Four character traits that foster good timing in marketing.

September 20, 2022

One of marketing’s most critical tentpoles is timing, and there are four character traits people (and businesses) should possess that can help foster good timing in marketing.  You should know which of the four are your strengths and weaknesses, and then understand how each is impacting your marketing success.

Why?  Because in marketing, you should play to your strengths.  And if you want to execute the kind of marketing campaigns that aren’t a good match for your weaknesses, you’re going to waste time and money…guaranteed.

Do a little soul searching about yourself and your company’s traits and behaviors to see where you stand on these four essential character traits:

1. The Decisiveness to Act Quickly

For some marketing concepts, especially those tied to a trend or current events, you need to act NOW.  The power of social media only heightens this urgency.  Your window for success may only be 24 hours, and even launching something just two days later will fall flat and yield you zero ROI.

A fabulous recent example of this comes from startup coffee company Cometeer.  When investment bank Goldman Sachs announced it was ending the free cold brew perk previously offered in its NYC HQ, Cometeer had a free coffee table set up right outside of the bank’s building just 16 hours after the announcement was made.  Here’s how they made it happen.  Had they done it even just a week later, the news value would have been too low to make it worthy of notice.  It HAD to be linked in time to the announcement that the cold brew perk was being discontinued.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  Steer clear of marketing concepts and campaigns that will be a complete failure without tight, precision timing.  You may want to do them oh-so-badly, but you’ll just be frustrated that they didn’t work as well for you as they did for other companies you envy.  Years ago, on the day American Airlines announced it would now charge a $25 fee for checked baggage (an industry first at the time), we put our client Loews Hotels in the media spotlight by announcing ON THE SAME DAY that Loews would give a $25 credit to all incoming guests who flew American and checked a bag.  That Loews Baggage Buy Back Program was in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and more the moment we pitched it.  Media wanted to share it in conjunction with news about the American Airlines fee.  Had we pitched it a week later, the airline fee story would have been old news, and no one would have cared.

At the time, we had another hotel brand client who saw what we did for Loews and said, “we want an idea like that for us!”  And it’s just not that simple.  That was a client who took four weeks just to approve a simple weekend package press release.  They would never be able to turn around such operational decisions across dozens of hotels (and approve the pitch copy) quickly enough to catch the news wave.  So we’d be doing them a huge disservice and wasting their money if we forced them to try.  A business that can’t make decisions quickly has more success with marketing concepts that have a nice long runway and lots of wiggle room for timing bottlenecks.

2. The Willpower to Wait

OK so maybe you’re awesome at making decisions and acting quickly, but sometimes good timing requires that you have the willpower to wait.  Jumping the gun – before the facts are in, before the campaign is REALLY ready, before details are agreed – can not only tank your marketing ROI, but it can also cause you real harm.  A few examples we’ve seen in our time as marketing and PR counselors:

  • A government official at a destination wouldn’t wait for talking points following a violent hate crime against a tourist. Instead, he insisted on speaking with the press immediately and gave his opinion on the situation without knowing the facts.  Turns out, the facts belied his opinion in a BIG way, and the destination suffered immeasurably for it…not to mention the fact that they had to pay us a fortune in crisis management fees for damage control.
  • I can’t even count the number of times a hotel has pushed us (against our advice, I promise) to launch a package – through PR or an email blast or social post – BEFORE they’ve got all the details finalized on the website and BEFORE they’ve shared it with their reservation and front desk agents. They want to “get it out there and start selling,” but they don’t seem to get how much this harms them.  When consumers want more information (or to book) and can’t make it happen, they get frustrated.  So not only does the hotel NOT get the sale, now they’ve pissed people off.
  • I also recall a colleague being traumatized by the fact that she was “forced” to announce a huge brand partnership in the media and on social channels before the contract was finalized. The owners were trying to secure more hotel management deals and felt it would be a huge feather in their cap to have that cool partnership announced as they were engaging in other negotiations.  When the partnership fell through before the deal even got signed, the harm to their image – and their business – was excessive under the circumstances.  They earned an unwelcome gold medal in backpedaling, for sure.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  This one’s tough, because it’s psychological and personality driven.  You need to be aware that it’s in your nature and admit to yourself that your impulsiveness can do your marketing great harm.  In this case, you need to surround yourself with cool-headed sounding boards who can objectively rein you in when you’re about to go rogue.  And then – sorry if this is super blunt, but I say it for your own good – you need the humility to listen to them.

3. The Resistance to Complicate Things

Lack of this resistance is definitely the most common weakness we see (when it comes to marketing), and often goes hand in hand with not being able to act decisively or quickly.

The more complicated you make something – too many goals for a single campaign, too many decision makers, too many layers in a concept – the harder it will be to nail successful timing.  For some reason, it’s an incredibly common human trait to overcomplicate things.  Part of it is time and resource poverty.  Our resources are so precious that we try to force them to serve many masters at once.

But a HUGE part of it in the business world is the (often misguided) need to get multiple people involved in various projects and decisions.  If I had a nickel for every time we were ready to launch a campaign for a client, and at the eleventh hour someone said “hey, let’s get Jeff’s opinion on this before we flip the switch.”  Inevitably, Jeff has something to add that derails the timeline and – I’m sorry to say – is most often not helpful.  But we made Jeff happy by looping him in so… Politics 1; Marketing Success 0.

There’s a principle called Brooks’ Law that was originally created to address communication challenges among software project teams.  But it really applies to ANY type of team working and making decisions together, like a marketing team and its extended family (executives, operations, etc.).  Visually, it shows lines of communication necessary for various team sizes, like this:

 

One of the four character traits that foster good timing in marketing, this diagram of Brooks' Law shows how larger teams require exponential lines of communication.

 

In associations, governments, and large companies, it’s not unusual to find a committee of 10 or more involved in projects and decisions.  Do you see how complicated those visuals are?  That’s an accurate reflection of the logistics required to get consensus.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that these types of organizations find it hard to achieve perfect timing…it’s just too darned complicated.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  There’s no easy fix for this one, other than to say steer clear of marketing concepts that require tight timing or “drop dead precision launch dates.”  You may not be able to capitalize on current events or hot news topics, but you CAN give yourself a lengthy runway to get ducks in a row long before an important event will take place.  See how we did this for the four provinces of Atlantic Canada, making a social media splash the moment the Canadian border opened during the pandemic.

4. The Discipline to Stay Abreast of the News

Marketing needs to sit well within the context of what’s going on in the world.  Being oblivious to current events can have unfortunate timing consequences, from ill-timed insensitivities to launching a product/service you claim is “a first”…when it’s been done before.

A recent, cringeworthy example of this is when the television show Canada’s Drag Race tweeted “This crown is up for grabs” on the day Queen Elizabeth II died.  Obviously, they meant the drag race crown, but ugh… the tweet was pummeled with criticism and had to be deleted.  This is a helpful lesson that pre-scheduling social posts can be a useful tool, but unless you stay abreast of the news, it could backfire.

Redpoint nearly fell prey to this once with our popular tourism marketing newsletter Tickled Red.  For the March 1, 2022 issue, the subject line was supposed to be “Bubblegum and Tombstones in Tourism.”  Tombstones referred to the brilliant concept of Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard… but the issue’s timing was just after the war in Ukraine started and casualties were piling up.  The newsletter draft was written before the war started, but we pulled that story (and the subject line) the day before it was scheduled to send.  It was not the right time to be celebrating tombstones of any kind.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  If you’re not someone who immerses themselves in news every day, and you don’t have a marketing agency at your disposal to help stay abreast of news, here’s a quick fix for one-off marketing plans.  Just before you’re about to launch something, hop on a social channel like Twitter or LinkedIn and see what news is trending.  Also, do a search online for keywords related to your campaign or concept.  A quick Google search will likely reveal anything glaring that may conflict with your plans.  And then either make your changes accordingly…or have the willpower to wait (see #2 above).

If you’re scheduling social posts in advance, however, then it’s super risky for you to NOT stay abreast of the news.  So if it’s not in your nature to keep up with current events, it’s best to just change your habits:  either stop scheduling posts or start checking the news often.

Folks, the bottom line is…no one is perfect.  You and/or your company may claim some of these character traits as weaknesses and there’s no shame in that.  But you’ll have more success and achieve a greater ROI in marketing if you choose concepts that play to your strengths instead.  It will make timing your friend and not your enemy.  Reflect on these four character traits to see how well (or not) you foster good timing in marketing.

Want more tips on how to get the most out of marketing?  Check out these 20 tips we assembled from our 20 years of experience as tourism marketing counselors.

Is “chaos marketing” right for your brand?

February 5, 2020

Popeye's Chicken SandwichIf you’re a marketer, there’s a good chance you watched the debut of Popeye’s chicken sandwich last summer and salivated over more than just the chicken.  The viral headlines were fast and furious, and the escalation of customer demand was ABSURD.  And when the sandwich sold out of all stores in less than two weeks, with no new inventory projected for at least another month, you’d have thought people in the world were being deprived of oxygen.  The clamor both online and in real life hit a fever pitch.

The upshot to Popeye’s?  Sure, people were upset.  But Popeye’s scored $65 million in earned media value in just two weeks alone, and desperate chicken-lovers downloaded the Popeye’s app to “be the first to know when the sandwich is back.”

So, was it an inventory miscalculation and total disaster…or a bold marketing move designed to create demand and engagement?  This comment by restaurant consultant Aaron Allen sums things up beautifully:  “Marketing is high-fiving each other and supply chain is getting dirty looks and management is in between trying to weigh out the pros and cons of what’s happened with it.”  (See this awesome story in Vox for the juicy details on how it all went down.)

I lean toward the belief that Popeye’s knew it was going to happen (come on…sold out nationally in less than two weeks?… no one could be THAT far off projections) and did it anyway.  This is a form of “chaos marketing,” when a brand deliberately chooses a marketing tactic or position that it KNOWS will make consumers unhappy, taking the risk that the upside from all the attention will be worth the negativity.

Now, lest you think this is exclusive to American brand marketing extremism, the US in no way has the market cornered on such outlandishness.  In Scotland, popular Irn-Bru soda made a billboard that featured a cow saying “When I’m a burger, I want to be washed down with Irn-Bru.”  And in Argentina, all Burger Kings don’t sell Whoppers on the day that McDonald’s donates money to charity for every Big Mac purchased (does this make people feel warm and fuzzy?…no, they are royally pissed that they can’t get a Whopper on the day they want it.)  The list goes on.

Using chaos in marketing isn’t exactly a new thing.  What IS new, however, is how frequently marketers are proactively reaching for it as a tool…and how comfy brands are becoming with embracing the negative onslaught to garner the upside potential.

You can thank the increasingly cluttered digital landscape for that.  With more digital channels to fill than ever, media outlets are constantly looking for viral moments to feed consumer appetites.  And as social algorithms get more stringent, it’s the most outrageous, thumb-stopping, and jaw-dropping tidbits that get the holy grail of unpaid shares.  The media may not be creating these viral moments, but they’re catching the ball thrown to them by brands and then fanning the flames of conversation around the subject.  And nothing catches fire faster than chaos.

So, as a marketer…do you have chaos envy?  If you get stars in your eyes over the lure of results like “$65 million in earned media,” and think you should dip your brand’s toe in those seductive waters, consider these points first:

  • Recovering from chaos requires a confident brand.  How deep are the bonds with your customers?  How loyal are they?  Can your relationship withstand some disapproval or frustration?
  • The stakes are intense for luxe brands with high price points.  When a greater share of their wallet is on the line, consumers are less forgiving and hold brands to higher standards.  It’s tough to reclaim that trust once it’s broken.
  • Frequency of purchase plays a starring role in rebounding from chaos.  Do you really want to mess with someone’s once-in-a-lifetime purchase, vacation, or experience?  You may only have a small window of time to make an impression on a potential (or one-time past) customer.  Squander that precious moment with a negative touch point and you might never get a chance to reap the upside.
  • “Real” chaos – natural disasters, epidemics, violence, travel bans, etc. – can strike without warning at any time, making “planned” chaos akin to borrowing trouble.  You spend a lot of time and money trying to prevent chaos and crisis from harming your business.  So is there ever a good, safe time to cultivate it deliberately?
  • Your skin (and your executive team’s skin) needs to be thick enough to weather the negativity.  Listen, you asked for it…don’t freak out and lose your nerve when all goes according to plan and people are trashing you on social media.
  • Besides the marketing and social teams, the operations and guest service teams need to be on board and fully prepared.  You’ve got to ALL be in it together.  I’m sure Popeye’s didn’t expect customers to threaten employees at gunpoint or sue for false advertising, but things went there because the world is unpredictable.

And that’s really the whole point:  it’s unpredictable.  You may think you’re engaging in controlled chaos, but once you ignite that spark, the fire has no master.  And not every chaos story ends up as a hilarious skit on Saturday Night Live.

Five tips to deliver bad news gracefully.

August 29, 2012

Raising your prices?  Cutting services?  Not giving out staff bonuses this year?  Putting an employee on probation?

No one wants to deliver this kind of unwelcome news.  Quite frankly…it sucks, for both the recipient AND the messenger.  But sometimes it’s a necessary evil of doing business, and you’re the unfortunate soul who has to bear the burden.  Here are five tips to mitigate the drama:

1 – Let your own emotions run their course before you have to share the news with others.  You may not like or agree with the news you must deliver, but there is a reason why it must be done.  Find a way to come to terms with it in your own mind so you don’t bring your own negative emotional energy to the communication.  Your audience will take its cue from your approach, and if you’re defensive, nervous, weepy, or angry…it will only fuel their own negative response.

2 – Restrict your build-up and get to the point. By the time people get through six long paragraphs of posturing and pussyfooting, their BS-radar is on high alert and involuntary butterflies in their stomach are flooding their brain with negative emotion.  So, when you finally hit them with the unpleasant punchline in that last paragraph, their adverse reaction is intensified by the emotions you yourself have nurtured in them.  The same thing holds true for verbal delivery.  Often times, the anticipation is worse than the actual news.

3 – Consider the timing carefully.  Procrastinating often makes it worse (especially if there is a rumor mill in the mix), but rushing to break the news just because YOU want to put it behind you comes with great risk.   A knee-jerk communication is usually delivered with clouded judgment, high emotion, and a lack of due diligence.  Most importantly, think about when this news will best be received.  Bad news is never welcome, but you should consider factors like time of day, day of week, and your audience’s state of mind before you decide on the ideal timing.

4 – Avoid misdirection and trickery.  It’s tempting to load up bad news communication with a bunch of good news in the hopes of distracting your audience.  However, it will only damage their trust in you.  You may choose this path because it makes YOU feel better (“Look, see?  I’m not that bad…look at all the good things I’m still sharing!”) but to the news recipient, it just looks wishy-washy and weak.  And, in many cases, it can give the appearance of trivializing very serious news and not treating it with the respect it deserves.

5 – Remember that nothing is confidential.  Emails can be forwarded, and social media is designed to be the world’s fastest grapevine.  Whatever you do…whatever you say…before you “go there,” answer this question:  how would I feel if 50 million people knew about this tomorrow?  Nothing tames you into acting gracefully like the thought of being vilified by an outraged public.  United Airlines learned this lesson the hard way.  Watch video.

Above all, you must remember this:  no matter how you spin it or when you say it…your audience won’t like it.  That’s why it’s called “bad news.”  It would be completely irrational for you to tell your customers you’re raising prices and have them respond “Right, then…no worries, we don’t mind.”  So, be realistic with yourself.  If you expect to deliver bad news and have people walking away happy…this will not work out well for you.

And that brings us to the last point:  delivering bad news is not about YOU.  The recipient does not want to hear about how you were up all night belly-aching over having this conversation, or that you’re just so upset you can’t eat, or that it gives you no pleasure to do this.  Asking for their empathy at a time like this is most likely to result in their wanting to smack you.  Let them have their moment of sadness without trying to steal some sympathy for yourself.

Marketing strategy post-disaster: No one likes a sore-winner.

August 31, 2011

The corner of Sixth and Spring looked sad on Monday without the Coffee Guys.

On the Monday morning following Hurricane Irene, I committed heresy:  I bought coffee from the cart vendor across the street…NOT from My Guys.  I had no choice…for the first time in 9 years My Guys weren’t there, and abstaining from coffee seemed a foolish allegiance that would merely leave me thirsty, caffeine-deprived, and yet still unsure of their safety.

So, I crossed the street with a heavy heart…and thus began my lesson in dog-eat-dog, post-hurricane marketing tactics.

This “understudy” vendor was aggressively courting all his newfound customers, and enjoying every moment of it.  Kudos to him for recognizing an opportunity (“I no see you here before…happy to meet you”)…and shame on him for crossing the line (“You come here ONLY from now on, yes?…This best coffee in neighborhood, no one else good.”).  I walked away with no promises, unsurprised to hear him tell the next woman in line that she is his “prettiest customer of all time,” …as I apparently was just a moment ago.

Later, as I sat at my desk reflecting on the cutthroat nature of the NYC coffee cart vendor industry (and now vowing coffee abstinence until the Guys return), the post-hurricane promotional email blasts from undamaged hotels in the Northeast started piling up in my in-box.   And the parallels to Mr. Coffee Understudy’s tactics – but on a much grander scale – were startling.

Essentially, the intended message to consumers was the same:  despite the sensational news reports of widespread flooding and damage in the Northeast, our hotel was undamaged and we are open for business this Labor Day weekend and beyond.   But the strategies used to actually communicate that message were vastly different…and not one of them reflected well on the image of its hotel.  The reason?  No one likes a sore winner.

It’s totally understandable that hotels open for business don’t wish to be painted with the same “devastation brush” the media has loosely applied to the Northeast…especially now, when the high occupancy weeks of summer, Labor Day weekend, and fall foliage season make the stakes so high.  But if you find your property in this situation, here are some tips for that email blast to prevent you from looking like an uncaring ogre trying to capitalize on others’ misfortune:

Timing:  wait until the initial outpouring of sympathy and drama has passed before sending ANY promotional emails out.

Tone:  you can’t express believable compassion for the victims alongside a cheerful offer of a “3rd night free with extended pool hours”…the crass jumble of emotions just screams “all’s fair in love and marketing.”  Be appropriately respectful and less blatantly promotional.

Humor:  does not belong in ANY post-disaster marketing communication.  More than one Northeast property created a “Weakend Guest” package or message, which is a clever play on words likely not appreciated by the thousands of people who suffered severely by this storm’s strength.

Incentives:  what should your call to action be in this case?  True, bookings are always a goal, but given the situation, is this really the right message for this particular promotional blast?  Perhaps your first outreach should be clarification of facts – you are open, you sustained no damage, you feel fortunate, and your heart goes out to your less fortunate neighbors. 

Grace and Class:  being promotional and pushing incentives is bad enough on its own…actually referring to your devastated competitors shows extremely poor taste.  Messages along the lines of  “Vermont got slammed, but we here in Maine are open for business and the sun has never been brighter!” really cast you as a villain.

You would be smart to anticipate that your current reservations for the next few weeks may be at risk…but the best way to solidify them is to speak directly to those guests.  Send them an email, give them a call…whatever.  Just give them the facts:  their reservation is safe, the roads are open (are they?…provide alternate directions if necessary), and their vacation is ready for their arrival.

After the initial drama of the disaster has subsided, you can always trawl for new customers, just like you always would.  Then, at that time, no mention of the disaster is necessary.  Just make sure enough time has passed before you start kicking up your cheery tone.

Here in NYC, Redpoint  weathered Hurricane Irene unscathed, though we are working round-the-clock on crisis response right alongside some of our Northeast hospitality clients who were less fortunate.  We’re delighted to report that overall, our clients are a hearty bunch of New Englanders who gracefully take their licks and are eager to get back in the game.

And now that our Coffee Guys have returned to their corner (safe and sound, thank goodness), the gang here at Redpoint is all fueled up and ready to help them do that.