My good friend Amanda recently wrote an article for the local paper about her less than ideal family vacation in Maine this summer. The crux of her painfully funny story is that the beautiful house that she had researched extensively online turned out to be an under-construction duplex shared by the owners complete with teenagers, poorly trained dogs, and paper thin walls. So much for the peaceful family retreat she had looked forward to for months.
Though Amanda tactfully left out the name of the property and the owners, less than truthful marketing is an extremely big risk for property owners to take these days. In this era of social media where many people chronicle their vacations on Facebook and Twitter and post reviews on TripAdvisor, it’s very unlikely that a negative experience will go unshared. It amazes me that the owners of this property would invest time and money into a website and other marketing materials, yet overlook this simple truth that in today’s hyper-connected world, customer experience is what shapes your brand.
Let’s face it, aren’t we all more likely to share a negative experience than we are a positive one? When you’re stewing mad about slow customer service, a rude waitress, or a dismal rental house, it’s human nature to vent that frustration. Only now, instead of venting to a few close friends, you’re venting to a network of hundreds of people. Had Clark Griswold had an iPhone, no doubt he would have been tweeting like mad when he finally arrived at Wally World only to find it closed for three weeks.
On the flip side, every customer is also a potential ambassador for your brand. If I had to choose just one piece of PR advice for everyone, that would be it. If your product or service is exceptional– or at a minimum is exactly what you say it is–your customers will take the seeds of brand identity you plant through your marketing materials and make them grow and flourish. But the reverse is also true. You can spend your life savings on glossy ads and and a flashy website, but if the customer experience falls short of expectations, it’s more than likely that your brand will suffer. PR has always been about word-of-mouth, and that’s more true now than ever before.Filed under branding, pr, social media | Tags: pr, social media, travel | Comment (0)
We’ve just returned from our second year at Peaks N’ Swells surf camp in Costa Rica, and once again I found a PR lesson among the waves. After our trip last year, I wrote about turning customers into ambassadors– Hillary Harrison and her crew do this brilliantly and by gut-intuition– and here is another example of how they make it happen.
This year, at the beach one day, I looked around and noticed two groups wearing brightly-colored, heavily-branded rashgaurds and realized instantly that these were folks from another surf school. I jokingly thanked Hillary for not making us wear matching outfits and discovered that this was a very intentional decision for her. “I want everyone to have their own experience here,” she said. After that, I started paying more attention. Instead of a van with a huge logo blazoned on the side, we rode around in Hillary’s truck. “We want to avoid that herd mentality,” she said. “You don’t need to arrive at a break and be recognized immediately as a group of beginners.” Anyone who has tried to share a wave with a seasoned local knows the truth in that. And, god knows, I don’t need anything else working against me out there in the water.
True brand ambassadors are the customers who feel passionately about you, not the people who wear your t-shirt to clean the house. By NOT making us into walking advertisements, Hillary enhanced our experience and, therefore, the gushing reviews we give to anyone who will listen.
One of the other guests at camp noted that his favorite moment was riding in the back of Hillary’s truck through Montezuma at dusk after a full day of surfing, his arm flung over the surfboard. He said he felt like he was “part of the place.” Bingo. You can’t manufacture that.
Filed under branding, client stories, pr | Tags: branding, surfing | Comment (0)
A client recently shared with me The Naked Table Project, a Vermont experience and PR coup that has inspired me to do some “big idea” thinking for my clients. Conceived by ShackletonThomas Furniture, the Naked Table invites people up to picturesque Woodstock, VT to build their own dining table from locally harvested sugar maple, and then to line those tables end-to-end under the town’s covered bridge for a localvore dinner provided by the Woodstock Farmer’s Market. In between building their tables and dining on some of the most delicious foods available from the Green Mountain State, the group goes on a hike with a forester to learn about sustainable forestry practices. And, of course, they bring their heirloom quality table home along with a pretty good conversation piece. Sheer brilliance.
What I love most about this idea is how the experience touches on so many aspects of the Shackleton brand– sustainable forestry, association with the Vermont brand, handmade quality, and an exceptional dining experience. And it touches on each of those brand characteristics in a experiential and enjoyable way. Throw in some beautiful photography and a free t-shirt, and send all proceeds to the local Sustainable Woodstock charity and it’s an absolute winner.Filed under branding, pr | Comment (0)
One of the things I love about today’s social media world is that there is no room for fakes. A company can spend millions of dollars spinning an image that can be debunked in a matter of hours by Joe Public via social media. On the flip side, companies that embrace the notion that each and every customer is a potential ambassador for their brand will have the most authentic and effective grassroots marketing campaign available– for free.
I’m not sure if Hillary Harrison and the gang at Peaks N’ Swells Surf Camp ever sat down and consciously decided that customer experince and word-of-mouth were their best marketing tools, or if it just came to them intuitively, but they nailed it. Before we even got on the plane to Costa Rica, I was blown away by the personal approach Hillary took in organizing the details of our vacation (see my last blog). And, from the moment we arrived, the entire experience exceeded every expectation I had. Here are just a couple of examples:
- Exceeding Expectations – The website said our surf camp included professional photography of us surfing. I figured an hour or so of someone coming to take a few beauty shots. How about Hillary’s mom, a photographer, joining us all week, putting on a slideshow every evening, and sending us home with hundreds of amazing pictures! The surf camp package also included “happy hour.” In some places this could mean a drink ticket. At Peaks N’ Swells it means an open beer fridge, fresh homemade salsa and hummus, veggies from the local organic farmers market, and mango smoothies made from the fruit on the property for the kids.
- Quality of Instruction – This is always an unknown when you embark on learning something new. The surf and yoga instructors Hillary hired for our camp were both incredible. Friendly, easy, knowledgable people who made our foray into the surf world a success. What better gaurantee of a return visit than to hook us on the sport by enabling success? We all left wanting more.
- Happy Kids=Happy Parents. If you’re marketing to families, the only way parents can really have fun is if the kids are happy. The 5 kids at the camp were staffed by no less than 3 and sometimes as many as 6 adults, leaving us free to concentrate on catching our own waves without worrying about the kids. One little boy in the group wasn’t really ready for surfing, and spent the day building forts, cracking coconuts open, and staging hermit crab races on the beach with Darwin, a “tico” who quickly captured the admiration of all the kids. During yoga, the kids would be engaged in art projects or impromptu soccer games on the beach.
- Authentic Relationships – By the end of our 10 days, we felt like family. It’s clear that the crew at Peaks N’ Swells really love what they do. We were treated less like guests and more like friends.
I could go on and on, but the point is that for all of their efforts, Hillary and her crew have 4 freshly minted ambassadors talking, Facebooking, blogging, posting reviews on TripAdvisor, and tweeting about the camp to anyone who will listen. My husband has already looked into plane tickets for a return trip, and the kids are begging me to homeschool them in Costa Rica for a month next winter (VERY TEMPTING!). The woman who attended camp the week before us had already posted 2 blogs and a TripAdvisor review while we were there. And, of course, we’re all sharing the amazing photos, which speak more about the trip than I could ever write.
The entire goal of PR is to plant the seed for “word-of-mouth” to grow and blossom and eventually spread roots that contribute to a strong and authentic brand perception. In today’s social media world, customer experience is the single most important factor to a PR campaign, so take a cue from Peaks N’ Swells and turn your customers into your marketing team.branding, pr, social media, Uncategorized | Tags: branding, customer service, pr, surfing | Comments (2)
As any mom living in Vermont knows, we are one of the only states in the union without a Target. My kids have never even seen a Target, let alone been inside of one. So you can imagine my surprise when my 5 year old (who does not yet read) frantically pointed out each and every Target we passed while in Florida last week begging to stop. “They have legos there Mom! See that red circle with the dot inside? They have everything there! Pleeeeease can we go?”
Ah, the power of a brilliant logo is revealed. It’s simple. It stands out clearly and boldly. It’s easily recognizable. And, it’s everywhere (at least in Florida).
I’m not exactly sure where the Target logo was cemented in my son’s mind, but I’m guessing it was one of their ubiquitous commercials during Saturday morning cartoons, or from the inexplainable flyers we get in the mail (again, there is no Target anywhere near Stowe). It makes me a little sick to my stomach to realize that my 5 year old is now officially a consumer being aggressively marketed to, but you’ve got to hand it to Target when it comes to a logo that is right on the mark.
P.s. As any respectable grandparent would, my mother-in-law did in fact take the boys on a lego shopping spree at Target, so not only did the logo illicit immediate brand recognition, it translated into a pretty decent sale.Filed under branding | Tags: branding, logo, Target | Comment (0)
My husband runs a business incubator in Burlington, Vermont and is currently searching for a Rock Star VP. That’s actually exactly the job title he’s floating out there in his job posting. He doesn’t specify which or how many degrees are preferred; rather that the applicant “lives and breathes technology” and is “equally capable of negotiating an early stage venture capital investment and emptying the incubator’s dishwasher.” He also adds that snowboarders and bikers will be given preferential treatment.
This job description illustrates one of the most basic tenants of any communications strategy– know your audience. I know, this sounds very “marketing 101,” but Dave could very easily have put out a standard (dry), traditionally-formatted (boring) job posting. My guess is that he would have received standard (dry) and traditionally-formatted (boring) responses. Instead, applicants are letting their creative juices flow, and in the process showing a bit of their personality. Dave’s listing doesn’t just ask for an MBA; it asks for someone who has a sense of humor and is willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle tasks both daunting and menial. The bit about being a snowboarder or a biker? Well, first of all, those applicants will have at least something in common with their boss on a personal level– essential in a small shop and, second, folks who love the great outdoors are more likely to settle happily in Vermont.
Even something as short and simple as a job listing has important implications for your brand. Every point of communication you put out there as a person or a company reflects who you are as a company. More importantly, you reap what you sow. Put out an authentic help wanted ad that skips the typical dry-as-cardboard format, and you’re likely to get innovative candidates able to think creatively. In this case, a must for working with start-ups and entrepreneurs.
So, my point. Knowing your audience isn’t enough. Take it to the next level. Think about who you’re talking to and how you’re saying it. What are they reading, where are they connecting, does your tone match theirs? Go beyond identifying your audience as a group (i.e. soccer moms) and think about the personality type you’re talking to. Both may be soccer moms, but are they suburban yuppies, or natural product fanatics? The tone and subtext of what you put out there– be it a press release, tweet or job listing– is as important (if not more!) than where you place it.
And, if you know a technology rockstar who knows how to empty a dishwasher, send them over to Dave at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies.Filed under branding, pr | Comment (0)
There are very few brands that I am strictly loyal to, but jetBlue is one of them. Ten years ago when they were an airline on paper only, the company’s CEO and founder, Dave Barger, and his team came to Burlington, Vermont to hear our pitch on why they should offer a low-fare route to NYC. Being a part of that pitch team was one of the most interesting and professionally rewarding projects I have ever worked on. The jetBlue team was young and creative; their passion around the start-up was so fresh it was intoxicating. They had me at hello, and they sealed the deal with a free ticket for everyone in the room that day. I don’t believe I’ve flown any other airlines since. My husband and I literally go to the “Where We Jet” tab on the website when planning our vacations.
A recent article in Fast Company about jetBlue got me thinking about them again. Keeping a brand that current, especially given the state of air travel these days, is a challenge to be certain. Fiona Morrisson, jetBlue’s director of brand, said “You have to constantly craft and nurture a brand. You can’t just let it be or it’ll fritter away to mediocrity.” SO TRUE!
I wrote last week about the Vermont brand with stellar attributes like peaceful, beautiful, and authentic. jetBlue’s brand is light year’s away centered around words like fresh, smart, stylish, witty, and nice. No matter the words, evaluating and re-evaluating every aspect of your business– from design to the tone of your blog– to make sure the message you send to customers reinforces your brand is so essential.
Obviously, knowing what those core brand attributes are is the first step. Making them widely known by every person that touches the brand is the next. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has “Java U,” a required training that every single person in the company, including the truck drivers and the CEO, goes through. The course explains the company’s mission, how coffee is grown, roasted, sold, tested– you name it. The result? The company’s mission sneaks out with every interaction an employee has.
Back to jetBlue. Like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, their brand is not simply a document written following an executive retreat gathering dust in some filing cabinet. I love that the service crew waves when the plane taxis out to the run way, and that the flight attendants speak like human beings instead of automatons. And, now that I have kids, the TV’s in the seat backs are non-negotiable. Their design and color schemes are fun and current– you know when you’ve entered their terminal at JFK. Good-bye rows of gray, dirty seats. Hello bright orange moveable sofas!
Now, I’m not trying to convince any of your to fly jetBlue. What fascinates me is tender, lovin’ care they dote on their brand, and the effort they put into making sure every customer interaction reinforces that the company is fresh, smart, stylish, witty, and nice. It’s a necessity that is often forgotten as companies deal with the crisis of the day, or the week, or the month. But it’s so essential. Create the space in your business for free and creative thinking. Throw ideas against your core brand and see if they stick. Really evaluate whether your company exudes your brand top to bottom. Have fun!Filed under branding, client stories, pr | Comment (0)
In a world of too many choices, a strong brand simplifies things for people. It is a perception that exists in peoples’ minds that automatically gives them a feeling about a place or product. So, it’s no wonder then that so many companies try to buddy up to the powerful Vermont brand, which immediately associates their product with attributes such as beautiful, peaceful, authentic, natural/pure, and of exceptional quality. Who wouldn’t want a little of that?
That’s why Vermont has to be careful of sneaky impostors trying to hijack our image. Most recently, Log Cabin syrup repackaged it’s completely synthetic “syrup” to look just like a quart of pure Vermont maple syrup, even going so far as to call it “all natural” even though it contains less than 5% of the maple syrup that comes from trees. Vermont syrup producers were right to go after Log Cabin, although so far they’ve only succeeded in forcing them to remove caramel coloring from their ingredient list. It’s still a far cry from real maple syrup. Each and every time a crappy product like Log Cabin associates itself with Vermont, the brand is diluted in the minds of consumers and visitors, and the companies that work hard to honestly leverage and support the Vermont brand around the country suffer.
The current debate with Log Cabin also raises the issue of truth in labeling, not just for foods but for personal care products as well. The FDA does not offer any regulation of terms like “natural” or “organic.” Those words become meaningless without a clear definition that is supported and policed. Even the term “farmer’s market” is being hijaked by supermarket chains to give the illusion that their produce is fresh and local. Greenwashing at its finest! My hope is that challenges like this one bring light to the fact that many companies out there are glomming themselves onto carefully crafted brands hoping to dupe consumers into buying their product.
The Green Mountain State is an amazing hive of entrepreneurship, specialty food producers, and unparralled recreational opportunities. Major national brands such as Cabot Cheese, Ben & Jerry’s, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and the Vermont Ski industry have successfully linked their products to those attributes I mentioned above. And, they’ve done so with integrity benefitting their own bottom lines, while bringing the Vermont brand out to markets around the globe. As small companies emerge here in Vermont, keeping that brand true is an important part of their success.Filed under branding | Comment (0)
My mom drives a little white mini-cooper, and since the day she decided to buy one, her brand loyalty has been rock solid. She even sent me the recent obit for Jack Pitney, who brought the mini to the US. It’s a pretty neat story about branding, and a great legacy for a marketing exec. Plus it gives me a little insight into why my mom has friends who spend time swapping tips on how to detail the interior of their cars.Filed under branding | Tags: mini-cooper branding | Comment (1)