Save time with the proper use of the email cc.

June 20, 2022

A meme poking fun at excessive "reply all" responses, as a lesson in how to save time with the proper use of the email cc.

Proper use of the email cc can save you tons of time and aggravation.  It’s a useful tool, but its power has been diluted by misuse in the workplace.  Here’s how to redefine your relationship with the email cc and give your productivity a boost.  The tips below will help.

First of all, why should you care about this?  An email cc seems like such an insignificant thing in the wide landscape of productivity and time management techniques.  And yet, proper use can:

  • Reduce unnecessary inbox clutter.
  • Reduce concentration distractions.
  • Free up mental bandwidth for other things.

It may seem like taming cc habits will only save you a few minutes a day, but in reality it’s more than that.  If you cc or get cc’d a lot – and I’m affectionately looking at you, tourism organizations, with your 74+ “necessary” stakeholders who regularly share information – you could face unnecessary distractions of 30-60 minutes a day.  You need to get that time back.  Just think about how many times someone has “replied all” just to say “OK!” or “Thanks!”…and you stopped what you were doing to read it.

Most of us have lost our way on the original intent of the cc:  it’s simply an efficient, passive way to inform people who are tangentially involved in the subject, without having to take an extra step.  (Note for all you young folk:  “cc” stands for “carbon copy,” which originates from the pre-computer days.  We had to type things on a typewriter and could put a piece of carbon between two sheets of paper to make a second copy simultaneously as we typed. Ah, the Dark Ages.)

However, the email cc isn’t always used solely for its simple, original intent.  Today, it can be a ridiculously complex concept fraught with psychological nuances, like being weaponized to prove a point, annoy, intimidate, or – yikes – tattle on others.

Tame the aggravation tail whip caused by email cc’s with these five practical tips:

  1. If you require a response from someone, they go in the “to” field. This is super important. Don’t put these folks in the cc field because it creates ambiguity and dilutes the accountability of who should respond.
  2. Anyone you don’t require a response from, they go in the “cc” field.
  3. If you’re cc’ing a bunch of people and you want to prevent unnecessary responses from them (because perhaps THEY don’t realize that when you cc someone, they’re not required to respond), lead with some version of “Those cc’d here, this is just an FYI. No need to respond.”
  4. If you’re often cc’d on emails that are unnecessary, respond only to the sender and say some version of “thanks for keeping me in the loop but I don’t need to be cc’d because (this).” “This” being the reason why… like you don’t need the play-by-play as it unfolds, you just need the punchline.  Or that topic isn’t really a focus on your radar.
  5. Sometimes, a more effective way to share your information with those tangentially involved is to send the original email without a cc, and then forward it with a message to the tangential folks. Psychologically, it can take the burden off them of feeling like they need to respond “because everyone’s watching.”

These tips will definitely help you save time and regain the proper use of the email cc.  But you can’t control how others tend to approach being a cc sender or recipient in their own lives.  So giving clear direction on whether or not they should respond to you – and when you personally should/shouldn’t be cc’d – will significantly streamline communications and cut down on YOUR email waste.

Yes, these seem like small things, but they actually add up to have an impact on your time.

It’s funny… we rarely think about how or why we use such long-standing digital communication tools like the email cc.  We often just use them out of habit, without deliberate purpose.  And so things become unwieldy and messy and we just keep allowing it to happen.  For other tips on digital communication bloopers that may be sabotaging your effectiveness, productivity, or success, check out this excellent book Digital Etiquette:  The Future of Good Manners.

And – cc’ing aside – to improve the quality of your emails overall, check out these five opening lines that sabotage your email’s success. Number one?  “I hope you are well.”

How an understaffed tourism operation can avoid disappointing guests.

May 23, 2022
A picture that shows the legs of people waiting in a long line, which is something understaffed tourism operations need to avoid to prevent disappointing guests.

Is this going to be the line at your check-in desk this summer?

How can an understaffed tourism operation avoid disappointing its guests?  This is the challenge facing the tourism industry right now, especially with the busy summer season approaching.  Hotels, airlines, attractions, tour companies, destinations, restaurants and more… all are bracing for a hot mess of substandard guest service this summer.

This timing is unfortunate, though.  It’s a cruel joke by the travel gods to plague the industry with unprecedented staffing issues just when travelers are coming back in droves.  They’re eager to shed the restrictive chains that have bound them for the past two years.  They want MORE – freedom, choices, amenities, pampering – while you’re trying to figure out how to even deliver your bare minimum experience with LESS.

Sadly, this is a recipe for disappointment.  And negative reviews.  And social media complaints that need to be managed.

There’s no magic bullet to solve this.  Sure you can offer pay that’s double (or more) what everyone else is paying.  But that will obliterate your bottom line (and set a risky precedent), so it’s not a reasonable solution.

But you can’t just pull the covers over your head and let chaos take its course.  Be proactive with these three tips that will help an understaffed tourism operation avoid disappointing its guests:

Training & Communication

I was in line at the pharmacy recently and the line behind me was growing at an alarming rate while the sole staff person worked with a customer on a tangled issue.  She never looked at the line and never said a word to us.  I could feel the fuming and resentment building behind me and hear the muttered complaints and huffy breaths.  After 20 minutes, it felt like there was going to be a mutiny.

All she had to do was look up and smile every once in a while and say “Folks, I’m so sorry for the wait but I’m the only one here today and I need to give each one of you the attention you deserve when it’s your turn.  Thanks for your patience.”  That would have diffused 90% of the frustration.

The moral here is… train your people to diffuse frustration.  Don’t leave them unprepared to handle difficult guests or situations.  Your team should be fully aware of how challenging this summer is likely to be, and you can’t send them into this battle unarmed.  They need clear and practical training for handling complaints, lack of service/amenity availability, slow service, supply chain issues, and more.  Help them to not fear it and not ignore it.  Give them the communication tools they need to address these situations before they become irreversible nightmares for you.  And reward them when they deliver.

Sweeten Pain Points

Ski resorts plagued with unavoidably long lift times on peak days often provide entertainment, hot cocoa, and other fun distractions to make the wait more bearable for skiers.  This is precisely the concept you need to deploy this summer.

Based on your staffing shortages, you’re likely able to predict where the trouble spots will be and when they’ll occur.  Have a plan ready.  True, in some cases (like the ski resort example) you might need to devote a staffer (from the already depleted team) to implement the plan, but focusing that precious resource to the challenge is a smart strategy. Stunting frustration before it can build will enable guests to be forgiving in other areas where you have less control.  Otherwise frustrations just keep mounting until diffusing them is impossible.

So whether it’s surprising guests with a refreshment cart during long lines, giving a discount or complimentary item for slow room or table service, or providing entertainment where none was expected, be proactive. Have solutions and plans ready to go.  And empower your staff – with training and guidelines – to address such problems on the spot.

Choose Where to Make an Impression

I vividly remember the time (pre-COVID) when I was at the Wequassett Resort & Golf Club on Cape Cod two weeks after Labor Day.  Knowing that such resorts often employ high school and college kids during the summer – and now they were back at school – I was prepared for moderate service levels.  Imagine my surprise when a staffer made the rounds at the pool to polish guests’ sunglasses!  That was completely unexpected and impressed the hell out of me.

This season, hospitality operations need to apply a critical lens to the services and amenities they usually offer and say, “What guest touchpoints make the biggest impression and how can we protect them at all costs?  Or at the very least, modify them so they STILL make an impression without fumbling?”  If you can’t do everything, don’t bother trying or you’ll just do everything poorly.  Better to choose some things that get your full attention and do them flawlessly.

This means your entire staff needs to understand where the priorities are, so everyone knows where corners can’t be cut.  So once again, clear and direct communication with your staff is essential.

The bottom line is that there’s no simple way to solve this problem.  It’s not easy for understaffed tourism operations to avoid disappointing guests.  But proactively addressing the situation with a plan and training your staff to be prepared will help mitigate the damage.  It might even win you some loyal guest ambassadors.

And by the way, the solutions don’t always have to cost money or require a full staff.  These 10 Unexpected (and Fabulous) Tourism Guest Service Stories will give you some inspiration.

What’s the best way to reengage email subscribers?

April 4, 2022

If a segment of your subscribers isn’t EVER opening your emails, it’s time to get them to reengage or…what?  You’ll kick them off the list?  A strong ultimatum (see below) can indeed be one of the best ways to inspire reengagement among email subscribers.

But lordy, that sounds harsh.  And on the surface, it also seems like it would hurt YOU more than it would hurt them.  They clearly won’t miss you, but your list size decreases.  Shouldn’t your goal always be to make your list as big as possible?

No, actually.  It shouldn’t.  Your goal should be to have a healthy list with as many engaged subscribers as possible.  Subscribers who never open your email – for whatever reason – are hurting your overall email program’s success.

That’s not just my opinion…it’s a fact.  If you’re skeptical of that fact, then before proceeding down to the real purpose of this article, pop over and read this article from HubSpot. They do a brilliant job of explaining why you should prune your email list regularly and the steps to make that happen.

But that’s not why we’re here.  We already KNOW that you should prune your list.  The question is…what’s the best way to reengage email subscribers before you take the drastic step of booting them from your list?

When faced with that challenge, you have one laser-focused goal at hand:  getting folks who always ignore your emails to open just ONE of them.  This will determine their fate.  If they open it (or them, if you’re doing a reengagement series), they stay.  If they don’t, they go.

If your emails are not being opened because they’re going to spam and subscribers just never see them, ultimately those subscribers should be removed from your list.  Any reengagement email you send will also go to their spam, so no matter how provocative or seductive your bait, they won’t bite.  Cut them loose.

But the rest of the never-openers?  THAT’S the high-potential pond where your bait matters.  These folks signed up for your email at some point, but they’ve become apathetic toward you:  not disenchanted enough to unsubscribe, but not interested enough to open anything you send.  They’re in “engagement limbo.”  And if you can jolt them into opening just one email, you instantly increase your list’s health AND inspire them to care about you again.

So here’s the million dollar question:  how can you successfully deliver that jolt?

Grabbing the attention of these apathetic recipients relies exclusively on the email’s subject line.  It’s the only tool you have to influence their behavior in these circumstances.  If the subject line doesn’t grab them enough to open it, the email’s content doesn’t matter.

Reengagement subject lines (and their corresponding body content) generally fall into one of three categories:  gentle nudge, rewarding lure, or strong ultimatum.  Which one/s you should use (or whether you should combine them as a series) depends on your brand’s personality, the transactional nature of your business relationships, and how determined you are to stringently prune your list.

Gentle Nudge

This is some version of “we miss you, where have you been?”  It’s a subtle tactic with no hard bite, but it could work with subscribers who are only mildly apathetic.  You could give this tactic a better chance by personalizing the subject line: “Joan, we miss you…where have you been?”  The content in the email body may or may not contain additional lures/rewards to inspire clicks (a special discount, time-sensitive offer, etc.).  But the overall vibe of this approach is soft and subtle, gently reminding them that they once pursued an email relationship with you and why they should stay in that relationship.  It’s often used as the first volley in series of reengagement tactics.  If they respond to this, there’s no need to pursue them with further measures.

Rewarding Lure

This is some version of “bribing” subscribers to reengage.  That sounds severe (and desperate, if we’re being honest), but engaged email subscribers are precious marketing assets.  It’s perfectly reasonable for you to trade something in exchange for wooing them back to caring.  Plus, if you give them a special offer (discount, value-add, etc.) that inspires a purchase, that’s revenue you wouldn’t have had anyway because they were previously ignoring you.

This lure has to be meaningful enough to matter, or the subject line won’t grab them.  So if you send 20% off specials to your general list all the time, this one-time offer to spark their reengagement must be significantly more appealing than that.  Again, personalization matters here to help cut through their desensitization.  “Victor, here’s 50% off just for you until (deadline).”  Don’t get hung up on the use of 50% in that example. The point is to make the offer exclusive and ultra-special, beyond the types of offers you usually share.  Free stuff, exclusive access to something, special perks and more…all can inspire that holy grail behavior you’re seeking here:  open that email.

Strong Ultimatum

This one’s not for the faint-hearted marketer, but it can be incredibly effective.  Here, you essentially threaten to remove them from the list by giving them one last chance to show you they want to stay.  You want to deliver a shocking jolt?  Human nature compels people to want what they can’t have.  So telling them they’re being removed from the list unless they deliberately request to stay is bound to grab their attention.  This tactic is the most direct and yields the most definitive action.

But be prepared, because this tactic comes with risk.  If not done with situationally-appropriate grace, you risk sparking a negative reaction/perception of your brand…whether or not they choose to stay on your list.  No one loves being threatened, so while you may get the initial result you want (they stay), you may have some branding repair work to do there.  Their affection for you may have taken a hit.

Ironically, a helpful “real life” example of this comes from HubSpot, the same folks referenced above for their brilliant explanation of how/when/why to prune email lists.  The irony is that the tactic worked, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve been on HubSpot’s daily email list for ages and hadn’t opened one in a while.  One day, I got an email from them with this subject line:

“We’re signing off.  Here’s why…”

Of course I opened that immediately because I thought they were closing up shop (as I’m sure they intended).  Turns out, when I opened it… they were threatening to break up with ME because I haven’t been opening their emails:

 

a copy of an email that shows the best way to reengage email subscribers

 

Now, I’m a marketer and this was a marketing newsletter from a marketing company.  So I get why they did this and don’t begrudge them the tactic.  They got their “open” from me, and that was the primary goal.

But I have to admit…despite that allowance for marketing kumbaya, the email’s execution just rubbed me the wrong way.  Telling me that “my subscription habits are bigger than my capacity for reading everything” is rather obnoxious.  It seems to be accusing me of poor time management skills. Like it’s my fault for not being able to keep up with reading their emails…not their fault for sending emails whose subject lines don’t pique my interest enough to open them.

The rest of the approach in the email body is on point.  There are plenty of lures in there to catch my attention, and a nice big button that says “Re-Subscribe,” which is another emotional tactic designed to move me to action.  It’s as if I’ve already been booted from the list, and now I need to proactively do something to get back on it.  (Hilariously, this wasn’t true because I didn’t click on anything and still kept getting their emails.  Yet another thing that annoyed me – the empty threat.)

The point is…be careful how you approach the strong ultimatum tactic.  This is especially true if you’re in the hospitality business.  Threatening to kick someone off an email list because they haven’t engaged with you in a while can come across as VERY inhospitable, no matter how gracefully you word it.

Overall bottom line:  quality over quantity is always the best pursuit with email subscribers…and indeed with most marketing efforts.  For another highly illustrative example of this, check out the time we had to break up with Google because it was sending TOO MUCH traffic to our website.

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.

Five cool tourism marketing campaigns that may need post-Covid tweaks.

July 15, 2021

Will marketing ever be the same after we’ve spent so long viewing the world through a Covid lens?  Lingering hesitancy toward close social interaction with strangers adds a new risk element to advertising, imagery selection and especially cool, interactive tourism marketing campaigns.  Yet, isn’t getting to know strangers – and being enriched by the experience – a fundamental selling point in tourism?

This makes all our jobs as tourism marketers just a bit harder.  So, for fun, let’s reminisce about a simpler time…when worrying about portraying germ exchange wasn’t so high up on our marketing radar.   Here are five cool tourism marketing campaigns that may need some post-Covid tweaks if implemented today.

THE SWISS VILLAGE PHONE PROMOTION

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Swiss villages in the region of Graubünden are so quiet that everyone who lives there can hear the pay phone ring in the town square.  And if you called that phone in the village of Tschlin (population 166) and someone doesn’t pick up…you could win a free trip and other prizes.  30,000 people called in just six days.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  All 166 people answering the same phone without showing it being wiped down and sanitized even once?

 

THE KLM BONDING BUFFET

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Get 20 strangers to share a Christmas dinner buffet together in an airport.  The catch?  The buffet descends from the ceiling (in its futuristic Star Trek way) in stages, each time a new person fills a seat.  And once all 20 seats are filled, the table laden with food locks in place.  KLM Airlines really knocked it out of the park on this one.

Post-Covid Tweaks: “Tweaks” just ain’t gonna fly here.  Sharing food?  Hugging?  Cozying up for selfies?  This utterly brilliant marketing concept can only reign supreme pre-Covid.

 

EUROPE – IT’S JUST NEXT DOOR

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  French national railway company SNCF wanted to encourage people to take a train journey to other European countries.  So, they placed THE coolest freestanding, interactive doors in unexpected places all around Paris.  People who opened the door experienced real-time interaction with engaging locals in other cities.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Dude, that door handle needs serious sanitizing, and mesmerized groups of spectators can’t stand six feet apart and still watch the interaction!

 

CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE – THE FAROE ISLANDS

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  This is an incredibly genius idea to both combat and draw attention to the overtourism problem…while at the same time promoting tourism for an off-season weekend.  Visit Faroe Islands “closed” to visitors the last weekend in April.  Instead, that weekend it welcomed volunteers from abroad to help with maintenance and clean-up of the islands’ many natural sites and attractions.  In return, visitors get a free room and meals during their stay.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Wide open spaces and lots of fresh air working outdoors?  They almost skated through with that.  But the vague “free room and meals” leaves one in doubt:  will I have my own room and is it clean?  Communal meals?  How intimate is the contact I’ll have with strangers?  Ah, Faroe Islands… you were so close with this one!

 

THE GREAT ESCAPE TO GRAUBÜNDEN

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Wow, the folks at Graubünden Tourism must really eat their marketing Wheaties, because here’s another winner from them.  In this promotion, people at the Zurich train station could interact in real time with a friendly, welcoming, grandfatherly-type gent in the village of Vrin.  He even prints free tickets for spontaneous-minded folks to hop a train and go visit him that day.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Has that guy been vaccinated?  Have my fellow adventurous travelers been vaccinated?  Because if we’re all going to shake hands, hug, and share a meal in Vrin, I need to know.

 

OK… I’m not REALLY suggesting that we need to see the people of Tschlin wipe down the phone.  Nor am I saying there should have been a bottle of hand sanitizer hanging from the doors in the French railway ads.

The point is, as marketers, we just got a new dimension added to our lens.  How will people perceive our messaging, images, and attempts at interaction in this uncertain world?  There’s no easy answer, and no permanent one either.  This will evolve over time as the pandemic ebbs and flows…and eventually recedes completely.  But for now, we’ve all got to add this to our growing list of “considerations we must factor into our marketing material.”

Still, it’s pretty cool to reminisce, right?  Those were the days.  One time, a group of strangers at a tourism conference even baked me a bunch of homemade cakes!  Yeah… those WERE the days.

What does cheugy mean? When you know…you know.

May 4, 2021

A picture of homemade lasagna with the caption "wait, is this cheugy?"

Cheugy means something or someone that’s just a smidge off-trend and “trying too hard.”  Never heard the word?  You’re not alone.  But why should you care?  Well, if you’re a marketer and you want to reach Gen Z…you should.  You might be using cheugy concepts in your marketing (oh the shame!) and you don’t even know it.

The trouble is, defining what’s cheugy (pronounced chew-gee, with a hard G) is subjective.  And a clear explanation is elusive, despite a multitude of sources that try to define it.  For example:

  • In Rolling Stone:  “…an aesthetic that is somewhere between basicness and cheesiness.”
  • In The New York Times:  “It’s not embarrassing or even always negative.”
  • In The Urban Dictionary:  “The opposite of trendy.”
  • But Insider said it best:  “Ultimately, cheuginess is a vibe, something you can sense without always being able to substantiate why.”

Wait…what?  I just read three articles and a dictionary definition and I’m still not certain I can identify something that would universally be considered “cheugy.”

Perhaps it’s my age.  The term is apparently a dig at Millennials by Gen Zers, implying that all the things Millennials thought were cool in high school are no longer cool.  So I guess if you’re a Gen Xer or a Boomer, you’d probably be wise to stay out of the dialogue.  Gen Z will just come up with another term (that none of us can understand) to describe how “older people” try too hard to use all the young people’s slang.  Or wait…does that just make us cheugy?  I’m so confused.

I remember being a kid in the early 80’s when a friend at summer camp tried really hard to define the word “preppy” for me.  It was another of those “you know it when you see it” kind of terms and I obviously didn’t see it.  She even gifted me her copy of The Official Preppy Handbook (“don’t worry, Grand-ma-ma will get me a new one”).  And still…it was pretty clear that if you weren’t preppy and didn’t have that magical essence naturally in you, simply flipping your collar up wouldn’t cut it.  You imposter.

Cheugy is the same way.  You just have to know it when you see it, so if you DON’T… don’t despair.  Our brains aren’t wired for everything, and just the way you may not understand calculus or be handy with mechanical things… so too, you may not be capable of identifying cheuginess.  Not even if they come out with The Cheugy Handbook.

However, if it helps, here are a few things that seem to be universally accepted as cheugy:

  • Ugg slippers
  • Barstool Sports
  • The Instagram caption “I did a thing”
  • Sneaker culture
  • Being an iced coffee addict
  • Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes

But don’t go thinking you’ve got the definition nailed, even if looking at that list gave you a good idea of the cheugy vibe.  Because even among those who coined and spread the term, there are regular debates about what’s truly cheugy…and that’s not even a permanent label.  Apparently, low-rise jeans were once considered cheugy, and now they’re not.  Try to keep up.

Here’s the big question though.  Now that the mainstream media have written all about the word, giving license for the uncool and uninitiated to bandy it about, will Gen Z even want to use it anymore?  Or will the term itself be deemed cheugy?  We’ll have to ask Gaby Rasson, the 23-year-old software developer who’s credited with creating the term back in 2013.  Gaby – clearly the idol of Gretchen in Mean Girls, who tried so hard to make fetch happen – will always reign supreme as the last word on cheuginess.

In the New York Times article, someone said “lasagna is cheugy.”  Dude, my mom just made a killer lasagna this past weekend and I cleaned my plate spotless.  If that makes me cheugy, I’ll gladly take that label with a side of meatballs and a glass of chianti.

And one last thought.  I recently wrote a blog post about Marketing Lessons from The Princess Bride.  It was wildly popular, but now I’m thinking…is The Princess Bride cheugy?  BRB. DMing Gaby.

The Hiring Chain video: great idea, brilliant storytelling.

April 23, 2021

If you’ve not seen The Hiring Chain video, get ready for a great idea and some absolutely brilliant storytelling.  And it’s not just because legendary music artist Sting is performing the tune.

Click image to watch:

 

GREAT IDEA

First, let’s talk about the idea as it relates to tourism and hospitality.  As the industry roars back from the pandemic, there’s a definite labor shortage on the horizon. Housekeepers, groundskeepers, gardeners, kitchen staff, maintenance and custodial staff, and so much more will be needed.  It’s entirely possible many of these roles can be effectively filled by people with Down Syndrome (which, FYI, is often written as “Down’s Syndrome” too).

CoorDown, the awesome organization that produced the video, has a helpful website on the subject.  Here’s a link to their hiring page to learn more about hiring in your country.

BRILLIANT STORYTELLING

Second, let’s talk about the brilliant storytelling this video achieves, and why.  Marketers, take note:

  • By using the generic career titles – baker, farmer, dentist, barber, etc. – the viewer gets a feel by osmosis for the variety of jobs possible for Down Syndrome workers.
  • By the time the lawyer hires John, it’s clear how the story is unfolding and the viewer starts to anticipate what comes next.
  • The music tempo and vibe emotionally carry the viewer through this journey.  When the baker walks into the barber and the music slows down, it fosters an “a-ha” moment.  The brain has a chance to stop and realize how that whole hiring chain was connected.
  • The ending sequence is pure magic.  Just the simple act of speeding up the tempo implies quantity and depth.  Without saying it in words, it’s like saying, “You see how many jobs were filled and opportunities given just because of that one first move by the barber?  We had to speed things up just to fit it all in.”

It goes without saying that the video production is spot on…and yeah, it doesn’t hurt that Sting is performing the song.  AdAge said it best… “it’s like a jazzy nursery rhyme.”

When you plan your next video, take a page from great and brilliant Hiring Chain video.  They didn’t spell out much in black-and-white words, yet the combo of visuals, scenes, and music told the story better than any descriptive narrative would have.

BTW, you can use a similar storytelling concept with signs.  See some of our faves here.

Your new year’s resolution? Better alt text.

January 13, 2021

OK, so this may not be the sexiest or most popular new year’s resolution, but here’s why it should make your list.

First, let’s be sure you understand what it is.  We’ve found through our consulting and digital marketing work that very few people DO understand it, even those that are responsible for writing the alt text on their own brand’s website.

Alt text – short for alternative text – is the text description applied to images on websites (and social media, but that explanation is for another day).  This isn’t the same as a caption, which can appear on your website with the image so that anyone can instantly see the words.  The alt text is hidden from the front-facing website and doesn’t appear unless it’s needed.  Think of it like writing a description on the back of a real-life photo that’s sitting in a frame.  When you look at the photo you can’t see the description, but if those details are needed, you can get them.

Now… when would such additional hidden details be needed?  Because if you’re looking at the photo on a website, you can clearly see what that photo is about… right?  Nope.  Not always.

The hidden text is vital in these three ways (all equally important):

  1. It gives search engines a full description of the photo, which makes it easier for search engine algorithms to see and understand images.  Using alt text on your website images means that a search engine can more easily find your photos and then show your website and/or images to people searching for relevant things you offer.
  2. When images on websites don’t load properly – when there are connectivity and/or internet strength issues, for example – the alt text will appear instead, so at least visitors know what you were trying to show.
  3. For those with vision impairment issues, or those who use screen readers for any other reason, the alt text is essential because it describes photos that the user physically CANNOT see.  A screen reader, if you didn’t know, is a program that reads content on a webpage aloud, and the alt text allows the screen reader to give information about the visual aspects of the page.  And by the way, ADA Compliance actually requires this of websites, so you might as well do it right.

Now, why won’t a caption suffice for all this?  Technical aspects aside (and there are some), the biggest reason is because a caption isn’t necessarily a proper description of a photo.  For example, here’s me trying to decide between my top two vices (since we’re talking about resolutions and all):

Chris Miranda holds prosecco bottle and coffee cup while deciding which to drink while giving a webinar.

The caption for this photo might be:  Chris decides between two vices.  But the alt text would be something like:  Chris Miranda holds prosecco bottle and coffee cup while trying to decide which one to drink while hosting a webinar.

So that takes us back to your new year’s resolution about committing to better alt text.  When you’re ready to dive in, here are nine brief but helpful tips for writing effective alt text.

And you can drink prosecco OR coffee while you read that article… no judgement here.

Looking for other ways to make your website easier to read and more accessible?  Choose your font and typeface wisely.

Hershey’s Kisses fell prey to Satan in 2020.

December 3, 2020

If you’re like me, you had NO IDEA there are people out there whose sanity and well-being rest on the annual appearance of the Hershey’s Kisses holiday commercial.

But not just ANY holiday commercial.  It must be the original commercial that launched in 1989 and has basically remained unchanged, with Kisses doubling as bells that ring out “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  If you haven’t watched TV during the holidays in the past 31 years, you can see that original spot here.

This year, Hershey’s updated said commercial with a twist, like so: (click on the image to watch)

Apparently, this change ruined some people’s lives.  Snippets on the subject from social media:

  • “I’m emotionally scarred.”
  • “Nothing is sacred anymore.”
  • “There was once a time when I loved the holidays and now I feel terrible.”
  • “FIRE THE PERSON WHO SUGGESTED TO CHANGE IT!!!”
  • “2020 wasn’t the year to change it, we’ve been traumatized enough.”
  • “THIS YEAR CAN GO STRAIGHT TO HELL.”
  • “It fills me with primal rage.”

And those are some comments I *didn’t* have to censor.  Naturally, mainstream media seized on the backlash and made national news out of Hershey’s’ evil decision to ruin the holiday season.

Am I the only one fascinated by this situation?  If you’re a marketer, it’s likely your brand’s recognition is far less than that of Hershey’s Kisses (she says in the understatement of the year).  But if we zip up to the 30,000-foot view of this whole debacle, here’s what you can learn from it:

Consistency and frequency matter.  People are fickle and have short attention spans, and it takes a long time to penetrate their awareness and create meaningful connections.  Your own audience may be proportionately smaller than that of Hershey’s Kisses, but that doesn’t dilute their potential for loyalty.  Keeping your annual marketing campaigns fresh is always a good idea, but keeping a few select elements the same year after year after year can form a bond of repetition that becomes tradition.  Whether this is your “opening for the season” video, or a holiday campaign, or an anniversary message… there are things your loyal guests recognize that strengthen your relationship with them every year.  Marketers often get swept up in the idea of creating new campaigns in order to reach new guests, but don’t be so quick to summarily drop all “old campaigns.” You’ve built equity there that could be harnessed.

Change will always scare some people, so don’t freak out when it happens.  Humans resist change, and yeah…sometimes they can get dramatic about it.  But you’re doing your business a disservice if you lose your nerve every time people complain about a change you’ve made, because you KNOW some will.  Whether it’s a change in hours, name, staff, product, programming, marketing campaigns, or whatever… if you’ve thought it through and it’s the right move for your business, then prepare yourself properly to address (or ignore, if appropriate) any negative reaction.  Related note… if you’re certain the news will be unwelcome, this might help:  Five Tips to Deliver Bad News Gracefully.

Audiences can be unpredictable.  Between the dual social groundswells of gender equality and Black Lives Matter, it’s a safe bet that Hershey’s thought enhancing this commercial with a black father baking cookies with his young daughter would only bring them a flood of positive feeling.  Well…nope.  I guess nostalgia trumps social change in this case?  So, take note:  be prepared for surprises. There’s simply no way you can 100% predict how all people will react to your decisions.

And perhaps one BIG takeaway here is:  just don’t mess with nostalgia during a pandemic.

In closing, however, I leave you with this thought.  Surely the ad agency of the globally-recognized Hershey’s brand has enough research and data in its pocket to know how staunchly loyal audiences are to this commercial… after all, they haven’t changed it in 31 years and I’m sure that was a deliberate choice.

So, did they do it on purpose in 2020 knowing it would cause controversy and therefore get a wider audience and more coverage?  Or did they predict some backlash but felt the upside of the change would be worth it?  Comments on that are welcome… and I’m just gonna sit here and eat an entire bag of Kisses while I ponder it.

Words matter, but so does the font you choose.

November 5, 2020

A graphic of the word typeface using a magnifying glass.If you’re not a graphic designer or branding specialist, your experience with choosing typefaces is likely limited to the little dropdown box at the top of your screen, where you select from fonts like Arial, Universal, Comic Sans, and the whimsically-named Wingdings.  You may not even realize that a typeface is a design of lettering (i.e. sans serif), and fonts are variations within each particular typeface (i.e. Arial or Calibri).

Further, you probably choose your font for documents and emails based on your own personal preference of what you think “looks good.”  Is it pretty?  Professional?  Strong?  Does it reflect your personality?  Does it set you apart?  Or is it just the default font used by Word, Outlook, etc. and you never give it a second thought?

But in marketing and branding…typeface and font matter A LOT, and they can’t simply be based on your personal preferences.  Therefore, it requires a bit of knowledge to make wise choices.  Why?

First, because accessibility and legibility are essential in marketing, and not just because laws and the ADA say so.  There’s a large group of folks out there with poor vision, learning disabilities, and reading/comprehension issues, and you’re ignoring that entire audience if they don’t have access and the ability to comprehend your messages.

But second – and as importantly – the world is full of clutter and speed, which has reduced people’s attention spans to mere milliseconds.  Why would you risk wasting a precious point of contact using a typeface or font that’s even a tiny bit difficult to decipher?  You’ll lose ‘em, fast.

So here are eight super-smart tips for choosing your typeface and fonts wisely when designing your logo, brand identity, website and more.  This articulate gent Gareth Ford Williams succinctly details – in an easy 10-minute read – what you should consider.  And if psychology bores you, just skip right to the list of eight things you need to know:

A Guide to Understanding What Makes a Typeface Accessible

I guarantee after reading this, at the very least, you’ll forever beware of the mischief that “imposter letter shapes” cause.  Sneaky little buggers.

Got your typeface and font all sorted?  Now try these Four Quick Tips to Strengthen Your Writing.