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Questioning Your Marketing Vision

Being in the marketing business, I question myself daily as to what makes me tick. What motivates me to buy a product, use one service over another, or donate to this or that non-profit? All of our clients have competition within their industries, the local market, or even on an international level. In the simplest terms, our challenge is to identify why someone would want to use their service/product over the competition’s, and to capitalize on those features using the various tools in our marketing repertoire.

Sometimes this challenge is easily overcome. Other times, you’re faced with a bigger issue. Today, I had a bigger issue.

Whenever I need a jolt of creative inspiration, I go to my favourite website, TED is an amazing database of lectures by some of the world’s most famous minds in fields as diverse as marketing, nuclear physics and religion. This site has everything. This morning, I found myself trolling it’s categories once again for a spark of genius that would lead me to my eureka moment. And guess what? I found it!

In his TED talk entitled, “How great leaders inspire action” Simon Sinek challenges traditional marketing theory in such a brilliant way that I found myself bouncing out of my seat in excitement. Not very professional, I know. But on the plus side, I found the answer to my bigger issue, and my client will be better positioned to reevaluate their vision and positioning within their market.

As Sinek says, traditional marketing theory states that people want to buy a product, or an end result. This simply isn’t the case; it’s not how the brain works.Biology teaches us that the human brain is wired to be purpose-driven. This means that selling potential members on the vision of the organization is the key factor in motivating people to buy what you’re selling, so to speak.

People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it. ~ Simon Sinek

This rule is exemplified in the Apple computer brand. Apple makes good computers, but so do many other manufacturers. But Apple sells them differently. Apple doesn’t just sell a good computer – it sells an ideal. It positions itself as challenging the status quo. Anyone who wants to do the same should buy an Apple. Apple sells to innovators, to creatives; it speaks to the, “Why?”

My question to you is: Are you asking “why” about your brand?

As luck would have it, I also stumbled across an organization that’s doing this right. World Vision Canada’s Five for 5 initiative is doing a great job at communicating the “Why?” to their target audience. Here’s a video example of what I mean.

What other organizations do this right? Have you questioned your marketing vision lately?

Why We Should All Be a Little More Like Steve Nash

nashI’ll admit, I’m not a huge sports fan. I think Sunday’s match up between Canada and the USA in Olympic Men’s Hockey, was the first time I’ve watched a full, televised game…Ever. But before you start throwing sweaty gym socks at me, I have to admit that I really, really enjoyed it. How could you not?! I can finally understand why sports is such big business.

Hockey aside, I’m not totally ignorant as to what happens in the world of professional sports, and who the players are. One name that’s always stood out is Steve Nash. I know he’s an amazing basketball player. I know that he didn’t even start playing basketball until he was in eighth grade, and that at a mere 6’3″ he beat the odds in terms of making it big. I even know that he’s a five time All-Star and two-time NBA MVP with career per game averages of 14 points and 7.6 assists. That’s right.

But when I picked up February’s Fast Company Magazine and saw him on the cover, I was intrigued. What business lessons could I learn from an NBA player?

It turns out that there aren’t many lessons we can’t learn from Steve. This reluctant “anti-brand,” household name, holds up in his off-court ventures as well as he does on the court.

Here are my Top 10 reasons we should all be a little more like Steve Nash:

1. He gives 100% – No one can call Steve a slacker.

2. He focuses on opportunities rather than setbacks – The man plays pro basketball despite the odds against him, namely height and a serious back injury.

3. He trains hard – Whether physically prepping for his day job, or becoming an intern at a marketing firm for the summer to understand this side gig, Nash isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

4. He’s not afraid of failure – He improvises on the court, and off. The man isn’t afraid to take risks.

5. He gives back – Remember when we were talking about corporate social responsibility a few weeks ago? Steve takes “giving back” to heart. The Steve Nash Foundation is a prime example of this.

6. He’s action-oriented – Rather than simply waiting for others to do the work, he takes on jobs himself, like writing scripts for commercials, and producing his own videos. He does it all. (See #4.)

7. He embraces change – Despite his reluctance to become a “brand,” he assumed the role with zeal when he saw how much good he could accomplish by doing so.

8. He’s a new media pro star – Production company (Meathawk Productions)? Check. Viral videos? Check. Twitter account? Yup. If Nash is doing it, maybe you should too.

9. He’s humble – With so many people feeling the need to “be somebody”, Steve exudes a reluctant celebrity status, marked not by the need to impress, but to make a difference.

10. He plans ahead – He knows he’s not going to play basketball forever, and has already assumed other roles to plan for this future. Staying innovative counts.

Steve is changing the game of business by making his own rules, and forging ahead with intent and creativity. How are you changing your game?

Toronto Works for Haiti

torontoforhaitiToday is one of those days when I’m amazed by the connections, and opportunities for community building and business, that social media allows. I’m even more awestruck by being surrounded by so many people working passionately for the cause of Haiti.

Why focus on Haiti on a business blog? Because it’s the perfect example of how so many elements that we’ve been discussing in this forum (ie. social media, cause marketing, corporate social responsibility) come together to make a measurable impact on society.

Today my friend and colleague in the social media space, Sophie Bifield, introduced me to her friend and colleague, Elliot Ng. Elliot is the founder of Toronto Works for Haiti, a group of volunteers in Toronto offering professional services in exchange for donations to Haiti.

Their goal is to raise $5,000 for relief efforts before March 18, 2010.

Currently they stand at 20 volunteers with skills ranging from administrative services to professional editing,
social media marketing, and realty. There are no overhead costs, and they’re asking that all donation go directly to the organizations they support, namely the Humanitarian Coalition, the Canadian Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. All the recipients of the goods and services have to do is let them know how much they’re donating so they can keep track of their efforts.

Founder of Toronto Works for Haiti, Elliot Ng

Founder of Toronto Works for Haiti, Elliot Ng

Here’s Elliot’s take:

After hearing about the earthquake, I felt that it would not be enough to for me to just make a donation to the charities. I asked myself, “What can I do to offer more? How can I help people in Haiti even though I am in Toronto?” On top of that, my professional background helped me put my own spin on it: coming from the business background, I understand the need for businesses, and naturally I started connecting the dots. Why don’t I try to find other like-minded individuals who are compassionate and want to mobilize our skills for this great cause? So I picked up the phone and pitched to my friends: Roxanne Chow, Katherine Lee, Kilim Park, and Mark Savel. They liked it! Roxanne gave the group the name we are using now. Katherine started creating the structure of the organization. Kilim started writing on our blog. Mark suggested ideas on how to make this idea bigger. It snowballed and the rest is history.

There are a few things I love about this idea:

  1. It raises money for a great cause.
  2. It allows small business owners to make an impact on a global scale.
  3. It creates awareness for small business, and is a great PR opportunity.
  4. It creates opportunity for collaboration, and networking.
  5. It’s a simple idea that your business could easily adopt for any cause you’re passionate about.

What do I want you to do?

  • Take some of the ideas we’ve dissected and apply them to your own business strategy. The bottom line for you is increased awareness, networking and sales.
  • Get involved with Toronto Works for Haiti or another local group like New Mercy Ministries, both to help with relief efforts, and to network with some brilliant, talented people.
  • Join the Toronto Works for Haiti Facebook group, and voice your support. Put their logo on your profile to spread awareness.

Whatever you do, make sure you act now. If not for Haiti, then for the cause you care about. Everybody wins! And you know I love a good win-win.

Cause Marketing

Spread the word! Cause marketing is good for your business.

Spread the word! Cause marketing is good for your business.

It’s hard to bring things back to business as usual when the world is suffering in such plain view. There are always causes to support, funds to be raised, and people who will be in need. But this morning Haiti was rocked again by aftershocks, and the rest feels small to me again.

I mentioned  last week that I had planned to be on a plane to Haiti for two weeks of humanitarian relief work, as of January 27. That trip has since been cancelled. I’m not going to talk a lot about me here, but since I had told you last week, I thought I would update the status of said venture.

But let’s bring this back to you. Why should your business care about Haiti, or any cause for that matter? Because it’s good marketing strategy.

Wikipedia says:

Cause marketing differs from corporate giving (philanthropy) as the latter generally involves a specific donation that is tax deductible, while cause marketing is a marketing relationship generally not based on a donation.

Yesterday, Kerry gave a great example of cause marketing (although you might argue that because a donation was involved it wasn’t pure CM). Lou’s Cozy Grill in Belleville, Ontario ran a promotion to raise money for Haiti relief. The benefit is two-fold: money raised for a good cause and great PR for Lou’s. Who doesn’t like a win-win?

I’m loosely classifying this under “cause marketing” because even though it wasn’t strategically executed, I love the fact that they gave it a shot. I don’t know how much money they raised, but I’ll remember their effort, and I’ll swing by to grab a coffee. While I’m there, I might buy a sandwich, or grab breakfast–whatever. The point is that consumers want to know that the brands they align themselves with support a vision beyond their own bottomline.

A clearer example is found in the actions McDonald’s restaurants implemented to support and promote the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour initiatives. For example, all Canadian McDonald’s restaurants turned off their roadside pole signs and roof beam lighting to conserve energy for Earth Hour. The support wasn’t monetary–it was action driven. McDonald’s was trying to build a reputation as  a socially responsible organization, and both McDonald’s and WWF benefited from increased awareness. That awareness translates into dollars. It’s an indirect root to acquire sales and revenue, but it’s good business.

And that’s where you step in. Does your marketing plan allow for cause marketing initiatives? What organizations do you align yourself with? Are you maximizing these low-cost opportunities for PR?

If not, we can help. Contact Engine Communications today to shift your marketing plan into high gear.

Local Challenge to Help Haiti

lou'sTypically on Friday’s I blog about food, wine and entertaining. But last Friday, in light of the earthquake that struck Haiti, it just didn’t seem that important. With so many people living without food, it was hard to blog about it.

The tragedy in Haiti is really hitting home–so many people homeless, living in fear of lost family members and friends, and without food or drink. Devastating! And something that we Canadians have never had to deal with. Natural disasters of this magnitude just don’t touch us.

On my drive in to work last Friday morning I was listening to our local radio station, the Mix,  and they reported that one of our local restaurants, Lou’s Cozy Grill, was donating $1 from every meal purchase to relief for Haiti. That is just awesome, way to go! Can you imagine if every restaurant in town did that?! What a difference it would make! Restaurants all over the world are doing their part, check it out.

I say, come on restaurants in Belleville, follow Cozy Grill’s lead, and donate a portion of every bill over the coming week to Haiti relief. And to all the residents of Belleville and the Quinte Area, go out, share a meal with your family and friends, be thankful for the fact that you have food to eat, and feel good about the fact that a portion of your bill goes to helping Haiti. It’s a win-win.

Why should your restaurant participate? Cause marketing–giving back not only for the good of your business, but for that of the world around you. (To read an excellent post on this topic, take a look at PR professional, Lauren Fernandez’s blog.) Get on board, and give back, because we’re so fortunate to live where we do.

I’m going to the Cozy for lunch today, want to join me?




At this point, the world is in shock over the devastation this country suffered on Tuesday as a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the island of Hispaniola–the epicentre of its force being only 14 miles away from the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.

Some of you may know, but for those of you who don’t, I was scheduled to board a plane to Haiti on January 27th, for a two weeks of humanitarian relief work.

I don’t know the fate of that trip; I don’t even know if they have an airport. An estimated 3 million people have been affected by this disaster–something no one in Haiti can afford. Most of Haiti’s approximately 9 million residents already live on $1.00 per day. They are the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Cite-Soleil, one of Port-au-Prince’s shanty towns is the poorest neighbourhood in the world with 300,000 people living in abject poverty.

My heart breaks for these people. It has for awhile, which is was going there. And right now, I unabashedly plea with you to act. Nothing is more important today then helping those who can’t help themselves.

My friends at World Vision Canada are already on the ground in Haiti, with emergency response teams being organized, and help being brought to residents as quickly as possible. We won’t know the full extent of the damage for days, but we can all do our part.

Give to World Vision Canada’s Haiti Relief Efforts

If you’re from the Quinte region, and you want to give directly to local efforts, then please email Rick Langstaff of New Mercy Ministries at [email protected] or you can donate to NMM’s Haiti relief by visiting Desert Stream Christian Fellowship at 535 Dundas St E. in Belleville.

Thank you!

Website Accessibility

42-15645269There’s this one women’s washroom in a restaurant (which shall remain nameless) here in Belleville that really irks me. I’m a pretty small woman, but the narrow L-turn in the hallway leading into it, bookended by two doors which open in the wrong directions, makes it really difficult to maneuver. Everytime I go through this obstacle course I think, “What would I do if I were in a wheelchair?” It’s ridiculous.

But it illustrates a good point: How easy is it for people with disabilities to access your business?

As you may, or may not know, January ushered in the dawn of a new era of Accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, the government has taken it upon themselves to develop standards of accessibility, and to enforce them.

It’s about time. It boggles the mind that in 2010, people with disabilities still do not have equal access to services, employment, transportation, and information. But all of that is about to change, and the first target for reformation is the world of customer service.

As of January 10, 2010, all public service sector organizations (ie. government, hospitals, school boards) must be in compliance with these standards. By January 2012, everyone else has to be on board.

The standards include things like enacting policies and procedures for providing goods and services to people with disabilities. It also encompasses training staff and volunteers in accessibility issues. Another key element of these standards is in regard to communication: website accessibility.

What is website accessibility?

Many people with disabilities rely on computers and the internet as sources of communication. Assistive devices, such as screen readers, speech input systems, and others operate with their software to provide an optimal experience. Making your website accessible means that it is built to be compatible with these tools.

There are different levels of accessiblity for the web. Most businesses with be able to stop at the ‘A’ level, but others, like our awesome clients, Pathways to Independence, will want to take it a step further. It all depends on what your site is doing, who it’s reaching, and how accessible you feel you need to be (it would be pretty cool if everyone was at ‘AAA,’ but maybe someday.)

We here at Engine have been talking about website accessibility for awhile. You can check out a quick slideshow presentation we did on the topic on our Slideshare site.

In the meantime, consider the implications for your business. Check out the following resources:

Ministry of Community and Social Services, Ontario – AccessON

WorldWideWeb Consortium – Web Accessibility Initiative

Wikipedia – Web Accessibility

Feel free to call, email, tweet or Facebook us with any questions you might have. We’d be happy to help!

Charity Wreath Off!

wreathoffWe here at Engine love it when our colleagues and clients come up with amazing ideas! Here’s one that we just had to share.

The group from JB Printing, in Belleville, Ontario, have created an online charity auction, where they’re selling off Christmas wreaths, made by members of their team, to benefit the Make A Wish Foundation.

Here’s Owner, Teresa Bell’s, take on how this project came about:

It started in October…….at a staff meeting we somehow got started challenging each other to a pumpkin carving contest. Well, the next week everyone showed up with a pumpkin and then we asked customers to vote. We had such fun with it that we started thinking, what could we do next?

With Christmas just around the corner it was natural to think of a wreath making competition, and we always support a charity. Why not put the two together? The Wreath Off was born.

The hardest part was deciding which charity to support. In past years we have done a Toy Drive, Christmas Sharing Baskets and Coats for Kids. This year we voted to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation.

Everyone at JB Printing made a wreath. The rules stated that you had to make it yourself, it had to be a continuous shape and less than 24″ wide. When the wreaths arrived we were amazed at the variety, ingenuity and talent showcased in the various themes.

We are now auctioning the wreaths off, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Make a Wish Foundation. The JB staff are a pretty competitive bunch and we all want to have the highest selling wreath. It’s annonymous, so no one knows whos wreath they’re purchasing. The wreath designers will be revealed after the auction closes on Dec. 14.

Merry Christmas,
Teresa Bell

This is such an ingenious way to engage staff, foster creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, and to give back to the community!

To find out how you can participate in the JB Printing, Christmas Charity Wreath Off, check out this link!

The Mully Children’s Family Women of Hope Evening & Mixer

safaritourWe here at Engine have had the privilege of helping our friends at the Mully Children’s Family with some of the promotional elements for their 2009 North American Safari Tour. If you don’t know what the Mully Children’s Family (MCF) is, let us fill you in.

Charles Mulli, the founder of MCF, was abandonded by his family at six years of age and left to beg on the streets of Kenya. Through perseverance, passion and ingenuity, Charles became a self-made millionaire–overcoming obstacles of social class, race, and extreme poverty. Charles had seen his dreams become reality. But then fate intervened, and his life was changed forever.

In 1986, a group of street children stole Charles’ Mercedes during a business trip to Nairobi. His anger quickly turned to compassion as he realized that he was once one of them. He knew he had to do something. 

Charles and his wife, Esther, gave up everything they’d accomplished–sold his homes, cars, and businesses–and used the money to open the Mully Children’s Family, a Christian humanitarian organization committed to transforming the lives of orphaned, abandoned and abused children in Kenya.

Since its opening in 1989, MCF has seen over 7,000 orphaned and abandonded children rehabilitated, educated, and rescued from AIDS, poverty, disease, and isolation. 

Using his business savvy and experience, Charles has extended MCF’s work to include an agricultural program, medical centre, and environmental sustainability initiatives that provide income for the home and employ half of the surrounding community.

MCF also supports 40 projects around the world—offering guidance to other NGO’s and communities in the areas of child rescue and rehabilitation, sustainable development, agriculture, and HIV/AIDS education; and has helped shape Kenya’s policies and laws on children’s rights and protection.

As I write this, former stree youth, now under the care of the Mully Children’s Family are making their way across Canada on their North American Safari Tour. The two-month tour kicked off mid-October in Ontario, and is moving across the country through Winnipeg, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Kelowna and Vancouver until mid-December. The youth will perform at schools, churches and events across the country, presenting a dynamic show of traditional African singing, dancing, drumming, acrobatics, and karate demonstrations from their championship team.

A complete list of tour dates is available on the Mully Children’s Family Charitable Foundation (MCFCF) website:

The MCF tour will arrive in the Quinte area the week of November 2-6th. These events are a must see!

safaritour2On Tuesday, November 3, Engine Communications is partnering with MCF and local speaker, author and blogger, Sheila Wray Gregoire, to host the Women of Hope event.

This evening is geared toward local business women, but any woman of any age will walk away from this event feeling inspired. No more will the word, ‘Africa,’ conjure images of poverty and despair. As you hear Esther and Mueni Mulli share their visions for their contintent, country, and it’s women, your heart will break but your spirit is sure to soar.

Specificallly, the discussion will focus on the future of education and micro-business opportunities in Kenya and rural Africa, for its women. Testimonials from local women who have visited MCF will also be heard. This is a learning and networking opportunity for anyone interested in social justice, business, and international development.

Whether you’re a mother, a daughter, an entrepreneur or student, you’ll be inspired by the stories of women, just like you, doing great things to change the world. You’ll also have the chance to buy some unique Christmas gifts to support the Mully’s efforts in Kenya.

There is no cost for admission, but donations to the Mully Children’s Family will be accepted.

If you would like to attend this event, please RSVP to our Facebook event page, or email Bryna Jones [email protected] or Sheila Wray Gregoire [email protected]. You can also call Bryna at Engine Communications: 613-771-0090.

Guests are welcome to bring friends, and seats will be available at the door (just in case you’re not sure you can commit). No one will be left out of this special mixer.

Blowing Smoke: The Government of Ontario v. Big Tobacco

stop-smoking1There isn’t much doubt (once you know me) that I love politics. I don’t know why. It’s certainly not genetic. I also love public relations.

Yesterday a friend emailed me an article he thought might be of interest to me as it broched both of these subjects. Let me explain:

According to the CBC News on Tuesday, the Government of Ontario is sueing big tobacco “for past and ongoing health-care costs linked to tobacco-related illness.” This, the Government of Ontario has decided, is unfair to tax payers. How dare big tobacco ruin lives, and make citizens (many of whom do not smoke) pay the price!

So Ontario decided to do something about it. The provincial government set the framework for said lawsuit through legislation it passed this year. That means that the governement created a law that let them sue big tobacco…and let them set the amount they could sue for…and then they sued…

Let me get this straight: The province has been collecting tax off of tobacco sales for a long time now. (If anyone knows the number of years, feel free to leave a comment.) They’ve been making money off of peoples’ addiction. Is that right? And now, after years of making money off tobacco, they’re sueing big tobacco manufactuers for more money?


Is smoke being blown at anyone else?

This isn’t meant to be a huge political commentary. What it does point out is the difference between PR and its ugly evil twin, Spin.

Wikipedia defines ‘spin’ in public relations as:

[A] form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure.

I don’t love that big tobacco producers have made gazillions of dollars off of addiction, illness and disease. I don’t. But what I also think is wrong is dishonesty on the part of government when it comes to making money.

As my friend said:

It seems to me that sueing big tobacco is a measure by the government to gain tax revenue without appearing to raise taxes on cigarettes. This way, everybody ‘wins’ because the government will get their money and still appear to be a champion of the common people, even the ones addicted to cigarettes.

Good PR for the provincal government. Or is it spin?

It’s pretty easy to demonize the devil if you ask me. And $50 billion in revenue for the province should, in theory, benefit tax payers without having to raise taxes. Everybody wins! Or do they?

What I’ll be interested to see is where the monies generated from the lawsuit go. Will they be directed at health care or proactive anti-smoking initiatives (which by rights they should) or will they go to general coffers? That might be the difference between PR and spin in this case.

What do you think?