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Marketing & Branding

    Karen’s latest article in the Business Journals touches on the biggest advertising event of the year, the Super Bowl. Join in the conversation by leaving us your comments!


    It’s always fun to play Monday morning quarterback when it comes to the Super Bowl ads. There are always some fan favorites and some duds.

    The tone and messaging this year was decidedly subdued and serious, attempting to create a brand connection through emotions and meaningful content told through the storytelling format.

    As I listened to the morning coverage and thought about the ads from Sunday night’s game, I wondered what ads I would do differently.

    What if any of these products were my clients — how would I have advised them? What may have turned an average ad into an outstanding one? What were the advertising and marketing principles at play?

    Here’s what I came up with:

    1. Turbo Tax and the Boston Tea Party

    The first ad I would want a “do over” for is the Turbo Tax spot that appeared early in the game. It featured a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party — but reimagined the outcome without paying to file the tax. It highlighted the company’s “Absolute Zero” free federal and state tax filing.

    There were a few reasons I didn’t like this ad, but first and foremost is the fact that they already have a successful campaign running called, “Taxes Are Your Life — Only Simpler.” The current campaign cleverly shows various life events that impact your taxes, and that doing your own taxes online should be easy, making it less intimidating to the general consumer. It’s the perfect combination of humor and product positioning. Turbo Tax also uses the tagline, ” It’s Amazing What You’re Capable Of,” which instills confidence and empowerment.

    The Super Bowl ad seemingly abandons the current campaign with this one-off historical piece. The ad is dark and heavy, leaving the consumer to either follow the ad until the end to understand the product or make a snack run.

    We are in prime tax-prep season, so the timing of the ad is perfect, but the execution was not. Not only was this an expensive spot to run –— at 60 seconds, it cost almost $9 million in media — it also looked like an incredibly expensive spot to produce with a large pool of talent, costumes, a set and props.


    If I were to advise this client, I would look for a way to expand and build on the current campaign — perhaps with more humor around the life events that impact our taxes. Think of the funny scenarios you could build around having a baby, moving, or even starting a business! The ads would always drive back to the message that doing your own taxes online is easier than you think. I think this is a strong and important message, coupled with the tagline, and they should continue to utilize the equity they’ve earned here.

    Marketing Lesson:

    Don’t change just for the sake of change (or the sake of the SuperBowl)

    Continue reading full article published in the Business Journals here…

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    mage provided by Getty Images (shutter_m)

    Despite its popularity, social media can still be intimidating and confusing, especially for small businesses. The most common reasons my clients aren’t doing social media are lack of time and resources or lack of understanding. Even marketing-savvy clients sometimes struggle with where to begin. Here are some key insights I regularly share with them:

    1. Do it right, or don’t do it at all

    If you’re not ready to commit to the best practices of social media engagement as part of a marketing strategy, consider skipping it completely. This just means starting small and doing a couple things really well rather than trying to do too much or not do a good job at anything.

    If you go too broad, lack valuable content or don’t maintain the channels, this will reflect poorly on the brand and could cause a negative customer interaction — the opposite of what you want. Even a small social media presence that’s done very well will still add value to your marketing portfolio.

    1. Always start with a plan

    If you don’t have a plan for using social media channels, you’re likely going to flounder or be quickly overwhelmed. A plan should include some goal setting, content ideation, media calendar, best practices for customer engagement and general posting practices. It should also include a budget to curate, collect, manage, write, review, post and manage information. he beautiful thing about social media is instantaneous feedback — you know what’s working and what’s not.

    You should have a plan and metrics in place to gather this information and make decisions from your findings. Knowing that plans may change and evolve throughout the year is an expected part of the process, but starting with a plan will give guidance and benchmarks to refer back to as you grow.

    1. Social media is an active relationship

    Along with creating the plan is managing the plan. Some clients don’t account for the time and resources it will take to manage their social media channels. Social media is not a “set it and forget it” tool like a print ad or TV commercial.

    It takes active, genuine engagement and interaction with customers to reap the benefits of the tool. Not only should social media be a dialogue with your consumers, it should also be an active dialogue within your company. Those who are managing social media channels should keep leadership updated on success stories, customer feedback, ideas and metrics of these tools.

    1. Start with leadership

    Gone are the days when you prepare a marketing plan in January and execute for the rest of the year. Things used to change on a monthly or weekly basis, based on sales, media metrics, online volume or consumer engagement data. Now they change on a daily, even hourly, basis. Leadership has to trust those people managing their social media channels to be engaged and responsive in a nanosecond, or the window of opportunity to be responsive will be closed.

    Red tape, executive reviews and long approval processes do not fit into the fast-moving world of social media, and most businesses have not adequately adopted new processes to accommodate the speed of execution. If your leadership team is still struggling to understand social media, how to use it, or why you should use it, then start small, share updates regularly and give your efforts time to prove their value.

    1. Know what you already have

    Understand your target customers and engage them in the right place at the right time with the right information. You cannot simply replicate what others are doing — not even your competitors. Social media content should be original, unique, relevant to the reader and align with your brand.

    Content can come in many forms, such as blog postings, articles, videos, photos, whitepapers, industry and company news, or exclusive content. You probably already have an arsenal of materials that you could post. They just need to be packaged properly for social media posts.

    1. Consider the channel

    When planning for social media content, think about what channel is being used and what message is being posted there. For example, Facebook may be a place where you post several times a week and could feature materials ranging from a newspaper article to team celebration photos.

    Don’t be afraid to get personal when appropriate since social media users expect a chance to see the human side of organizations. LinkedIn may be best suited for more credible content and thought leadership on various subjects related to your business or industry.

    1. Social media is evolving and nobody’s doing it perfectly

    Just when we think we understand social media channels and apps, a whole new breed of tools pops up overnight. The truth is, even the savviest firms feel the pressure to keep up and stay ahead. Even prominent companies that have been at the forefront of the social media movement have stubbed their toe a time or two — Apple, Kenneth Cole and even Facebook itself included among them. Learn from their mistakes and be willing to make a few of your own.

    Follow other companies that you like, both in your industry and outside, to see what they’re posting and to generate ideas for your own social media efforts. It’s never too late to get in the game!

    {This article was originally posted in the October 2014 Business Journals publication}

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    The Paradox of Leading a Social Business, recently published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, struck me as a great article on the evolution of social media and integration into marketing efforts.  It reminds us that social media continues to change and many successful plans begin – as they should – as grassroots efforts.  The key is to regularly use the various platforms so you can engage and interpret how your users would like to have the conversation with you – then you adapt to their feedback.

    “The result of this approach to social business leadership yields a recursive feedback loop. Leaders set a vision for social business in their organization; employees execute that vision, with results that may differ somewhat from expectations. Grass-roots champions then provide feedback to leaders on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the initiatives. This feedback allows leaders to refine their vision and set the compass for the next stage of the journey.”

    An example of this from our agency:  When I opened SK&Co, my press kits were actually a leather luggage tag – a nod to our brand being synonymous with a train station.  Each tag contained agency information and my business card neatly folded into the luggage tag and packaged in clear, branded boxes that could be mailed.  Recipients loved the luggage tags and actually wanted to use them.  Pretty soon I was receiving pictures from destinations where my clients, friends and associates were traveling with their Station K & Co luggage tag!

    This inspired us to continue using luggage tags as a marketing tool, and we mail out new ones each year over the holidays to thank our clients and business partners.  We encourage them to shoot photos of their luggage tags during their journeys and post on our Facebook and Twitter pages.  We’ve seen them travel all over the world – from London to New Zealand, to Hawaii and Alaska, to New York, Arizona, LA and Florida.  This initiative became popular because it evolved organically – we listened to how people wanted to engage with us and made that exchange part of our campaigns.

    Your turn. Let us know how the evolution of social business has impacted you in the comments below.

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    It’s impossible to miss Procter & Gamble’s presence at the Winter Games. What began in 2012 as a long-term relationship with the Olympics has been expertly executed as a fully integrated worldwide marketing campaign as the “Proud Sponsor Of Moms.” The global campaign brings together 34 brands under the P&G umbrella, and will feature sponsorship of 150 athletes. How did they pull this off? The outstanding execution of P&G’s marketing campaign is built on these key pillars:

    1. Expanded Sponsorship

    2. Tailored Messaging

    3. Staying True To Their Brand

    4. Bringing Content Marketing To Sports Marketing.


    Proctor and Gamble Because of Mom

    If you’ve been watching the Olympics at all, you’ve certainly seen the omnipresence of Procter & Gamble products and advertising. From razors to detergent to paper towels and skincare, you’ve seen it, heard it and read about it – all from P&G. What struck me as different this year is how cohesive and seamless the brands are integrated into your Olympics experience. Not only are the brands integrated into the viewer’s experience at home, they are very visible on-site in Sochi, Russia too. The P&G presence at the Olympics this year brings a new meaning to the marketing mix of sponsorship + advertising + experience.

    It began with P&G Sponsoring the TV Special “How To Raise An Olympian” watched by millions of viewers the night before opening ceremonies. It showcased a handful of athletes and their journey to the Olympics through the eyes of their parents. Heartwarming stories of common people with uncommon talent and how they overcame their individual set of challenges and tribulations to make their dreams come true.  The only advertising that ran during the program was for various P&G products. These brands being combined with the charismatic and hopeful stories created a feeling of happiness and gratitude for the viewers. A powerful alignment for any brand – and it was owned exclusively by P&G.

    The keynote P&G brands all have their own Olympic-themed ads that are running during the games as well – Pampers showcases how a good night sleep in their diapers could lead your toddler to Olympic greatness. Gillette cleverly plays on the word “hair” as they describe how something so small and insignificant to most of us can be the difference between a winning medal or not at the Olympics. No matter what event you were watching, at what time, or on what channel – you were likely to see any of these P&G commercials a number of times – again creating a positive association between your experience and their brands.

    P&G extended their brands and advertising to an on-site “P&G House” in the Athletes Olympic Village stocked with their products for athletes and their families to use. They successfully extended their brand to the grounds of the Olympics and allowed athletes to feel, touch and see the brands in action – at a time when the athletes are likely missing some of the comforts of home. P&G saw the value in having this experience because they are committed to fulfilling their sponsorship 360 degrees to those that they sponsor. Again, they’re not throwing a check at the sponsorship and just walking away – they are walking the walk by adding value and creating a relationship with the people they are there to support.

    Even with the new messages and experiences that P&G brought to the Olympics this year, their advertising was still solidly rooted in the foundation of their “Thanks Mom” campaign. They’ve used this campaign during the Olympics for years, so audiences have come to recognize the ads and the tagline. They keenly and skillfully reinvent how it’s being used and showcase different ways to pay homage to moms. This keeps the campaign from getting stale and outdated, and infuses a fresh voice into the advertising every two years.

    The brilliance of P&G’s advertising throughout the Olympics is the result of these key components:

    1. Extended Sponsorship – they are a key sponsor of the Olympics, which basically gives them the right to use the Olympic logo and name for a (not so small) fee. But they didn’t just throw money at a sponsorship and sit back. They took the sponsorship to the airwaves, to print, and to an on-site experience with meaningful messages that resonated with audiences.

    2. Tailored Messaging – each of the brands that advertised during the Olympics uncovered a unique and compelling message about how the product relates to the games or the athletes. They could choose to run their regular TV spots during the Olympics, but instead they created a series of spots to run specifically during this time that will reinforce their sponsorship and align their brands with the feel-good atmosphere of the Olympic events. This is no easy task – thinking of new ways that shampoo and diapers relate to athletics AND the general consumer in a meaningful way.  

    3. Staying True To The Brand – Building on their “Thanks Mom” campaign continues to build equity in that tagline, while maintaining consistent messaging and voice among the P&G brands during this special time when we rally around our athletes and our country. With each new Olympic season, P&G finds a way to infuse a new component into the campaign, while keeping the sentiment of thanking mom for all she has done. This year, they extended the “Thanks Mom” message with the TV special “How To Raise An Olympian” and with the on-site P&G house catering to athletes and their visiting families. They embraced social media by placing fan engagement front and center with the Twitter presence #thanksmom and #BecauseOfMom.

    4. Content Marketing Meets Sports Marketing – As content marketing continues to grow and we look for new ways to infuse brands and products into the social norm of everyday experiences, P&G has demonstrated how to do this with their sports marketing package. They holistically engaged the consumer with timely and compelling messages at different points along their Olympic experience. Sports marketing of yester-year would mean popping up a few banners along the ski slopes, putting a P&G patch on the athlete’s jackets, and maybe an ad or two. P&G has skillfully demonstrated how to include and engage both the athlete, the viewer, and the consumer with their brands in a way in which most people may not even know they’re doing it.  


    P&G Brand commercial “Pick Them Back Up”

    Bounty: U.S. Olympic Medalist Julie Chu 

    Gilette: “By A Hair”

    Pampers: “Winter Olympics”


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