The Secret Sauce of Delectable Content

The secret sauce of content marketing is fresh, authentic content that is delicious to consume. 

The secret sauce of content marketing is fresh, authentic content that is delicious to consume. 

Here’s a content marketing idea: Have something to say and say it with some panache.

It doesn’t take a master chef to understand the key ingredient in content marketing is content itself. If you want your dish to sizzle, the content has to taste good, be presented well and go down easily.

There is a lot of content out there that resembles processed food and frozen dinners. You might consume it, but you would rather not. You certainly wouldn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to buy it. 

When thinking of content, your mind should go to fresher fare. Like the new Portland restaurant that mixes up gourmet meals for 10 people at a sitting who watch the preparation and eat at an old-fashioned counter. You eat what you see and interact with the cook. It’s like having your own personal chef. 

Writing a blog, op-ed or white paper isn’t something you can customize for each potential reader. But you can personalize content by making it relevant, useful, entertaining or evocative. That’s what separates hot dogs from veal scaloppini.

To understand whether to whip up veal scaloppini, beef brisket or shrimp louie, you need to understand the appetites of your diners. The same is true for content development. You need a deep dive into what your audience craves. You need to know much more than their age, gender and time preference to check out social media. You must discover what interests them, concerns them or inspires them. That becomes your editorial menu for what content to create.

This kind of audience taste-testing isn’t something you can farm out to the folks who make your bar stools or repair your dishwasher. As the master chef of your content, you have to be on top of your customers’ taste buds. If you are in harmony with customer cravings, you will never be at a loss of what to cook up. 

Content marketing counselors urge creating good content, but they often fail to describe the recipe. Good content, like good food, should be authentic and satisfy the palate as well as the tummy. It makes you want to hug the cook. Good content makes the same kind of strong connection between the content creator and consumer.

While good content is easy to spot, it is not always easy to see. That’s where the “marketing” part of content marketing comes into play. The marketing job is to get good content on the table in front of diners. If great content is teamed with lousy marketing, the tables will be largely empty. Likewise, great marketing and so-so content discourages a return visit.

As in fine cooking, content generation requires trial and error. Failure isn’t a bad thing, especially if it forces you into a more productive direction and a refined approach. This is why engagement is so important. A good cook wants to hear compliments, but also needs to see what part of a meal goes uneaten into the garbage can. The same is true for content marketers who should ask for viewer feedback and measure consumer reaction. It’s okay to try out some diner ideas or maybe even let them grill a meal once in a while.

Content marketing success starts with content that makes your consumers’ mouths water and then satisfies their hunger. Content should be dished up with visual appeal. And your consumers should know where to find you and when they can sit down to feast. But above all, have something to say.

Content Marketing Example

Alaska Airlines continues to shine as a savvy content marketer. The airline delayed the takeoff of a flight from Anchorage to Honolulu earlier this year to allow a swarm of eclipse chasers – and a planeload of other passengers – to see a total solar eclipse over the Pacific Ocean, capturing national media attention.

Top designer Luly Yang demonstrates how to best prepare your wedding dress as a carry-on item when flying to your destination wedding. 

In its most recent blog post, Alaska Air featured fashion designer Luly Yang, who will reimagine fight attendant uniforms. However, the blog focuses on something more down-to-earth – how do you pack a wedding dress when flying. In short videos, Yang demonstrates how to fold a flowing gown into a suitcase and even a carry-on bag to ensure it arrives with minimal wrinkles and no damage, avoiding a bride’s worst nightmare.

This is content geared for people who fly on airplanes or who have daughters who will fly on airplanes to go to faraway weddings. The content is useful, and it’s presented in a visually informative and entertaining way. The advice, by the way, might just as easily apply to a guy’s suit coat or silk Hawaiian shirts.

This is how good content marketing is done. 

Making a Better Connection Through LinkedIn

A LinkedIn trainer says the online networking site has hidden capabilities that can make it more personal and less sterile in seeking and engaging new connections.

Blogging and promoting your blogs on social media sites such as LinkedIn is a smart way to demonstrate thought leadership, share valuable content and show off your expertise. It would be even smarter if you exploited all of LinkedIn’s capabilities.

Mic Johnson, a content coach and LinkedIn trainer for Blue Gurus, says some of LinkedIn’s most valuable and useful features are hidden from view for the average user. LinkedIn could make these features more accessible, he says, but meanwhile LinkedIn users can make use of the features if they know where to find them.

One of Johnson’s biggest bugaboos about LinkedIn is its impersonality. Invitations to connect can be sterile, but they can – and, he insists, should – be personalized. The blue “Connect” button makes it easy to send an invite with the clinical “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message. However, Johnson says if you go to someone’s profile and click the button, a dialogue box appears that gives you a chance to describe how you know the person and add a personal greeting.

LinkedIn discourages engagement, Johnson explains, by making it easy to accept an invitation without seeing whether or not the person who extended the invitation wrote a personal note. He suggests clicking on the “quotes” to see if a message was sent before accepting an invitation. You don’t have to respond, but at least you know someone took the time to send you a message.

If you are baffled by how stories or posts appear on your LinkedIn feed, it’s not a surprise to Johnson. He says the LinkedIn default is to give preference to “Top Updates” instead of “Recent Updates.” This increases the likelihood you may not see a post that interests you.

You can change your feed by clicking HOME and looking under “Publish a Post” where they are three little dots that you can pick and select “Recent Updates” as your preference. Irritatingly, Johnson explains, if you leave your home page, LinkedIn will restore “Top Updates” as your home feed default setting.

“I’m not a fan of social networks choosing what they think I want to see instead of the other way around,” Johnson says.

Tucked away on the profile pages of your connections is the largely unnoticed Relationship Tab. Johnson says it can be found below a person’s photo and offers an opportunity to “jot down notes about the person, set follow-up reminders and tag the personal in a category such as prospects."

“I’m a big fan of LinkedIn,” Johnson says. “LinkedIn is one of the best tools out there for connecting with people in business, finding people you share in common with others and consuming and sharing quality content.” 

“Linked needs to spend more time making the user experience more intuitive and stop forcing people to click around to find hidden features,” he adds. But thanks to Johnson, some of LinkedIn’s hidden features have been exposed, allowing you to use LinkedIn like a guru.

The Seven Big Problems of Marketing

Marketing has some big problems in today’s economy, ranging from how marketing works in the digital world and global marketplace to coping with exploding numbers of communications channels and disruptive technological change.

The American Marketing Association unveiled what it calls an “intellectual agenda” that identifies seven big marketing problems in the face of ever more fragmented and distracted groups of would-be customers.

AMA CEO Russ Klein says the seven big problems are intended as “above-the-din context” for addressing an increasingly challenging marketplace while maintaining objectivity and an action orientation.

Here are the seven big problems as described for AMA by Bernie Jaworski, Rob Malcolm and Neil Morgan:

1. Effectively targeting high-value sources of growth

Long gone are the days when brands could be one-trick products. Market segmentation is a bigger factor now than ever, which forces more critical choices about what segment to target that offers the best opportunity for a positive return.

After locating the ripest opportunity, brands need to decide how to position products and influence consumer decision-making. That can involve bumper-car competition with other brands that are trying to win in the same segment. Effective marketers call this “demand landscape mapping,” which still is more like the Lewis and Clark expedition than precise digital cartography.

2. The role of marketing in the firm and C-suite

Historically companies have focused on making and distributing products efficiently – the supply side of the equation. In today’s marketplace, consumer demand has become a more dominant driver, which means the marketing department that had been assigned a room down the hall has been summoned to the C-suite.

Company executives must decide how to integrate marketing into organizations weighted toward production. They also need to figure out whether marketing should be centralized or farmed out to individual product groups. There are company culture aspects to consider by switching to products consumers want from products you want to make.

3. The digital transformation of the modern corporation

The Internet of Things is forcing all kinds of companies to go from “dumb” to “smart.” This transition transcends Big Data and social media and goes to the heart of business models, company hierarchies and the consumer interface.

One way to think of this evolution is to imagine brands are going from a world of two-dimensional videos to three-dimensional video games. There is constant, often real-time interaction with consumers and competitors. There is less time to react and a higher premium on being nimble. The marketing department is arguably best suited to be the front line soldiers in this advancing battle.

4. Generating and using insight to share marketing practice

Research has always been a fundamental building block for disciplined marketers, but today’s challenge is a mound of information. There is a lot of data and plenty of analytics, and there also is the potential for overlooking insights gained by direct consumer contact.

The heart of this problem is whether it is better to analyze consumer behavior or actually observe it. Traditional research methods can reveal why a consumer chooses one brand over another and why. It may not reveal daily experience that could suggest an openness – or even eagerness – for a different alternative, a breakthrough product. A key question is to decipher what tools and techniques are more effective at breaking the “insights code.”

5. Dealing with an omni-channel world 

Even the most efficiently run companies have to face a world of chaotic communications and channels. Nothing illustrates this point better than the surging rise in online sales. A brand not only has to worry about shelf space and in-store promotions; it also has to contend with how to sell on Amazon. Bigger brands need to sort out the brick-and-click interplay. 

Brand marketers must engage consumers on what to buy as well as where to buy it. Many brands already have parallel marketing universes online and in-store, which often includes the option of buying online in a store for merchandise not in local inventory. However, this seems like just the beginning, not the end scene of effective omni-channel marketing.

6. Competing in dynamic, global markets

Globalization is usually described as manufacturing products offshore in low-wage countries to cut production costs. The recent release of the so-called Panama Papers reminds us that capital flows across international borders are a very big deal. But we may just be witnessing a burst of a different kind of international competition with the seemingly sudden introduction of brands we’ve never heard of before.

It wasn’t that long ago when Samsung and Kia became recognizable brands in our marketplace. Expect more. At the same time, wider arrays of U.S. brands have spread their wings and flown on to foreign markets, raising questions about supply chains, unfamiliar regulation and the cultural competency of marketing. The marketing role must take on a deeper role to perceive how a brand can withstand foreign competitors at home and abroad, to take advantage of global opportunities and to see trends as they emerge, not after they turn into tsunamis.

7. Balancing incremental and radical innovation

“Firms need to compete in two time periods: the present and the future.” How can companies achieve the ambidextrous skill to manage in dual universes that may be hugely different? More important, how will the customer experience evolve, especially given the growth of mobile devices that can be used to compare prices, search other distribution channels and pay for goods?

AMA suggests this balancing act will require thinking more about platform products, franchises and product ecosystems. Concepts like “fail fast” may become standard operating procedure. Are there models to emulate successful reinvention and what metrics matter for innovation? How do you go beyond product innovation to organizational, financial and marketing innovation?

YouTube: Your Own TV Station

YouTube stars Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg are parlaying their massive online following into gigs in TV and film. It's a bold example of the huge personal branding potential for anyone with their own YouTube channel. 

YouTube stars Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg are parlaying their massive online following into gigs in TV and film. It's a bold example of the huge personal branding potential for anyone with their own YouTube channel. 

As digital media has allowed you to be your own content publisher, YouTube allows you to be your own TV station.

Today, the video sharing giant has become far more than a personal outlet for run-of-the-mill vloggers to vent their frustrations and show off their whacky sense of humor. Now drawing tens of billions of views a month on millions of fresh videos, YouTube has created a massive worldwide platform for its biggest stars, many of whom are finding their successful video careers expanding well beyond YouTube and into more traditional media. But you don’t have to be famous to tap into the limitless marketing potential of YouTube.    

Last week, The Guardian highlighted the story of successful British YouTube due Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee, who started small and built a large following, which they later parlayed into TV and movie deals. Though not exactly household names in the U.S., Sugg and Lee have more than 11 million YouTube subscribers and upwards of one billion views on Google’s video service. Theirs is an example of how far the clever use of a YouTube channel can get you.  

Last year, the duo released Joe and Caspar Hit the Road, a straight-to-DVD movie chronicling their trip around Europe. Behind the production is the team from the popular British TV series Top Gear. While going straight to DVD usually means your movie is a box office dud, the rule simply doesn’t apply for the rising stars of YouTube. After topping the sales charts as a DVD and digital download on the web, the movie will make its way to the E4 TV network this month, and a sequel is already in the mix for this fall.

Clearly, you don’t have to be famous to tap into the massive marketing potential of YouTube. If you self-promote it, they will come. Just as blogs have become a more common marketing tool for businesses in the past several years, YouTube vloggers have begun to gain more traction among branding strategists. Now those strategists are turning to YouTube with their own channels for branding a company.  

According to a 2015 Social Media Examiner study of more than 3,700 marketers, 55 percent of business-to-business marketers and business-to-consumer marketers are incorporating YouTube into their brand-building strategies today. The number of YouTube converts continues to grow, and it should for quite some time.

Consider that we live in an age where video has overtaken written communication as a more popular, fast-growing communication medium online, especially among young audiences. Part of what’s driving so many to seize upon YouTube as a marketing tool is the simplicity and accessibility of YouTube. Anyone can shoot a video and post it to their channel, and it doesn’t have to be long or particularly well made to draw thousands or even millions of views.  

Rising new media companies, like Vice, owe much of their recent success to YouTube. After drawing millions upon millions of views on their short clips and alternative documentaries posted on YouTube, Vice had picked up enough of a following to launch its own daily news show on HBO. Now Vice is expanding in Europe with 30 shows in production and another 100 in development, said Eddy Moretti, the company’s chief creative officer.

“Our model has been we launch a channel online, we create the brand, we create a lot of video for that brand, and find talent … And we’ve been moving that talent, that IP [intellectual property], those videos, to other platforms,” Moretti said.

The success of these new media ventures aside, any successful branding strategy in today’s fast changing world needs to be designed to draw in millennials online, and few places in the digital arena offer a better venue for that than YouTube. That concept should always be top-of-mind for any branding strategist today. Whether you work for a meteoric video producer like Vice or a much smaller local business, YouTube may just be your best friend in marketing for many, many years to come. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist

Missing a Newsjacking Layup

When Villanova's men's basketball squad made it to the Final Four, the university seized upon the chance to show off its academic prowess on LinkedIn. But the execution fell flat, as Villanova failed to capitalize on an easy newsjacking opportunity.

When Villanova's men's basketball squad made it to the Final Four, the university seized upon the chance to show off its academic prowess on LinkedIn. But the execution fell flat, as Villanova failed to capitalize on an easy newsjacking opportunity.

 

Villanova University turned a sure newsjacking score into a flubbed layup.

After Villanova's basketball team made it to the Final Four, the university turned to LinkedIn to tout its players’ 100 percent graduation rate. Smart. However, the link attached to its intriguing newsjacking post took viewers to a stale college catalogue explanation of Villanova and its virtues. Informative, but hardly a match for the newsjacking tease.

Newsjacking is the slick pass to capitalize on news events to grab attention. But that's only half of the play. You can’t just dribble the ball, you need to take the shot and score points with the audience you attracted. 

Obviously overlooked were short video vignettes from the Villanova players about their academic experience. Other options might have been a snappy video tour of the campus, showing off what makes Villanova different and its academic atmosphere, or testimonials from successful Villanova alumni.

Almost anything would have been better than a page ripped from the college admission handbook, which came across like a two-handed set shot.

They clearly missed a clear-court layup, but after Villanova’s scorching, historic victory over Oklahoma in the semifinals, it has another chance in the championship game. They have great footage from the basketball court. They need to team it with some compelling off-court footage, which shouldn’t be too hard. After all, it’s just a layup.

 

Content Marketing Personas

Content personas are similar to buyer persons, but add emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Content personas are similar to buyer persons, but add emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Buyer personas are established elements of marketing plans, so why shouldn’t a content persona be appropriate for a content marketing plan.

Buyer personas show how existing or potential customers think, their perceived needs and where they get information. A content marketing persona is similar, but it zeroes in on what kind of content customers view as useful, informative and entertaining.

Buyer and content personals all have the same objective – to convert someone from a viewer into a customer. They both search for triggers for that conversion. They seek ways to establish a bond of trust between brand and buyer.

There are subtle differences. A content persona places more emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Marketing personas are ways to humanize customer statistics. It is hard to conjure a marketing plan for metadata. It is easier to envision a plan that addresses people with certain kinds of common characteristics. 

Personas reveal "pain points,” “priority initiatives,” “perceived barriers” and “decision criteria.” Marketers like to track the “buyer’s journey” and “success factors.” Content marketers must be mindful of all that within the framework of creating content.

A pain point could involve finding a way to get rid of mold in the shower. A buyer persona might focus on a product. A content persona would show the process of how to use a reputable product to scrub away the mold. It is the difference between promoting a product directly or demonstrating how your product works.

This example illustrates that some “buyers” just want a solution, while others want to be involved in the solution. That oversimplifies the difference between buyer and content personas, but it does show how they differ.

Another key difference is perspective. A buyer persona is intended to mark the path to a sale. A content persona is a roadmap to winning the customer’s trust and, ultimately, loyalty.

Many companies have shifted marketing dollars to content marketing because it matches well with customer relationship management. If all you do is pitch products, you aren’t distinguishing yourself from competitors. If a competitor comes up with a snappier, cooler and cheaper product, your buyer persona is hasta la vista. Competitors have a tougher time busting through the rapport you establish with layers of successful content marketing that deliver continuing value.

Content marketing and personas don’t require throwing away all you know about marketing or buyer personas. They do require a marketing master's degree in how to generate content from the vantage point of a helpful neighbor with a garage full of unbelievably useful tools.

Alaska Air’s Eclipsing Brand Personality

Alaska Air modifies its flight schedule so 181 passengers, including a gaggle of umbraphiles, can witness a spectacular March 8 solar eclipse on a flight from Anchorage to Honolulu.

Alaska Air modifies its flight schedule so 181 passengers, including a gaggle of umbraphiles, can witness a spectacular March 8 solar eclipse on a flight from Anchorage to Honolulu.

Alaska Air may have eclipsed its long history of a smiling-faced Eskimo brand personality. The airline took a cue from curious customers and slightly realigned a regularly scheduled flight from Anchorage to Honolulu to give passengers a porthole view of a total solar eclipse on March 8.

The customers were veteran eclipse chasers who realized their chances of seeing the March 8 eclipse were slim because monsoons would obscure the view in Indonesia and Micronesia, the only land areas where it would be visible. Astronomer Joe Rao, who works for the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, did some checking and noticed Alaska Air’s Flight 870 would intersect the arc of the eclipse.

There was a problem, the plane’s scheduled departure would be 25 minutes too early. Rao contacted Alaska Air officials, explained the situation and the airline switched the departure time. On the day of the flight, Alaska officials reviewed the proposed flight path and wine and weather conditions to optimize viewing the eclipse. Ground crews made sure all the windows were clean. The plane’s pilot relied on the flight management computer to hit the mark.

The 181 passengers, including more than a dozen “eclipse geeks,” were treated to a grand spectacle en route. Alaska Air won plaudits for accommodating the eclipse chasers. “It’s an unbelievably accommodating gesture,” said Mike Kentrianakis, solar eclipse manager for the American Astronomical Society and a passenger on Flight 870. “Not only is Alaska Airlines getting people from Point A to Point B, but they’re willing to give them an exciting experience. An airline that’s actually talking to their people – and listening? That’s air service at its best. It’s become personal.”

You couldn’t buy a testimonial that good. Nor could you find a way to reinforce your brand personality as an airline that shows it cares about passengers by the quality of its service.

The flight wasn’t just a mystic experience for the eclipse junkies. Dan McGlaun, who viewed his 12th total eclipse on Flight 870, brought 200 pairs of specially filtered glasses so everyone on board could witness the sun during all phases of the eclipse.

Alaska Air has undergone an image refresher since the beginning of 2016, putting more snap into its logo and imagery. Other than Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Air is the only major carrier with a human face as its brand face. The smiling Eskimo isn’t a particular person, but is intended to convey a sense of family and community.

On its website, Alaska Air says the iconic Eskimo’s visage may have been drawn from grandfatherly faces in Kotzebue, a small Alaskan community 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Before a hospital was built there in 2013, Kotzebue residents who were ill or injured “called Alaska Airlines first,” symbolizing that the carrier is “embedded into the fiber of the communities it serves."

Alaska is a company with a distinctive brand personality and an awareness of what it takes to showcase it.

Ten Essential Skills for Digital Marketing

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

As we plunge deeper into the digital age, some old skills take on greater value and new skills are required to remain top of mind, convey brand value and get work out the door.

Arik Hanson, in his blog Communications Conversations, offers what he calls 10 essential skills for the future of public relations. The skills could just as easily apply to the future of successful communications for brands, nonprofits and public agencies.

Video and audio production and advertising copywriting skills top Hanson’s list. He might have added animation skills. The tools to produce compelling video and audio content have become vastly more accessible to everyday users, who face growing demands to generate visual content. Advertising is expanding to social media, which demands knowledge of how to write snappy copy, even if you aren’t an “advertising creative.”

Another emerging skill set, Hanson says, is the ability to create social media content and manage social content systems. Some still cling to the view that social media is all about dog pictures and people describing what they ate for dinner, original content that is useful, relevant and entertaining has become a staple of marketing programs, especially for nonprofits and public agencies. Curating and stockpiling content, as well as making it searchable, has become a fundamental marketing ground-game skill.

Writing clearly for external and internal audiences isn’t a new skill, but Hanson insists its role is growing. With information overload and a casual attitude about writing, those who can communicate clearly in words will be highly regarded – and perhaps in short supply. Writing for internal audiences involves “understanding what motivates employees,” Hanson says, “as well as having solid writing skills.”

Visual communications dominate on digital media, which means organizations and their PR counselors must “develop a visual style” for their online presence. It’s not enough to be online. You need to stand out online.

Another reality of digital media is the power of influencers. Hanson says collaborating with influencers is a whole new ballgame. "Four to six years ago, everyone was talking about blogger outreach, and with good reason: Blogs were the dominant cog in the social media machinery. Fast-forward to 2016, and there are now platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat – with people on those networks who command significant attention.”

Satisfying clients remains a priority, but Hanson says it now requires a “deep understanding of traditional, digital and business analytics.” It also requires, he adds, an “understanding of how to produce reports that make sense to clients.” “Provide relevant context, provide ideas as outcomes of the data and always cull the data and present them in terms the client can understand.”

The final skill Hanson points to is the ability to work in virtual teams. “I see virtual work environments as a huge trend over the next five to seven years,” he says. That involves understanding virtual team workflows and investing in tools that work in virtual team environments.

Hanson, who is the principal for a Minneapolis-based marketing firm, wrote a similar list of 10 essential skills in 2012. The list changed significantly in just four years. It is highly likely to keep changing rapidly into the future, which means organizations need to adopt an attitude of continuous improvement and a willingness to learn and embrace new ideas.

Making Corporate Candor Funny

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars is running a TV ad in which intern Chet Wallaby takes the blame for the inexplicable disappearance of the wildly popular Bacon Wrapped Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza from the chain’s menu.

The tongue-in-cheek bit, which features a corporate big-wig thanking the scapegoat intern for his honesty, works because it mirrors reality. A lot of C-suite executives designate someone else to convey the bad news or to take the spears for a corporate misstep.

The ad fits Little Caesars quirky brand personality, founded in 1959 by Mike Ilitch, a Detroit Tigers farm club shortstop. Ilitich’s wife, Marian, affectionately called him her “little caesar,” which became the chain’s name. What started as a single store has become an international food services company, known for filling the largest pizza order in history – 13,386 pizzas – and renowned for setting up Love Kitchens on wheels to feed victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The bacon-wrapped pizza – a deep-dish pizza with 3.5-foot-long belt of bacon – was introduced in 2015. It drew the expected critical hazing for excess, but apparently it was popular with Little Caesars patrons. When the pizza slid from view on the menu, customers complained. Then, the TV ad announced its bacon-wrapped return.

Wallaby, the awkward, disingenuous scapegoat in the TV ad, is a perfect representation of other designated fall guys. Scapegoating is far too common, which makes the spoof funny and memorable. In real life, scapegoating is less funny and hard to forget. It can even be a brand killer.

Domino’s rebranded itself around a new pizza “from the crust up,” with ads that admitted its previous pizzas tasted like cardboard. The “Our Pizza Sucks” campaign was plaudits for “corporate candor."

Most brands may not need to go as far as Domino’s, which dropped “Pizza” from its name and ran a series of ads showing its signs being pulled down. But some – take note, Chipotle – might consider it.

Whether a brand is remade or not, owning reality is a quality that usually resonates with customers. And as Little Caesars shows, owning reality can be funny as well as serious. 

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.

From Brand Journalism to Branded Entertainment

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

First came brand journalism. Now we have branded entertainment. 

Tonight’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra sketch sponsored by American Express. Other shows such as “The Voice,” “Blindspot” and “Today” have slipped sponsored content into slots normally occupied by traditional advertising.

Branded entertainment, in the form of comedy sketches, extra interviews or extended segments, reduces the amount of advertising while still making the cash register ring. It is a response to more viewers moving to services such as Hulu that offer content without advertising breaks. TV networks are banking that fewer advertising slots will fetch higher prices and different kinds of slots will appeal to gold-star advertisers like American Express.

The notion of branded entertainment is as old as radio and television. Way back when, individual sponsors were associated with shows. The Jack Benny Show was originally called “The Lucky Strike Program.” Ed Sullivan’s Sunday evening variety show was primarily sponsored by the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company. 

Native advertising, where the ads look and feel like the content or medium they appear with, has been gaining in popularity. But it is still advertising, which some readers and viewers want to avoid. Branded entertainment, which involves sponsorships, is an attractive alternative.

National Public Radio has a form of branded news and entertainment, with sponsors that receive Twitter-size acknowledgements. Weather and traffic reports on radio and TV are another common form of branded content.

According to The New York Times, American Express approached NBC last December about its branded entertainment idea, which it will use to promote one of its credit cards. An American Express spokesman called the partnership with NBC an opportunity “to create a different kind of paradigm” for TV advertising in an increasingly segmented market. 

If the experiment works, expect to see it replicated on more than TV shows as well as promoted on popular online news sites. NBC invested $200 million in BuzzFeed, which “will produce online posts related to sponsored programming,” the New York Times reported.

Avoid Snap Judgments about Snapchat

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

If you want to direct a message to young adults, consider delivering it on either Instagram or Snapchat. Yes, that Snapchat. 

For many people, Snapchat, which launched in 2011 and was originally called Picaboo, is a quirky social media platform where you post something, then it goes poof. Well, that impression is so yesterday. Almost literally.

In the last two years, Snapchat has added new functionality that allows users to tell more complex stories that hang around longer, send direct messages and conduct video chats. Snapchat’s popularity has exploded, with 100 million user visits per day, a user base nearly the size of Twitter’s and 7 billion daily video views. That is close to Facebook’s 8 billion daily video views, but Facebook has an audience 15 times larger than Snapchat.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

Snapchat appeals to young adults because it is relatively frictionless. Tap and shoot. Hold the button down for video. Snapchat is more personal than Instagram. You can share with a chosen group, not broadcast to the world. For the impulsive, Snapchat offers nearly guilt-free, real-time sharing, with the knowledge that the post will soon disappear. (After a run-in with the Federal Trade Commission, Snapchat settled and admitted that posts aren’t absolutely deleted and in some cases can be retrieved with the right forensic tools. For intentional users, this is a meh moment.)

Writing for socialmediaexaminer.com, Suzanne Delzio says Snapchat’s audience is growing and highly engaged – appetizing metrics for advertisers and anyone who needs to reach a young adult audience. For example, Snapchat could be a perfect crisis response vehicle to tell college students about an infectious disease outbreak and the steps to combat it. Snapchat might be the right vehicle for a continuing campaign to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse on dates.

Delzio says Snapchat endured early criticism for its vertical-only video format. However, data indicates mobile device users strongly prefer vertical versus horizontal video formats. Score this as a built-in advantage for Snapchat. The video completion rate, Delzio adds, on vertical formats is nine times higher, which is good news for marketers who often place their calls to action near the end of a video. Think of how this might work with a video about a car or car insurance aimed squarely at young adult consumers.

Instagram has staked out a strong position with Millennials, but Snapchat is catching up. Delzio reports that a study of Millennial smartphone users shows they spend 5.9 hours per month on Snapchat versus 7 hours on Instagram. Millennials spend almost 26 hours per month in Facebook, but it is a different experience. The key takeaway, Delzio writes, is that 76 percent of Millennials are already plugged into Snapchat.

The network that started in a Stanford classroom may be ready to dress up and go out on the town. Delzio says advertising rates have been lowered on Snapchat to sweeten its appeal for a broader group of advertisers.

In the world of social media, yesterday’s news is ancient history. Snapchat may have been a punch line, but it has quickly grown into a significant network for a key demographic group. Reconsider any snap judgments you may have made about Snapchat and consider how you can put it to work. 

Cheap Ways to Make a Marketing Impression

Influencer marketing, using bloggers and social media promotion, is one way to stretch a scrawny marketing budget.

Influencer marketing, using bloggers and social media promotion, is one way to stretch a scrawny marketing budget.

If you have a scrawny marketing budget, all is not lost. There are inexpensive ways to make an impression. Here are three suggestions:

Influencer Marketing

Find people who influence buying decisions for others. Bloggers with substantial followings are a good example. Their followers pay attention to what they say about food, technology, travel or all kinds of other subjects. Approach a few bloggers who connect with your target audience. Ask them to sample your product, use your service or review your offering and then write about it in their blog.

Writers who monetize their blogs may ask for compensation, but what they charge is far less than advertising and their reach is more targeted because bloggers have created a community filled with your potential customers.

If tracking down bloggers relevant to your marketing pitch seems too daunting, there are services that can help, such as Find Your Influence, which is effectively an automated dating service matching advertisers with bloggers.

YouTube and Other Video

Short, catchy videos are popular, and thanks to advances in technology they have never been easier and cheaper to produce. YouTube presents a perfect open-air theater to post them.

Most videos don’t go viral, but many of them get a good number of views. The key is to make videos worth watching, put them in an accessible channel and let the right people know they exist.

Instead of thinking like a Hollywood movie director, ask a teenager to help you. Videos are second nature to young people, as are the increasingly simplified tools to produce sophisticated video content. They might even be able to show you how to make the next video and you can pay them with a gift card at Taco Bell.

Once you have produced your video and posted it on YouTube, you can encourage people to watch by emailing friends or people on your customer list. You also can promote the video on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other networks depending on who you are trying to reach. Email marketing, assuming you’ve collected emails, is basically free. Promoting a video on social media can be cost-effective, too. The video also can be featured on your website and in your blog.

Street marketing requires a creative costume, something appealing to hand out and a willingness to throw inhibition to the wind.

Street marketing requires a creative costume, something appealing to hand out and a willingness to throw inhibition to the wind.

Street Marketing

Some of the most creative marketing ideas ever have involved street marketing. KFC once hired hundreds of people to dress up like Colonel Sanders and roam around New York, ending the day by sitting in a large bloc of seats at Yankee Stadium. The caper attracted gobs of media coverage and sparked lots of curious conversations.

You don’t need a 1,000 Colonel Sanders to create a stir. All you may need is a few volunteers willing to hand out your product on street corners while wearing logo-bearing T-shirts and funny hats.

KFC got major headlines and earned local goodwill by dispatching a Colonel Sanders look-alike to fill potholes in Louisville. You could identify a good cause – with or without involving asphalt – that connects with your product or service and convinces local TV stations to cover it.

Street marketing is an untapped source of nearly free advertising for those willing to throw inhibition to wind, dress up in a costume and do something kitschy or compassionate. In addition to some exposure and community buzz, you also will be giving your brand an injection of personality.

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.

Twitter is in Trouble

Twitter isn’t growing its user base, is losing money and has seen its stock price stumble, but the social network is still a direct, powerful, real-time way to share the news.

Twitter isn’t growing its user base, is losing money and has seen its stock price stumble, but the social network is still a direct, powerful, real-time way to share the news.

Is Twitter a digital 140-character dead letter? Maybe not yet, but it faces a major challenge from Instagram, Snapchat and a new digital platform called Peach for the right to be called the news bureau of social media.

Writing for The New Yorker, Joshua Topolsky says Twitter, which once seemed unassailable, now seems confused and vulnerable. Twitter's original appeal as a forum for “raw, streamlined” citizen journalism has turned into a company without a compass.

"Changes to the product made it hard to follow conversations or narratives,” wrote Topolsky, co-founder of Vox Media. "A lack of rigor in verifying reliable sources made information suspect or confusing. More troubling was the growing wave of harassment and abuse that users of the service were dealing with – a quagmire epitomized by the roving flocks of hateful, misogynistic, and well-organized “Gamergate” communities that flooded people’s feeds with hate speech and threats. The company seemed to be wholly unprepared to handle mob violence, with few tools at its disposal to moderate or quell uprisings.”

Perhaps most troubling are reports that Twitter will lift its 140-character limit and allow tweets with as many as 10,000 characters. Topolsky mockingly called that change an attempt to compete for the “short- and long-winded alike.”

There is objective evidence Twitter has hit a digital wall. Its user base is stagnant. It is hemorrhaging money and has watched its stock value tumble by 50 percent. The company has also lost a bevy of top executives, some of whom have gone to work for Twitter competitors.

Worse yet, Topolsky says, Twitter could be on the verge of irrelevance. Millennials employ Instagram and Snapchat for quick, real-time news-sharing. Instagram, WhatsApp and WeChat now have as many individual users as Twitter, and Snapchat is gaining ground fast.

Many young social users also have abandoned Facebook, Topolsky notes, but Facebook has adapted and kept growing. He says Facebook has “come to dominate and define the concept of social conversation” by dealing aggressively with online campaigns of “noise and intrusion.” Requiring people to use their real names, according to Topolsky, "has certainly made Facebook a much safer space in which to engage.”

Topolsky, who counts himself as a committed Twitter user, hasn’t given up hope. "The core ideals that made the product great are not lost, yet, even if they’ve been obscured," he says. "The directness and power at the heart of Twitter – short bursts of information that can make you feel that you’re plugged into a hulking hive mind – are still its greatest asset.”

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has returned to lead Twitter through its difficult patch, much like Steve Jobs was summoned to revive Apple. Meanwhile, Twitter users will keep their fingers crossed for the social media platform that is a perfect for newsjacking, crisis response and story-sharing. For busy people interested in what’s going on, it is an invaluable tool. The question is whether it will remain relevant.

The Case for the Press Release

The press release, despite a checkered past, remains a valuable tool in the digital era to tell a good story.

The press release, despite a checkered past, remains a valuable tool in the digital era to tell a good story.

The press release has been a public relations staple, a pariah and a candidate for burial. But it is still around and, in the digital era, may be enjoying new life.

Ridiculed as self-promoting puffery, press releases don’t have to be stuffed with smarmy statements by company executives. Instead they can be engaging storytelling platforms. 

With slimmer news staffs, credible, well-written press releases can tell an entire story for a news reporter or producer and entice them to pursue it. Or, in some cases, they can use the press release as the stem for their own story.

See one of our recent press releases, and then check out how it translated into a story in The Oregonian

The storytelling press release also can be original content placed on your own website or online newsroom. Your online newsroom can and should be designed to look and feel like a “news” site. And your content, including press releases, should resemble the news.

Some good uses of press releases include:

•  Distilling a story with complexity to its comprehensible essence.

•  Highlighting elements of a story that have human interest and are entertaining or unusual.

•  Conveying meaningful, on-point quotes without an in-person or on-camera interview.

•  Providing the backstory to an event or milestone.

•  Calls to action that drive trackable traffic to your website or online newsroom.

•  Offering background information, visual assets, links and contact information that make following a story easier.

•  Gaining wider exposure than a single channel.

A rule of thumb is that the newsier a press release reads, the more likely it will gain some traction in a newsroom – or on your own online newsroom.

Vanity press releases have less appeal to the media – and readers – than press releases that are audience-centric. The key is providing quality content that is readable and even enjoyable.

Call it brand journalism or anything else, your press release can do the job if it’s clear, clever or convincing and it’s credible. If you want to make the news, your press release needs to be newsworthy – in content, approach and style. It needs to tell a genuine story.

Even More Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul serves up stories that motivate us, and it has used that core brand value to expand its brand universe.

Chicken Soup for the Soul serves up stories that motivate us, and it has used that core brand value to expand its brand universe.

The road to market is littered with brand extensions that crashed. Chicken Soup for the Soul, on the other hand, has a track record of brand extension success, including a new TV series, that offers insights on how to do it right.

The iconic motivational book series about people and pets has borrowed a photo from “Candid Camera” to launch “Hidden Heroes,” a new weekly TV series that features people doing good things. In the most recent episode, a grandfather stymied by his laptop asks for – and receives – help from random people on how to dial up his grandchildren online.

Small story, big-picture kind of stuff. That’s how Chicken Soup for the Soul got its start as a brand. Motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen dotted their presentations with engaging, inspiring stories. When audience members asked to read more stories, Canfield and Hansen decided to write a book with 101 of their best stories. They came up with the idea of Chicken Soup for the Soul because it reminded them of the comfort kids get – and they got – from their grandmothers’ cooking.

No major publisher expressed interest in the original book. It took a small health and wellness publisher in Florida to give it a chance. There have been 250 Chicken Soup for the Soul books published and 11 million copies sold, making the series one of the most popular and beloved brands in the world.

The secret recipe for the success of Chicken Soup for the Soul is “people helping others by sharing stories about their lives.” That still drives the organization, which was sold in 2008 to Bill Rouhana and Amy Newmark, a husband-wife team that has led a spurt of brand extension beyond the bookstore.

There are now Chicken Soup for the Soul lines of food for people and their pets, online forums, apps, a motion picture and even a Chicken Soup for the Soul YouTube channel. Meanwhile, the organization still publishes a new book every month.

As befits its image, Chicken Soup for the Soul is socially conscious. It contributes a portion from all sales to the Humpty Dumpty Institute, a nonprofit started by Chicken Soup’s CEO, that attacks worldwide illiteracy, addresses hunger and promotes animal welfare. Proceeds from food sales support free school breakfasts. Royalties from some books go to the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Human Association and A World Fit for Kids.

So, the formula for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s success rests on sharing user-generated content across as many platforms as they can imagine and shaving off some of the revenue for causes that relate to the brand’s identity. Viewed another way, it offers a product or service people find useful, and keeps feeding that appetite and sharing the success, both through content and resources.

A lot of executives get embarrassed by thinking people buy into their brands instead of the values of their brand. Chicken Soup for the Soul understands its brand value, which is a true guide on brand extensions.

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.

Reader Ideas to Meet the #ChipotleMarketingChallenge

Faced with a series of high profile food safety mishaps over the past several months, Chipotle is on a daunting mission to restore its image. 

Faced with a series of high profile food safety mishaps over the past several months, Chipotle is on a daunting mission to restore its image. 

Based on the ad hoc advice we got, Chipotle may have a tough time convincing wary customers to return.

The Mexican restaurant chain – which built its fast casual brand on quality, locally sourced food – faces the challenge of wooing back customers after at least three separate food safety incidents across the country. One source reported Chipotle’s revenues – despite reopening its previously closed stores – dipped 30 percent in December.

We asked people to pretend to be the chain’s marketer and meet what we called the #ChipotleMarketing Challenge,” an open-ended strategy session about how you would repair the damage. Here’s a sampling of comments, without attribution, that we received:

“I never went back to Sizzler or Jack in the Box after their troubles.”

“They’ve given an edible plant a bad name. I guess they could work on another one.”

“No kidding! Been wondering how they will rebuild the Grand Canyon of public mistrust."

“Chipotle = Corvair. It will be over very soon.”

One commenter threw up his hands and said the best thing Chipotle’s marketing director could do is look for a new job.

Not everyone was fatalistic, though.

“Challenging situation, but Chipotle is not Enron.”

“Try explaining what happened and how it’s been fixed. How about treating customers like intelligent beings. Then suck it up and take a hit on profits for a little while trust is rebuilt.”

“Rename and rebrand. Not that hard if you do it the right way. But you can’t polish a turd.”

“They could start by foregoing all the healthy positioning of food that isn’t healthy. Hello to the 1,200-calorie burrito.”

“Maybe divide local sources of food into distinct local brands featuring regional specialties based in part on what is in season locally. Emphasize freshness and a lower carbon footprint from transportation.”

“Food safety is obviously essential. Overhaul safety procedures in a transparent way. Open up the facilities with web cams and implement a pioneering food handling effort.”

“Have a long view and don’t attempt to rush to a quick fix (like losing all brand equity). Execute. Execute. Execute. This is a process issue and can only be fixed through years of excellent in process improvement and execution.”

"I believe in second chances. What about a 'Great Reopening' campaign. A day of free samples of food? Coupons and food prize give-aways. Everyone likes free stuff. Have each location give away one free meal an hour. Must make a purchase to qualify for the hourly drawing. Have one big grand prize at the end of the day. Good luck!"

There were also some more entertaining suggestions, like following the example of “The Worst Hotel in the World,” where you warn patrons up front. Here are some more quirky marketing ideas.

“Hire Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog, who have great chemistry on her talk show, for a series of cute ads.”

"Have Morgan Spurlock (a documentary filmmaker and humorist known for producing “Super Size Me”) eat at Chipotle for 30 days, then follow him with cameras to see what happens. The toilet experience might be too graphic.”

On the other hand, maybe Chipotle doesn’t need a big marketing campaign to restore its image after all, which one commenter pointed out. “A large number of their customer base are high school students who don’t care and have continued to eat there three or four times a week through all this."

#Chipotle Marketing Challenge

After a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness at Chipotle restaurants around the U.S., the company is launching a massive marketing campaign to restore its image. 

After a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness at Chipotle restaurants around the U.S., the company is launching a massive marketing campaign to restore its image. 

Chipotle, which has faced dozens of food safety problems across the country over the past several months, is launching a massive marketing campaign to woo back its customers.

The company is closing its doors at each of its locations – there are more than 1,900 in the U.S. – for a few hours on February 8 for a food safety discussion with all Chipotle employees. This is a respected brand, but what will it take for you to walk through Chipotle's doors and order a burrito?

Share with us your marketing strategy for Chipotle. Comment on this blog or share your thoughts on Twitter at #ChipotleMarketingChallenge.

We will share what we learn in a future blog.

Bowl Season TV Ad Winners

Samuel Adams, known for its wide range of beers, produces a holiday TV ad that offers a perfect visual explanation of seasonal brews.

Samuel Adams, known for its wide range of beers, produces a holiday TV ad that offers a perfect visual explanation of seasonal brews.

The Super Bowl usually draws attention for creative TV ads, but this year a couple of gems emerged earlier during the college bowl season – one by Samuel Adams, the other from Taco Bell.

Boston beer maker Samuel Adams served up a perfect example of a visual explanation in an ad, while Taco Bell used 60 seconds to tell a story about scholarships for young dreamers and innovators.

The Samuel Adams ad answers the question, "Why seasonal beers?" by explaining the characteristics of spring, summer and fall brews, then finishing by featuring its winter lager. The explanations were visual, tasteful and informative.

The ad informed without selling. The brewer's commitment to diverse beers and styles was underscored, but unstated. Like a good beer, the ad was satisfying even as it subtly reminded you of the Samuel Adams brand value.

This isn't an aberration for Samuel Adams, which routinely offers up ads that respect viewer intelligence. Its messages are aimed at more discerning beer drinkers, or at least people who want more than a six-pack to guzzle at a frat party.

Taco Bell veered away from its normal advertising to describe the need to encourage dreamers and innovators through its new Live Mas Scholarship.

Taco Bell veered away from its normal advertising to describe the need to encourage dreamers and innovators through its new Live Mas Scholarship.

The Taco Bell ad was more surprising, since the fast food giant's normal fare appeals to a lower common denominator. Instead of extolling the "fourth meal" or extreme tacos, in this ad Taco Bell says it's time for young people to receive scholarships for more than academics or athletics.

The Taco Bell Foundation calls the Live Mas Scholarship a "passion-based" scholarship for innovators and dreamers. With awards ranging from $2,500 to $25,000, a total of $1 million will be given to 220 students in 2016 to attend accredited colleges and vocational schools.

The ad shows young adults engaged in a variety of innovative activities. "The Live Más Scholarship is not based on your grades or how well you play sports. No essays, no test scores, no right or wrong answers," Taco Bell says. "We’re looking for the next generation of innovators, creators and dreamers – whose post-high school education we will help fund. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the next generation.

We can look forward in a few days to Super Bowl ad blitzes, which hopefully will match or exceed these two ads.

Cause Marketing Gains Popularity, Maturity

Cause marketing campaigns are becoming more sophisticated, such as Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at homes.

Cause marketing campaigns are becoming more sophisticated, such as Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at homes.

Cause marketing continues to gain in popularity and recent examples have moved substantially beyond co-promoting a company and a worthy cause by asking for a donation or signing a petition.

A great example is Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at home. The insurance company's choice of a safety program aligns with its business. Instead of teaming with a single organization, Nationwide reached out to a hospital, pediatricians, parents, caregivers and toy manufacturers to identify sources of injury that could be prevented.

David Hessekiel, founder and president of Cause Marketing Forum and author of "Good Works!" says companies are pursuing more sophisticated and creative approaches to address nagging social problems. Some, like Nationwide's campaign, hitch together "complex, multi-player coalitions."

The "Make Safe Happen" program scores well on another pair of important virtues – usefulness and relevance, both key components of successful content marketing strategies. The program isn't just about doing good; it's about helping to avoid an injury to your child or grandchild.

To ensure the campaign was useful and relevant, the techniques used by Nationwide zeroed in on firsthand, frontline sources, such as partnering with Safe Kids Worldwide to "engage caregivers in real time," explained Hessekiel.

In an article written for Forbes, Hessekiel cited other significant cause marketing trends in 2015:

•  Using iconic branding to make a point (Coca-Cola replaced its trademark logo with "Labels are for cans, not people" to promote acceptance of cultural differences).

•  Promoting behavior change (AT&T's It Can Wait pledge to persuade motorists to stay off their smartphones while driving).

•  Educating younger generations (H&R Block's Budget Challenge initiative to teach financial literacy).

•  Creating multi-channel experiences (Coke's #MakeItHappy campaign to encourage positivity).

Cause marketing examples involving large companies can be intimidating for small and family-run businesses. But it would be a mistake to see cause marketing as only the purview of the big brands.

Micro-volunteering is one of the more interesting tools that smaller companies – or nonprofits and public agencies – could exploit in a cause marketing effort. Micro-volunteering involves bite-sized chunks of time that employees can give at work, home or almost anywhere in support of a wide range of causes.

NPR recently featured a micro-volunteering effort to aid blind people who live at home. In the story, a blind woman who needed help in identifying the ingredients she would use to prepare a meal hooked up online with a micro-volunteer. The volunteer, who in this story happened to be in a different city, and the blind woman connected via live streaming so the volunteer could read the ingredients of various bottles. The volunteered assistance took only a couple of minutes.

According to the website helpfromhome.org, popular micro-volunteer causes include animal welfare, environmental watchdogs, health, poverty and scientific research. The website says micro-volunteering opportunities let people "make a difference on their lunch break."

More than Cell Phones and Selfies

As the Millennial population outnumbers previous generations, it is increasingly important to know how to engage with Millennials.

As the Millennial population outnumbers previous generations, it is increasingly important to know how to engage with Millennials.

Contrary to popular belief, Millennials are a lot more plugged in than you think.

You can point to individual Millennials who seem narcissistic, lazy and addicted to smartphones, just as you can find stereotypical behaviors in older generations. However, if marketers believe these stereotypes, they won't have much success communicating and engaging with Millennials. 

As a Millennial myself, I urge you to consider my generation as highly innovative risk-takers and leaders in social, political and technological change.

Here are some specific recommendations for getting past stereotypes and onto engagement:  

1. Millennials are empathetic and aware.

Millennials may seem narcissistic, but we are actually highly empathetic. We are aware of what is going on around us locally and globally.

Don't assume that we are culturally and politically unaware just because we are too busy taking selfies and sharing photos of what we ate for breakfast. This stereotype ignores how Millennials put social media to good use by sharing relevant news articles, making professional connections and using their online influence to facilitate social change. While we are less likely to pick up a newspaper, social media allows us to consume a wide array of news at a fast pace, every day.  

2. Millennials work hard. 

The Millennial generation faces a rapidly changing job market that demands increasing amounts of education at a time when college tuition and student debt has skyrocketed. To succeed, we have to work hard and perhaps smarter than previous generations. 

More and more entry-level jobs require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Rising tuition costs force Millennials to take on a huge risk in acquiring thousands of dollars of debt to get advanced education. As a result, many Millennials are highly educated and have a strong work ethic to compete in an ever more competitive job market.  

3. Millennial’s know how to communicate.  

Many articles have been written about the digital age and how Millennials are unable to form coherent sentences because of our love for texting and tweeting. However, Millennials are far more equipped to communicate in the fast-paced world in which we live.

Texting and tweeting allows us to get our point across quickly in a few words or through pictures or videos. Research shows this is actually the most effective way to communicate, and Millennials are experts at it.  

4. Millennials do have a short attention span.

While I hate stereotyping, I have to admit Millennials experience a huge amount of stimulation, which can lead to short attention spans. That said, when addressing Millennials, you should use short, memorable phrases to get your point across clearly and use a variety of platforms.  But that's also true when communicating with any generation.

5. Be quirky and innovative. 

Generic ads simply don't work. You would have better success with quirky ways to get your point across to Millennials.

For example, BuzzFeed was hired to promote Fur Baby Rescue, a pet shelter based in Los Angeles. Rather than dragging out the stereotypical Sarah McLachlan song and bombarding you with images of sad puppies, BuzzFeed took a different approach. It hosted an open-bar reception for female employees, then surprised them with puppies and filmed their reactions.

What followed was a hilarious account of crying, hysteria and genuine happiness. At the end of the video, BuzzFeed thanked Fur Baby Rescue and promoted its website. The video received more than 575,750 shares on Facebook.

Long story short, you need to think outside the box in marketing yourself or your company, or else Millennials won't notice. We want to see something we have never seen before.

6. Pay attention to media that receives the most "likes" and "shares." 

Be attentive to what Millennials share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Are there common themes and topics that are shared more than others? What exactly are Millennials responding to? Apply these themes and topics when you attempt to engage us.

7. Millennials are highly optimistic and starving for change – and you should be, too.

Millennials are largely concerned with human rights issues, specifically black rights, LGBTQ and feminist movements. We are making headway in changing social norms and views through protests, representations in the news and social media and stepping up the demand for political reform. 

For the most part, we believe we can change the world and we are willing to work hard to achieve it. Be open to our ideas, listen to what we have to say and embrace it.

(This is a guest blog by Sophia Meyer, 20, a sophomore at the University of Oregon in its School of Journalism and Communication. She was asked to write about communicating with Millennials.)