Customer Relationships

Crack a Joke to Build a Brand

Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips in a new commercial about driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan and retaining his manhood. It’s just one example of how humor has become a staple of contemporary marketing campaigns, especially ones trying to appeal to young adults.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips in a new commercial about driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan and retaining his manhood. It’s just one example of how humor has become a staple of contemporary marketing campaigns, especially ones trying to appeal to young adults.

No joke, comedy can be a brand builder.

Think of comedian Jim Gaffigan and his ads for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which are designed to convince young dads that driving a family minivan doesn’t mean you still can’t be cool and yourself.

Humor has become a regular staple in many marketing campaigns, especially ones aimed at younger audiences that are drawn to the sassy comedy of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and satirical commentary in The Onion

Peppercomm, a new York-based marketing company, has made humor a hallmark of its own culture. Its management and account leader training includes instruction in stand-up comedy. Co-founder and CEO Steve Cody said comedy was embedded in training “because it improved presentation, listening and rapport-building skills while creating a unique culture.”

“Many in the industry scoffed, believing PR was a far too serious business for comedy,” Cody added. “Today, we’re routinely hired by clients and non-clients to stage comedy workshops for their employees.” And the firm is retained to inject humor into client marketing campaigns.

Humor can be a double-edged sword. An insensitive joke or an offending aside can damage a brand or at least cause embarrassment. But well-timed comedy can be entertaining and even endearing.

Southwest Airlines is a great example. Flight attendants are well known for stand-up routines involving safety instructions. The iconoclastic airline has hired aspiring actors as flight attendants to help realize its corporate goal of making passengers laugh and feel at ease.

A Southwest Airlines attendant quipped as the plane was taking a long time to taxi to the runway, “You know, we drive halfway and fly the other half.” Another attendant deadpanned, “If you smoke on this airplane, the FAA will fine you $2,000. At those prices, you might as well fly Delta."

Even when humor is a corporate goal, discretion and a sense of timing are essential. Like any form of communication, and especially comedy, you have to know your audience. And your critics. Kmart took a risk with the “I Shipped My Pants” TV ad campaign. The play-on-words humor offended some, but it did help the struggling retailer dramatically drive up its web traffic. Before the ad, no one ever accused Kmart of being edgy.

Dollar Shave Club leapt into business with a YouTube video that was described as “unconventional, outrageous and blunt” – and, of course, funny. The video made the rounds of social media with more than 17 million views and put the startup company on the shaving map.

Charmin marketed toilet paper with a #tweetfromtheseat campaign that encouraged people to share their most innermost inspiration while on the throne in their bathroom.

State Farm peddled insurance with its “Jake from State Farm” ads that were reprised with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin reprising their Conehead characters from Saturday Night Live. Not to be outdone, Allstate hired Dean Winters, who had a role in 30 Rock, to personify mayhem in a series of laugh-provoking commercials.

Wonderful Pistachios took no chances and hired Stephen Colbert to create buzz for its brand at the 2014 Super Bowl.

It is necessary to hire a production company, and it doesn't hurt to bring in a TV star, to convey a compellingly comedic side of your brand. Marketers who make humor part of messaging say the secret is in authenticity with a little showmanship. Getting a consumer to laugh is one of the best hooks to get them to buy.

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.

Rebranding Is Still Branding

There are lots of good reasons to rebrand, but throwing away your brand history isn’t one of them. Mr. Clean and its familiar jingle have been around since 1958 and have grown and evolved with the brand in step with the needs of their customers.

There are lots of good reasons to rebrand, but throwing away your brand history isn’t one of them. Mr. Clean and its familiar jingle have been around since 1958 and have grown and evolved with the brand in step with the needs of their customers.

There are many good reasons to launch a rebranding campaign – a new name, direction or product line. That said, though, rebranding shouldn’t abandon the original brand but instead move it to new ground with fresh expectations.

One of the worst outcomes of a rebranding campaign is to sacrifice the hard-earned capital of previous branding efforts. Even if a brand has some rust to shake off or a incurred a dent to smooth out, it still has residual value. Rebranding isn’t about starting over; it’s about refreshing (and fixing) what has been.

After a string of food safety issues, Chipotle received lots of advice about its brand. Some argued the company should scrap the name and start over. Others said the Mexican fast casual chain should retain its name and undertake a rebranding campaign that underlined why people like Chipotle's food and how the company has responded to its food safety crisis.

Like branding, rebranding is all about positioning. What makes your product or service distinct? What is your value proposition? Why should anybody care about what you offer?

Rebranding affords a chance to tell the world who you are in a fresh way, whether it’s updating your product or service line, using new tools such as video to tell your story or placing your story in new channels where customers hang out and pay attention.

Rebranding allows companies to respond to their customers' changes in taste. Think of all the food ads you now see that talk about being gluten free or produced without growth hormones.

Stodgy brands turn to rebranding to inject a youthful step into their offerings. You can still enjoy venerable Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, and now you can take it to work in a handy cup that heats up in a microwave.

One off the best uses of rebranding is to move from pushing a message to attracting viewers through informative, relevant and useful content. This can mean rethinking a website to relying on digital media promotion. A website makeover can evolve from what is essentially and electronic brochure to an information hub designed around how existing and potential customers or clients interact with a product or service. Moving to digital media could be as basic as relying less on the phone book and more on self-publishing content of value to customers or clients.

If, like Chipotle, a company is rebranding to move on from the past, then rebranding has to deal openly and honestly with the past. That honesty conveys its own freshness that customers often will reward. This requires more than lip service to change. Show the change with video and validate its value with credible third parties.

Rebranding is not a brand divorce. It is more like a brand family extension. The all-purpose Mr. Clean was introduced in 1958 with its own character and jingle that helped propel the product, originally developed to swab out ocean-going ships, into a best-selling customer favorite.

In 2016, after the Mr. Clean product line had expanded into a full line of cleaning products, including the Magic Eraser, the character and jingle were modernized. You could still recognize the spiffed-up Mr. Clean and the jingle struck a familiar chord. Instead of mentioning white sidewall tires and old golf balls, the jingle talked about using Mr. Clean to “clean your whole house and everything that’s in it.”

The rebranding has been an unquestionable success. And the jingle is the longest running advertising tune in television history.

Dancing with Truth and Consequences

U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte wants to move on from his fractured hold-up story in Rio to ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” without dancing with the consequences of his cover-up lie.

U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte wants to move on from his fractured hold-up story in Rio to ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” without dancing with the consequences of his cover-up lie.

The brand known as Ryan Lochte is broken. An apology isn’t enough to glue the legs back on his brand.

In another televised interview, Lochte admitted to lying about an armed hold-up at a Rio de Janeiro gas station that he and three other U.S. Olympic swimmers apparently vandalized when drunk. Apologies work when someone makes a mistake and owns it. They don’t settle the score when you make a mistake and try to cover it up.

For reasons that are hard to understand, Lochte continues to use the odd phrase “over-exaggerated” the truth. He didn’t exaggerate the truth. He lied.

Lochte blames the news media for fanning the flames and dragging out the story. He says, “I have a great team. They are dealing with it, all the legal issues. We’re just trying to get this over with. It’s been dragged out way too long. The media has taken this to a whole new level. I want to put this behind me and move on and move forward.”

Lochte adds, “There are other, bigger issues that this world is facing. I am human. I made a mistake, and that’s something I am going to have to live with.”

Yes, the world has bigger problems than Lochte. And, yes, he will have to live with his mistake. But if he wants his brand to shine again, he needs to redeem himself, less for the deed, than the cover-up and his continued whining.

Lochte already is pitching for his appearance on “Dancing With the Stars,” which appears on ABC, the same network that carries Good Morning America, where Lochte made his latest attempt at a cleansing apology.

If Lochte really wants redemption and to show he has a spine, not just swim fins, he might consider returning to Rio to face the criminal charges that have been filed against him. Would it be risky and could he face actual jail time? You bet. It would also show he is a grown up prepared to accept the consequences of his actions. Maybe he could agree to community service, working with young Brazilians who want to become world-class swimmers, but wouldn’t have an opportunity to learn from a world-class swimmer.

Showing respect for Brazil, its people and its laws would make Lochte respectable again as a brand. His actions would speak louder than his poor choice of words and his pathetic attempt to deflect blame for his misery on the media.

Acting like an adult might be inconvenient for Lochte. It might force him to miss his dance date on a TV show. That’s the price you have to pay for bad behavior. It's also the price you have to pay to redeem your brand, and perhaps even your own self-respect.

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.

Don’t Be Put Off by the Term. Newsjacking Works.

Newsjacking is a way to ride the crest of breaking news or a popular event to tell your story and gain valuable exposure that would be virtually impossible any other way. And mostly for free.

Newsjacking is a way to ride the crest of breaking news or a popular event to tell your story and gain valuable exposure that would be virtually impossible any other way. And mostly for free.

“Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.”

David Meerman Scott hijacked this term to describe a new type of media relations that hops aboard a trending story or topic instead of trying to launch a story from a cold start. Not everyone in the public relations world thinks newsjacking is a great term or idea.

“As a public relations executive with more than 20 years of experience and a track record for creatively connecting clients to top-tier media opportunities, I was initially amused by the mashup ‘newsjacking’ – but only for about 30 seconds,” writes Tracey Boudine, vice president of Wise Public Relations. “Who wants to position themselves as an expert on hijacking news?”

Seen as a form of hijacking, the concept isn’t all that attractive. But that’s not really Scott’s point. In explaining his view on newsjacking, Scott says:

“When there is news in your marketplace, reporters and analysts are looking for experts to comment on the story. Newsjacking gets you media attention. With little effort.

"As a story develops in real-time, buyers become interested in products and services based on what’s happening now. Newsjacking generates sales leads and adds new customers. For free.”

One of the most appealing elements of newsjacking is that anyone who is plugged in can do it. “Newsjacking is being used right now by nonprofits, political campaigns, business-to-business marketers and individuals,” Scott says.

Since a lot of newsjacking involves social media, the cost is minimal. The premium isn’t on how much money you have in the budget, but on how much imagination you have in the brain. “News gathering happens in real time, and it can encompass anyone who steps forward quickly with credible input,” Scott says.

Boudin takes issue with calling Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet about dunking in the dark an example of newsjacking. She says the trending tweet is better described as “real-time, social media marketing.” But that’s semantics. “News” isn’t restricted to what’s covered by newspapers or TV stations.

In an amusing recent segment, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon noted that more people now get their news from Facebook than any other source. Then he provided some Facebook “news” examples: “Nobody Knows When to Unfriend a Dead Co-Worker” and “Wall Post Discussion About Pumpkin Spice Latte Still Ends Up About Obama.”

Those are fake headlines, but you get the point. News is what people make it. Newsjacking is just a tactic to surf on whatever news wave is sweeping by your target audience.

Don’t crinkle your nose over the term newsjacking. The concept works. Here is a great example from my PR colleague, Dan Keeney:

The Society for Heart Attack Prevention & Eradication (SHAPE) was frustrated by the slow adoption rate of its techniques to identify people at risk of an imminent heart attack. In the hours after former President Bill Clinton’s heart attack scare, Keeney coined the term “The Clinton Syndrome” and used it as an example of how SHAPE’s assessment process works to save lives. Keeney’s rapid response earned quality media coverage in major print and electronic media across the nation, including a cover story in TIME magazine. The exposure SHAPE gained from Keeney’s newsjacking of the Clinton heart attack scare created grassroots pressure and eventually led the American Heart Association to adopt guidelines based on SHAPE’s recommendations.

If you haven’t added newsjacking to your media relations arsenal, you are missing opportunities that literally are at your fingertips.

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.

Brand Stories Where Brand and Story Are Inseparable

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

Storytelling is in. Brand stories and storytelling are the vehicles of choice for content marketing. But not all stories are created equal.

One of the better brand stories is by GoldieBlox, which was launched in 2012 as a way to "introduce girls to  the joy of engineering at a young age.” Founder Debbie Sterling earned a degree in mechanical engineering and was struck by how few women studied to become engineers.

“Construction toys develop an early interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” the GoldieBlox website says. “But for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered boys toys. GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”

The young company, which went from Kickstarter funding to a $1 million in orders in six weeks, features BloxTown on its website. This is a storytelling showplace. There are videos, apps, toys and “The Gang” – four young multiracial women who personify the goals of GoldieBlox. There is Goldie Blox (mechanical engineer and Ms. fixit), Ruby Rails (software engineer and dressmaker), Li Gravity (daredevil who calculates the physics of her stunts) and Valentina Voltz (gadget lover and musician). They even have their own compatible pets, like Nacho, Goldie’s basset hound sidekick who “eats, farts and drools.”

Products are placed on the web page as just another avenue to adventure.

GoldieBlox has a blog with frequently updated content, typically featuring women engineers and technologists, who are called #goldmodels. The blog invites stories from women with careers in scientific and engineering fields (“Engineers in the Wild”), as well as from young girls whose interest in those professions has been piqued.

GoldieBlox is an excellent example of a brand built around and fueled by a story. The story and the brand are inseparable. The GoldieBlox brand story works for several reasons:

  • The story about the brand is authentic
  • The story has human appeal
  • The product and the brand story are closely linked
  • There is a clear call to action.

Too many brand stories are forced or superficial. They come closer to brand hype than a brand story.

Like any other good story, a brand story needs to resonate with its audience, to touch as many of their senses as possible so people feel transported to where the story takes place. That place can be as close as the family living room where a young girl constructs her first whirligig.

Portland’s Iconic Pitchman and Beloved Showman

Tom Peterson’s trademark flat-top image was everywhere in Portland – on alarm clocks, wristwatches and coffee mugs. And Tom Peterson was a constant presence on TV, inviting people to come to his “happy place to buy."

Tom Peterson’s trademark flat-top image was everywhere in Portland – on alarm clocks, wristwatches and coffee mugs. And Tom Peterson was a constant presence on TV, inviting people to come to his “happy place to buy."

Tom Peterson is easily the most recognizable pitchman for his own Portland brand of retail appliance, furniture and electronics stores. While his branding style may have seemed corny, it worked.

Peterson, who died last month at 86, was instantly recognizable because of his trademark flat-top haircut, his homemade TV ads and his favorite, highly inflected catch phrase, "FREE is a very good price.”

Peterson was more than just a pitchman, though. You could call him a true showman. He lived his brand, often greeting customers on his showroom floor with a friendly handshake as well as talking to them via his TV ads. He didn’t high-hat people. He knew his customers were typical working class Oregonians who wanted a value from someone they trusted.

Peterson was very engaging in person. Taller than he seemed on television, Peterson was anything but a self-absorbed celebrity. He was down to earth, even when he was TOM Peterson, the TV personality beckoning you to come to “the happy place to buy.”

Peterson’s legacy is that brands need to be personal. In today’s world, that means finding a way to engage customers. In Peterson’s heyday, it meant being the face of a brand that was as familiar to customers as cloudy days in Portland. People woke up to alarm clocks with Tom Peterson’s face, they wore his wristwatches and they drank morning coffee from mugs with his and his wife Gloria’s picture that marked the couple’s 50th anniversary.

You never were at a loss to know what Peterson was saying, but he didn’t shout. He used schtick to get and stay noticed. One of his gimmicks was “Wake up” ads that touted his stores staying open from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. to serve insomniacs and the curious.

Peterson was best man at a wedding officiated by beloved local professional wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper. He gave away Halloween masks in his image, which he printed in black and white in case anyone would try to use one while robbing a bank. He offered free flat-top haircuts in his stores. His iconic face appeared in comic books and stencil art. There was even a song written about him called “I Woke Up with a Tom Peterson Haircut."

Anyone around Portland in the 1970s  and 1980s knew the sound of “It’s TOM Peterson.” He was known more broadly, too. Northwest native Kurt Cobain wore his kitschy wristwatch. Director Gus Van Sant, who lives in Portland, cast Peterson in three cameo roles in his films Drugstore Cowboy, My Private Idaho and To Die For. Peterson also appeared in Mr. Holland’s Opus, which was filmed in Portland.

It’s a bit surprising that Peterson was never asked to play a starring role in Portlandia. The truth is, Peterson wasn’t viewed as a peculiarity. He was a Portland icon.

A victim of overreach and overwhelming debt, Peterson filed for bankruptcy in 1991. At his wife’s suggestion, Peterson talked candidly about his financial pickle on his TV ads as he was reduced to working on the sales floor to clear inventory.

Ever the optimist, Peterson became a motivational speaker and he and his wife emerged from bankruptcy to start a similar business in 1992 on a smaller scale, but with the same personality-forward brand – Tom Peterson's and Gloria's, Too! Tellingly, the sale of Tom Peterson memorabilia helped raise funds for their new venture.

Les Schwab, Orville Roth and Fred Meyer were the faces and often the voices of their brands. They were also the personification of their brands, the person customers trusted – Schwab with his tire guarantee, Roth with his signature green tie walking the aisles of his grocery stores and Meyer promoting one-stop shopping.

No one, however, has quite reached the iconic status of Peterson in Portland. Perhaps because no one thought about branding the way he did. When asked why he put his image on and his voice in an alarm clock that he gave away, Peterson said, “If you can put your face in 5,000 Portland homes, it certainly can’t hurt.”

Apparently not. Even the attorney for Peterson’s creditors in his bankruptcy case wore a Tom Peterson wristwatch.

YouTube Channels that Inform, Entertain and Humanize

Michelle Phan went from a makeup blogger to a YouTube phenom by combining her visual subject matter with a medium that matched her target audience’s preference and offering informative, entertaining and humanized video content.

Michelle Phan went from a makeup blogger to a YouTube phenom by combining her visual subject matter with a medium that matched her target audience’s preference and offering informative, entertaining and humanized video content.

People love to watch videos for information and entertainment. One way to capitalize on this popularity is to broadcast your videos on your own YouTube channel.

Socialblade.com has listed the top 100 YouTube channels, which confirms people, especially young ones, like to watch videos that are informative and entertaining. Many of the top 100 are YouTube channels for performing artists, such as Justin Bieber and Beyoncé. And then there is Michelle Phan.

Phan took a blog devoted to makeup tutorials and turned it into a YouTube powerhouse. She has uploaded almost 400 videos since 2007, which have attracted more than 1 billion views. One of Phan’s most viewed videos – 1.5 million views – shows how to style up when attending a music festival.

Other videos talk about hair removal, pimples and makeup tips and tricks. Phan provides trend reports on metallic lips, lift-up shoes, peel-off makeup and glitter freckles. There also are videos that address cyberbullying and acne shaming.

Phan, who was born in Massachusetts, posted a video earlier this year about her trip to Vietnam to meet with family members and discover her ancestral roots. The video is polished, with professional videography and quick clips that take you along for her ride without making you wish you could jump off the bus.

Michelle Phan went from a blogger to a YouTube powerhouse vlogger by using the visual strength of videos to bring her makeup tutorials to life.

Michelle Phan went from a blogger to a YouTube powerhouse vlogger by using the visual strength of videos to bring her makeup tutorials to life.

Phan is regarded as a YouTube personality and entrepreneur. But her secret isn’t really a secret. She took a subject that is highly visual and brought it to life on video. She mastered an on-camera style that makes a potentially boring subject interesting, or even exciting for young women intensely consumed with how they look.

Marketers encourage use of video content because it can boost clicks on social media and websites. Some recommend setting up YouTube channels to create your own broadcasting network to run parallel with a website. We agree with the power of videos, especially as more people interact with the internet on mobile devices.

But more is required than setting up a camera to capture a talking head or an unstaged and unscripted event. Videos worth watching are videos that have been designed with forethought. For example, Phan succeeds on YouTube because her message and her medium match with the preferences of her target audience.

AARP has a YouTube channel that features videos with clips of 1960s rock and roll bands, tips on how to avoid injuring-causing falls and look-backs to major historical events. The YouTube channel for Angie’s List contains videos showing to stain a deck, finding the best body shop after a wreck and deciding whether to repair or replace an air conditioner.

AARP provides a suite of video content on its YouTube channel designed to address issues of interest to older Americans, including an avenue for entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle.

AARP provides a suite of video content on its YouTube channel designed to address issues of interest to older Americans, including an avenue for entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle.

Video provides an opportunity to humanize your brand, infusing it with personality, a life story and first-hand experience. YouTube is a perfect channel to extend your story brand and engage customers. The key is to make your brand extension and customer engagement informative and entertaining so people tune in.

Avoid Killing Your Audience with Deadly Speaking Habits

Great speakers don’t kill their audiences. They build rapport, start strong, follow a clear path and finish with a pop. They don’t make lame jokes, read their slides verbatim or avoid looking their audience in the eye.

Great speakers don’t kill their audiences. They build rapport, start strong, follow a clear path and finish with a pop. They don’t make lame jokes, read their slides verbatim or avoid looking their audience in the eye.

You can spiff up your presentation skills. Start by taking the advice of an accounting intern. Seriously, take his advice.

Jeff Chappell, an accounting analyst intern at Dell, bases his recommendations for better presentations on experience. The experience of watching many awkward, emotionless and ineffective presentations. There is no better experience than that.

He identifies seven deadly presentation habits you need to shed to avoid putting your audience to sleep:

  • Treating a presentation as a teleprompter and reading each slide word for word, unless you're a pro script reader, like Jimmy Fallon.
  • Telling the audience you’re nervous or a bad public speaker.
  • Starting with a joke, which can often fall flat.
  • Zooming through the presentation like a race car driver seeing how fast he can finish.
  • Sticking with your script even when you see audience members squirming or checking their smartphones.
  • Maintaining weak or no eye contact with your audience.
  • Closing meekly.

None of these suggestions is revolutionary. Taken together, they represent pretty solid advice.

A boring presentation can leave you wishing you'd spent your time elsewhere. That's why it's critical to avoid bad presentation habits, which Jeff Chappell laid out this month on LinkedIn. 

A boring presentation can leave you wishing you'd spent your time elsewhere. That's why it's critical to avoid bad presentation habits, which Jeff Chappell laid out this month on LinkedIn. 

Think about dreadful presentations you have endured when speakers got off to a lame start, droned on and ended with a poof instead of a pop. What you remember was how bad the presentation was, not what the presentation was about. At best, you may have contemplated in your mind what the presentation could have been – informative, inspiring, interesting.

Chappell’s recommendations came in a blog he posted on LinkedIn. He attributed some of his suggestions to lessons he learned in a presentation skills class taught at Dell. Chappell said he wrote the blog because “the cost of having one of the seven deadly habits of public speaking is too high to be ignored.” And the price to correct these deadly habits is relatively inexpensive. “Practice,” he says, is the difference.

“It doesn’t matter if you practice on the phone, in the shower or in front of friends, just practice correctly,” Chappell advises. “After a few sessions of practice, you’ll be wowing the audience with your confidence and professionalism.” It takes more than that, but you would definitely be on the right track.

Great speakers start by establishing a rapport with their audience, then making a compelling introduction of their speech topic. They give the audience a map of where the speech will go, then walk them through key points. They build momentum and anticipation as they go along, then end with a powerful crescendo. They use body language to help tell the story.

Not all great speakers use presentations, but when they do, their presentations are graphically-based reminders of key points in the speech. The presentation reinforces the message rather than distracting the speaker or the audience.

You might call these the heavenly habits of great speakers, which will lift you up in the eyes of your audience and send them home with positive thoughts, clear impressions and indelible messages.

Rick Steves as a Guide to Value Propositions and Branding

Travel guide Rick Steves provides excellent direction on how to express a value proposition and back it up with authentic personal branding.

Travel guide Rick Steves provides excellent direction on how to express a value proposition and back it up with authentic personal branding.

Rick Steves says a good guide book is a $20 investment to ensure a great $3,000 vacation. His comment is the kind of crisp value proposition companies should emulate.

Many companies settle for value propositions that are inward looking and self-serving. A value proposition should say how your product or service will solve problems for or deliver benefits to your customers.

Junk the jargon and put aside the taglines. Use plain language to convey your value to customers in less than five seconds. Make your brand a living, breathing example of your value proposition. 

Steves has earned a reputation as a well-informed and informative travel guide. His guide books are chock-full of helpful tips from how to pack to where to go.

Steves hosts a travel show on PBS that reinforces the tips found in his guide books. He just aired a three-part series consisting of practical advice for European travelers that included smart ways to travel, how to protect your valuables from pickpockets and savvy moves to avoid long lines at major venues.

Steves doesn’t brag about his own guide books. He doesn’t have to. Users tell fellow travelers about them, including Steves’ advice to rip up his books so you carry only what you need during day trips. Those word-of-mouth recommendations are worth a lot more than advertising or self-promotion.

Implicit in Steves’ simply rendered value proposition is that the $20 you spend for his guide book will save you a lot more when on the road. Sometimes he recommends spending money – for an upgraded train ticket or an all-city venue pass – that enhances a trip and saves valuable time. Grabbing some shuteye on a train ride or bypassing a ridiculously long line can mean seeing another sight or spending more time in the place you’ve always dreamed of seeing. 

The Rick Steves brand is all about useful information that he has personally vetted. When you buy his guide book, you know the advice he dispenses is based on his own experiences. The combination of his TV show, guide books, guest appearances and audio tapes makes Steves your trusted travel companion. His advice is golden, whether it’s what shoes to pack, how much underwear to bring or where to store your suitcase on daytrips. You might even be inclined to buy the suitcase he designed for ease of travel.

A solid value proposition, as Steves illustrates, should provide a concrete result for a customer expressed in a short statement. Branding, which features your differentiation from competitors, is separate from the value proposition. If you try to conflate the two, chances are you will inject hype and undercut the authenticity of the value proposition.

Follow Steves’ lead in describing the value of his guide book to customers and living your brand so customers choose your book instead of a competitor’s. 

New Ad Campaign Example of Showmanship

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

A new Excedrin ad campaign addresses the common view that people exaggerate the pain from migraine headaches by replicating the experience through virtual reality. It is a great example of communication showmanship. 

Stung by criticism that a previous ad campaign trivialized migraine headache pain, Excedrin created the "Migraine Experience" which replicates the auras, disorientation, bright lights, floating spots and tunnel vision suffered by people with migraine headaches.

The pain killer company plans to make the migraine simulator available as a downloadable app, which can be experienced using Google Cardboard.

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

In one new TV ad, the mother of a young woman afflicted by migraines dons a virtual reality headset and is able to “see” her contorted world. She reacts emotionally, hugging her daughter with newfound empathy for the pain her daughter suffers from migraines.

The ad campaign is less about selling Excedrin than persuading people the anguish of migraines is real, excruciating and debilitating, often going beyond severe headaches to include nausea, dizziness and heightened sensitivity to sound. The ads serve effectively as an advocate for the 40 million people who are afflicted with migraines, Excedrin’s target audience.

This is a far cry from a few years ago when a previous Excedrin ad campaign drew fire by suggesting two-thirds of women who suffer from migraines would give up shopping to get rid of them. A website called thedailyheadache.com criticized Excedrin’s campaign for “minimizing migraines and treating women as superficial.”

The new campaign is very different. The simulator shows the severity of migraine headache pain and it tells heart-tugging stories that are relatable and shareable. Excedrin has created a strong web presence for the campaign, with more back stories, useful information about migraine symptoms and behind-the-scenes looks at how the Migraine Experience was created

“The reaction of loved ones to the experience spoke volumes,” Excedrin said of the ads. “Once the non-suffered experience what their friend or relative goes through during a migraine, their increased understanding led to a reaction full of empathy and love, which until now was harder to identify.”

The Excedrin ad campaign is further validation of the power of visual explanations that show what you mean.

Facebook in the News for News Bias

Facebook faces new scrutiny as a news provider after a Gizmodo journalist exposed a liberal bias behind the company's Trending stories feature. Hoping to smooth things over, Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to meet with conservative leaders to explain how the tool the works. 

Facebook faces new scrutiny as a news provider after a Gizmodo journalist exposed a liberal bias behind the company's Trending stories feature. Hoping to smooth things over, Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to meet with conservative leaders to explain how the tool the works. 

Facebook has continued to surge as the leading social media site to become a trusted news source. But news reporting suggests that it’s Trending stories may be different than advertised.

With a billion active daily users, Facebook is a commanding platform for news. In the United States, 41 percent of adults are on Facebook and nearly two-thirds of the site’s users say they get their news there, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

However, one of Facebook’s key news features – the Trending story box located in the upper right corner of the newsfeed – isn’t as objective or automated as Facebook proclaims. In reality, the workers behind the scenes – called curators – apparently have kept popular conservative stories from showing up in the feed.

Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez broke the news in a series of stories over the last two weeks, picking apart the inner workings of the Trending news team.

“Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation,” Nunez concluded after interviewing a handful of former Facebook contractors hired for the project. “Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing, but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists ‘topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.’”

The Trending feature has been marketed more or less as an automated aggregator that pulls in and promotes the most popular stories on the web. However, the operation actually relies on a lot of help from real people who handpick what makes it on the list and what gets cut, regardless of how much web traffic a story attracts. As Nunez learned, the sausage-making is heavily shaped by personal biases.

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,’ said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. The former curator is politically conservative, one of a very small handful of curators with such views on the trending team. ‘I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

Facebook executives initially denied allegations of censorship and liberal bias in their news promotion, but they now admit the company’s curators exercise some editorial control over the Trending section. The Guardian’s Sam Thielman dug much deeper into the situation after receiving leaked internal guidelines that not only confirmed Nunez’ reporting, but revealed how deep the rabbit hole really goes:  

“The guidelines show human intervention – and therefore editorial decisions – at almost every stage of Facebook’s trending news operation, a team that at one time was as few as 12 people:

  • A team of news editors working in shifts around the clock was instructed on how to ‘inject’ stories into the trending topics module, and how to ‘blacklist’ topics for removal for up to a day over reasons including ‘doesn’t represent a real-world event,’ left to the discretion of the editors.
  • The company wrote that ‘the editorial team CAN [sic] inject a newsworthy topic’ as well if users create something that attracts a lot of attention, for example #BlackLivesMatter.
  • Facebook relies heavily on just 10 news sources to determine whether a trending news story has editorial authority. ‘You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1-3 top stories of the day,’ reads the trending review guidelines for the US. ‘We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.’
  • Strict guidelines are enforced around Facebook’s ‘involved in this story’ feature, which pulls information from Facebook pages of newsmakers – say, a sports star or a famous author. The guidelines give editors ways to determine which users’ pages are appropriate to cite, and how prominently.”

Following the eye-opening reporting, media scholars, journalists and news consumers alike are taking a collective pause to reconsider Facebook’s role as a news source. The stories could be a game-changer for the site, which continues to outpace the online marketplace in raising ad revenue, partly due to how heavily the public has come to rely on Facebook for news.

Not surprisingly, the strongest reaction has come from right-wing pundits and news organizations and conservative politicians. Key Republican leaders, like Congressman John Thune who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee , are demanding an explanation from Facebook and an investigation into how its Trending section works.

Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg plans to meet with conservative leaders to discuss the controversy over the next few weeks. That will be particularly awkward for Zuckerberg, considering that Facebook is sponsoring this summer’s GOP convention. 

The company launched the Trending feature in 2014, hiring a small team of young, Ivy League-educated journalists to serve as its curators. The group is responsible for writing headlines and summaries and linking back to news stories inside the Trending feed. The curators work on a contract basis, and Facebook seems to be showing signs of cutting the contractors and moving instead to a more automated operation as the company improves its algorithm.

Exactly how this flurry of scrutiny will reshape Facebook’s Trending section and the social network's role as a news provider will take some time to play out. 

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.

Putting Entertainment into Your Content Marketing Mix

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Good content must be useful, relevant and entertaining. Useful and relevant are fairly obvious. Entertaining, not so much.

Let’s face it, most of us like to be entertained but aren’t entertainers. So how do non-entertainers entertain? Here’s how: Turn a clever phrase. Tell stories. Show funny videos and photos. Hop aboard breaking stories. Share personal feelings. 

Your words, stories and images don’t have to be Oscar winners. Their purpose is to deepen interest in your useful, relevant content. Knowing how to fix your toilet is useful and relevant, but we probably wouldn’t pay attention unless someone showed us how in a clever, humorous way.

Entertainment isn’t the main act in content marketing. It's the set-up to your main message. If your entertainment is too entertaining, viewers won’t remember why they were watching it, like the TV ad that is so captivating, you remember the entertainment, but not the product.

Clever Phrases

Yes, it is hard to channel William Shakespeare and procreate a new word or pithy phrase. But you can write a snappy headline that turns heads. The snappy headline can parrot a clever phrase you coin in your copy. Nobody churns out chiseled prose like an assembly line. It takes time – and maybe some reflective moments in the shower or on your morning run. All the phrase has to do is spark a smile and encourage the viewer to read on.

     Examples:

  • “Success by Choice, Not Chance.”
  • “Fat Makes You Thin.”
  • “Six Instant Confidence Boosters."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling Stories

As children, we listen to stories to learn. As we grow older, we trade stories with friends. Older people share stories to pass along wisdom. Stories abound in our world, and our brains are wired to tap into their meanings. Stories can take many forms. Children’s books artfully blend text and illustrations. Stories can unfold in videos and picture galleries. Good writers can spin tales with words. The form in this case is less important than the function. Tell entertaining stories with a point that connects to the useful, relevant information you want to convey. 

     Examples:  

 

 

 

Videos and Pictures

Visual assets such as videos and pictures don’t always have to tell a story to draw attention. Sometimes they can just be fun – or funny. Good judgment is required to avoid images that mock or offend. But there are plenty of ways to use light-hearted and good-natured videos and pictures to entertain your viewers into spending more time on your website, online newsroom or blog to consume useful, relevant content. Videos are popular to share, so take pains to brand your visual content so it doesn’t spin away from the purpose behind posting it.

     Examples:  

 

 

Newsjacking

If you can be a free rider on a breaking story or trending topic, you will have a built-in audience. Your “newsjacking” may be a local angle on a national story, a deeper dive into a trending topic or a contrary take on the news. The newsjacking should lead to your useful, relevant content or at least point to the path to your content. This is entertainment by feeding the curiosity aroused by someone else’s story.

     Examples (good and bad):  

 

 

 

Sharing Personal Feelings

In this era of engagement, sharing feelings can be a path to establishing a solid connection with your consumers. There is an element of risk in becoming personal, but it is that exposure that creates an opening for interaction. Sportscaster Jim Nantz shared his personal story of caring for a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s as he urged people to donate to find a cure. A sizable number of supplicants on Shark Tank begin their investment pitches by relating a personal story that resulted in their product invention. As with any relationship, getting personal can get sticky, so choose what feelings you share carefully and make sure they link somehow to your useful, relevant content.

     Examples:

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.

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 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.

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.