Guess what small boutiques can offer this holiday shopping season that big retailers can't?

There was a great article by Danielle Douglas in Capital Business this week about how small retailers are trying to compete with big box stores during the holiday shopping rush. 

Working for a relatively small retailer myself, I found the article fascinating. 

While the story points out that margins for boutiques may be much smaller than those for large retailers, and that trying to compete by offering deep discounts is unsustainable, the opportunity to close the year on a positive note exists if the independent retailers can find a way to entice shoppers with benefits other than severely discounted prices.

According to the article, Amy Rutherford, owner of Red Barn Mercantile in Alexandria, VA says,  "People are starting to get the fact that good customer service is starting to outweigh just the really good bargain.  If we can keep our prices in a range that makes it palatable for people, they will come to our stores."
As a consumer, I completely understand the value of deep discounts, having spent the past two weekends shopping at a local outlet mall with my wife.  However, I am also taking the time to get those very "special" gifts at independent retailers.  Not just for the quality of the customer service (which generally is much better), but also because there are far fewer lines, easier parking, and more unique products than you can often find in big department or chain stores.  There is someone on everyone's list who deserves the extra effort, and it doesn't hurt that shopping at boutique retailers also helps the local economy by providing a boost to small businesses.
Take the time to shop at your local independent retailer (blatant plug coming) or Goodwill store this holiday season.  You'll find great gifts that will make you a much more appreciated Santa, while also helping to protect someone's job.

The Top 10 Creative Viral Campaigns by The DigiWave

There are a lot of factors to measure the effectiveness of an viral ads or campaign. Personally, I have an appreciation for those that inspiring, creative and entertaining, obviously the one can touch the audience's senses, without showing too much the commercial side. Although most of the campaigns in my fav list are successful in terms of increasing brand awareness and driving sales, it doesn't mean that a creative viral campaign will guarantee commercial success. In most of the cases, it's more about hitting the right target to link the online message into real-life buying action. And that's another story. Digest the list first. It's delicious!

1. Carlton Draught - Big Ad

2. Trojan Condom - Trojan Games

3. Way back home – Red Bull

4. Transport in London – The Awareness Test

5. Berlits – What are you sinking about?

6. Axe – Clean Your Ball

7. – Diet Coke & Mentos

8. Honda – The Cog

9. Volkswagen - The Fun Theory

10. Nike – Cross Bar

The Top Ten Successful Viral Ads of All Time by AdAge

Today, viral campaigns become more popular and part of many marketing campaigns. You should have watched a video with over 1 million views in YouTube and thought to yourself: “How the hell this video get so many views?”. In the past, at the beginning of YouTube era, this could happen naturally but nowadays, most of these hits are touched by companies and advertising agencies. It’s the time of viral era. Let’s have a review of top 10 viral ads of all time announced recently by AdAge and Visible Measures and discover the stories behind.

Here comes the A-list launched this year:

1. Blendtec – Will it blend
What was the best way for Blendtec to demonstrate the might of their blenders? Gun for product placement in films? Leverage food channels? No, all they needed to do was blend an iPod, a broom, golf balls and a multitude of other things. This one is a bit surprising. What this really speaks to is the mad scientist in everyone! People love to see things like crazy experiments, and this is just fun to watch for that reason. What's amazing is that a lot of the people who commented on the video online didn't even realize it's an ad for a blender -- they thought this is just some crazy man who put his iPhone in a blender for fun! These videos are effective because they do something that very few viral videos do – they drive sales. Blendtec has created a video series that is not only entertaining but also demonstrates the power and utility of their product. Sales of Blendtec blenders increased by 800% because of this cheap yet moreish campaign. Pure genius.

2. Evian - Live Young
It's well known that people love babies in ads. Babies, animals, and humor are three major appealing factors in ads, and this ad combines babies and humor. Whoever planned this out knew it would be a home run because of the babies, the fun music, and the great product placement. This ad was actually great for the brand in terms of getting the message out about the product. However, what makes this campaign stand out from the others is Evian’s use of social networking sites, most notably Facebook. They created Facebook profiles for the video babies, allowing fans to befriend these beloved rollerblading munchkins while inadvertently befriending the brand. 

3. Old Spice - Responses
There is no denying that the campaign was a huge success for the brand, catapulting them into the number 1 spot for men’s body wash and making Old Spice a legend in the world of online marketing. Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ began with a single video, which started out online and then went to television. It was an instant success, with Old Spice accounting for 75 percent of all conversations in their category for the first quarter of the year. But the real success of the campaign came later on when Old Spice launched their response campaign, a more personalized digital campaign, in which ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ interacted with fans via an onslaught of YouTube videos. Simply send Mr. Old Spice a message - through Facebook, Twitter or YouTube - and wait for his visual retort. The campaign goes hand-in-hand with the Old Spice worldwide promoted Twitter trending topic. This was one of the biggest winners in the Cannes Ad Festival, and got many accolades. It really appeals to young men and, while it seems a bit ridiculous and over the top, it works.

4. Pepsi - Gladiator
Soft drinks brand Pepsi recruited a teamsheet of international A-listers to appear in two big-budget TV ads, using the themes of pop music and football as part of its global promotional push for 2004. 'Pepsi Gladiators' starred Beyonce, Britney Spears and Pink singing We Will Rock You in a Roman amphitheatre, while 'Pepsi Foot Battle' featured Real Madrid stars David Beckham, Raul and Roberto Carlos slugging it out in costume. These ads went viral and hit the public as there is a truth that people love entertainment, they love to see faces they know and, at the end of the day, it's an ad with good music, pretty girls and handsome guys.

5. Microsoft - Xbox Project Natal
This one is purely functional. However, the video is visually attracted and entertaining. With something like that, it's interesting that people would watch it the whole way through, but if you think about it, for families to invest that much money, it's important that they know what the product does.

6.Dove – Evolution
Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto, used time-lapse photography to show the transformation of an normal woman into a glamorous billboard model using beauty stylists and Photoshop enhancements. The clip was released under the slogan “No wonder our perception of real beauty is distorted”. Dove Evolution then took top honours in both the Cyber and Film categories pointing to the colliding worlds of consumer-powered digital distribution and brand building. It is fast becoming one of the most watched videos on the internet. In the two years since Dove decided to brand itself as the beauty company that celebrates real beauty that strategy has rewarded the company with double digit sales increases.

7. T-mobile – T-mobile Dance
Saatchi & Saatchi created this fantastic viral ad for T-Mobile in Liverpool Street Station with hidden cameras. Why it’s effective. Sure T-mobile weren’t the first to film a flash mob, but they still hit this one out of the park. This video is clever, energetic, human, beautiful, entertaining and just plain fun to watch. It has huge numbers at over 17 million views and it does a great job of supporting T-Mobiles ‘Life’s for Sharing’ marketing campaign. T-mobile has smartly followed up with a sing-along video in Trafalguar Square and will undoubtedly continue the ‘Life’s for Sharing’ viral video series – a wise decision, but it will be tough to beat the magic of this video.

8. Doritos – Crash the Super Bowl
Crash the Super Bowl is one of many ways the Doritos brand continues to turn control over to consumers. The brand’s commitment to fan-empowerment began with the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” program, which started in 2007 and has turned the brand’s Super Bowl advertising over to its fans every year. The campaign allowed thousands of normal people, along with ad creatives and film makers create and submit their funniest Doritos ads in an online competition in the lead up the to Superbowl, with the winner, to be played at the main event and the finalists sharing in over $5million in prizes. In addition, Doritos has put consumers in control through a variety of other exciting opportunities, including its “Unlock Xbox” challenge where fans compete to have their Xbox LIVE® Arcade game concept developed and made available for download worldwide; and “Doritos Late Night,” which provided Doritos fans ground-breaking virtual musical performances by blink-182 and Big Boi through the power of augmented reality technology where fans could enjoy and control the performances in the palm of their hand.

9. Old Spice - Odor Blocker
After the Responses, the hits just keep going with a more insane and awesome Odor Blocker series. This time, we get a bodybuilder who punches, kicks, blocks and generally destroys odor—and everything else in his path—in the service of Odor Blocker Body Wash. This guy's on something, and it's not a horse. Plus, he has these crazy talking abdominals.

10. DC Shoes - Gymkhana Two
Ken Block is a person with two passions. His shoe label (DC Shoes) from which he is the co-founder and his professional racing career as a rally driver. In order to promote his favorite racing sport to the world, the unknown rally sport called Gymkhana, he created a highly viral video to show cast his own brand, his favorite sport and his sponsor: Subaru. By being honest to your viewers – “We’ll give you great entertainment, but mind that it is an advertisement asset” – the video took away the inner conflict among viewers to not spread commercial videos. Next to the honesty mentioned , the video is simply highly entertaining. A beautiful car, slow motion shots, explosives and speed are elements that catch the attention of the viewer. Everyone loves to watch eyecandy. Which makes it a strong branded entertainment video, which people love to watch. Even if it lasts for over seven minutes.

Top 10 Reasons why Marketing Gets a Bad Rap

Thanksgiving is only a few days away, so I thought that I would have some fun with this week's blog post.  For the record, I've got a great deal to be thankful for; too much to post here.  I only hope that in the future, I take the time to recognize the many gifts I've been given more than just one day a year.

Here are my top 10 reasons why marketing gets a bad rap.  These are phrases that I can't stand hearing or seeing a company say or use.

10. “If you want us to show you how to use it, that will cost you extra”

9. “That’s not what the ad said”

8. “Offer good Monday thru Thursday only, holidays excluded”

7. “If you don’t wish to receive anymore emails, please click on the link below”

6. “25% off entire stock (discount off of manufacturer suggested retail price)”

5. “25% off entire stock (after rebate)”

4. “It says right here…”

3. “Only 19.95 plus shipping and handling

2. We’d like to offer you a two month free trial (then you’ll automatically be billed for the remaining 10 months unless you call us to cancel)

1. “…with proper diet and exercise”

Feel free to add your own!  Have fun and Happy Thanksgiving!

So your company has multiple social media sites and a mobile app...but how are they contributing to the bottom line?

Yes, every marketer believes that you need to be well entrenched in social media to be competitive in today's customer-centric business environment.

While most marketers are still unsure what to do with their social media channels and how to measure or monetize them, they are still convinced that they need to be there.  Hmmm...sounds like a similar conundrum that business experienced about 10-12 years ago during the dot com boom.  Everyone had to have a website right?  But how did you measure its success?  A lot of businesses are STILL trying to answer that question.

In any case, I'm a firm believer in social and digital media, though my philosophy on measurement may not be consistent with many.  While the measurement methodology you choose can depend upon how far along your social media constituents are in the customer lifecycle; based on the relative recency of consumer activation through our digital channels, I don't believe that monetization of our social media initiatives is a necessity...yet.  I think the value is in the acquisition and cultivation of advocates for the product or service.  I tend to measure success today based on blog readers and retention, Facebook comments, Twitter retweets, app downloads and usage.  To me, this activity indicates whether my constituents are finding our content useful.  Strong (and positive) activity should result in greater brand loyalty and advocacy.  However, I recognize that even this form of measurement has its limitations.  Remember that most participants are "lurkers".  This means that they read your social media content, but don't actively participate by responding, posting or retweeting.  They simply appreciate the content for what it is.  Their lack of activity doesn't mean they shouldn't have value to your organization.  They may actually be your best customers. 

So what's the answer?  How do you prove that digital media has value to the sales process? 

One method may be the growth of marketing automation services.  Marketing automation can be a great tool for marketers who are struggling to integrate all of their digital media channels in order to ensure message and brand consistency, assess and deliver on customer needs, improve content quality and evolve from reactive to proactive.

According to a recent article by Erich Flynn, CEO of Treehouse Interactive posted on, "One of the biggest benefits of using a marketing automation solution is that it has the potential to put sales and marketing teams on the same page. The ability to define what a lead really is and then use your marketing automation system to qualify, nurture and pass along those leads is a basic benefit. In 2010 there will be many integrations between marketing automation and CRM systems that will change how teams work together to close business."

Therefore, integrated marketing automation should enable marketers to better monetize the value of their digital channels because the data available through those channels can have a direct and measurable impact on revenue contribution.

Will marketing automation services be the ultimate solution to the question of social media monetization and customer conversion?  Don't know yet, but its certainly intriguing. 

When did the US government get into the pizza consulting business?

A recent article in the New York Times revealed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was involved in consulting and recommending to Domino's Pizza that it add 40% more cheese to its pies!

I didn't realize that the government was in the pizza consulting business, but I could spend days discussing that.

According to the article, "Dairy Management, the 'consultant' [hired by Domino's] which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant at all. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture".  Yes, the very same Department of Agriculture responsible for leading the government's national anti-obesity campaign.  Talk about "speaking out of both sides of your mouth"!

One slice of Domino's pizza has as much as 2/3rds the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat.  So, on the one hand, the USDA is recommending to the nation's largest pizza chain that it add significantly more cheese to its pies, while on the other hand, recommending that Americans eat less saturated fat, something cheese has in abundance.  Obviously, I'm not the only one that sees some inconsistencies here that could be potentially problematic for Domino's, but highly problematic for the federal government.  Unfortunately, we're talking about a federal agency.  Traditionally, federal agencies have never seemed to be too concerned about their reputations.  They let congress worry about that.

Here's my favorite quote from the article:  "The department acknowledged that cheese is high in saturated fat, but said that lower milk consumption had made cheese an important source of calcium. 'When eaten in moderation and with attention to portion size, cheese can fit into a low-fat, healthy diet'."

I get such a kick out of health and dietary ads that use the disclaimer, "with proper diet and exercise".  The fact is that if everyone maintained a healthy diet and exercised regularly, there would be no need for dietary supplements or weight loss pills.  With "proper diet and exercise", I could probably take diet pills made of bacon fat and still lose weight.

The government is bad enough when dealing with bureaucratic legislative and regulatory issues.  I really wish they would stay out of the marketing business.  They're going to give us all a bad name.  Next thing you know, they'll be selling used cars or launching an airline.

SEO Don'ts - The 15 Mistakes You Should Avoid

You do SEO for the future. If you market your site with press releases but don’t optimize it for search engines, then you’ll have to keep writing press releases indefinitely. When the press releases stop, your website traffic is likely to stop as well. Another common mistake is that many organizations think the process completed once a site is launched. They don't realize that the web site needs to be promoted much like any other product or service. That’s why SEO should be continuously kept in mind to enhance your web performance. Last article, we mentioned some good tips in SEO and of course, along with any list of Do’s come the Don’ts. Then here they are…

1. Having no content

Your website needs content. The search engines need something to rank and you need a way to show authority with users and answer their questions. If you want to create a site that is rich in content and a popular resource amongst internet surfers, then adding quality, unique content is a must. Sure, the search engines like it too. It shows them your site is worthy of being ranked because it’s actively growing with information related to the theme of your site.

2. Lack of consistency and maintenance

If you want to be successful, you need to permanently optimize your site, keep an eye on the competition and – changes in the ranking algorithms of search engines. If you optimize your site today, you won’t see the results of your work tomorrow. You might not see the results even after a couple of months. Search engine optimization, like building a business, takes time to pay off. Therefore, try to focus on your long-term goals. Be patient, and keep working away at it. Eventually, your SEO efforts can turn into a steady flow of free qualified traffic to your website — potential customers coming to you. That’s a result worth waiting for.

3. Choosing keywords you can’t win

Even experienced SEO experts can make this mistake. People usually choose keywords in their mind that are descriptive of their website but the average users just may not search them. Or people may focus on very popular keywords which may not be relevant to the site. Even if you are very resourceful, you can't think on your own of all the great keywords. In fact, choosing the right keywords can make or break your SEO campaign. Most of the sites fail to do enough research on keywords. Using good keyword selection tools, such as Google Adwords Keywords and WordTracker, will help you find keywords that are good for your site. Be thorough in your research, don’t just do it once and forget it. Use as many tools as you can get your hands on – look at web stats and look at the logs for the search feature on your site – get a feel for what people are looking for.

4. Keyword Spamming and Stuffing

Many people may already understand is that keyword stuffing is an SEO technique of the past that should be avoided. Piling up the unrelated keywords needs to be reduced because most of the popular search engines including Google go through the content of the whole page. Therefore they index only the relevant keywords. So, just adding unnecessary keywords is useless. Don’t stuff keywords in your meta tags, image alt tags, etc. Don’t stuff keywords in your page footer with lightly-colored or hidden text.

5. Ignoring the Title tag and Meta tags

A common mistake is overlooking the importance of the title tag. More significant than the name of your business is what your business is all about. This is one of the most important places to have a keyword, because not only does it help you in optimization but the text in your title tag shows in the search results as your page title. Therefore tag should contain the most focused keywords.

Similarly, though you may think that meta tags do no good to your page rank but it cannot be a possible reason to leave your meta descriptions. The search engine research pages vary the description of your web page according to the search keywords. So it’s better to define your web page in the best way you think it will drag a reader towards your site. The tags you put in should be suffice and able to correlate to your page. A good optimized meta description can increase your CTR significantly. Also, a lot of search engines other than Google rely heavily on meta description for ranking your site.

6. Ignoring URLs

Many people underestimate how important a good URL is. Dynamic page names are still very frequent and no keyword in the URL is more a rule than an exception. Yes, it is possible to rank high even without keywords in the URL but all being equal, if you have keywords in the URL (the domain itself, or file names, which are part of the URL), this gives you additional advantage over your competitors. Keywords in URLs are more important for MSN and Yahoo! but even with Google their relative weight is high, so there is no excuse for having keywordless URLs.

7. JavaScript Menus

Using JavaScript for navigation is not bad as long as you understand that search engines do not read JavaScript and build your web pages accordingly. So if you have JavaScript menus you can't do without, you should consider build a sitemap so that all your links will be crawlable.

8. Poor internal linking

We talk a lot about the power of links in SEO. You want people to link to you with keyword-rich anchor text as a way of telling the search engines that you are relevant to those terms. Well, then why aren’t you linking to yourself the same way? When you’re linking between pages on your site, make sure you’re using preferred anchor text to give yourself a boost in the search engines and give users a keyword-rich path to follow. You may not be able to control how other people link to you, but you can control how you link within your own site. Make it count.

9. Flash website without an html alternative

Flash might be attractive but not to search engines and users. Great content embedded into a Flash website get invisible by the search engines. If you really insist that your site is Flash-based and you want search engines to love it, provide an html version. Similarly with Splash pages. A good alternative to both issues is to make use of a flash header. There’s no problem to include a flash animation at the top of your main site, or as a feature within the content area, etc. Because this is an addition to your web site, as opposed to a full separate element.

10. Overusing graphics instead of text

Many people think that an image looks better than text for headings and menus. Therefore, if you are too graphics-rich, you. Most search engines are not programmed to read graphics but instead look for text. may be bypassed by the search engines. An image can make your site look more distinctive but in terms of SEO images for headings and menus are a big mistake because heading tags and menu links are important SEO items. Whenever you’re using a photo, make sure there is also relevant text to accompany it.

11. Backlink spamming

It is a common delusion that it more backlinks are always better and because of this web masters resort to link farms, forum/newsgroup spam etc., which ultimately could lead to getting their site banned. In fact, what you need is quality backlinks.

12. Ignoring local.

You’re loco if you don’t do local! Therefore, make sure your site is listed in the relevant local engines or directories. Make sure your site is optimized for mobile! According to a recent survey, 1 out of 3 smartphone users have been led to a local business after finding in through local mobile search. Danielle Nohe, director, technology and entertainment for Compete, is calling on local businesses to optimize their sites for mobile/smartphone users.

13. Ignoring social media/networking

SEO and social media are interconnected in a way that many people don’t want to admit or acknowledge. Social media is not just a passing trend that is a distraction from “real work” – social media does impact SEO and it can increase exposure and traffic for your site. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to do it (if you care about keeping your site on the forefront). If it’s overwhelming, start with getting a killer Facebook Fan Page up and work on building fans, and then introduce Twitter and then move on to YouTube. It’s OK to do it in stages, just make sure you are working towards social media mastery.

14. Ignoring the trends in the industry

Search engines and social media sites make changes often. Staying current is important for many reasons: you want to be sure your site is cutting edge and taking advantage of all strategies and techniques that are proven to work, you also want to make sure you aren’t wasting your time on old school stuff that doesn’t work. SearchEngineJournal is a great place to stay current and hear all the latest and greatest!

15. Over-optimized pages

Sometimes people go off the deep end after learning about SEO. They start creating overly keyword-rich pages in an effort to move their rankings upwards. This can quickly make for a poor user experience, resulting in a decrease in conversion rates and/or the site being less attractive for others to link to.

Even organizations that are aware of SEO's importance have a tendency to start the process too late. The best way to prevent these mistakes from happening is with education. If you need help with putting that together, hire a senior SEO professional to come in and do the job for you. Once they understand the business implications of their decisions, most senior managers will make far better decisions about the website and SEO.

Can Social Media Improve Face-to-Face Interaction?

A recent article in BizReport shared the results of an ExactTarget and CoTweet study that found that many avid social media users are actually spending more time with their friends and colleagues offline even though they are also spending more time online.

According to the article by Helen Leggatt, "Over a quarter of those surveyed (27%) said they had spent more time with their fellow human beings, in person, despite also using Facebook more. Only 13% said their face-to-face time with friends had decreased.  Likewise, of those who are using Twitter more, almost half (46%) hang out with their friends more often and only 7% do so less."

Like many, I have always shared concerns about whether social media will have a long-lasting negative impact on the social skills of future generations.  However, these findings not only provide me with a muted sense of relief, but also reinforce what I've always believed is a strength of social media from a business standpoint:  To bring people together both on and offline.

Smart organizations will integrate social media with their offline social initiatives such as learning events, advocacy and fundraising gatherings, or simple meet-ups.  There are few communications platforms that can generate a call-to-action response faster than social media due to its reach and immediacy.

One well known example is the use of Twitter to mobilize international support and communicate what was actually happening behind the Iranian curtain following the country's disputed 2009 elections and government crackdown.  Massive protests sprung up around the world within days; some within hours!

With businesses strategically adopting more socially conscious missions today, they can and should use their large social media networks for purposes beyond just product promotion.  By supporting social causes both on and offline that are important to their stakeholders, companies can build greater goodwill with their constituents ultimately strengthening their corporate reputations. 

Therefore, don't limit your social media strategies to the online world.  To maximize their effectiveness, try to find ways to integrate them with offline and community based efforts as well.

Goodwill of Greater Washington Launches Mobile App to Improve Donor & Shopper Convenience!

I'm wearing my corporate hat today, but I'm very excited about making this announcement!

Goodwill of Greater Washington (GGW) just launched a new mobile app that will provide greater convenience to its diverse shoppers and donors while also educating users about Goodwill’s workforce development programs.

The DC Goodwill app, which is the first fully integrated mobile application within the 167 member Goodwill movement and can be downloaded for free through the iTunes app store, will allow users to locate any Goodwill retail store, donation center or donation bin throughout the entire greater Washington metropolitan area, complete with images, distances, directions, hours of operation and contact information. The app also allows users to engage GGW via Facebook and Twitter, read Goodwill’s nationally recognized fashion blog, learn about Goodwill’s workforce development services and even make a quick, easy and secure online gift.

The goal of Goodwill of Greater Washington’s new mobile app is to enhance the ease and convenience of supporting and engaging the charitable agency.  Goodwill is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to improve its ability to communicate with its constituents in a manner that is conducive to their busy lifestyles. This app will help.

In addition to the new mobile app, Goodwill of Greater Washington has also launched several other successful digital marketing campaigns including a customer loyalty program through Foursquare that rewards customers for multiple “check ins” on the location based social media platform. Fans of Good Willy (DC Goodwill’s handle) on Facebook can also receive monthly retail store discounts while learning about and discussing Goodwill’s mission, programs and workforce development issues. For the past several years, GGW has also been actively engaging supporters through Twitter and it’s nationally recognized English and Spanish fashion blogs.

For information on the mobile app or any other questions about Goodwill of Greater Washington, please contact Brendan Hurley at (202) 715-2605, via email at, on Twitter at HurleyB.

Special thanks to Stella's Pop Factory, who designed the app interface and been hugely supportive of Goodwill; Mindsea Development for an incredible job developing the app, and SMthree, LLC for managing the development of GGW's Foursquare customer loyalty campaign, which is starting to take off!