It’s Friday. It’s Hallowe’en (soon). Yesterday’s post, and the one we did for Canadian Bookshelf that mentioned Big Night, made me jones for some movie action. Too busy for back-to-back High Fidelity/Big Night in their entirety, but not too busy to indulge in a couple of scenes here. Which I’ll keep going to whenever my brain stops today. Enjoy!
We just posted a little piece on Canadian Bookshelf that wondered how we can stretch our memories for great Canadian books ... Why is it we have a longer recall of amazing movies? Maybe the visual impression gets locked in our brains more easily ... Thoughts?
Go to CBC’s site to help them whittle down their list of 40 to 10.
You’re going to love Canadian Bookshelf. A project spearheaded by the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), Canadian Bookshelf will be an online discovery and discussion platform for Canadian books, and it’s coming soon. The most apt description we’ve come up with for Canadian Bookshelf is of a “virtual library-meets-community-bookstore stuffed to the rafters with Canadian books and content—complete with face-out display racks and friendly cues to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.” It will make Canadian books and authors easier to find, and thus more widely read by audiences everywhere.
The browse panel on the Canadian Bookshelf homepage.
Please check out our pre-launch blog at www.canadianbookshelf.com, and sign up for news and an invite to our private beta release.
“I sit here as a government representative for film and television in the province of Alberta and I look at what we produce, and if we’re honest with ourselves ... I look at it and say, ‘Why do I produce so much shit? Why do I fund so much crap?’”
Alberta Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett speaking at the Banff World TV Festival in June to a roomful of Canadian actors and industry professionals (see his defense of his comments)
“What credibility would a list like this have if it didn’t include the absurd figure of Michael Ondaatje, our very own poet laureate of pretentious, purple prose, our king of cliché, a sorcerer who has improbably managed for decades now to pass off his distinctive brand of inert slop as somehow being possessed of a “literary” value only detectable by prize juries, time-serving academics, and a handful of supine reviewers.”
Alex Good and Steven W. Beattie in the National Post’sDon’t Believe the Hype: 10 Overrated Canadian Authors
Talk about sizzle, especially (or because of) the dog days of August! Talk about fightin’ words.
I must admit, my reaction to both stories—Blackett’s poorly articulated and contextualized comment and the National Post’s daring to venture into the overrated game with The Guardian and the Huffington Post (who respectively skewered their own British and American authors)—was of shock, dismay, and a knee-jerk disdain for such blasphemy. I cheered when I heard Canadian actor Peter Keleghan’s able handling of Blackett during the CBC Q debate with the two (listen to the August 25th, 2010, episode it was on); Keleghan was so much better prepared, informed, and eloquent. And I huffed and puffed and felt injured for the top Canadian writers Good and Beattie pilloried in the Post. Writers like Ondaatje and Michaels and Coupland—the poor things. Okay, so I know how successful and well-received they’ve been; but .. c’mon, they’re human, and it would hurt anyone, reading that.
I sat on my indignation for a day and then I reappraised it. I realized my reaction was founded in defensiveness and a misplaced urge to protect. The fact is, a more controversial, polarized critical/review environment engenders a more active, changing, exciting cultural environment. The provocative critiques of Canadian TV content and writers got the kind of mainstream attention that Canadian arts/culture can always use more of (along the lines of “any news is good news”). And a strong culture can support dissension and harsh critique; it is a confident culture—not a defensive one where people like me get upset when it’s called into question in any way that isn’t gentle. Gentle, polite coverage of our books and TV shows and industry, coverage where nothing is unexpected or rankling, does no one any good.
Even at Turner-Riggs, where we’re all serious and diligent, we take the odd break and even laugh sometimes (at others). In that spirit, and because it’s summer for Pete’s sake, here are a couple of links we found funny this week. With the first, the trick is to refresh the screen once you’re there. Enjoy.
There’s been a rash of controversy about whether the new Old Spice campaign with Isaiah Mustafah, almost universally admired for its audacity and humour, will prove to be successful. There is no doubt that it’s a viral smash hit, but there is critique of the campaign around whether this will translate into increased sales for the brand.
We’d love to know the goals of the campaign as set by the creative and strategy teams who worked on it. Only then, and only in time, do we think it will be possible to evaluate the success of the campaign for the brand. If it turns out that the strategy was weak, the humour most likely won’t pay off.
It’s absolutely true that, as Mark Federman, a researcher at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, notes:
“We collectively in our society like good storytelling. We like cleverness. We like unusual humour and we like humour juxtaposed with surreality.”
It’s absolutely not true that our collective love of funny and clever makes us more likely to buy brands. Not unless it’s tied to smart strategy that gets at our wants and needs. At the end of the day, it’s results that matter. In this case, product sales. Nothing else—neither clever strategy nor sparkling creative—is as important. Briefs that lose track of the broad business goals they are meant to achieve are very likely to fail. Because of this, the relationship that we advocate in our practice is goals drive strategies; strategies drive creative.
Our guess at the strategy behind the new Old Spice campaign is that they’re trying to break out of the deodorant-of-choice-for-the-50+-set box and taking a calculated risk of offending a small share of their current market for the sake of chasing a larger market (a younger segment that is more engaged by viral promotion, say) in the long term. In this case, the current campaign is likely only the first step in a larger repositioning strategy. We’ll have to watch and see if this is the case.
From our point sample of one (Craig), well, I’ll let Craig say it:
“I can say for sure that I have not given a moment’s thought to Old Spice for many, many years but I certainly have done since this campaign launched. I’m not troubled by the campaign in any way and admire the creative execution a lot. So does this improve my opinion of the brand? You bet. Does it make me more likely to buy an Old Spice product this month or next? No way. But does it lay a foundation for me to understand the brand in a different way and possibly buy in the future? Maybe.”
Interessado, as we say around here (very cleverly).
Me, I’m a person person. My preferred capitalization style, which I share with Chicago Manual, is to energetically avoid capitalizing defined terms and positions whenever possible (and mostly it is possible). For example, it makes me squirm to see:
“It was the University’s policy to ...”
“The Director told the Manager of Accommodations to start again.”
Why? Overusing capitals at best suggests insecurity about writing and lack of confidence, and at worst suggests pompousness. In fact, it’s a trope used by many satirists to poke fun at those who rarely poke sufficient fun at themselves (e.g., the upper classes). Consider the following excerpt from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels:
I was surgeon successively in two Ships, and made several Voyages, for six Years, to the East and West-Indies, by which I got some Addition to my Fortune. My Hours of Leisure I spent in reading the best Authors, ancient and modern; being always provided with a good Number of Books; and when I was ashore, in observing the Manners and Dispositions of the People, as well as learning their Language; wherein I had a great Facility by the Strength of my Memory.
Just reading that paragraph makes me laugh—very directly at Swift’s intended target.
Whenever we can with clients, we recommend a lowercase style, where positions and terms don’t get capitals except in certain circumstances. According to this style, it’s okay to use capitals in really restrictive (i.e., specific) cases but not okay to use them generally. For example:
A Master of Fine Arts but a master’s degree
The Faculty of English, the Department of Finance but a faculty or department
Vice Chancellor Arnold Evans but a vice chancellor (as well as “Arnold Evans, vice chancellor of the university ...”)
“The appendix, ‘Terms of Reference,’ will follow ...” but (in normal text) “Our terms of reference for the project include ...”
And so on. Beyond matters of tone, it’s annoying to the eye to have to scale too many capitals in body text.
Consider your company’s communications—what kind of a personality are they suggesting via style conventions like use of capitals?
So we’re doing just terribly at putting regular blog posts up. Terribly. I want to blame it on a number of things, but it really comes down to not making the time for it (and not having time—see, I got a whine in there despite myself).
I have decided to turn over a new leaf by a) publishing this here post and b) making it about how to be a good, regular blogger. Oh, and c) making it a link because I don’t have time right now for a post.
“Every now and then I poll my blog readers and ask about their challenges with blogging. Without fail, most people say that their number-one challenge is that they don’t have time to write on their blog. Frankly, I think that is a false problem because you make time for what’s important. I suggest reframing the challenge from ‘I don’t have time to write on my blog’ to ‘I make time to market my business.’ In the context of your business, blogging is a marketing tool.”
I foresee a new era of regular, super-helpful blogging magic from Turner-Riggs. Riggs?
We’ve been doing a lot of work around discoverability for the last year or so, especially with regard to how readers discover books—or other cultural products—online. A version of this post appeared as part of feature called “7.5 Ideas for Fixing Canadian Publishing” in the 75th Anniversary Issue ofQuill & Quire, Canada’s Magazine of Book News and Reviews, April 2010.
How do readers find books today? In many respects, the same ways they always have: word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, suggestions from trusted sources such as booksellers or media reviews, and impulse buying from end caps, table displays, or homepages.
But we’re also discovering books in very new ways. For one thing, our filters are shifting. Newspaper review sections are shrinking, and there are fewer independent bookstores hand-selling books. But it’s the Internet that is really moving the needle on book discovery: the Web is where we go to find out about things, and increasingly it’s where we go to find books. Whether we buy them online or not, we look up books on Amazon or other major retailers’ sites, we join online book communities, we read blogs, we share links to books that catch our interest, and we discover books while searching or browsing online.
This is more than a change in behaviour. It also marks a sea change in book marketing. It used to be that the press release or catalogue was the foundation of the marketing plan. No more. Now it’s the metadata: the title information that publishers send out into the world about their books.
If publishers don’t begin improving the quality and depth of their metadata, they risk being lost in a sea of information and competing titles-especially the rising tide of books published outside of Canada. Good metadata makes it easier for people to find and buy books: it registers a book’s availability throughout the supply chain, allows the book to be presented on retailer websites, and primes the awareness pump for search engines, bloggers, online book communities, media, and readers of all kinds. Bad data makes books invisible in a crowded marketplace where the balance of power is shifting to readers.
If you’re a publisher, what other information could you include in your data file that would help readers - or librarians, or educators - find your books? How about expanded author information such as a detailed bio, a photo, and the author’s nationality? Or rich descriptive content like review quotes, extended book descriptions, or excerpts? Did the book get nominated for or win any awards?
Every publisher has this information. Relatively few include this rich content in their data feeds, but it’s time to do so. Above all, publishers need to own their data - to ensure its accuracy and completeness and to be authoritative sources of information about their books. It’s too valuable a resource to be treated any other way.
We’ve had the privilege of helping two very cool people launch their brand websites: Carrie McCarthy of Style Statement and Toby Nangle of Nangle+Partners.
Carrie and Toby—despite their very different businesses and audiences—came just as we like ‘em: passionate, intelligent, open-minded, and right on board the idea of strategy driving execution. We developed branding plans for both Carrie and Toby before jumping into tactical work, and it was thrilling to see things progress according to these blueprints.
Congratulations Carrie and Toby for your awesome sites, and big kudos for design and development to Vivien at VG Universe Design (for Style Statement) and Travis and Susie at Hop Studios (for Nangle+Partners).
Every brand has challenges. The best brands—actually, the people behind the best brands—know this, identify the challenges, and come up with solutions to at least minimize them and at best overcome them. Mediocre brands endure a perennial state of a problem’s existing but being ignored in the hopes it will somehow take care of itself or that people—read, audiences—won’t mind too much.
When a brand problem occurs on its public-facing website, it’s a big deal because websites obviously represent such a crucial touchpoint. Following are issues on all too many brand websites:
failure to state up front what the brand or company is and does, and/or to explain this enough,
insistence on brand features to the exclusion of benefits,
presenting in a bland, cold, or otherwise unappealing tone,
overestimation of the amount of time users want to spend on the site,
failure to address audiences’ needs, manifested in non-user-centric navigation and/or site behaviour, aka ...
designing the site according to internal understanding of the brand/company and not according to what audiences want to learn and find.
All of these mistakes are very easy to make, and again, they’re commonly allowed to persist because they’re “not dealbreakers.” Says who? Certainly not the visitors who walk away because of them, since they’re not talking—they’re gone.
Does your website suffer from any of them? We’ll be reviewing ours over the next few months to see where we can improve (do let us know if you have suggestions), but in the meantime, here are a couple of examples of brands that have taken the challenge of confronting—and we think, solving—a major issue they faced.
Brand:Bookriff (currently in closed BETA) Challenge: Convey a very cool but rather complicated idea as simply as possible so visitors don’t lose interest/get confused/feel it’s too complicated and navigate away from the site. Solution: Main benefit is written in bold—“build your own book”—with clear explanatory text right below. But most importantly, they include a prominent link to a high-quality how-to video for visitors who would rather learn audio-visually, as well as a link allowing them to try out the concept. We’re excited about Bookriff!
Brand:VisionCritical Challenge: Bring humanity, energy, and warmth to what could be a very cold, impersonal site (VisionCritical is an online panel research and interactive technology company). Market research sites are often plagued by jargon and boring language. Solution: On balance, ambitious and interesting copy and content. Lots and lots of video with employees talking like people really do (not canned) about what moves them and excites them. Sometimes the language gets carried away, but for the most part it’s way, way above average for its sector. Take the following for example:
With Vision Critical, grassroots insight is always on, poised to deliver when you need it. Discover and amplify what moves your biggest fans. Find out what your customers want right now. Find out what little touches keep them loyal. See trendsetting customers for what they are: a wealth of winning strategy waiting to be tapped.
Our interactive technology, strategic research and global panels turn customer groundswell into authentic, resonant brands that move with confidence.
Because when your customers take the lead, so does your brand.
What comes across with VisionCritical is passion—and that’s a huge achievement considering how dryly the brand could have come across with another treatment. Another nice touch is their interview series: check one out at http://j.mp/6atLaN
Way back in 2007, Mailchimp, a company specializing in sending clients’ email newsletters, published an excellent article on what works and doesn’t work for email subject lines. We still go back to that article sometimes because it’s so helpful, so we thought we share some of its highlights and provide its link.
The article is based on Mailchimp’s study of open rates for over 200 million emails.
Don’t include “free”—it’ll trigger spam filters—and avoid “help,” “percent off,” and “reminder”—they reduce open rates.
Don’t keep repeating the same subject line from campaign to campaign. It’s good to keep basic branding intact for some consistency but then it’s important to include a focus on new content. So if your September email subject line was “Bookcentral Study Shows No Interest in New Online Bookstore” you could make the next one “Bookcentral’s Top Reading Picks for 2009.”
Don’t send too frequently—everyone has too much information to process.
Don’t using splashy promotional phrases, CAPS, or exclamation marks.
Do keep subject lines short—50 characters or less.
Do make it clear that your information is timely (e.g., details on an upcoming conference’s speakers).
Do make it a “newsy” headline with information designed to pique your readers’ curiosity (then make sure you satisfy their curiosity in the newsletter).
Do put yourself in your readers’ shoes—they are pressed for time and they’re only going to open your email if the subject line is relevant, respectful, interesting, and useful.
Mailchimp ends with this advice: “When it comes to subject lines, don’t sell what’s inside. Tell what’s inside.”
Sorry for the long absence ... we’re unbelievably busy just now and Craig’s been travelling. That said, it’s not good to be away for so long.
Lately, a major time-suck for me has been social media: i.e., how to make social media work for our clients. I know I’m not alone in wrestling with this—a couple of my favourite SM sites, Mashable and especially Jay Baer’s Convince & Convert—devote lots of attention to the tricky challenge of making an SM investment actually pay off. Jay recently published an excellent article, “Your Customers Don’t Actually Want to Be Your Friend,” from which I’ve excerpted a paragraph below to summarize the thesis:
“Why would a customer want to connect with your company online? What’s the benefit? How does doing so provide value, or helpfulness, or enjoyment? You must make the case to the customer that by NOT connecting with you, they are missing out on something of value. And you have to deliver on that promise .... The companies that can create a compelling reason for their customers to connect will succeed on the social Web. And those that don’t put the necessary emphasis on helpfulness and relevancy will fail.”
More than 200 people commented or tweeted on Jay’s article. Here is a sample of the conversation:
“[Our customers] do seem to read the blog, but aren’t big on interacting. So far, we’ve had the best luck with LinkedIn, because it matches up best with our demographic. Even so, although they have joined our group, they’re not really participating in the conversation. So I guess we need to give them better reasons to.”
“I suspect we stop short of really working out the ‘why’ [invest in social media] sometimes because there isn’t a good answer. That should be a warning sign that using social media for engagement isn’t going to be effective, but we press on because we feel we have to (or because the client is paying for it).”
“Realizing that a slew of customers are NOT standing at the door ad probably really don’t care about your ‘brand’ is often a hard one for an entrepreneur to swallow.”
“Welcome to my daily struggle.”
My friend J, a reporter based in London, recently sent me five tips to help me retain my sense of humour while slogging through the overload of social media fact and opinion:
Purchase and wear a Che Guevara-style beret
Philosophize in grandiose manner over different social media apps, programs, etc.
Use Socratic method of questioning to get the upper hand in conversations about social media
Attend social media events about social media (be self-reflexive)
Wear soft sneakers with minimalist soles even in the dead of an Ottawa winter
Thanks J! In the meantime, I’ll copy the best advice I saw on social media publishing from the comment thread to “Your Customers Don’t Actually Want to Be Your Friend”:
“I usually just advise “consider this: why would anyone give a sh*t?” (i really need to engage my own censor fulltime). Don’t overpost, post irrelevant stuff, post stuff that doesn’t make people think, laugh or get angry, or post without a call to action.”
Source: Amanda (linked to http://areyousociallyacceptable.com)
A long time ago I lived in Maseru, Lesotho, and there was this fabulous restaurant we’d go to for celebrations called Fat Alice. I particularly remember the restaurant’s creamy hummus garnished with kalamata olives, crunchy wee pickles, and smoked paprika, not the least because my parents would reserve the olives and pickles for me and my brother. Anyway, we always left there stuffed and happy. Before we returned to Canada, Fat Alice made us a gift of their poster, which we framed. As you can see from the pictures, the restaurant’s slogan was “Fat Alice’s Restaurant: Nobody leaves here thin.”
I love it for its boldness and sense of humour. It would have been awful if it had been paired with a shmarmy image, but it wasn’t—the picture is romantic, soft, and playfully suggestive.
Now on the other hand, I reacted negatively to Coke’s 2009 slogan: Open Happiness.
I don’t enjoy the contrived nostalgia, the nod to a “simpler” time (perhaps the 1950s). I don’t like the equation of drinking cola to happiness. I feel like they’re trying to con me in an arch sort of way. But I’m not the target audience.
Craig sent me to the website of Herrainco, a design shop in Richmond, BC, after he checked out the way they presented their portfolio of work.
All I can say is WOW. No wait, I can say more. Beautiful pictures, perfect balance of spare (layout) and lush (photography), and small but clear invitation to read more about the project. The slim gold back and forward arrows are a nice touch, too.
We’re thinking about refreshing our portfolio. Any impressive examples you’ve seen lately? Send ‘em our way.