effective way to connect with consumers, but only if brand storytelling resonates with viewers because it is topical, relevant and interesting.

Brand journalism is an effective way to connect with consumers, but only if brand storytelling resonates with viewers because it is topical, relevant and interesting.

Brand journalism is the rage. However, too often its practitioners focus on the brand and neglect the journalism.

Telling good stories about a brand can be cool and compelling. But brand journalism without good storytelling is a lot like Santa without a sleigh.

While the term “brand journalism” makes some traditionalists squirm, it shouldn’t. Journalism has played a long and legendary role in all forms of advocacy. The problem with brand journalism today isn’t tainting journalism; it's neglecting the key principles of journalism.

As someone who began my career working for daily newspapers, I learned long ago that journalism involves a lot more than the inverted triangle and short paragraphs. The most salient principle of journalism is finding the hook that makes a story somewhere between interesting and irresistible.

This lesson was illuminated for me as a cub reporter when I was assigned, with malicious intent by my managing editor, to write obituaries.

After grumping a bit, I started looking more closely at the notices sent by local mortuaries. Usually, they clinically listed date of death, the person’s birthday, surviving family members and a few sparse details of the dearly departed’s life. I made it my routine to call morticians to get more details. In small communities, morticians usually know the people who drive on their slabs. I also asked to talk to family members. The result was a gusher of fascinating vignettes about people who lived in the community and had done significant things. These vignetters often wound up as front-page feature stories.

All it took to uncover these amazing life details was enough curiosity to ask. I received diaries, journals, photographs, letters, commendations and news stories about people who had died. Their obituaries elevated from recitations of dry facts to stories that celebrated their lives.

Brand journalism should be borne out of the same kind of curiosity and storytelling. It typically involves talking about people, not products. It covers stories in depth that news media outlets cover superficially, if at all. Stories frequently center on customers, not company salespeople. The best brand journalism takes aim at what will resonate with an audience, not at what you want to tell the audience.

Brand journalism can take the form of native ads that appear like news stories or websites with a newsy look. Brand journalism also can include guest opinion pieces, newsjacking, blogs, Ebooks, real books, social media and, yes, even traditional advertising.

Walgreens' “Get a Shot, Give a Shot” TV commercial is a great example of brand journalism in a traditional advertising medium. It takes a cause marketing campaign to a higher place by telling a story that links to the drug store’s customers.

Zales Jewelers includes a same-sex marriage ceremony in its latest TV ad titled “Diamond Kind of Love.” The ad, which has sparked some online outrage, sends a clear message to the LGBTQ community and anyone about the brand’s inclusionary view of love. This is a riskier form of storytelling, but it is hardly new. Subaru blazed this trail several years ago with success using subtle storytelling in its ads.

Self-publishing has enabled brand journalism like nothing before it. However, having the power to push “post” doesn’t translate into good journalism. That requires discipline, curiosity and good stories, whether in writing, photography or video. 

If brands want to connect with consumers, brand journalism can be a good path to get there. Just don’t forget that journalism is part of the pathway. Think good stories that are topical, relevant and interesting, then convey them like a storytelling star.

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.

Telling Your Story with Great Taglines

Taglines offer a great opportunity to tell your story along with your name and logo. The best taglines underline what makes your brand or organization different, special or unique.

Taglines offer a great opportunity to tell your story along with your name and logo. The best taglines underline what makes your brand or organization different, special or unique.

One of the best places to tell your story is in the tagline attached to your logo.

A brand or organization’s name can tell a lot. A logo can add depth. But a tagline can complete the sentence of what a brand or organization is all about. Here is a great example:

Most people know alzheimer’s is deadly, debilitating disease. The Alzheimer’s Association tagline tells you all you need to know about what it does, with a aspirational twist.

Taglines are not new. They have been used effectively to create brand patinas, such as the legendary BMW tagline, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” Apple’s “Think Different" or Nike’s “Just Do It.”

As powerful as those taglines are, they tend to paint a picture, not tell a story. On the other hand, Dollar Shave Club’s tagline tells a very clear story, “Shave Time. Shave Money,” to describe its mail order shaving gear.

A classic storytelling tagline is M&M’s “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands.” That influenced a lot of point of sale purchases by mothers who didn’t want to clean up a candy mess.

Bounty’s “The Quicker Picker Upper” slogan cleverly described the benefit of its sponge-like paper towels.

The New York Times conveyed its mission in its tagline, “All the News That’s Fit to Print."

Brands or organizations seeking broader awareness shouldn’t overlook the value of a tagline that tells its story in combination with its name and logo.  This is especially valuable for organizations with names and logos that aren’t very descriptive of what they do.

Taglines must be short and snappy, so the trick to using them for storytelling is to find a catchy way to say a lot. Think of State Farm’s tagline, “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There.” It conveys the sense that the insurance company will treat you like a neighbor, not just a policyholder when you file a claim.

The secret sauce of coming up with a tagline is to identify what makes your organization or brand different and to condense that differentiation into a few compelling words. Think of at least three options and, before falling in love with one of them, share them with fellow employees, customers and friends. See what works – and ask why.

Copywriter Neville Medhora provided an instructive example in a 2015 blog, using his 3-step process for creating a tagline that involves unpacking your business into a paragraph, trimming it to a single sentence and finally reducing it to a phrase. Here are the three steps of his example for a company called WP Engin, which has a name and a logo that offers little clue what it does:

Paragraph: “It’s really cheap to host a WordPress site, but when something goes wrong, your host will be no where to be found. Also, WordPress gets hacked if you don’t upgrade it or choose poorly designed plugins.”

Sentence: “WP Engine makes hosting a website on WordPress super easy. We’re liked the perfect website host.”

Tagline: “WordPress hosting, perfected.”

We went through a similar, but more elaborate process working with a graphic designer to develop a new identity for Central City Concern, a Portland-based homeless agency that does much more than provide shelter. The agency situates displaced people in housing, attends to their health and helps them get back into productive life with a job.

The Central City Concern example shows the value of developing a tagline at the same time as a new logo. But even if you stick with your current logo and name, devising a tagline that tells your brand or organizational story can pay huge dividends. It will put your value proposition front and forward in people’s mind when they hear your name or see your mark.

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

 

The Clear Advantages of Digital Media

More people are spending more time on digital media with mobile devices, but there are more reasons than that to integrate paid digital media into your marketing mix.

More people are spending more time on digital media with mobile devices, but there are more reasons than that to integrate paid digital media into your marketing mix.

Paid digital media offers brands and organizations an affordable way to target and reach intended audiences. It is especially effective as part of an integrated marketing strategy.

As people have gravitated to online sources of information, it makes sense to follow them with advertising. But the advantages of paid digital media go far beyond tracking after eyeballs.

TV and newspaper ads reach “mass” audiences. They offer some ability to target an intended audience – buying ads in specific TV shows or sections of the newspaper. Paid digital media offers a greater range of targeting, including customized messages for groups of individuals aimed at the digital media and platforms where they pay attention.

Television advertising has an impact because it is visual. Digital media is also at its best visual. A key difference is the wider range of visual possibilities that work on digital media. Most TV ads try to appeal to a wide audience. Paid digital media can be designed to appeal to a narrow audience. If you wanted to advertise industrial land or available facilities to rent, you could produce visual tools showing off what’s available and direct those tools to industrial or commercial brokers. A restaurant could announce a special holiday menu via its Facebook page with a discount offered to loyal patrons who “like” the page.

The cost and lead time to produce and place a TV spot don’t allow a great deal of flexibility, especially compared to paid digital media that can be placed relatively quickly and affordably. Nimbleness permits an advertiser to engage in trial and error placements with less cost exposure than a full-blown TV ad campaign. Digital media provides solid analytics to guide modifications to the message and/or the channel. 

Paid digital media has the advantage of being portable. A coupon can be embedded in an ad and used at the point of sale, much like coupons printed or inserted in newspapers. Because the digital media ad is targeted, users don’t have to file through a stack of inserts or leaf through the newspaper itself.

Smart marketers recognize the advantages of paid digital and social media advertising. They also appreciate that an integrated marketing plan can achieve even more. Traditional media advertising can play a valuable role in raising the visibility of digital media opportunities by driving viewers to websites or other digital platforms. Earned media and content marketing strategies are also useful in building awareness and creating interest in opportunities accessed through digital media.

The simple truth is that consumers, businesses and anyone paying attention to media are bombarded with information and messages. It is easy to be overwhelmed, tune out and miss something of interest and value. Encircling your audience with impressions launched from different directions, which is essentially the point of integrated marketing approaches, offers a higher level of confidence you can have at least one and hopefully more touch points with the people you want to reach. You don’t need to put all your eggs in one marketing basket despite digital’s clear advantages.

A key to success on digital media is finding the right staff or marketing partner that can provide quality advice, good insight on content, up-to-date knowledge on paid digital media placement and demonstrable skill in using analytics to inform decision-making.

Scorning digital media or brushing it off as only valuable to connect with Millennials is unwise and, frankly, untrue. Most people have become digital creatures. And for increasing numbers of people, there main lifeline to the outside world is online.

Shooting the Moon on Your Cell Phone

The maker of a clip-on zoom lens for cell phones demonstrates the power of show-me communications that tells a complete story in a single image.

The maker of a clip-on zoom lens for cell phones demonstrates the power of show-me communications that tells a complete story in a single image.

In the world of visual communications, there is nothing better than showing what you mean. The maker of a clip-on HD360x zoom lens for cell phones provides a great example.

In a single picture, the manufacturer shows how the zoom lens works, where it goes on a cell phone with a built-in camera and what images it can produce.

Of course, the picture doesn’t answer the question of lens quality, price or availability. But the picture makes you want to look to find out.

When viewers click on hd360x.com, they are greeted by a quick-paced slide show that reinforces the “pictures tell the story” theme by showing what the lens can do (including doubling as a monocular) and providing key specifications.

An ad about a camera lens is a no-brainer for “show me” visual communications, but so are many other messages. Fast food chains zero in on their menu items. Car companies put viewers in the driver’s seat. Computer makers dazzle showing what their laptops and tablets can do.

At their best, visual communications demonstrate a solution to a problem. The makers of the HD360x zoom lens, for example, solve the problem of shooting far away subjects on your cell phone without toting around a separate DSLR camera.

The HD360x image also shows the relative simplicity of how the product works. You snap on the lens pretty much like a clip for an open bag of potato chips. Who hasn’t mastered that skill?

Most important, the image is eye candy. You can’t miss it and you can’t take your eyes off it.

Words still have a place in paid media, but powerful images that show, explain and satisfy to the eye are a dominant way of showing your value proposition in an instant. If you don’t try to find a visual to tell your story, you miss out on your own best punch line.

Another great example of an eye-popping visual story of ironworkers sitting atop a tall tower with the simple explanation: “Building America."