20 Tips for Tourism PR and Marketing Agency Clients

March 22, 2022

a red colored lightbulb with illumination marks signifying 20 tips to help tourism PR and marketing clients get the most out of their agency.

We’ve been serving PR and marketing clients in the tourism industry for 20 years.  Big global brands.  Tiny obscure companies.  Obscenely huge budgets.  Shoestring budgets.  Individuals with personalities that range from Type A to Zen.  Doers.  Procrastinators.  Screamers.  Huggers.  Savvy marketers.  Marketing agnostics.  Marketing skeptics.  No two clients are the same…and there have been thousands of them in our history.

So, we’ve learned a LOT about what it takes for a client to get the most out of both marketing and its agency.  Here, drawn from our extensive experience, are 20 tips to help tourism clients succeed in public relations and marketing:

  1. Changing marketing goals too frequently, or lacking them completely, can only achieve short term results for your efforts. Either be ok with that or make a solid plan and stick to it.
  2. If you water down a BIG BOLD idea, adjust your expectations down from BIG BOLD results. All too often, circumstances cause a client to dilute an idea’s execution…but then expect the same powerful results associated with the original concept.  That just ain’t how it works.
  3. If you feel you have to micromanage your agency, they’re not the right match for you. Let ‘em go, even if it’s us.
  4. Positivity works magic in PR. If you have faith it will produce…it will.  If you don’t…it won’t.
  5. It helps results tremendously if your entire organization is aware of your marketing plans. Devote resources to educating and engaging them, and you’ll see a greater ROI in marketing.
  6. Make the time to collaborate with your agency. If you skip meetings, miss deadlines, and sit indefinitely on things awaiting approval, you’re only tapping around 50% of their potential.
  7. If your boss doesn’t understand marketing, won’t leave, and remains skeptical about every campaign… dude, find a new job. We’ve seen it.  It never ends well.
  8. Tourists want visuals. Invest continually in photos and videos…every itinerary, every package, every story angle.  Without them, you’re losing marketing opportunities…which means you’re losing money.
  9. If you have “marketing envy” and always wish your organization could do things as cool as your competitors (or your agency’s other clients), learn what it takes operationally to execute such things. Then decide if your organization can make it happen.  You may not be nimble enough, your pockets may not be deep enough, or the concepts may be the complete wrong match for your brand.  If your organization is not equipped for it, stop being wistful.  Invest your energy in what will work best for YOU.
  10. It’s totally OK to put some marketing initiatives on a steady low flame temporarily (or even permanently) while you focus your resources elsewhere. Just make peace with it and don’t expect them to yield big results.
  11. It is totally NOT OK to turn PR on and off completely. It’s the one marketing medium that doesn’t respond well to fits and starts.  Either do it consistently (at any flame level) or just don’t do it.
  12. Use tailored landing pages for your digital campaigns. Without them, you’re losing a ton of business.  For some organizations, this is a no brainer. For others, it’s like pulling teeth.  Every. Single. Time.
  13. If your guest service and/or guest experience is inconsistent or subpar in any way, marketing will not help change that. In fact, the more guests we drive to your door, the more money you’re going to waste.  The damage those guests will do through social media, review sites, and lack of referrals/return quietly sabotages the positive benefits that marketing brings.  And a business can’t survive on new guests alone, who are more costly to acquire than referrals/repeats.  Fix the foundation, and you’ll see marketing pay off in spades.
  14. You can’t find love on a spreadsheet.
  15. A website should be both beautiful and functional, but if you had to choose where to put more resources…choose functionality every time.
  16. Forget what we said in #15 entirely.  Stop thinking of “beauty” and “functionality” as two different things.  Together they comprise “user experience,” and if your website doesn’t deliver equally in both areas, you’re losing money.  Period.
  17. Social media is more demanding than any other marketing medium. If you want to deeply succeed here, be prepared to staff it fully and keep up with the breakneck pace of ever-evolving rules, features, and channels.  Doing set-and-forget style marketing only taps around 20% of social media’s potential.  It’s fine if you choose to do it that way in the context of your overall marketing plan.  Just expect your notable results to come from other sources.
  18. If your risk tolerance is low, then PR is not for you. Often in PR, the greatest risks yield the highest rewards, but there are no guarantees.  That’s what makes it so exciting!
  19. There’s a reason creative, clever tourism packages and programs get a ton of press and social media love. Boring things just don’t command attention.
  20. Consistent indecision will tank your marketing ROI more than making a definitive poor choice ever will. That sounds dramatic, but history generally proves it to be true.

And here’s a bonus item, since we kinda negated #15.  Be candid with your agency at all times. Issues and concerns can be overcome easily with open communication. A good partner – as all agencies should be – will welcome the candor.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the client experiences we’ve had, and every relationship has helped us grow. And it’s enabled us to help brands of all sizes achieve their marketing and business objectives.  Big shout-out to all our clients for putting their trust in us, and here’s to the next 20 years!

The secret to a great tourism photo.

October 26, 2021

Tourism is a highly visual industry.  Photos are a key tool used to tell tourism stories, but there’s a secret behind the great ones that make the biggest impact.  Someone took the time (and often, money) to get it right.

More dramatically put:  someone resisted the temptation to use photos that were easy to get but kind of “meh” in terms of quality.  “Meh” photos serve the functional purpose of photography, but they are completely uninspiring and make no impactful impression on the viewer.  So, yeah…you have photos to put on your website.  Check that box.  But are they seducing site visitors into considering a trip?  That box stays unchecked.

Fear not, there are a whole bunch of “great” and “meh” photo examples down below.  But first…

Sucky (and Silent) Consequences of Using “Meh” Photography

When tourism businesses choose to settle for “meh” photography, it causes much heartbreak.  Throughout my career as a tourism publicist and marketer, I’ve seen:

  • A hotel client who lost a highly-desired Architectural Digest story about their opening launch because their photography wasn’t good enough. (AD wasn’t being snooty…their photography was NOT good enough.)
  • Another hotel client whose online booking conversion rate absolutely sucked…and a website audit revealed that people were leaving the site after looking at the photo gallery. (Tragic, as a photo gallery should inspire people to hit the “book now” button.)
  • A destination client who was included in a syndicated news editorial round-up…and the only one of the eight destinations included without a photo accompanying their blurb because their photo wasn’t “quite right.” (Seven destinations with glorious vibrant photos and only one with just text… which one do you think got overlooked by readers?)

But those are examples where the consequences were traceable and known.  Far more dangerous are the silent consequences of “meh” photography.  No one ever leaves your website unimpressed and without booking…and then calls you up to say, “hey, I was considering a stay at your hotel, but just wanted to let you know that the photos didn’t really sell me on the place so I just left the website without booking.”

So, the bottom line is…you don’t even know how many sales you’re NOT making because your photos are just “meh.”

But trust me.  If they’re “meh,” it’s happening.

Why Is This So Hard?

Why do so many tourism businesses settle for less-than-great photos to use in marketing?  Three common reasons.

  1. They feel it takes too much time and they don’t have the bandwidth to organize/oversee it.
  2. They don’t want to spend the money for a photographer and/or stylist.
  3. They don’t understand the difference in impact between a “good enough” photo and a “great” photo.

It’s a real head-scratcher to me, but I’ve seen clients spend $20-$30 million building a gorgeous hotel, and then fight with me about spending $20,000 on photography for the website, brochures, and socials.

In other scenarios, I get the… “My sister-in-law takes great photos as a hobby – you should see her Instagram.  So I’m just going to have her do all our photography.”

Or the… “I don’t have photos of THAT specific program even though that’s what we’re promoting, so can we just use a general photo instead?”

Or the… “These brochures are really old and our hotel rooms don’t look like that anymore, but that’s all we have so just use those at the trade show.”

To spend all that money building your business and brand, and then NOT spend the money on a professional photographer to produce photos that help you sell it?  That’s fumbling at the goal line.  And it’s sabotaging the ROI of all the money you spent on building the business itself.

What Should a Great Photo Do?

A great photo is like an assist in sports:  it should assist you to close a sale.  That assist might come in the form of (for example)…

  • An Instagram photo that stops thumbs while someone is scrolling and makes them want to explore your entire Instagram profile…and ultimately your website.
  • Photos on your website that evoke emotion, inspire a desire to visit, make them want to check pricing and logistics for a trip.
  • Photos in a magazine that arrest people’s attention as they’re flipping through the pages and make them want to read the accompanying editorial story…which hopefully makes them want to visit your website.

Here’s a great case-in-point.  Years ago, I was in Armenia with a photographer getting shots of a collection of new boutique hotels launching that year.  We had no staff with us (literally no staff – the hotels weren’t even open yet) and no stylist.  It was just her and me trudging around the countryside with tons of photography equipment.  And FYI – while I’m eager and helpful, I know zip all about being a photographer’s assistant.

Here’s what one of the hotels looked like, with a simple “point and shoot” approach.

 

A castle-like building sits beside a rushing river and in front of green mountains.

 

It DOES look like a historic castle, and you DO see it’s right next to a rushing river and nestled in the mountains.  So, it definitely gives a sense of place and is “ok.”

Here’s what it looked like when the photographer got done with it.

A nighttime view of a castle-like building with dramatic lighting, which sits beside a rushing river and in front of a backdrop of mountains. This is the secret to a great tourism photo.

 

Listen, folks.  This was NOT a simple point and shoot.  We had no cell service and no radios to communicate with each from opposite sides of the river, and crossing that river was no picnic either.  Her trying to signal to me which lights to turn on or off, which umbrellas to move slightly left or right, and could I tilt that ONE light on the side to angle more toward the patio?  No, not THAT one.  THAT one.

Getting this shot took HOURS.  Actually days, because we had weather issues intervene.

But look at those two photos.  Which one stops your thumbs while scrolling and which one makes you say “OMG that place looks breathtaking and I want to go there?”

Great photographers do more than just click a button on a camera.  They harness the power of lighting, tone, context, perspective, props, spatial relations, and emotion.  In this case, the photographer studied the situation and said, “what photo…what angle…what perspective…what styling is going to show this building in the best, most seductive, most appealing way?”  And after taking a lot of test shots from various positions at various times of day, this nighttime photo won the honor.  (Should I mention how many design and travel magazines made this photo their centerfold?)

I mean…if your sister-in-law can do all that, then by all means lets hire her.

What’s My Point?

Getting great photography isn’t easy.  It takes time, planning, and commitment.  You may need to invest in props and other items to achieve the objective… flowers, food, drinks, people, and more.  You may need to reschedule (and spend money on a wasted day) because of weather.  If you’re already open, you may need to clear entire public spaces for several hours or a day – losing revenue from paying guests who don’t have access during that time.  You may need to take a shot over and over and over and over again to get it just right.  And damn it, you definitely need a professional photographer and/or stylist to do it justice.

Yes, all that costs time and money.  But the difference between “meh” photos and “great” photos is entirely about MAKING MONEY.  Skimp elsewhere if you must.  But do not skimp on great photography.

To further illustrate the difference, here are a few examples of photos I’ve come across in my tourism work.  Some of these businesses know the secret to a great tourism photo, and some clearly don’t understand what makes an impact.

By the way, there are deliberately no business names here.  This isn’t a commentary on who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong.  It’s an objective look at how photos do or don’t make a worthy impact.

Everything about this charcuterie board screams “dig in.”  Lighting, color, texture, positioning.  This delicious photo was no happy accident.

A charcuterie board of food including apples, cheeses, veggies, crackers, nuts and more. This colorful, vibrant, well-light view is the secret to a great tourism photo.

 

This cocktail gets completely lost in this photo.  It’s a gorgeous color, but sitting on that similar colored surface, the vibrancy doesn’t pop as it should.  Plus the background is super distracting.  If you’re a DIY Instagrammer for your business, and just taking quick snaps like this “on the fly” for posting, at least do this:  take that glass and snap pics of it in in a few different settings, and from several angles – high, low, above, side, etc.  If you take a dozen photos of this cocktail – which can be done in just a few moments – you’ll immediately be able to spot the one that shows the cocktail off to its best advantage.

An orange colored cocktail sits on an orange colored surface.

 

Let’s talk about dramatic architectural features, such as floating pools.  We once had a client that was debuting a floating pool and they fought us like the very devil about getting overhead drone shots of it.  They didn’t have easy access to a drone and didn’t want to pay for it.  But honestly, a straight-ahead shot of a floating pool just sucks all the drama out of that super-cool architectural feature.

To illustrate, here’s a picture at another hotel of their floating pool taken from different angles.  You can see how one showcases the floating pool and in the other, it gets lost.

Left side shows photo of a large, many-windowed hotel, with a floating pool sitting in front of it. Right side shows that same floating pool at night, from an elevated perspective so the light blue of the pool glows brightly sitting inside the dark blue lake.

 

And these folks REALLY did their floating pool villas justice, ensuring their website gallery shows them from multiple angles and various times of day:

This captures the secret of a great tourism photo. A floating pool sitting on the edge of the ocean, with an attached deck that shows two lounge charis.

 

From the perspective standing on a deck looking out at the edge of a floating pool and the Indian Ocean just after sunset.

Standing on the edge of a floating pool at sunset, showing the perspective of multiple villas with their own floating pools stretching out before you. Sunset of bright orange, yellow, and purple.

From the perspective of laying in bed, looking out terrace doors to a deck with table and chairs, aqua colored floating pool, and the deep blue ocean.

 

Food shots need special attention because visuals aren’t necessarily the main sensory trigger for humans when it comes to food.  Taste, sound (sizzling, pouring, sauteing, etc.), scent, and texture all play a role in our emotional connection to food.  And that’s hard to communicate in a flat photo.

Here, capturing sugar in mid-shake on this cannoli gives more energy, life, and interest to the photo than just a static pic of a cannoli.

A person shaking powdered sugar onto a cannoli that's covered with chocolate chips.

 

But these pancakes are nearly unidentifiable in this photo.  In the quest for a close-up to show the dripping, oozing goodness, perspective gets lost here.  If you’re scrolling quickly, you can’t even tell what it is, and that super-crisp piece of bacon on the side doesn’t help… it almost looks like the pancakes are sitting on a wood shelf.  Perhaps backing up the camera to show the whole plate, and catching the moment when the chocolate syrup is being poured onto the pancakes might achieve the objective better.  But – you know what I’m going to say – try it a dozen different ways before deciding which one makes the right impact.

A close up photo of pancakes with bananas and chocolate syrup on them and a crispy piece of bacon on the side.

 

Oh, you’re taking pictures of animals?  NEVER just snap one-and-done.  You take tons of photos from multiple angles in order to get one that will stop people in their tracks.  Like this:

Picture of a baby lamb facing front and smiling.

 

And finally, these folks are rebuilding a really important and historic wall.  But this photo will stop no thumbs.  I’m sure the dude on the right won’t be pleased that his behind is on Instagram, and everyone milling around looking down at rocks doesn’t do the story justice.  A close-up of a volunteer holding up a piece of rock with a huge smile on his/her face… or better yet, faux-kissing it?… could better tell the story of the passionate volunteers involved.  Or have him/her sitting on the wall and get enough context in the shot to see “kissing the rock” and the wall itself.  Or… hey, I’ve got an idea… take a dozen different shots and see what works best.  😊

Five people standing around piles of rocks, some of which are half-formed into a stone fence.

 

So, in conclusion, please do what it takes to get great tourism photos.  There’s really no secret to capturing ones that make an impact… just spend the time and/or money to do it right.

And let me just clarify:  by “great,” I mean photos that achieve your objective of inspiring people to emotion and action.  “Great” is one of those vague words that always need clarification and shame on me for using it so liberally in this post.  See why you should be careful using that word here.

 

Four Brilliant and Unexpected Marketing Partnerships

September 14, 2021

All good marketing partnerships need to be a win-win for the brands involved.  But brilliant marketing partnerships are also clever, unexpected, and make people say, “ok, now THAT’S cool.”  It’s not just that the benefit to consumers is valuable…it’s that the creation of the partnership itself makes an impression.

The partnership gods must be working overtime lately because I’ve seen four spectacular ones pop up in the past month.  These are worth a salute, plus they offer inspiration and learning opportunities for smaller, less well-funded businesses.

Before we explore them, it’s worth noting that in this context, a partnership is defined simply as two distinctly known brands coming together for a shared purpose.  It doesn’t matter who paid whom, or how the financial outcome gets distributed.  It’s about the brilliance of two brands unexpectedly aligning.  Ready?  Let’s go.

 

Cover of new book by Dolly Parton and James Patterson called Run, Rose, Run.

The Players:  Legendary country music artist/entrepreneur Dolly Parton and prolific author of thriller and mystery novels James Patterson.

The Partnership:  A thriller novel to be released in 2022 entitled “Run, Rose, Run” about an aspiring country music singer with a dark secret. The two are collaborating on plot and story elements for the novel, and Parton will simultaneously release an album of the same name, with 12 original songs inspired by the novel.

Why We Love It:  It’s a completely new idea.  An original book that promotes an original album…that in turn promotes the original book?  Each one draws the power of its distinct audience (Patterson book fans and Parton music fans) to inspire interest in the other. The cross-marketing opportunities are absolutely bonkers on this concept (“bonkers” being a highly technical marketing term for “limitless and insanely exciting”).  The book and the album are organically linked, so as you get vested in the characters and story through one, you are bound to be curious about the other.  And we’re just calling it right now:  there’s a Run, Rose, Run movie or streaming series in all our futures.

What You Can Learn:  Just because something’s never been done before, doesn’t mean it’s not possible.  Don’t just look for your partnership options among the usual suspects.  Can a hotel or destination partner with a band to write an original album based on its history and offerings?  Can a local coffee house partner with a local gardening supply store?  Can an amusement park partner with a haircare products company?  You bet.

 

A picture of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, which is a vehicle shaped like a hot dog. This includes the signage of the Lyft brand.

The Players:  Food brand Oscar Mayer – well known for its wiener hot dogs – and popular ridesharing service Lyft.

The Partnership:  From August 25-27 in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, riders who hailed a Lyft XL could have been surprised by a pickup from the legendary Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.  Not only did that come with bragging rights and shareworthy content for the lucky riders, but the ride was free and they got swag.

Why We Love It:  First of all…it’s hilarious.  And after the wet blanket purgatory we’ve all experienced from the pandemic, frivolous fun is a welcome change.  But also, it’s a brilliant partnership because it has so many layers.  There are PR opportunities before, during, and after each rideshare blitz. The Wienermobile gets to cruise the streets for three days in four major cities.  Odds are at least some of the riders have decent social media followings and will share with glee.  And highly arresting video/photo visual opportunities exist across a ton of marketing channels.

What You Can Learn:  This partnership is all about providing the element of surprise to guests.  Lyft ride hailers expect a typical SUV to arrive for their pick up… they will lose their minds with joy when the Wienermobile shows up instead.  Where can YOU provide a pop of unexpected joy in what would otherwise be a typical, ordinary experience for your guests?

 

Rap artist Ludacris takes a spoonful of Jif peanut butter from the jar while standing in front of a microphone in a recording studio.

The Players:  Popular peanut butter brand Jif and successful rap artist Ludacris.

The Partnership:  The two teamed up for a commercial that shows Ludacris trying to record a new rap song and failing miserably with each take.  Then, after eating a huge spoonful of Jif in between takes, he nails it…because the way the peanut butter sticks to his mouth and makes him mumble is the PERFECT style for his new song.

Why We Love It:  Whether you love rap or not, it’s a common observation that it’s often really hard to understand what’s being said in a rap song.  And whether you love peanut butter or not, everyone knows peanut butter has the pesky tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth.  So the fact that BOTH brands involved were willing to poke fun at themselves with this collaboration?  Genius.  Whoever thought of this partnership deserves a medal.

What You Can Learn:  Let your hair down sometimes.  People love humor and they love when a brand is both humble and confident enough to admit their “flaws.”  Note that the flaw you cop to can’t be a serious thing or else poking fun at yourself will backfire.  Like, if you’re known for paying poor wages or implementing poor environmental practices, you definitely don’t want to draw scrutiny there.  But if – for example – you’ve got notoriously long wait times at your restaurant, you can certainly turn that into a positive and have fun with it instead of ignoring it.  See how this eatery in Colorado made it work.

 

A picture of a subway foot-long sandwich and the mascot from Bob's Discount Furniture sitting on a blue sectional sofa.

The Players:  American fast food restaurant franchise Subway and multiple businesses in local markets, including Bob’s Discount Furniture.

The Partnership:  As a way to break through the clutter and gain attention for its new menu items, Subway is doing a “takeover” of TV commercials from other advertisers.  Here’s what happens:  a Subway ad listing all its new menu items gets cut off before finishing…and then when the next commercial starts for a different advertiser, Subway interrupts the commercial and takes over the ad.  All the partner advertisers still get to hawk their own products.  The “takeover” commercial is a jointly produced, shared spotlight.  See the Bob’s Discount Furniture takeover ad here and see other Subway takeover ad partnerships here.

Why We Love It:  Lordy, it’s hard to get folks to pay attention to commercials.  But this quirky, untraditional approach is bound to cut through the clutter.  Regular TV viewers who are only half listening and already desensitized to hearing endless Subway commercials and endless Bob’s Discount Furniture commercials are likely to stop in their tracks to see/hear something they never expected:  Furniture mascot “Little Bob” selling Subway sandwiches.  This is true of all the takeover ad partners, like the local personal injury lawyer whose long-standing ad you could recite by heart, or the car dealership whose jingle gets stuck in your head all the time.

What You Can Learn:  Never say never, y’all.  Not only are these partnerships completely unexpected from brands that are completely unrelated, but also…really?  Sure companies have bought ad space from each other before, but it’s usually done so one can OWN the space…not so they can share it with a joint “takeover ad.”  Maybe you can’t afford your own local TV ad spots to allow enough frequency to penetrate consumer awareness, but what if you found a partner or two and created collaborative ads?  And this is not “you take the first 15 seconds and I’ll take the last 15 seconds.”  Rather, it’s more like “let’s marry our messages and have some fun.”  Again, going back to the local coffee house and the local gardening supply company…no one would EVER expect to see them marketing together, so a collaborative TV ad might just snap folks to attention.

These brilliant partnerships all capture the spirit of surprise because no one ever expected these brands to pair up.  And the element of surprise is a gift to marketers everywhere.  People love to be caught off guard with something atypical that’s also positive, clever, and joyful… see how we partnered MSC Cruises with automaker FIAT in a way no one ever expected. Tap that vein of “surprise” marketing goodness whenever you can.

And pssst… this doesn’t just work for partnerships.  Look at how Book Culture surprises its shoppers.

Pop-ups are a smart, fun business and marketing idea.

February 18, 2021

woman holds a blue colored drink at the pantone cafe

If you own or market a hospitality or tourism-related business, you should explore and embrace the concept of pop-ups… especially in the pandemic era.  Here’s why.

First, they couldn’t be more aptly named.  In the world of business and commerce, a pop-up is a temporary business venue that appears in a specific location and remains for a limited period of time.  This could be a single day, a week, months, or even a year.  The point is that it’s clear from the start that this place isn’t meant to be permanent.  And with pandemic uncertainty casting a shadow over business plans and financial stability, we are all wary of investing in anything permanent.

Pop-ups are a business strategy and marketing tool that’s been used for years in a wide variety of industries, not just hospitality and tourism.  Some examples:

The appeal of pop-ups to the brands that create them are easy to see:  they’re flexible, temporary, come with low/short-term (if any) overhead, and they foster a sense of urgency for consumers.  And if you’re popping up within the location of another brand (like Bandier and NuFace above), you also get the halo effect of aligning with that brand, as well as an introduction to its own customers…who, if you’ve chosen your brand partner wisely, are likely to be interested in your own brand as well.

Hospitality businesses – restaurants, attractions, hotels, and more – can use the concept of pop-ups in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Hotels offering pop-up shops for retailers/attractions in their lobbies and public spaces: this could be great for community relations partnerships (with, say, a local craftsperson, bookstore, or museum) or a more high-profile brand partnership (a major clothing line, beauty products company, liquor company, famous chef from the city where you draw most of your guests, etc.).  It’s a meaningful guest experience enhancement, and also allows for some effective cross promotion.
  • Hotels producing their own pop-up shop, whether it’s a pop-in boutique with exclusive deals and experiences (like Away and Nordstrom), or an actual, physical pop-up shop located in a city you wish to target for potential guests.  This pop-up could be a stand-alone storefront, or nestled within a retailer that makes sense for your brand.
  • Restaurants trying out new concepts before making a full-fledged leap into a permanent location, or popping-up in a new city before settling there.  Lots of restaurants/chefs are teaming up together, to produce pop-up concepts within established restaurants for a win-win:  restaurants get paid for use of their space when they’d otherwise be closed (i.e. a dinner-only restaurant allowing pop-ups at lunch) and chefs/owners who want to do a pop-up get a fully-equipped location for it.  See how the Boston restaurant scene is absolutely thriving on pop-ups during the pandemic.
  • Attractions hosting pop-ups in the form of mini-experiences of their offerings… wherever they can reach groups of potential guests who might be lured to their main location:  grocery stores, highway rest areas, large retailers or parks in cities where their potential guest base lives, etc.

The point is…this temporary nature is precisely the reason why the concept of pop-ups is well-suited for pandemic-era business strategy.  You can try things, be playful, and test the waters without heavy, permanent investment.  It could open up the freedom for you to experiment with things you might not have considered during “normal” times…by now, consumers are well accustomed to the concept of pop-ups and eagerly embrace them.

For more inspiration – and I mean fabulous, creative inspiration – this article gives some sound advice on what to consider when creating a pop-up, as well as 15 of the most imaginative and successful pop-ups produced in recent years, like the Pantone Café in Monaco which offers menu items aligned with the signature Pantone color chart (like the Pantone blue drink above).  The Organic Valley pop-up is a particular fave of mine…fun, sassy, and brilliantly done…and I don’t even use half-and-half!

Marketing: it’s about time.

December 20, 2019

Recently, I saw a stat in Marketing Week that gave me – a marketing counselor – a headache:

More than half (54%) of digital commerce projects are deemed unsuccessful.

Further details on this stat turned the headache into a migraine:

The main reason for this is a lack of customer alignment (34%), poor logistics (29%) and insufficient investment (29%).  Some 51% of digital commerce leaders don’t believe their organization invests enough in commerce, while 28% say digital projects move too quickly and lack strategy.  (Source: Wunderman Thompson Commerce)

Know what all of that fancy-stat-reporting really means?  People are not spending enough time thinking about, researching, and planning their marketing efforts before taking action.

Oh wait… did you just gloss over that last sentence without stopping to really absorb what it means, and what you should do about it?  As if that was just another piece of blah-blah advice from a marketer?  “Spend more time thinking about your marketing before taking action.”  Duh.  Of course that’s good advice, you say.  So basic.  I knew that.  Give me something REALLY meaty to chew on, like something I didn’t know before.

Folks…there’s a difference between knowing and doing.  As a rule, we humans aren’t that accomplished at just sitting quietly and thinking for extended periods of time.  If we have a marketing plan to write, we want to sit down and “just bang it out”… hopefully in the 93.5 minutes we’ve allotted in our schedule for it. The moment we sit down to just think, we get antsy about wasting time…and so our fingers seek out the keyboard so we can feel productive.

But just look at those stat percentages above, detailing the reasons why digital programs were deemed unsuccessful.  ALL OF THEM could be solved by spending more time planning… even “insufficient investment,” because more time up front can help you 1) spend the same funding with wiser choices, 2) figure out how/where to get more funding, or 3) decide NOT to spend in that arena and invest the money elsewhere to get a better return.

Sitting down and thinking for an hour is not wasting time.  Taking a full day off email and away from work to mentally explore strategy options, while curled up in a comfy chair, with your favorite snacks, beverages, and – dare I suggest it? – pajamas… is not wasting time.  Blocking an entire half-day each week to seek solitude and reflect on marketing progress is not wasting time.

Carving out time to just be still and think is never going to be easy.  Never. The business world moves at a fast pace, and we have colleagues, supervisors, and clients/guests who actively and passively demand our attention.  But if we don’t find the fortitude to MAKE the time, we’ll all be doomed to live with some pretty sucky stats forever.

Here’s what “living the brand” really means.

November 5, 2019

There’s a store in Brooklyn called The Superhero Supply Co, which sells – among other things – a fine selection of capes, cans of antimatter (sizes: large and small), and sidekick utility belts (assorted colors).  It’s not a party/costume store, where you’d go to buy a signature Captain America shield or Wonder Woman golden lasso.  It’s where a REAL superhero would shop for his/her OWN gear.  Quite literally… a supply store for superheroes.

Until you get to the shelving on the left side of the back wall.

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co hidden doorOne section of the fully-stocked shelves actually swings out (if you know the trick) as a secret door.  What’s behind the secret door?  A classroom, where kids can experience workshops to foster their creative writing and imaginative thinking skills.  There are evening and weekend sessions for kids aged 6 – 18, and they also offer after-school programs, host school field trips, and more.

Think about this:  the entire purpose of this business is to inspire kids to release and cultivate their imagination.  Would this be possible in an ordinary classroom?  Sure.  Is it 10,000 times more effective in a hidden classroom that’s the secret identity of a store that sells supplies to superheroes?  Duh.  Their imagination is sparked before that hidden door even finishes swinging open.

THAT is what “living the brand” really means.

It’s not about having a carefully-crafted mission statement and/or brand positioning written down on paper…it’s about how that mission and positioning come to life at all touchpoints of interaction with your audience.  It’s not saying you’re something.  It’s being that something.  As the ol’ saying goes… walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

Let this magical place inspire you to evaluate your OWN state of “living the brand.”

We see brand-disconnects all the time in the tourism industry, such as…

  • Hotels that say they’re gracious, yet nickel and dime guests with fees at every turn.
  • Destinations that say they’re artsy, yet feature boring, standard wayfinding tools onsite and online.
  • Ski resorts that say they’re edgy and epic, yet offer typical F&B options and vanilla interior design.
  • Attractions that say they’re fun, yet make ticket-purchasing and parking acutely painful.

Listen…I get it, it’s hard to live the brand.  Who wants to give up fees?  Or convince owners to invest in renovations?  Or fight town councils on signage regulations?  Or – WTF, Chris? – figure out a way to make parking fun?

But “living the brand” makes marketing’s job less expensive and more effective.  Your marketing dollars will have to work less hard to keep guests tethered, and – even better – transforms them into ambassadors, inspired to share your story with the world.

You may think it’s no big deal if you’re not living the brand at every single turn, but each off-brand touchpoint is sabotaging your trust with guests.  And an erosion of trust sabotages loyalty.  And a lack of loyalty ultimately means…buh-bye.

So, even if the step-by-step impact is intangible to measure and impossible to trace, living the brand is vital to your business goals.  Strap on your own cape and find a way.  The ROI is worth it.

For more information about the creative engine behind the Superhero Supply Co, click here.  Superheroes in Brooklyn, big foot hunters in Boston, secret agents in Chicago, time travelers in LA, and many more…the business concept is just pure magic.

 

Masking tape: the unsung hero of authentic branding.

July 10, 2019

First, a warning:  this post might make you hungry.  I confess to involuntary drooling just while writing it.

Now, let’s talk about authentic branding.  And biscuits.  And masking tape.  And grandmothers.

Recently, as part of a winter tourism strategy and business development consulting assignment for Nova Scotia’s South Shore Tourism Cooperative, I had the pleasure of doing some business coaching for the Anchors Away Family Restaurant & Dairy Bar in Clyde River, NS.  Within this coaching relationship, we studied their business patterns, identified trends, assessed operational needs, uncovered opportunities, crafted marketing ideas, and surveyed market potential.  We also evaluated the visuals and the vibe – internal and external signage, interior design, menus, service – with a branding eye:  how strongly can customers connect to this restaurant and what does it mean to them?

All great stuff, and super helpful to charting their growth path.  But it wasn’t until the menu tasting that the magical branding lesson happened.

I sat there and tasted a bonanza of lovingly homemade goodies, including:  gravy so tasty I wanted to do shots of it, frozen cheesecake that literally melted in my mouth from extreme creaminess, and then…oh, those glorious biscuits.  Flaky.  Buttery.  Addictive.  The perfect balance between light and substantial.  One bite in, I felt like I had died and gone to biscuit heaven.

Me:  “Sweet lord. You could make a fortune selling these.  You make these here?”

Owner:  “We do.  My mother makes them.”

Me:  “YOUR MOTHER MAKES THEM?  Do you sell them by the pack for takeaway?”

Owner:  “We do.” <goes and gets a six-pack of biscuits to show me>  “We just started recently, and I know we need to get more professional-looking labels than masking tape if we’re going to keep selling them.”

Anchors Away Biscuits

Cue magical branding lesson.  Actually, a handwritten label with masking tape is PRECISELY the right label for a pack of drool-worthy biscuits that were lovingly baked in the back kitchen of a family diner by (essentially) someone’s grandmother.  It screams “homemade,” “just baked,” “no preservatives,” “small batch,” and “made with love.”  JUST LOOK AT THE FORK MARKS. I COULD HUG THE BAKER JUST FOR THOSE ALONE. So, the masking tape vibe fits perfectly into the authentic positioning – and unique selling proposition – of the restaurant. 

What’s the lesson?  “Branding” sounds like a fancy and formal concept, and to achieve it, many businesses think they need to standardize, formalize, and professionalize their touchpoints.  Slick, glossy brochures.  Traditionally staged photos.  Professionally printed collateral.  But branding – correction…successful branding – is really just the appropriate visual and emotional expression of an entity’s personality.  Branding means being who you are, not trying to be something that you’re not.  And effective branding makes a connection with the guests you most want to court… whether that means self-serve iPad menus or biscuit packs with masking tape labels.

So… nope nope nope:  Anchors Away, you absolutely do NOT need to get more professional-looking labels for your biscuits. If you did, it wouldn’t feel like “you,” and all the magic would be lost. You should go ahead and lean right the heck into the image fostered by ragged strips of tape and a trusty Sharpie fine point.  I honestly believe it even makes the biscuits taste better.  Draw a heart on the tape and I might even swoon.

And then – bonus – you don’t even have to spend money buying fancy labels. 

PS.  Anchors Away…please start a weekly Biscuit Delivery Service to the US.  You can have all my money.  Just please do it.

Even accountants can have fun with marketing.

September 19, 2018

“I was so inspired by all the fun examples you shared, but I work for accountants and we could never do anything like that.”

So said the woman who came up to me after my recent speech about inspiration at the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.  The speech highlighted the ways in which businesses can transform everyday customer interactions into inspirational, engaging encounters.  And as part of that, I shared dozens of examples from around the world…businesses using everything from tip jar signs to colorful portable toilets in order to make memories for customers.

My inspired-but-dejected accountant friend scooted away too quickly for me to show her a different point of view.  I mean…she hugged me, so she wasn’t THAT dejected.  But there was clearly a boundary in her mind:  other businesses like hotels and restaurants can have fun…accountants cannot.

Every scrap of my marketing DNA rebelled against that philosophy.  So in my mind on the drive home, I reviewed all the examples I shared in the speech, and this one leaped out… the hours of operation sign at Hot Dog Tommy’s in Cape May, NJ:

Hot Dog Tommy's Hours Sign

Wouldn’t it be marvelous for an accounting firm to have office hours from 8:57am to 5:02pm, with the tag line “we’re accountants…we’re precise?”

Their hours and that tag line could be shared in their email signatures, on their website, business cards, advertisements, and more.

And what does that get them?  A conversation starter.  A point of difference.  A personality.  A smile from a potential customer.

A way to be memorable.

And doesn’t EVERY business want to be memorable to its audiences?  Even you, accountants.  You want people to think of you over OTHER accountants.  So…without that tag line, your business card is ordinary.  With it?  You make an impression.

Any business can use nearly ANY touch point to make customers care about them.  No business has to be boring…that’s a choice you make, and you can simply choose to be interesting.  You just have to do it with care and thought to what makes sense for your brand and industry.  Accountants with hyper-precise hours?  YES.  Accountants with colorful portable toilets in the reception area?  Well…that will certainly make you memorable, but perhaps not in the way you want.

PS:  In 90 seconds, see how I prepared for this speech, and I’d be the biggest hypocrite in the world if this video were boring. Watch here.

 

If you want brand engagement, just be human.

February 22, 2018

There I was, innocently chopping vegetables for a salad at my kitchen counter, my mind on a million other things while my hands worked on autopilot.  And then, without warning… the little tomatoes seduced me.

I had picked up the container to peel back the cover, when my eye caught the writing on the tab:

Cherub Grape Tomatoes with "Lettuce Out" tab Cherub tab "Lettuce Out"

Seriously.  “Lettuce out?”  Produce packaging with a sense of humor?  It’s corny and goofy and oh-so-endearing, and I am not going to lie:  I giggled audibly.  And that particular salad brought me a great deal of joy.

Why?  Because THE TOMATOES MADE A JOKE, people.  In this world of legal jargon, marketing buzzwords, and brand manifestos, a simple salad pun like “lettuce out” is unbelievably charming and disarming for consumers.  I didn’t really have an opinion of my tomatoes before.  Suddenly, I cared.  I felt like the folks at NatureSweet® must be pretty cool and groovy…and human.  Real people, not a faceless sea of business operations.  And I liked them.  As if they were a single person, making a one-on-one connection with me, in a very unscripted, informal way.

Learn from this, folks.  It cost them nothing to add this dash of personality to their packaging, and yet it did more to inspire my warm feelings than any expensive ad campaign ever could.  Not convinced?  How about…

The napkins at Chipotle Mexican Grill:

Chipotle Napkin

 

The inside of a Dove® chocolate wrapper.

Dove chocolate wrapper

 

The tip jar sign at Cape May Brewing Company:

Tip jar at Cape May Brewery

 

The point is…brands spend a ton of money on marketing and chasing brand loyalty, and yet they miss these simple, often no-cost opportunities to quietly worm their way into people’s hearts.  With that one little lettuce joke, I became a “Cherub Girl,” just like the guy who once told me he’s an “EverRoast® Man”…except I’m not just using it as a pickup line.

Burnt croissants…a marketing home run.

November 3, 2017

Don’t these look appetizing?

birdies bread croissants

Believe it or not, they do to smart marketers.

The wise folks at Birdies Bread Co in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia truly GET social media. Speak with your brand voice, be real, let your hair down, and say things that connect with people. This post about a burned batch of croissants nails it all for four key reasons:

Cuts through Clutter: among the never-ending sea of photos in a person’s news feed, THIS photo will make them stop and read the message

Tugs at Kinship: it gives the warm “we feel ya” fuzzies to anyone who’s ever screwed up a recipe

Engaging Humility: it says “even professionals ain’t always perfect…we’re human too,” which is endearing and accessible and oh-so unintimidating

Inspires Trust: future marketing messages will be more credible because the audience knows they’re not trying to hide flaws

Many brands and businesses aren’t comfortable allowing their flaws – and human side – to peek through on social media. It feels like a huge risk to expose imperfections. But when done with care and thoughtful judgment, feathering in some fun, “we’re human” candid-type posts are EXACTLY the right way to get the most out of social media.

And just to tell both sides of the Birdies story… this:

birdies bread yummy baked goods

That right there is some tasty marketing, folks.