about you1It’s that time of year again, when those of us still riding the “eat more healthy foods” New Year’s resolution train are tempted with the greatest challenge of all:  Girl Scout Cookies.

In fact, I hear their seductive calls in surround sound these days – enticing offers to buy from my co-workers’ daughters, local troops stationed at the supermarket, even a gaggle of Girl Scouts set up outside my favorite department store.  And if you live in San Francisco, you can find them conveniently located in front of your local marijuana dispensary.   Genius?  I think so.

After catching wind of the story, I was eager to know what the Girl Scouts were saying about the idea.  Never having been a Girl Scout myself – but knowing how badly the Boy Scouts have managed “controversies” in recent years – I was curious as to how the organization might respond to naysayers.  Turns out, they’re taking a lesson from the dispensary customers and have been pretty chill about the whole thing:

“Girls are selling cookies, and they and their parents pick out places where they can make good sales,” Dana Allen, director of marketing and communications for Girl Scouts of Northern California, told Mashable. ”The mom decided this was a place she was comfortable with her daughter being at.” Later, she added, “We’re not telling people where they can and can’t go if it’s a legitimate business.”

According to the Girl Scouts website, “ When a Girl Scout sells you cookies, she’s building a lifetime of skills and confidence. She learns goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics—aspects essential to leadership, success, and life.”

I think this young woman and her daughter were simply following one of the cardinal rules of business:  Location.  Location.  Location.  They also identified a customer pipeline based on foot traffic from an established local business that resulted in a major uptick in sales.  I would say that probably led to a big confidence boost for this young Girl Scout, which, after all, is the whole goal of the cookie program.

What do you think?

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For the past two days I have had the fun time of my favorite goddaughter Emma hanging out in my office.  I have been educated and entertained by The Adventurous Adventures of One Direction , realized how short I am without work heels, and most of all got a lesson is what is cool for the Almost-Millennial generation.  Let’s be honest, I used to brainstorm about reaching Generation Y, so I know how quick Millennials will be out as the target demo.  So where are the next gen hanging out.  According to Emma, it’s all about Instagram.  This may be because some of the other platforms are currently banned for said 12-year-old, but regardless this platform is offering her generation a lot to talk about.

Emma?

Instagram is definitely where kids my age are hanging out. We love to take pictures and share them with our little social circle of followers and followed people. Not only is Instagram a great way to reach out to friends, but it’s also a place for fan pages, business pages, and so much more! I think one of the big reasons Instagram is so popular is because of the fact that you can express yourself creatively. May it be through video or photo; whatever you have posted can have its own originality to it. Before you post a picture or video, you can choose an effect to add to it. You can also focus on certain parts and light it up a little, making even the simplest picture look professional. Unlike some social media, Instagram focuses on visuals, and then adds the option to add words to it. People use this instead of Vine, another mobile social media platform that allows you to take videos and post them, because it gives you the option whether or not to do just a picture, or an entire video. Also, you may edit the video with the effects, like I mentioned before, which Vine didn’t offer. Let’s face it, Facebook is dying. The younger generation is gathering in Twitter or Instagram. The only people who are on Facebook nowadays are parents.

As I mentioned before, many business pages are finding their way onto Instagram. And, while you’re there, you may as well do a promotional activity! Oreo is definitely an example of this statement. A little while back, Oreo hosted the #cookiethis #creamthis competition. The instructions were to take a picture of whatever you wanted Oreo-fyed, and hashtag it either #cookiethis or #creamthis. If the Oreo team found your picture interesting, they would begin to mold your picture into either cookie or cream, depending on what you hashtagged. At the end of the event, they looked at the total amount of hashtags in each category to see which ingredient was the favorite; cookie or cream. Cream won with an outstanding 21,050 to 17,060 hashtags. I can only imagine how cool it would have been to get your picture chosen as art! After looking at all of the pictures they put up, you really wanted to buy an Oreo cookie! Some of the things the artists made were very cool. (See picture). I, of course, would have gone Team Cream. Who wouldn’t?

Not sure which side I am on, but Emma’s reasoning seems to ring true for most social platforms.  Ultimately, it comes down to some of the same reasons people first migrated to MySpace or Friendster.  Its a cool new place to talk about what they want, where they want and how they want it.  It may not be the platform-du-jour for very long, but for now marketers can learn something from Oreo (heck they made it on the Today Show) and for sure something from Emma.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Mom 2.0 with 500+ bloggers, brands and yes, a few brave men.  Why was it a pleasure of an experience?  Let me count the ways.

1.       I had the opportunity to make authentic connections with like-minded individuals from around the country. This includes bloggers and brands like Bissell and Starbucks and those in between.
Confession: I am 100% obsessed with a certain brand’s steam mop.View

2.       Spending time with people you typically only interact with electronically is invaluable.  (Great to see you Meagan Francis!)

3.       Ideas, ideas, ideas!  From Raising America’s Shark-Tank style pitchfest to Dove’s fabulosity, I came back with tons of ideas, not only for clients but for Peppercomm.

4.       Did I mention the fabulous accommodations, view and event staff at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel?

5.       Watching the Mom 2.0 Summit evolve over the years and truly adapt to the current marketing environment and participants needs shows that Laura Mayes and crew really get it.

Maybe Spring is in the air, or I’v288_a73bca5126_gallerye just been lucky, but customer service has been on the uptick in my life.

Take last Friday.  Headed to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway and of course I leave my tickets on my desk.  Of course, it was Friday and a holiday, so no dice on a messenger.  And truth be told, I did not want to give up my pre-even cocktail or be late for the curtain in order to make the trek back.

Enter the manager and staff from Blue Fin restaurant, one of the many delicious restaurants that are part of the BRGuest group.  As a pre-theater hot-spot getting a managers attention at 7pm would seem like a challenge and a big ask.  However, in this case the staff quickly got me help, provided me an email address and the manager (thanks David) went and printed my tickets out.  Seems simple, yes, but not expected.

And I think that is the key here.  A busy restauntant in Times Square is often too busy to stop and consider customer service, and sometimes a part of a larger restaurant group doesn’t think they have the same skin in the game as a sole proprietorship.  By taking the time they not only made my night, but helped BRGuest stand out.

So many restaurant groups and brands do a good – if not overbearing – job on mass marketing once you are signed up.  But a lot fall short on the experience when you walk through the door.  And it is the complete experience, not just one channel that matters.  While leaving tickets for a show may not be common customer issue, taking the time to solve it is a great customer relationship builder.  Brands can learn here it’s not just the draw in, or the sale (let’s face it, I was on my second drink when the tickets showed up), but the cross channel experience that keeps people talking and coming back.

Thanks again Blue Fin & BRGuest… don’t mind if I do.

super-bowl-XLVII-picAs a 24-year-old single girl living in Hoboken, I totally understand the whole Super Bowl phenomenon from both a social and marketing perspective.  Friends get together to eat ridiculously unhealthy food and drink copious amounts of alcohol while advertisers spend the bulk of their yearly budgets on 30 second commercials- all under the pretense of watching a football game.

What I don’t get is WHY some girls pretend to understand and like this sport.  To me, it’s nothing but a brutally boring and time consuming activity that I’d rather not waste my time on.  The ONLY reason I’d even consider watching a game is to A) socialize with friends and B) mock the new ridiculously expensive ads.

My problem is that the vast majority of these ads really do appeal to me.  I love that someone’s hunger makes them complain like Betty White.  I like watching Britney Spears sing in a gladiator’s arena for Pepsi.  But, what does football have to do with that?  I can watch these commercials on YouTube without suffering through the endless game!

So, I’m forced to ask the question: Do we really need the Super Bowl, or any other football games for that matter, to be on in order to feel it’s acceptable to drink all day and eat crappy food?  Not this year!

This year, I’ve decided to stage a Super Bowl protest.  Instead of hanging out with friends and pretending that I enjoy watching jacked-up men run around for no apparent reason, I’ve decided to dedicate my day to reading and working out.  It’s not that I’m anti-social, I just hate PRETENDING that I’m enjoying myself when I’m not.  If I’d rather be reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in bed with a nice fresh beet kale salad than eating buffalo wings and drinking cheap beer, isn’t that my prerogative?

In years past, my friends have called me a loser and a homebody for not wanting to participate in such activities.  But, at the ripe old age of 24, I’ve decided that I no longer care what people think of my social behavior.  If I want to stay in bed on a Friday night and catch up on past episodes of Downton Abbey and Dance Moms, I’m going to do that.

So, to all you other fellow football-haters, what do you plan to do this Super Bowl Sunday?  Don’t succumb to peer pressure!  Try picking up an old classic (or a guilty pleasure read, if that’s more up your alley) and dedicate the day to engaging your mind rather than your stomach.

 

Seems like the term “story telling” has been the buzz word of 2012, getting tossed around like the word innovation was in 2000.  Today too many brands are looking for any way to connect with their consumer in an over-saturated and very brand-skeptical
market.  Brands can’t just push product – well maybe Apple – and assume their legions will follow.  There is a need to provide content that motivates their consumer and applies to their needs in life, their goals.  A tall order for a brand?  Well Coke thinks not.

Today, one of the most beloved brands – though plagued recently with Bloomberg’s and others bans on soda – is launching a new website transformed into a consumer publication called Coca-Cola Journey. According to Stuart Elliott’s column in today’s New York Times, the article points out that “the use of the word ‘story’ is significant because the Web site changes are indicative of the growing interest among marketers in recasting their communications with consumers as storytelling rather than advertising. Just as attention is being paid to developing content to use for brand storytelling, an appetite also exists for  corporate storytelling.”

The question remains for Coke and all brands as to whether the consumer will engage with the story and take the journey.  I think if they can create a journey with their target, rather than forcing them down the road strewn with ads and product promotions, the iconic brand has hope with its new offering.  So read on soda lovers.

Living in Manhattan, I’m always surprised when I somehow manage to stumble upon a bad restaurant, a moody store owner or just generally bad customer service. The reason it surprises me is that there are so many good restaurants and retail establishments in Manhattan. With so much excellent competition, I don’t know how the good ones stay in business, much less the bad ones.

Plus, New Yorkers are notoriously… um… particular, which makes it all the more wonderful when an establishment is able to stand out above the rest. I’m speaking, of course, about that wonderful New York City bastion of grocery excellence, Fairway. What began as a fruit and vegetable stand in 1933 is now a nine-store juggernaut of high-quality food in the greater NYC area.

But that’s not what makes Fairway great. First of all, it seems like I always go grocery shopping at the wrong day or time. I’m always bumping elbows at the deli counter, dodging baguettes by the bakery or having my toes run over by stroller-pushing mothers in full yoga regalia. Fairway is great in spite of all that, much of which I attribute to my poor planning anyway. That’s because pretty much every employee I’ve ever encountered at Fairway has been helpful and human.

I’ll give you an example. One day I decided to go to Fairway right after work. As every working person is wont to do after work, I was rushing to get home. So I gathered my jerk turkey, dark chocolate with mint, greek yogurt and honey-glazed almonds, and jumped in the express line.

The customer in front of me was completely bonkers. One of those women of ambiguous age with an alien-esque stretched face and stringy hair, she was losing her mind because the cashier accidentally added an extra zero to some quantity of vegetables, making the grand total something around $400 for her handful of items. The cashier, handling a barrage of insults, patiently explained to the customer that she would get a manager to simply void the transaction. The manager came quickly, and, before voiding the transaction, asked the cashier what happened.

It was too much for the customer to handle. She kept screaming “I refuse to pay that much!” After voiding the transaction, the manager then offered the lady free delivery. I would have called a NYC Animal Control Officer to “crate” her for a while. When the debacle was over, and it was my turn at the register, the cashier and I looked at each other and both burst out laughing. It was a little slice of humanity indicative of what I always find at Fairway and supporting what Fairway says about itself: “Fairway: LIKE NO OTHER MARKET.”

 

Last week I traveled to a small town in Tennessee.  The easiest way to get there was to fly into Atlanta and drive two and a half hours. Fun right?  On the night we were to fly home  home, we were delayed departing said small town
and had to stay overnight at a hotel close to the airport in Atlanta.  My only request?  That we stay at a “real” hotel.  By real hotel, I mean a hotel with dining and imbibing options that extend beyond powdered continental breakfast eggs and vending machines.  Someone back in the office booked us into the Hyatt which was much appreciated.  I was thrilled – until we pulled up and saw that this was a Hyatt Place. Now, I do not have anything against convenient and affordable options a la Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Suites but it had been a long two days and I was looking forward to a decent meal and a glass or two of drinkable vino.  Well imagine my delight when I walked into a shockingly stylish lobby which boasted 24 hour food options and a small bar. Who knew? Someone apparently did because the place was packed and a post stay search revealed that Hyatt Place boasts more than 58,000 likes on Facebook.

Perhaps I just haven’t noticed the marketing associated with Hyatt Place before, but I was not only satisfied with what I found, but feel that the brand’s messaging was spot on – Welcome to a different place. Because you deserve to have access to everything you need 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The café’s signage and menus catered to the business traveler touting that just because you arrive and depart at off-peak hours you don’t have to eat chips from the vending machine, dream about a cold beer or wait until you arrive at the airport for a hot cup of coffee on your way to a 6am flight.

Keep up the good work, Hyatt Place – I will be back!  Two suggestions:

  1. While the front desk/wait staff are personable and efficient, managing front desk duties, take-out orders and the bar can be challenging and somewhat frustrating for bar/café patrons.  Give these guys some help!
  2. Continue to differentiate yourselves from the pack with great amenities, stylish surroundings and your marketing communications. As a frequent business traveler, I was unaware of what was available to me and wrongly assumed you were just like everyone else.

Nothing beats a place where you walk in and everyone yells NORM, or in this case Maggie. But as corner bars have proliferated into chain bars every ½ mile, and half of retail therapy is done online, is it possible for any bar or brand to keep up with that kind of consumer focus?

It all boils down to the person behind the bar – both literally and figuratively. Just last week I was passing through Vino Vento (a nice stop near Gate 72 at Newark Airport). The place was its usual packed annoyance and I muscled into a bar seat just before a [pack of six showed up. Security had been a disaster and I was at the end of my rope when the bartender handed me a menu and said, “Hi. Haven’t seen you in a bit. Sauvignon Blanc? And did you get your hair cut since you went to Dublin?” I almost passed out. In a place that has very few “Norms,” this bartender remembered critical aspects of me as a customer that quickly alleviated all my frustrations and reminded me why I liked this place over the other choices in the terminal.

Now I know this is not always possible, and it may have been the wine talking, but there was something special about it. Customer relevance when promoting big brands or small still has to strive for the corner bar “Norm” feeling. If every CEO, marketing director, etc. could take a cue from Amy at Vino Vento, making consumers feel special may be easier than they think. Amy (1) listened to me last time I was in, and I mean really listened. Some brands use metrics to measure their customers rather than actually putting themselves in their customers’ shoes and experience the brand first hand. (2) She paid attention because I was a repeat customer. Brands need to look at the folks who keep coming back to their branded and identify why. Engage these people as brand ambassadors and they will spread the word. And (3) she knew my drink. Not always applicable outside of a bar, but hey it always helps.

I’ll be back to Vino Vento for sure, and will spread the word to everyone. Can you say that about your brand?

At times I have a love-hate relationship with New York. Take for example Broadway. I LOVE going to see shows but I HATE the crowds in Times Square. And even inside the theater lobby, it seems like you’re standing on the corner of 47th Street in the middle of a never-ending pack of tourists as you try to weasel your way up to concessions.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised this week when I had the opportunity to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield (swoon) in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”  Prior to the start of the show, the ushers at the Ethel Barrymore Theater invited guests to place their food and beverage order for intermission in advance.  “This is completely brilliant,” I thought. So, after an emotional first act, I was able to avoid the crowds and stroll right up to the bar where everyone’s pre-orders were neatly displayed with reservation cards. Without waiting even a second, I was able to enjoy a quick glass of wine before they flickered the lights.

This might not be a hugely innovative practice, but, for this theater-goer, the Ethel Barrymore Theater left an impression.