Keeping social media “Real”



This story today from Fox News brought to light the not-so-secret practice of sponsors using their athlete’s social media channels to share a message.  It’s a tactic that I’ve used with athlete marketing partners in the past in order to share news about an onsite event promotion or to try and drive website traffic or social media chatter around an online promotion.  It’s great when it works – just about any celebrity is going to generate more positive buzz than just about any brand can get on their own online.  However, it can also feel forced and inauthentic if not handled properly.

Here are three tips to keep in mind when drafting what we refer to as a “Social Media Run-of-Show”:

1.  Encourage Collaboration:  Look at the big picture for all of the potential celebrities, sponsors and partners that may get involved in your social media outreach activity.  At a NASCAR event, for instance, that includes not just the brand, the track and the driver, but also the crew chief, pit crew members, team owners and associate sponsors.  You can generate a lot more traction by keeping everyone informed and getting everyone involved.  And, frankly, a partner re-tweeting a brand message can feel a lot more real than an original post that may be out of context.

2.  Suggest Messaging, Don’t Dictate Language:  While it’s much easier for everyone to follow a script, social media messaging can often come off as just that.  Whenever possible, take the time to explain the strategy behind your campaign to the relevant partners and spokespeople that you’re coordinating with, and let them craft the messaging in their own words.  Especially with athletes, posting a message in the voice of the sponsor feels fake.  Telling the story in their own words feels real.  It’s a balancing act for sure, but one worth considering for the sake of authenticity and a stronger connection to the fan.  Speaking of the fans . . .

3.  Invite Fans to Participate:  A social media promotion is really designed to generate buzz.  And that means two-way communication.  Invite fans to share a message, and reward them for doing so.  As a sponsor, re-circulate their content, surprise them with rewards for posting relevant content, and give them ways to get involved through live events (a Tweet-Up with other fans, Celebrity Meet-and-Greets and social scavenger hunts, just to provide a few examples).  Making them feel part of the promotion can really help extend your social reach.

Remember, the key to successful social media campaigns is to create an aura of authenticity.  Keep that in mind when working with athletes or other celebrities.

What are some of the most authentic athlete/sponsor social media campaigns you’ve seen?



Marketing Yourself



I’ve been spending a lot of time developing new business relationships recently.  And it occurs to me as I do so, how much time we all spend marketing ourselves.  Selling your skill set to others is not unlike selling a product, actually.  The marketing process is very much the same, and thinking about it that way really helps keep the process moving.  I find that it comes down to three simple steps:

Step 1:  Understanding your target audience

Who am I talking to?  What are their needs?  How can what I’m selling help them solve a problem?  No matter if it’s you or a product – you have to have something your consumer wants.  For myself, as a marketing generalist, sometimes I find that there are so many skill sets I can draw on, that it’s hard for a potential client to understand where I might fit.  Listening to what they tell me and then identifying specific areas of opportunity are critical to helping find that common ground and making the sale.

Step 2:  Developing a unique selling proposition (USP)

Marketing 101:  What makes your product unique from all the others out there?  Find that point of differentiation, and then deliver on it.   We each have our own USP as well.  For instance, while there are other strategic marketers out there, no one combines my exact set of skills (including having built and run my own companies) and executes them in the same way that I do.  My personality is unique as well.  I’ve been lucky in my career to work with many clients who truly enjoyed working with me – and that’s something that I try to parlay into new relationships as well.  A big reason why I like to meet prospects for lunch or coffee is getting that personality out on the table and seeing if it’s a good fit on both sides.  We spend a lot of time working with our clients – it’s always helpful when we like one another.

Step 3:  Choosing the right mix of tactics to achieve your objectives

Think about what it takes to sell a product.  Brand awareness, presenting your USP, making the sale, retaining a customer. And the range of tactics involved – direct mail, email, social media, outdoor advertising, television, print, event marketing, etc.  There are a lot of choices you can make, and often choosing the right mix is the difference between success and failure.  I find marketing myself is no different – I choose to use telemarketing, social media and email marketing to generate leads.  Then, I use in-person appearances to identify a need and determine if there’s mutual interest (not terribly different from event marketing, really).  Once a sale is made, I shift into retention mode – exceeding expectations in order to generate future sales.  Finding that right mix is going to vary for every product (and for each of us), but it’s critical to being successful.

So, while I don’t like to think of myself as a mere “commodity”, the marketing mentality does tend to be very much the same. And just like not every product is right for every consumer, neither is what I’m selling.  The hope is that identifying a few good customers generates the right ongoing relationships to keep the operation humming.  And that’s true no matter what product or service you happen to be marketing.

Starting Something New



As some of you know, I’ve recently turned JK Squared into a full-time operation.  And when I say “full-time”, I really mean it.  It’s been more than 10 years since I launched my first business.  I was young, naive and confident, always confident, that the next project would just come rolling in no matter what I did.  This time it’s different.  I have the experience that says things only happen when you make them happen. No time for afternoon naps (sigh), when there’s a coffee, call or meeting to be had.

So, with that in mind, what’s it been like the first three weeks of the JK Squared era?  Busy.  Consistently hectic.  Life constantly in motion.  All great things.  I’m lucky enough to have launched with three paying clients, and, naturally, they all are immediately busy.  Developing a new campaign strategy, while also editing a 24-page newsletter, and finding time for business development efforts is hard.  But that’s one of the things I truly love about it all.  Having to learn where and how to balance my time.  And remembering that you NEVER know where a great opportunity may occur.

A friend of mine called me last Friday night, asking me to join his agency for a meeting that Monday.  Naturally, I was a bit skeptical, given the last-minute invitation.  But the meeting went great, and it could present a nice strategic marketing opportunity.  Later in the week, a marketing challenge presented by one of my agency clients led to reconnecting with an experiential marketing team I’ve wanted to work with, which could lead to a chance to build something really cool on the streets of San Diego.  You just never know, so take every meeting and return every call, and see where they all take you.

All of which explains why my blogging hasn’t been as frequent as I’d have liked.  In fact, have to cut this one short because I’m having coffee with a former client of mine from years ago.  Hey, you never know, right? 

New Year’s Goals and Objectives


Happy New Year, everyone.

I always tell my clients that before starting any marketing campaign, you need to define your goals and your objectives.  So, in that spirit, I wanted to share with you, my loyal readers, some of my own professional goals and objectives for 2014.  This is especially relevant for me, in that I’m launching a new business in 2014 (website coming soon – stay tuned!), which comes with it’s own primary financially-driven goals and objectives (find clients, make money, pay mortgage, etc.).  But, I also want goals and objectives that will motivate me every day beyond just financial success, and give me something that I can look back on in December and feel proud about having achieved.

So, three goals and objectives for JK Squared in the new year ahead:

1.  Help three new clients solve their marketing challenges.  As I set out in launching a new strategic marketing consultancy, I expect I’ll be working with a lot of clients and partners that I’ve been lucky enough to have met or worked beside in one of my past agency lives.  But, this year I also want to develop at least three new relationships that go beyond a single project, helping these new partners enact meaningful change to their marketing operation – whether that’s helping to build a marketing department, finding a new stream of customers, developing an ongoing social media strategy, or establishing a trusted creative partnership.  This year, I hope to do a little bit of a lot of things, including developing broadcast creative, writing marketing strategies, developing social media campaigns, helping companies re-brand themselves, conducting market research – all for a broader range of clients than I’ve had the opportunity to pursue the past several years.

2.  Upgrade my office space.  This is not my first time starting a business.  And, I’ve learned that there are always sacrifices to be made when you do so.  I’ve had to give up things like administrative support, IT help, software subscriptions, etc. in the past.  It’s all part of the exciting journey of building something from scratch.  This time, my biggest sacrifice has been in my office situation – I’ve gone from a very nice dedicated space in a highly-trafficked retail area . . . to something a bit different.  (Although it’s definitely an upgrade over my first office at my first company, which was a converted craft table in an unfinished basement.)  So, one of my goals for 2014 is to generate enough revenue to justify dedicated office space that fits the tone of my new venture.  (Not an easy task in the suburban wasteland that is Columbia, MD – thanks Julia.)

3.  Identify four opportunities for speaking engagements.  I truly enjoy giving presentations.  It doesn’t matter the audience – two prospects across a table, or 400 people in a ballroom – standing in front of a group and sharing my thoughts on a topic is something I love to do.  And not just speaking either, but I also love deciding what to speak about and building a presentation with impact.  It’s something that I think I do well, and not nearly enough.  So in 2014, I’m going to actively find at least four opportunities to get in front of a group and speak.

Those are my 2014 goals and objectives.  What are yours?  Rather than make new year’s resolutions for 2014 that we’re all unlikely to keep (Weight Watchers, I’m talking to you!), I encourage each of you to come up with your own measurable goals and objectives.  And, I wish you the best of luck in achieving them.

One Coin Will Rule Them All!!


Not sure if you’ve seen this yet, but judging from the response from the Technorati I know, if you haven’t you will.

It’s Coin ( – a one-source method of payment. Bye-bye giant wallet (my college roommate will be crushed – his Costanza-esque wallet has always been a source of pride).

Pre-sales look good so far – 24 days left, and they’ve already reached their crowd sourcing goal. I have lots of questions (mostly revolving around security and timing – hopefully, a bigger player doesn’t steal the idea first). And, with mobile payment becoming more and more available at merchants (I haven’t used anything other than my iPhone in a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks in a very long time), I wonder how long before I can completely throw my wallet away.

But, kudos to Coin for not only a great idea, but also a well-presented one. The video makes it really easy to understand exactly what this is and why I want it. And oh, do I want it!

Catching up with Ketchup



So, by this point I’m sure that many of you have seen the news.  McDonald’s is going away from Heinz, and looking to replace the ketchup brand with new suppliers in their stores worldwide.  Why?  Because Heinz’s new President comes from rival Burger King.  I guess that’s fair enough.

I was really upset about this, until it turned out that most McDonald’s stores in the US don’t even use Heinz ketchup.  I always assumed McDonald’s was using Heinz, but it turns out that their ketchup comes from a variety of suppliers, blended to their own special recipe.  Sort of like everything else you get at McDonald’s (especially the McNuggets).

Now I am very particular about my ketchup. I can tell the difference between Heinz (the gold standard) and imitators like Hunt’s.  Don’t even get me started on the grocery-store and private-label brands (although to be honest, some of them are close enough to Heinz to be acceptable – but the ones that are not are terrible).  [Side note:  If you’re really interested in ketchup, read this article from The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell (reprinted in his book “What the Dog Said”).  Unlike mustard which comes in dozens of varieties, it turns out that ketchup has pretty much one preferred flavor profile.  I found it fascinating.  But then again, I love ketchup.] 

This is all interesting news, but what’s it have to do with anything?  I’m glad you asked.  Most of the things we use every day are commodities.  Pens, toilet paper, bottled water, copy paper, salad dressing, milk.  Think about it – how often do you select a particular brand rather than the generic equivalent?  For me, I can count them on one hand:  Heinz, Charmin, Apple, Coke, Bush’s Baked Beans.  That may be it (and to be honest, I’ll take a Pepsi or RC Cola every once in a while). 

Which is what makes defining a brand so interesting – the amount of time and resources that goes into developing a brand is often wasted on consumers who could really care less.   While I may appreciate the difference between catsup and ketchup, not everyone does (in fact, most people don’t).  So, how can you make them care?  Get smart, for starters.  Find that single product attribute that is going to help you differentiate yourself from the others in your consideration set.  Devote the necessary resources on research and surveys, talk to people close to your brand and people who swear by the competition.  Look closely at your brand, product or service and figure out what makes it different – and if you can’t come up with anything, then trust a smart creative person to invent a “reason why”.  And then lean on that one attribute heavily across all of your marketing.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about ketchup, computers or a city – consumers don’t want a list of reasons why, they want one good reason why.

This is one of the reasons I love watching MadMen.  Once upon a time, you chose a cigarette because the tobacco was “toasted”, a ketchup because of “anticipation” or a slide projector because “it let you travel around and around and back home again.”  Brands are more complicated these days, but that doesn’t mean that a good ad man still can’t find a way to make yours unique.

Be Careful What You “Like”


ImageA good family friend of mine is running for Lt. Governor in the great state of Maryland.  We’ve literally known the family for a lifetime (our parents grew up together) and while we don’t get together as often as we like, it’s a wonderful relationship.  Which is why I was surprised a few weeks ago when I started seeing Facebook posts from my father supporting one of his challengers.

“Dad,” I asked.  “Is there something I should know?  Is there a reason you support the other guy?”

“What are you talking about?” he quickly shot back.  “I didn’t post anything on Facebook at all, much less a political message.  I keep those kinds of opinions private.”

Or does he??

Privacy is a loose term when it’s applied to Facebook.  My father found himself victim to a “Sponsored Story”.  At some point during his Facebook lifespan, my father did indeed choose to “Like” this particular candidate – probably during a previous campaign when running against a challenger from the other party (and because my mom told him to – she’s the politically active one in our family).  And when this candidate chose to run a Sponsored Story campaign (ads that appear as endorsements from your Facebook friends), lo and behold, my father told all of his friends how they should vote.

It’s a powerful thing, the social media endorsement.  Studies say that consumers are more than 70% more likely to make a purchase based on a social media referral.  Just think of your own habits – how often do you select something that has been recommended to you by others?  Word of mouth has always been a powerful marketing tool, and social media has merely amplified its power.

This article from the Chicago Tribune really puts the issue of “Sponsored Stories” in context.  By “liking” anything on Facebook, you’ve given them the implicit approval to use that endorsement in a marketing context.  And, people have lots of reasons for liking something – entering a contest, truly liking a product, having a positive experience, because it supports something that you support.  But it’s not always because you endorse whatever it may be that you are selling.

So, be careful what you like.  But also, be careful what you think your friends like.  Be sure to reach out and connect to make sure that endorsement is real, not marketing-driven.  Which is really what social networking is all about anyway – connecting.