Enjoy your stay: How hotels can set themselves apart online


12 days. 288 hours. 17,280 minutes.

Like many of my peers at the University of Oregon, I’m impatiently awaiting spring break 2014. This year, I’m spending my break in three of Europe’s most beautiful cities: London, Barcelona and Paris.

As much as I enjoy researching and planning what I’ll do during a trip, I loathe booking hotels. Sifting through pop up ads and snake oil salesmen to find the right hotel in the right location at the right price is stressful.

(Side note: If you feel the same way I do about booking hotels, use tripadvisor.com. You can sort by price, rating and neighborhood to find the right hotel for you. More importantly, the site has TONS of user reviews and organizes user ratings in an easy-to-understand way.)

Thankfully, I survived, and with the stress of booking hotels behind me, I took a step back to examine what influenced me most as I was making my selections. What I came up with is what I’d consider a best practices guide for hotels hoping to fill their rooms through online marketing:

–       Pictures, pictures, pictures.

  • Beautiful photos are the quickest way to a hotel booker’s wallet. Hiring a top-notch photographer to highlight the size, cleanliness, and modernity of the room is a no-brainer investment for hotel owners. Quality counts!

–       Engage with reviewers

  • The world is full of whiners, so scathing reviews are inevitable for any hotel. But, customer engagement makes the difference. It’s crucial to engage both the happy and unhappy customers politely and quickly. Acknowledgment goes a long way for both the delighted and disappointed.

–       Highlight outstanding location

  • During my search, I spent much of my time copy and pasting hotel addresses into Google maps to figure out how long it’d take me to get from the hotel to places I plan to visit. Hotel owners: do the work for your customers. Create a guide with your hotel’s proximity to the city’s most popular destinations.

–       Sharing is caring


Graphic Design is like Figure Skating


I’ve always had an appreciation for people who make near-impossible feats look easy. Watching Olympic figure skaters like 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya twirl time after time on the ice without a slip or stumble made us, the spectators, feel as though we could strap on skates, hit the ice and perform the same flawless routine. In reality, we’d be spun into a nauseating whirlwind before falling bottom first onto the ice, assuming we even made it that far.  

In this way, graphic designers are like figure skaters. I know, sounds like a ridiculous comparison, but let me explain.

I was recently tasked with creating an infographic as an assignment in my strategic writing class. I’ve worked with graphic designers on several projects, and like figure skaters, they made it look like child’s play. Move that there, change that font, tweak that color a bit and BAM! A professional-quality piece ready to publish. Naively, I approached the assignment thinking I could replicate that ease, and boy was I wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I’m too ashamed to share my finished product on the interweb. The experience was humbling and gave me a deep appreciation for graphic design. A wise man once said that life’s greatest lessons are learned in defeat, and I’d like to share those lessons with you today. Here are my 4 tips for the amateur graphic designer.

1.    Sketch a draft. I made the mistake of relying on a mental picture of what I wanted my infographic to look like during the creation process. After hours of frustration, I finally put pen to paper and it made the process a lot easier

2.    Start early. Mistakenly thinking design was a piece of cake, I waited until the last minute to start. BIG mistake. Simple changes and additions take a long time for amateur designers.

3.     Be flexible. Falling in love with your first draft or first idea will only cause frustration and stress. Go into the project expecting to scratch your first idea. Starting early will allow you the time for multiple drafts. 

4.     Welcome criticism. Find a friend or colleague who doesn’t like you all that much and ask them to point out anything they don’t like about your design. This candid feedback will go a long way in making your project a success.

How brands can use Whisper as a marketing platform


In my last post, I discussed that trends in the ever-changing social landscape suggest millennials are gravitating toward networks that offer online anonymity. Whisper, which I named the social media world’s best-kept secret, is a social platform where users can anonymously post confessions, called Whispers. The app’s 3.5 billion page views per month and largely 18-24-year-old user base have venture capitalists far and wide opening their checkbooks.

I downloaded the app recently to explore what all the fuss was about, and the more I dug around, the clearer it became that marketing on the service will be a difficult task for major brands. The primary obstacle these brands will face is navigating the app’s vast amount of crude and offensive content. Roughly 25 percent of the Whispers I saw were sexually explicit, and many more dealt with emotional challenges that brands will likely want to stay away from.

Despite these challenges, there are still opportunities for brands to integrate their messages within the app. The most obvious of these is to sponsor branded Whispers that appear at the top of the app’s “Popular” and “Featured” pages, similar to promoted Tweets or sponsored Facebook posts. This is a classic native advertising model. However, the tone of Whispers are different than Facebook posts or Tweets, which will require some creative brainstorming from brands on how to effectively disguise their paid Whispers as user-generated content. One example: candy companies like Sour Patch Kids could create a branded Whisper with text that reads “Sour Patch Kids make me happy” overlayed on a photo of a packet of the candy.

One of the most valuable aspects of the app for marketers is that the anonymous nature of Whispers leads to truly authentic content. Whisper provides a suggested image to pair with the text a user creates based on key words in the text. For example, I just typed “I’m hungry” into a Whisper, and a photo of a Thanksgiving feast appeared behind my text because I mentioned the word ‘hungry.’ What if instead of a Thanksgiving feast, an image of a Big Mac appeared on my screen? Brands could pay to have branded photos of their product appear as suggested images based on key words. If you’re hungry enough, the image of the Big Mac might be motivation enough to get in the car and head for the drive thru. The opportunities for brands to associate themselves with genuine feelings users post in the form of Whispers are endless.

As is true with anything that’s never been done before, we’ll have to wait and see to determine the value of pay-for-play on anonymous apps like Whisper. The brand that can effectively navigate these uncharted, potentially shark-infested waters wins. It will be interesting to see what marketers come up with.

The rise of the social network sans fingerprints


History has shown that the social media landscape is volatile. Customer demands of social networks change constantly. Just ask MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson, who went from everyone’s best friend to a has-been in a matter of months (a rich has been, at least. Anderson is worth an estimated $60 million.) Statistics suggest Facebook might be in the midst of a similar dismissal from the cool kids table, as roughly 3 million teenagers have reportedly stopped using the service over the past three years. What’s the driving force behind teens’ mass exodus from Facebook, and what networks are they spending their time on instead?

One of the biggest problems is permanence. Millennials are becoming more aware that digital footprints last forever, and that a controversial post or a drunken selfie might scare off potential employers. This has led teens to seek “no fingerprints” networks where they can express themselves without the consequences that come with having their names and faces attached to posts that exist eternally on the Internet.

The first such network that comes to mind is Snapchat, the disappearing photo app that became a household name in the tech world after its 23-year-old founder turned down a $3 Billion acquisition offer from—you guessed it—Facebook. But there are other apps that play on anonymity that you may not have heard of. One of these networks is called Whisper, and I’d argue it’s the social media world’s best-kept secret. In its most recent funding round led by Sequoia Capital in September, Whisper raised $21 million in capital investment. Venture capitalists are throwing their money at the app for two reasons: it garners 3.5 billion page views per month, and an estimated 90 percent of its user base is between 18 and 24 years old.

I recently heard about the app and decided to download it to see what all the fuss was about. In a nutshell, Whisper is an outlet for people to share their feelings or stories online as anonymous confessions, called Whispers. The user types his/her message, which is then overlaid onto an image (the app provides automatic suggestions, or you can take a photo from your own library.) Once a confession is published, it is immediately viewable to people using Whisper within 25 miles of the poster via the “Nearby” page, and on the “Latest” page, which displays the most recent confessions from around the globe in real time. Users can “heart” posts, similar to a Facebook like, or reply with another anonymous message published underneath the original Whisper. Posts that garner the most engagement appear on the “Popular” page, which is similar to Instagram’s popular page. The app also includes a “Featured” page, which displays Whispers hand-selected by the company’s content managers.

While its massive user base and prime demographic are surely attractive to brands, marketing on platforms like Whisper is largely uncharted territory. Crude content is a natural product of apps that offer anonymity, which means brands who decide to market there need to be wary. In my next post, I’ll provide suggestions on how brands can engage with networks like Whisper as marketing platforms. Stay tuned.

Want to learn more about this social trend? Check out Evelyn Rusli’s article in the WSJ. 

3 Newsjacking Fails That’ll Make you Facepalm


I’m a big fan of newsjacking. American marketing legend David Meerman Scott, who pioneered the strategy, describes it on his website as “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.” Brands like Oreo and Arby’s have proven this to be an effective strategy.

Two weekends ago during the Grammy’s, the social team at Arby’s noticed a striking similarity between its logo and the hat Pharrell Williams wore to the show.  The team tweeted “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs.” This simple post garnered more than 80,000 retweets and nearly 50,000 favorites, and essentially put @Arby’s on the map in the Twitterverse. This is a prime example of a newsjacking slam-dunk. Arby’s recognized an opportunity to inject its brand message into a breaking news event in a clever way, in real-time. Well done.

Unfortunately, for every case like Arby’s, there are ten instances of brands falling flat on their faces trying. Here are my top three worst newsjacking fails.

1. Valentino newsjacks a funeral

A private funeral service was held on Friday, Feb. 7 for Academy Award-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The event attracted a flock of paparazzi hoping to snap pictures of Hoffman’s celebrity friends. One such photographer snapped a shot of Amy Adams donning a pre-released handbag from Italian designer Valentino. The brand’s marketing team got its hands on the photo, and used it as part of a tasteless promotion. Valentino distributed a news release with the photo the day of the funeral, announcing the bag’s release date. A PR firestorm ensued, quite the opposite of Valentino’s intended outcome. The brand released a public apology this morning, claiming it was unaware the photo was taken at Hoffman’s funeral.

2. Kenneth Cole, “Boots on the Ground” Tweet

In September, at the height of the Syrian conflict, a heated debate took place in the political world over whether or not the United States should directly intervene by sending troops to the Middle Eastern nation. Fashion designer Kenneth Cole attempted to newsjack the situation by tweeting “’Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear.” The Twittersphere reacted with outrage at Cole’s classless attempt (you can read some of the reactions here *link) and his brand reputation took a big hit. To make matters worse, rather than apologizing, Cole defended his actions, claiming he was “well aware of the risks that come with this approach.” I’d imagine mothers of US soldiers who considered buying Kenneth Cole clothing thought twice after this news broke.

3. @ATT newsjacks 9/11

September 11, 2013 marked the twelve-year anniversary of one of the worst tragedies to take place on American soil. This was naturally the talk of the social media world on that day. AT&T tried to take advantage of the attention by Tweeting a photo of one of its phones taking a picture of the World Trade Center accompanied by “Never Forget.” Customers didn’t react well, viewing this as an attempt to play on the tragedy to boost sales. Buzzfeed writer Ryan Broedrick, for example, tweeted “@ATT your cool photoshop makes the memories of my parents crying in front of the television a lot easier to deal with today.” Ouch, AT&T. Next time, think before you Tweet.

As we’ve seen, when executed properly, newsjacking can be an effective way to create buzz for your brand. On the flipside, it can get your brand into hot water if it isn’t well thought through. The common theme among my top 3 listed is that they all dealt with tragedy. Stay away from tragedy, brands. The risks outweigh the rewards. Use common sense.

Coke’s Sochi Games sponsorship sparks backlash from LGBT community


The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia kicked off last night with an opening ceremony that attracted roughly 31.7 million American viewers, according to deadline.com, and millions more around the globe. Global brands like Coca Cola have sponsored the Games, hoping to take advantage of its massive viewership. A surefire win, right?

Wrong. The LGBT community is critical of this year’s Olympic sponsors, viewing the decision as quasi-supportive of Russia’s law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” and the country’s overall lack of support for gay rights. In August, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) demanded that Olympic sponsors like Coke use their resources and brand power to “build awareness and demonstrate support for LGBT equality in Russia and globally.” I would argue that it is vital for Coke’s global reputation to take HRC’s advice.

Thankfully, the brand is off to a good start. It addressed the matter quickly by issuing a statement in August (updated in December) in response to HRC’s aforementioned demands, defending its sponsorship of the games and reaffirming its support for the LGBT community. The brand took another step in the right direction last weekend when it aired its Super Bowl ad titled “It’s Beautiful” that featured a gay family, the first Super Bowl ad in history to do so. Coke also used the ad to launch its #AmericaIsBeautiful social campaign that highlights and champions the nation’s diversity.

While these are positive steps, tactics alone simply aren’t enough. Now that the games have begun, Coke is under a spotlight and must continue to show its support for the LGBT community with bold communication moves. To the communications team at Coke: If you’re listening, I have a couple of suggestions for you:

– Partner with Brian Boitano and Billie Jean King, the two openly gay American sports legends chosen to accompany Team USA at last night’s opening ceremony. This partnership would tie in brilliantly with the brand’s #AmericaIsBeautiful campaign.

– Release special-edition cans featuring the rainbow gay pride flag to show its support for the LGBT community, and donate a portion of the proceeds to a prominent activist organization like HRC.

Sure, these tactics would come at a cost. But I’d argue that the cost of alienating the global gay community has a much higher price tag.

Situations like this serve as evidence that corporate sponsorships must be carefully thought through in today’s world. Members of gen-y like myself are attuned to issues of social justice, and the new media landscape provides the public with a platform to voice their distaste and criticize brands decisions. The lesson here? Brands win when they do the right thing. So do the right thing, brands.

Tebow, T-Mobile outshine Peyton in Super Bowl XLVIII


T-Mobile stole the show on Super Bowl Sunday by partnering with Tim Tebow.  The Heisman Trophy winner, former Denver Broncos quarterback, and all-around great guy appeared in two spots during the big game. Most football fans are aware that Tebow has been without an NFL contract since last August, which makes him the perfect pitch man for T-Mobile’s no contract cell phone plans. The move likely left CMO’s across the country scratching their heads, asking, “Who’s our perfect partner?”

Stars aligned for the brand in terms of a layered story. Let’s not forget that Peyton Manning triggered Tebow’s downward spiral to NFL irrelevance by ousting him from his post as the Broncos signal caller. Peyton’s lack-luster performance in combination with the T-Mobile Tebow spot inspired thousands of fans to tweet memes and photos suggesting the Broncos should “bring Tebow back” in the second half. This resulted in “Tim Tebow” and “#TebowMobile” trending on Twitter at various points throughout the game. I’d argue T-Mobile should’ve taken more advantage of Tebow’s 2.6 million Twitter followers to add fuel to the social conversation, but today was a victory for the brand nonetheless.

Partnering with Tebow was also a smart move in part because he isn’t directly affiliated with an NFL team. Brands like State Farm have lost in the past by basing their campaigns on the success of one team. Those Green Bay Packers discount double-check ads lost their relevance after Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers shellacked them on their home field.

In my opinion, T-Mobile’s decision to partner with Tebow and re-ignite Tebow Mania gives them the title of Best Super Bowl partnership of 2014.

Watch the Tebow T-Mobile ad here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTaH-OtUv94

Silent video introducing CEO symbolizes new chapter for Lululemon


“Let’s face it, we have had lots of PR issues this year.”

That’s a quote from Lululemon CFO John Currie during a call with analysts amid a tanking stock price in December 2013. Mr. Currie was absolutely right.

The PR nightmare began last March when the company was forced to recall a line of its yoga pants after customers complained they were see-through. It continued with the departure of then-CEO Christine Day in June, accompanied by this scathing Huffington Post article in which a former employee bashed the brand for discriminating against customers who wore larger sizes.

The grand finale (cue the drum roll) came in November when founder Chip Wilson stated that Lululemon yoga pants “don’t work for some women’s bodies” in an interview with Bloomberg, adding “it’s really about the rubbing through the thighs.”

Let’s all give Mr. Wilson a round of applause for alienating a sizeable chunk of his customer base with a few choice words, sending the company’s stock value into a plummet that has yet to reach its bottom. Wilson is in the midst of his ride off into the sunset, announcing in December that he’ll step down as chairman in spring 2014.

Needless to say, the PR team at Lululemon is facing a tough set of challenges this year. How do we regain the trust of the investment community? How do we prove we’ve learned from our mistakes and are moving on? How do we heal the deep wounds caused by misguided leadership decisions? How do we resuscitate our brand?

If the introduction of new CEO Laurent Potdevin by way of a silent YouTube video posted to the company’s channel is our first glimpse into the “new” Lululemon, I like it. I believe it was an effective tactic for a few reasons.

First, there’s power in silence. Talking was what got Lululemon into trouble, so using a video sans-sound is quite prophetic. If I were leading the PR team, my strategy would be to develop activities that clearly showed our customers and investors that we learned from our mistakes and we’re ready to listen. I think Lululemon accomplished this to a degree with Potdevin’s video. Abercrombie & Fitch, who faced a similar PR crisis in 2013, responded with a Facebook advertising campaign that made no mention of the company’s mistakes. The result? More than 500 negative comments from enraged customers. Ouch.

The team at Lululemon responsible for the video also deserves credit for effectively telling Potdevin’s story without words. A Burton snowboard and a “pray for snow” hat symbolize his former post as CEO of Burton, and a shot of him slipping off his TOMS reminds viewers he championed the company that gives shoes to those in need. If I were a Lululemon shareholder, I’d be encouraged by Potdevin’s track record with strong brands and his background in and passion for the athletic apparel market. When a company introduces a new leader, the audience needs reassurance of his or her ability to do the job better than its been done before.

Lululemon nailed it by taking a risk and letting stakeholders know- literally and figuratively- they’re ready for the next chapter to begin. I applaud the company’s unusual, attention-grabbing tactic to shift attention away from the “old Lululemon” to its promising future. In order to right the ship, Lululemon needed dramatic communication to its stakeholders to say “this is the new us,” which it accomplished with the Potdevin video.

We won’t know for sure whether this tactic was effective or not until March 20, when Lululemon reports its annual earnings. In my opinion, it was a smart move in moving the company forward. Take it from this amateur investor: Lululemon is a smart buy low stock.

Like this post? Check out Tim Human’s article on the video in IR Magazine.

Subaru’s “Meet the Barkleys” Campaign is Spot On. Woof.


I grew up in Bend, Ore., an 80,000-person town in the heart of the Cascade Mountain Range. People come from far and wide (mostly California) to enjoy the plethora of outdoor activities available in this Central Oregon oasis. From hiking, to biking, to skiing… you get the idea. If you’re an outdoorsman, Bend has what you’re looking for.

I’d estimate that 50 percent of the cars that navigate Bend’s many roundabouts are Subaru’s, and that within that group, 90 percent are Outbacks. Yoga mat in the backseat, stand up paddleboard or skis on the roof depending on the season, and a golden retriever or two nestled comfortably atop an organic, all-natural dog bed. The dog pictured above is Grace Kelly, my family dog, and the Subaru she’s sitting next to is my family car, the third Subaru we’ve owned since moving to Bend in 2001.

The description above all serves to say that I, as a Bendite, am the person Subaru was hoping to connect with in its latest series of ads titled “Meet the Barkleys.” Bravo, Subaru. Mission accomplished.

A series of four 30-second videos, “Meet the Barkleys” depicts a family of four furry friends driving around town in a sleek Subaru facing challenges humans can relate to, from a family road trip to teenage dating. There are two key things, in my opinion, that make this campaign a winner.

Emotion: Creating a compelling car ad that evokes an emotional response is difficult to do, as evidenced by the many automobile ads that settle for the boring “sleek car speeding through a salt flat” spot we’ve all seen too many times. With “Meet the Barkleys,” it looks like Subaru had an “a-ha” moment: Cars don’t evoke an emotional response out of people, but dogs do. Especially the type of person described above. The concept for this ad ties in perfectly with Subaru’s most recent slogan: “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.”Brands spend SO MUCH time and money trying to create an emotional connection between their target market and their product, and Subaru made it happen a few cute golden retrievers. Well done.

Shareability: Is it just me, or have cute pet photos have taken over the Internet? There seems to be something in every animal lover’s DNA that compels him to share every cute puppy or kitten photo he comes across. But the shareability doesn’t stop there. Subaru smartly catered to the average human’s shrinking attention span by making each ad just 30 seconds long, making them fun to watch… and watch again. And who wouldn’t rather share visual content over non-visual, as Amanda Sibley outlines in this blog post. In today’s social landscape, creating sharable content is crucial for brands looking to tell their story to a large audience, and Subaru did just that with “Meet the Barkleys.”

Like this post? Check out Emma Bazilian’s review of “Meet the Barkleys” in Ad Week.

A Taco-Flavored Guide to Content Strategy: 3 Lessons From Taco Bell’s Digital Success


“Content is king” … one of the most (over)used phrases in the communication industry today. What’s all the fuss about content and why are we still talking about it?

The answer is twofold:

  1. Content is the cookie; it’s how we draw our audiences into our brand or company story. Without compelling, differentiated content your marketing and communication programs will suffer. Michael R. Hunder does a great job of outlining why content is king in this blog post.
  2. It’s difficult to cut through today’s record-level online clutter, and marketers can’t seem to crack the code. Google CEO Eric Schmidt explains just how difficult it is with this quote: “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.”

As I sat at my computer thinking about which brands were dominating the content marketing world, a Tweet popped up on my timeline that read “#TacoBell makes me happy.” I thought to myself, “what a random thing to post?” Then I clicked on the tweet to reveal it had garnered 3,420 retweets and 2,537 favorites. After a bit of digging, I uncovered that Ad Age named Taco Bell Marketer of the Year last year. My search for a content marketing strategy to examine was over.

Here are three key lessons marketers can learn from Taco Bell’s slam-dunk content strategy:

  1. Know your audience. Taco Bell’s content is aimed at the 16-24-year-old demographic. This is an active group on social media, so Taco Bell focuses its content marketing efforts primarily on these networks. It has built a significant following on each of the major social networks by posting fun, sharable content that its target demographic connects with (see the Tweet mentioned above.) If you’re trying to sell hearing aids, my guess is that your target audience isn’t 16-24, and I’d argue social isn’t the best platform for your content. Establish your audience, find out where they’re spending their time and build a presence there.
  2. Team up with the cool kids. Taco Bell has strategically partnered with celebrities that appeal to its audience. By aligning its brand with these individuals, Taco Bell won over its key demographic. Taco Bell’s celebrity partners like DJ Dillon Francis and social celebrity Tyler Oakley have between 60,000 and nearly 2 million Twitter followers, for example. Entering into partnerships where you’re getting not only the cool factor, but a significant audience, is a surefire win/win.
  3. Manage the conversation. Alignment with celebrities and its sharable, fun and visually appealing content helped make it popular for members of its target audience to rave about Taco Bell online. The combination of these factors have helped it create engagement and positive conversations about its product, something countless brands have struggled to figure out. Take McDonalds, for example, who launched a misguided hashtag campaign called #McDStories in 2012. McHaters hijacked the hashtag to post horror stories about the brand, resulting in a major hit to McDonalds’ online presence. The lesson here? Don’t give your haters a platform to diss on your brand.

Alright, I’ve built up quite an appetite with all this talk about Taco Bell. See you at the drive-thru.