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This blog has nothing to do with marketing

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When Megan asked me to write a blog about the Climate Ride, I wondered how I would tie it to marketing. She said not to worry about that and just write about my experience. So, read on if you’re looking for a short escape from work. If you’re looking to learn more about SEO, you might want to skip it.

I recently participated in a life-changing event. I rode my bike over 300 miles in northern California to raise money and awareness for organizations that work to combat climate change. This is a cause that is near and dear to my heart.

I don’t remember the exact moment that I became so passionate about the environment. I wish I could say that it happened when I was a kid on some amazing family vacation to a national park, or when I was a teenager and visited the ocean for the first time. None of those things happened. The truth is, we didn’t take family vacations and I didn’t see the ocean for the first time until I was 20.

What did happen was this. In college, I discovered mountain biking. Which was probably the first time I really started appreciating nature and all the beauty that this world has to offer. I was hanging out with Recreation majors and was spending my weekends camping and riding, and it was a blast.

In the years between then and now I’ve experienced many miles of Wisconsin and Minnesota terrain on a bicycle, a particularly scenic tour in the Tuscan region of Italy—also on a bicycle, many camping excursions at Lake Arbutus near Black River Falls WI, many hours of trekking on the Superior Hiking Trial, an amazing week in the Boundary Waters, and an awe-inspiring trip to the Grand Canyon.

These trips were not just welcome breaks from work. They were the best vacations I’ve ever had. Well, except the one in Sonoma, but that’s another story.

Fast forward many years later, and I find myself more passionate than ever about the outdoors and our precious earth. So much so, that I would ask my friends and family to donate their hard-earned money, and that I would take a week of my precious vacation time and spend hundreds of dollars of my own hard-earned money to get myself and my bike to California.

And it was worth every penny. The scenery was spectacular. The people were incredibly kind and smart. Many of them have careers dedicated to the environment and are very successful in their fields.

It was inspiring being around them and hearing their personal and professional stories. It was also fun experiencing the great redwoods for the first time with them. And stopping for oysters on the coast with them. And having beers with them after a long day of riding.

To sum up the Climate Ride in just a few words, I would say it was spectacular, unforgettable, and life changing.

To sum it up in more than a few words, here is my list of the top 10 things I learned on the ride:

  1. Humans were not meant to wear spandex.
  2. Some redwoods are over 2,000 years old—which is precisely how old one feels at the end of a 100-mile day.
  3. It takes approximately 1 hour to climb a 5-mile hill going 5 miles per hour (I’m sure I learned this in grade school too, but it was fun to actually do it).
  4. When camping, it’s best to pitch your tent in a spot with a direct route to the bathroom for those 2:00 AM trips.
  5. No matter how padded your bike shorts are, you’re still going to get a sore bum after spending the better part of 5 days on a bike seat.
  6. If you’re looking for guaranteed sun and warmth, go to Southern California, not Northern California.
  7. The incredible Humbolt Fog cheese is made in Humbolt County CA, and is named after the morning fog that descends on the area every day.
  8. Your mind can get your body to do things you thought might never be possible.
  9. Peanut butter & Nutella sandwiches are the bomb.
  10. Treehuggers are the nicest people on earth.

coast

Want to improve your marketing copy? Try these tips.

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What’s the secret to writing great marketing copy? Depends on whom you ask. Some writers will give you a list of specific “power words” to use—as well as avoid. They’ll tell you how many times you should repeat the same idea in a single paragraph, or how to draw readers in by starting with a question (see above). But really, you don’t need to worry about all that. Finicky marketing science aside, writing good copy isn’t something to agonize and analyze over. It comes down to the same basic elements that make any writing good—whether it’s an article, a letter, a tweet, or a note on a windshield. (It’s all marketing copy anyway, isn’t it?) You’ve got to communicate clearly, have something interesting to say, and make a personal connection with your reader. Along those lines, here are some not-so-secret tips to keep in mind:

Know your audience. You wouldn’t talk to a group of bikers at Sturgis the way you would a room full of retired librarians. Same goes for your writing. Make sure your message is appropriate to the audience. Consider the context.

Keep it simple—and concise. Get to the point. Get in, get out, tell your reader what she needs to know, and don’t go on and on about it. Please don’t overcomplicate the message with superfluous information. Just give the reader the minimum amount of information she needs. She’ll thank you for it—by reading your words instead of skipping past them.

Know thy message. You can’t communicate well if you don’t know what you’re communicating. What’s the point you’re trying to make? If that point isn’t crystal clear, your writing will be all over the place. Good marketing copy requires a clear message. Always.

Be likeable. Marketing copy, like all writing, is all about connecting with your reader. You’ve got to say something that makes somebody care—and respond. How do you do that? The same way you connect with anyone. You talk about things that interest them. You charm their pants off. Say something clever, witty, funny. Approach your writing the way you approach your friendships and it will be a whole lot better.

Find the sweet spot. There are two camps. One says you should focus your message on benefits to the reader. Prove what’s in it for them and why they should give a hoot. The other side says you should just talk about who you are and what you have to offer. Don’t tell the reader what to think. Let her discover for herself that place where her needs and your offerings meet. Either approach comes down to the same thing—be relevant. Provide something of value. Find the sweet spot between who you are and what your reader needs and build your case on it.

Less is more. The less you try to say, the greater its impact. Marketing copy is not a Hefty bag. It’s not about how much you can cram into it without it breaking. Actually, the opposite is true. The fewer the messages you put into your copy, the greater the impact of each one. Otherwise, you’re watering it down. If you really want to make your copy memorable, give it a singular message.

It’s a one-sided conversation. The problem with a lot of writing is that it’s sooooo stinking dull. If people would just write the way they spoke, we’d all be a whole lot better off. So take a deep breath, ditch the formalities, and act like you’re sitting next to somebody and talking to them. Because really, when you come right down to it, you are.

Snap Chat. Not just for hormone crazy teens anymore.

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By now we assume most people know what Snapchat is, but for those of you still in the dark, Snapchat is a mobile application that lets users take photos or videos and send them to other users you are connected with. The difference between Snapchat and other photo messaging apps is that your “snap” is only viewed by the other user for 10 seconds or less after which the snap is deleted forever. Many assume Snapchat’s biggest draw is the temporary nature of the snaps, potentially encouraging racy images without having to worry about the repercussions. But recent stats have shown otherwise which has marketers intrigued.

If you’re asking yourself for some quantitative reasons businesses are taking a harder look at Snapchat, consider the following:

  • Snapchat has roughly 26 million U.S. users. [Source: Forbes]
  • 70% of Snapchat users are women. [Source: WSJ
  • 77% of college students use Snapchat daily. [Source: Sumpto]
  • 58% of college students would be likely to purchase a brand’s product or service if they were sent a coupon on Snapchat. [Source: Sumpto]

Interesting data right? So how are some marketers using the app? Product advertisers have used the app to launch a 10 second sneak peek to their followers, giving a product launch some additional hype. Retail marketers have turned to sending out custom coupons to their customers. This approach brings consumers into the store or directs them to an ecommerce site, gets them shopping around, and reveals the coupon later creating a sense of anticipation. Ultimately, though, the app is all about increasing engagement.

Most recently, d.trio was onsite at a photo shoot for our University of Minnesota client. The shoot was on campus and involved current students as the subjects. During each set I kept catching the students snapping “snaps” of the shoot and was curious where they were sending them. To my surprise it wasn’t to their friends, but to the U of M Snapchat handle called “My Campus Story.” When I asked how it worked the students informed me that “everyone follows My Campus Story” and tries to get their snaps featured daily. Only snaps featuring the students doing something cool on campus or at U of M events are featured. The U of M has increased student engagement on campus by selecting student snaps to feature on its own handle. Students now send snaps regularly in an attempt to be featured. Pretty cool way to create some brand engagement if you ask us!

Being smart about college marketing

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In the U.S. alone, there are thousands of colleges, universities and trade schools. The exact number depends on many factors. Add to that, the number of educational institutions around the world, and one starts to wonder how on earth a prospective student decides where he or she will go for higher education.

In the digital age, it seems there are no boundaries for those dreaming about college. The Internet makes the task of researching any college in any corner of the globe a virtual breeze – a task that was once only possible by making endless long-distance phone calls and requesting packets of information via snail mail.

Schools large and small, specializing in both mainstream and niche programs and degrees will come up by the hundreds in a Google search. Just click, and all the information you need will be right there.

College of What?

How then, if you happen to be in charge of marketing your school or program to new students, do you cut through the clutter to get them to notice you?

I have a coworker whose daughter is currently considering her choices for college. She receives new communications every day from colleges pining for her attention. When I asked how she decides which ones to even look at, my coworker said “she only opens the ones she’s heard of”.

According to collegestats.org, schools are trying all sorts of new tricks be “heard of”. Thanks to technology developments and social media, schools are trying, and having success, with things like interactive and virtual tours, short films and viral videos, Groupon Promotions, podcasts, text marketing, hosting chat groups, mobile websites and apps, and business partnerships.

Cleveland State University is placing online ads and videos on streaming radio sites. Their vice president of marketing cites research showing that 70 percent of teenagers listen to streaming radio, 25 percent are mobile-only online users and 90 percent watch online videos.

With their online ads, CSU was able to test messaging and learned that an ad that mentioned the amount of savings a student could earn under its freshman scholarship program was more effective than stating the savings percent. This allowed them to adjust their ads on the fly and get the most marketing bang for their buck.

The University of Akron is also using videos to promote their school, along with hiring a firm to take over the task of responding to applications and scholarship offers in a timely manner.

Why? Because consumers today expect quick and effective communications from businesses—especially those that they’ll potentially be spending tens of thousands of dollars with. It only makes sense to give any prospect the personal attention they deserve.

Getting past the gatekeeper

While attracting the attention of those easily-distracted teenagers is an important goal in college marketing, be sure you’re speaking to their parents too. Parents attention spans will be longer and they’ll be asking questions their kids haven’t thought of or may not be concerned about. After all, it’s parents that are most-likely footing the bill for all or part of the expenses.

Traditional mass marketing like billboards and print ads might work for some parents, but many parents today, especially those of millennials, are just as internet savvy as their kids. So while it’s okay to use some of the same tactics to reach them, it’s important to tailor the content to them by including information about campus health and safety, school ranking and costs they will face.

The same, but different

So, what is the difference between college marketing and any other marketing? In broad terms, not a lot. Find your audience. Communicate the features and benefits of your product. Get them to take action. And follow through on your promises to keep them happy. But this is not a widget—it’s one of the most important decisions a family will ever make. The challenge of getting the right students enrolled in your school or program is great, but the reward for both of you will be even greater.

The ABC’s of Problem Solving

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When you really boil it all down, life (and business), is really just an endless stream of problem solving. Some problems are simple, but others are big, hairy, complex beasts that can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. So, what to do?

SIMPLIFY!

That’s right. It has been said, and I agree, that tackling a big problem is like eating an elephant – it should be done one bite at a time. But, where to start?

I learned from a great manager many years ago that most problems can be broken down into manageable chunks of A, B, C, D, in descending order of importance. The trick is to focus your best energy on A and B and leave C and D alone. If you prioritize correctly and conquer A and B, you’ll usually find that C and D no longer matter or have taken care of themselves.

One of my favorite quotes is from writer/philosopher Elbert Hubbard, “The more one knows, the more one simplifies”. Truly a pragmatic mantra for life, business and the art of solving problems.

So, when encountering those nasty business problems, take a deep breath and simplify by remember your A, B, C’s.

The hidden secrets of color

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Much as been said and or written about the way color shapes our world, our attitude and our thoughts. This, you may be happy to hear, will not be a blog about the psychology of color…fascinating as the subject is.

The original intent of this blog was to study and report on the use of color and Fung Shui. However, my research on this was a bit disappointing. Red=fire and passion, Yellow=happiness, Blue=tranquility and peace, Pink=softness and love. A bit too expected. I was not finding the usual tidbits of interest that a Fung Shui study usually reveals, except for one many of us already know:
“If you want to inspire prosperity in your life, paint your front door red. Subsequently, if you want everyone to know you want more money in life, paint your front door red.”

So, my quest for a color topic continued. I went on a Google rampage searching for something new and interesting about color to share with our readers. Color surrounds us in marketing and even as we are keenly aware of it and its impact at all times…I wanted to find something different and new.

Turns out I found something different, but not so new. Something pretty old. Early 1900’s old.

And I know, I promised this would not be about the psychology of color, and it isn’t, not exactly. This is a psychology test you can take…about color. Seems it was created by Dr. Max Luscher and has been widely used in Europe for screening job and college applicants for…oh, about 100 years. Dr. Luscher studied the responses of hundreds of thousands of subjects (that’s what they state) and compiled formulas that determine how people feel, based on their color preferences. It takes about 3 minutes to complete and, for me at least, the results were surprisingly interesting and pretty accurate. You can learn more about Dr. Lushcer, or take the test at colorquiz.com.

 

About Us – It’s Not All About You

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Many companies desperately need “a cleanup on aisle 13” – and that aisle is the “About Us” section on their website.  It seems the majority of these sections I read are vague, confusing, trite, jargon-filled diatribes that do little to inform the audience, establish credibility or spark interest in moving deeper into the site.

Your “About Us” should be honest, clear, descriptive and (gasp) interesting.  It should convey confidence and give a sense of your company’s personality.  Visitors are often comparing you to the competition so it’s critical you address your unique selling proposition.  And speaking of visitors, this section is most often read by first-timers to your site, so remember you’ve only got one shot at a first impression.  This is essentially a speed-date, so don’t be boring and unremarkable!

As with any marketing copy development, it’s important to put yourself in your readers’ shoes.  Make it relevant and leave them with a feeling of wanting more.  This may be as far as they get on your site, so you may want to include a call to action (company phone number, email, video link etc.).

Enough talk about “exceeding expectations” (duh), “striving for excellence” (I should hope so), or “creating solutions” (unless you are a chemist, I guess).  Get real, to the point and add some flavor beyond salt and pepper.  You’re asking for someone to consider a relationship with you.  Act accordingly.

Google Glass and Me

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I’m not someone who is normally considered an early adopter of new technology. Technology and I have a sort of mutual respect for each other, meaning we, (or more accurately, I) keep a respectable distance until new and technical becomes easy and less complicated,  mainstream with most of the bugs worked out. When Google Glass was announced, I took my typical “stay away from me” stance and could not imagine anything that I would ever want less in life than to walk around tethered to the internet day in and day out. Never. Ridiculous idea. Not to mention the obvious driving and zombielike walking issues. So, what happens when this tech-averse human finds herself unexpectedly at Google headquarters and some very excited, very nice Google Glass ambassador hands over a pair? WOW. To summarize my experience: it really is all that cool. It understands you and answers questions and commands in a manner that will make Siri pea green with envy. The itty bitty little screen up in the corner of your right eye is actually pretty easy to see and unless you lock onto it, or ‘glass-out’ in Google speak, it might not always impede your vision. moglasses My love affair was short lived as there were others waiting in line like school children eager to take their turn. Will I buy them? Not likely. But will I view them on others with the same disdain? Honestly, probably not as much. I can see now that they actually might have some purpose for some people, but the obvious human interaction problems will be hard to eliminate. Google has just put out a Google Glass Etiquette guide in an attempt to help users understand how to behave while wearing the Glass. It makes for some pretty hilarious reading with advice such as…’respect others who have questions about the Glass and don’t get snappy with them’ and ‘how to avoid being a glasshole.’ For more information, check out the Daily Beast.

Lasers, Juice and a Briefcase of Money

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When I picked up the phone, my client almost burst out of it with excitement as they shared with me their new, brilliant idea! I was thrilled they had picked me to help and as my gears started grinding, I began to envision an implementation plan that looked sort of like this:

atob

Then reality set in. As we started working through the implementation process of this great idea, the path to implementation looked more like this:

atobb

Sound familiar? This happens to the best ideas. Implementation buzz-kills, such as a budget, compliance and time can get in the way. The good news is, there is hope.  I have three ideas to support the implementation of your next great idea and they include: juice, lasers and a briefcase.  That’s right.

  1. Sharks with laser beams.  Every good idea can get even better, right? Maybe not. Identify your challenge and goal in the beginning and keep a laser-sharp focus on your plan. Each decision you make should support the goal.  Do not waiver. If the idea doesn’t support your original plan, set it aside. You may have just come up with another great idea!
  2. Soak up the creative juice. I know your idea is really awesome and you can’t wait to share it. Give it the time it deserves and let the awesomeness marinate. During that time, you can gain the internal support you need and think through issues that may arise as you move forward.
  3. Deal…or no deal briefcase.  Without the restraints of a budget, I’ve seen ideas transform from awesome to mind-blowing-ly amazing. It can also create a big buzz-kill when the reality of budget parameters stomp out the mind-blowing-ly amazing idea that now doesn’t fit into your budget, leaving clients deflated. I don’t like to see clients deflated. Make sure you know how much money is in the briefcase before you make your plan.

Before you run full speed ahead with your next great idea, make sure your idea is supported with lasers, juice and the right briefcase. Those three things, along with your new idea may be the ticket to your next promotion!

2014 Global Design Trends

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As a creative agency, we like to keep pulse on design trends.  Shutterstock, a technology company providing photos, illustrations and videos to creative professionals worldwide, has identified the following trends for the 2014.

1) Authentic and candid photography. Photos will feature a filtered look and subjects in real-life settings.

2) Simplistic, clean patterns with bright pops of color. Design and imagery will be tailored to local trends and preferences.

3) Flat design elements will dominate on websites and mobile platforms.  Flat design is guided by the principles of simplicity and readability. It features flat shapes and icons and with the absence of other design elements like shadows, strokes and gradients.

4) Image searches continue to be driven by topical events. For example, international events like the Winter Olympics and the Football World Cup will provide opportunities for topical images in 2014. Popular searches from 2013 include the following key words: Gatsby, 3D Printing, Make-up Set, International Women’s Day, Responsive Design, Adorable, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and Appetizing.

5) Motion graphics will focus on environmental issues. The following video clip categories experienced explosive growth last year:  Education, Transportation, Cityscapes, and 3D Renderings.

6) Fonts that appear to be handwritten or sketched will be very popular. Rising style favorites include Geometric, Signage-Inspired, and Analog.

Overall, images shared on social media channels represent what is popular in the world of business and visual communication.  Here’s the infographic:

Infographic: Shutterstock’s Global Design Trends 2014

http://www.shutterstock.com/blog/infographic-shutterstocks-global-design-trends-2014