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Listening to Your Competition

Do you ever feel like everywhere you look, competitors are saying the exact same things in their advertising? There are merits to knowing what your competition is doing, in any industry it is crucial to know what is out there and make sure that you are offering a competitive product or service at competitive rates. What most people do not realize is that focusing too much on your competition can actually cripple your businesses and accomplish the opposite of what you are trying to do.

What happens all too often, especially in smaller cities, is that people have a tendency to copy. I’m not saying that they go out there with the intention of mimicking, but they become so focused on what others are doing that they forget to innovate.

I was reminded of this concept when I went to the store to compare tablets, the iPad 2, Blackberry Playbook and others. What became apparent the more I looked and researched was that Apple was focused on their business, on being the best they could be. While it seems everyone else is simply try to keep up with competition.

Makes me wonder, what could we accomplish if everyone stopped trying to be like everyone else, and just focused on being the best they could be. Now that gives you something to market!

Great Campaigns Produce Great Results

As a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series of books by George R. R. Martin, I have been watching the development and promotion of the new TV series: Game of Thrones, with a keen eye.

HBO’s promotional campaign is great example of a successful integrated marketing campaign. From seizing the throne, to free bicycle throne rides events and then integrating it with a Facebook, blog and Twitter campaign, HBO had a great promotional campaign.


They placed giant throne replicas around major cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Then, people got their picture taken which were then posted on Facebook and Twitter as “seizing the throne.”

This strategy is great for many reasons. First, giant thrones in a major public area will create attention and buzz from traditional media and word-of-mouth. Second, posting the pictures on Facebook gets people to spread the word to family and friends which further promotes the new TV show. Third, people will then post and talk about these events occurring (such as this blog!)

These promotions were highly successful judging by the 4.2 million viewers who tuned into the first episode.

Although HBO had a large budget, they used it efficiently. By showing these events across all possible mediums, they used their dollars wisely. Make sure you do the same when planning and promoting your events.

Physically Represent your Brand

As we say on our website “a brand is a powerful collection of perceptions in the mind of a consumer.” Although your brand image depends on what your consumer thinks, you can do many things to help foster a positive brand image.

A relatively easy way is to start from where you do business. Whether you are a manufacturer, small business, multinational or creative business, your location can make a lasting impression. A great location will convince people of your mission and your passion.

A great example is the BMW headquarters (seen in the YouTube video). The tower was designed in the shape of four-cylinders, which alludes to a four-cylinder car engine.

Also, as I begin interning here at Engine, the first thing I noticed is that they take their mission to heart. Positioned at a railway station, the constant rumbling, horn-blasting and bell-ringing remind me that we are here to drive businesses toward success.

It really makes a lasting and great first impression on both consumers and employees. Take a look at your business, or your place of employment. Does the location reflect your mission?

Troy is currently interning at Engine Communications as part of his Loyalist Post-Grad PR Program.  He likes anything to do with PR, social media and technology.  A UWO graduate, he is always looking at new ways of doing things. His blog can be found at:


Camera Lens Mug

Camera Lens Mug

You may not know this, but I am an avid photographer. I may not make a career of it, but I find tremendous joy in all things photographic–from the gear, to the process, to the final image.


iphone lens

iphone lens

I received an e-newsletter this morning from a company called photojojo. I love the stuff they sell and their light hearted approach. Like this camera lens mug:

Or perhaps you been looking for a fisheye lens for your iPhone?

Well, if you’re not ready to spend your cash on such frivolous items, and you have been wanting to experiment with photography – may I suggest you visit: DIYPhotography. If you are a do-it-yourselfer and want to save some money on studio lighting and such, you can find all sorts of great low cost ideas. Be warned though these projects require some resourcefulness. It isn’t all building stuff however, they also have some great instruction on a variety of techniques too.

Check it out…

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?

CARE Canada: International Women’s Day

2010_iwd_logo_rgbWe all know that I’m an advocate for non-profit organizations that focus on social justice. Being in PR and marketing, I’m always interested to see what new, innovative methods non-profits are using to communicate their messages, and champion the needs of their clients.

One of my favourite non-profit organizations to watch is CARE Canada. Last year, I was fortunate enough to interview their President, Kevin McCort, an incredibly passionate, creative leader in the field. Kevin and his team stepped up to the plate in a big way recently in Haiti, partnering with Oxfam and Save the Children to create the Humanitarian Coalition. Jointly, they raised over 13 million dollars to bring aid to those affected by the earthquake.

CARE’s work extends far past disaster relief. Their mission is to fight poverty through the empowerment of women and girls in developing nations. Using education, economic development, health care and HIV/AIDS programs, as well as disaster and conflict relief, CARE Canada is working with communities around the world to achieve their goals.

The results are inspiring, to say the least. You can imagine my excitement when I was contacted by their Communications Manager, Kieran Green, who wanted to give me the scoop on their plans for International Women’s Day!

International Women’s Day, held annually since 1911, on March 8, is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. To kick it off tonight, CARE is hosting the 1-night-only Canadian premier of “Half the Sky Live”, inspired by the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It features live musical performances, celebrity commentary, and chronicles the struggle of poor Ethiopian women who overcome sexual violence and discrimination. It’s the first time a non-profit development group like CARE has commercially released a film to both entertain and raise awareness of a global issue.

On Monday, March 8, CARE will be celebrating International Women’s Day with an innovative awareness campaign. I’m going to let Kieran tell you about it:

With our focus on empowering women at the core of our poverty-fighting work, International Women’s Day is a natural fit for CARE for spreading the word about our work, and about the importance of women in the fight against global poverty.

This year we were looking for something that could be both a symbol, and also a simple activity for engaging Canadians, and raising awareness about International Women’s Day. We thought about the red ribbon for AIDS, the pink ribbon for breast cancer research, and about the wrist bands other causes have adopted. We wanted to do something in that vein, but at the same time unique and attention-getting.

Then we remembered the old folk tradition of tying a string around your finger to remind yourself of something you don’t want to forget. The idea was born. So for International Women’s Day we want all Canada to wear the string as a reminder of all the things the women of the world have achieved, and of all the things that are yet to be done.

It’s easy to do – you don’t need to buy a ribbon or any special equipment. Just cut a piece of string, or wool, or yarn, or ribbon, and tie it on your finger. And it’s not just for this year. Our dream is for the string to become the globally-recognized symbol for International Women’s Day year after year.

How fantastic is that?! Taking a familiar tradition (the “awareness” ribbon), and giving it a unique twist (the “reminder” string) is such a cool idea. It’s easy, the audience understands the concept, and through the use of social media, people can become a part of the campaign in ways that just weren’t available in the past. Through Facebook and an interactive Flickr album, supporters will be able to take part in this initiative in a deeply personal way.

A mentor of mine once said to me, “Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be loved. And everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves.” CARE Canada’s International Women’s Day campaign fits this bill. We’ll be taking part. Will you?



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.

Let’s Play!

Don't just sit there! You need to play as much as this guy.

Don't just sit there! You need to play as much as this guy.

I was reading Chris Brogan’s newsletter from December 15, again this morning, as I sat suffering from a small case of blog-writer’s block. If you don’t subscribe to his newsletter, you must do so immediately. It’s always a wealth of information, and Chris has such a transparent way of writing. He’s really generous in sharing the strategies he uses in his own busines. But I digress…

Chris was talking about playing games. He asked why, as adults, we don’t do so more often. Good question! Creativity and playing games help us engage in open possibilities. As adults we tend to forget how playing games helps us to understand the world.

Think about Christmas morning: Why do most young children like to play with the box more than the present inside? Because it allows them to use their imaginations. There aren’t any rules or boundaries; they just think possibility. As adults in business, we could stand a little childhood regression.

It just so happens that sitting on my desk is a great book that I love to pull out when I’m in need of possibility. It’s called Thinker Toys: A handbook of creative thinking techniques, and it’s written by Michael Michalko. Thinker Toys is really a big book of games for grown-ups.

Combining individual, and group, brainstorming techniques, Michalko helps the reader to open their mind up to inspiration from many directions. It’s stretching and motivating, and really fun. If you, like Chris, recognize that games are good for business, you should add a copy to your Christmas wishlist.

Then, take a look at our Facebook Fan Page for some creative thinking ideas to bring out your inner child.

How do you get creative in the workplace? Any tips or techniques?

Monday Morning Reads

j0438525Coffee. Check.

Music. Check.

Articles to inspire. Check.

A list of what I’m reading this morning:

AdvertisingAge’s Book of Tens – The ten best of everything media, design, marketing, and more. If you’re in any creative field, this is a must-read. If you’re not, it’s still a must-read. So read it. Now.

Fast Company: Mr. Social – I have to admit, I always wondered what Demi saw in him. How Ashton Kutcher has proven me wrong, and why he matters to the future of social media.

The New Yorker: Branded a Cheat – I’ve been trying to avoid the Tiger gossip machine, but for us PR/marketing types, this is going to be a case study. Put down the US Weekly, and pick up the New Yorker.

Wired: James Cameron and Avatar – What James Cameron’s epic new film means for movies, media, and the future of communications.

Ad Week 2010 – I’m not so much reading this as I am madly planning my itinerary. But if we’re talking inspiration, then I can hardly leave it out.

What are you reading? Who’s inspiring you today?