Prankvertising: Why companies are pranking and why we are laughing

The latest trend in the advertising world is prankvertising.  Prankertising is the use of pranks and elaborate stunts in order to promote a brand’s product or service.  You might have seen the notorious “Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise” in which a normal coffee shop in NYC gets transformed into a telekinetic hub of activity when a young girl suddenly unleashes her power on an unsuspecting man.  Obviously, the whole thing is a set up and a promotion for the re-release of the movie “Carrie.”  But the people in the coffee shop have no idea that they are watching actors and stuntmen, and their honest reactions of distress prove how “real” it looks to them.

Prankvertising can also be seen around the world with companies in Chili and Germany getting in on the action.  An LG Ultra Reality TV replaces a window in a highrise in Chili, while interviews are conducted on unsuspecting people.  When a meteor sudden crashes into view, applicants are convinced they are watching the end of the world, when in reality they are just watching a video.  Reactions vary from amazement to full on outrage, but the prank proves just how powerful LG Ultra Reality TV’s really are.

And that is the gamble this prankvertising; is it really worth it?  From a marketing standpoint there are some obvious payoffs.  These prank videos are going viral like no ones business.  “Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise” has over 47 million views on Youtube, and it has only been online for one month.  “LG Ultra Reality” has over 14 million views on YouTube, and it has been online for two months.

Beyond the viral market, the benefits of prankvertising are still unknown.  Does giving a consumer an adrenaline rush of fear leave a lasting imprint?  Or does it drive business in the opposite direction?

10 Communications Secrets Every Business Should Know

Great Companies, Great Leaders - Tianjin WorkSpace 2008
Photo by World Economic Forum

I spend most of my professional life figuring out how to most effectively communicate.

essay writing

Yet, my most valuable tool is having the ability to listen rather than talk. I know that you have often found yourself in a situation where you wish you had an on/off button – working at being a good listener is just as important as talking. Great communicators are great listeners, and develop keen observational powers that enable them to sense the moods, attitudes and concerns of those they hope to connect with.

Here is a list of 10 communications secrets created by Mike Myatt. While you may not wish to adopt every suggestion, I think you will come away with some very good ideas.

1-Speak not with a forked tongue
In most cases, people just won’t open up to those they don’t trust. While you can attempt to demand trust, it rarely works. Trust is best created by earning it with right acting, thinking, and decision-making.
2-Get personal
Classic business theory tells leaders to stay at arms length. I say stay at arms length if you want to remain in the dark, receiving only highly sanitized versions of the truth.
3-Get specific
Learn to communicate with clarity. Simple and concise is always better than complicated and confusing. Your goal is to weed out the superfluous and to make your words count.
4-Focus on the leave-behinds not the take-aways
The key is to approach each interaction with a servant’s heart. When you truly focus on contributing more than receiving you will have accomplished the goal.
5-Have an open mind
A leader takes her game to a whole new level the minute she willingly seeks out those who hold dissenting opinions and opposing positions with the goal not of convincing them to change their minds, but with the goal of understanding what’s on their minds.
6-Shut-up and listen
Great leaders know when to dial it up, dial it down, and dial it off (mostly down and off).
7-Replace ego with empathy
Empathetic communicators display a level of authenticity and transparency that is not present with those who choose to communicate behind the carefully crafted facade, propped-up by a very fragile ego.
8-Read between the lines
In this age of instant communication, everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their minds that they fail to realize everything to be gained from the minds of others. Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut and you’ll be amazed at how your level of organizational awareness is raised.
9-When you speak, know what you’re talking about
Develop a technical command over your subject matter. If you don’t possess subject matter expertise, few people will give you the time of day. Good communicators address both the “what” and “how” aspects of messaging so they don’t fall prey to becoming the smooth talker who leaves people with the impression of form over substance.
10-Speak to groups as individuals
Great communicators can tailor a message such that they can speak to 10 people in a conference room or 10,000 people in an auditorium and have them feel as if they were speaking directly to each one of them as an individual.

Social media has changed the landscape of the “old way” businesses communicate not only with their customers, but also with their employees. How has your business adapted to new forms of communicating?

Get on Board with the Power Of Apps


Have you noticed? Branding and brands have changed along with the social media landscape. Some would even venture to say that if your brand is not an app … you’re nowhere. So, do you want to be invisible to your consumer, or do you want to be on the front lines of this technology? Consumers are demanding that your brand communicates with them on their level, in a way that makes them feel you value them. So what are your plans for building your brand through apps? If you’re not sure, read the condensed version of a recent article I read from  brandingstrategyinsider, and you may decide that apps might be another way you can strengthen and solidify your customer relationships and branding strategy:

Branding and Your Brand
A brand and branding are not the same. Branding is the strategy marketers use to build a brand.  Branding sets expectations about the value proposition that is a brand.

Branding’s New “Social” Approach
With the rise of social technologies, brands have lost priority with consumers. What people want are social relationships not brand relationships – people-to-people interactions not brands-to-consumers engagement. This is where apps come into play.

Where’s My App?
An app is a software tool that does something useful. Apps have been around as long as computing, but with the advent of touch-screen smartphones, icon-triggered apps have exploded on the scene as enhanced, innovative ways for conveniently and quickly performing a myriad of tasks. For brand marketers, an app is a tool that doubles as a communications vehicle.

It’s About Connecting
For consumers, the best thing about new technologies is not the ability to connect with brands, but the ability to connect with other people, thus leaving less time and interest than ever, if any at all, for branding.

In a mature marketplace of advertising clutter and savvy consumers, marketers must do more than just say something interesting; they must deliver a message that does something useful. To put it bluntly, be an app or be gone.

Branded App Examples
Brand marketers have begun using apps to position a brand’s value proposition to consumers. For example, Montblanc and Cartier have apps to communicate new product updates along with other news and graphics, thus offering a more timely, multifunctional handheld digital catalog that might one day provide customized notifications to fit individual preferences or to mirror past buying patterns.

Managing Apps
Managing branding as an app means that marketers must deliver value twice, both with the brand and with the branding. Traditionally, branding is the promise of brand value, not a source of value. But with consumers demanding something useful from branding in exchange for their time and attention, branding itself must be valuable above and beyond its brand message. Branding must have its own value, separate from the brand it is promoting.

Is a Brand’s Value Determined by Currency?
Marketers worry a lot these days about all that they give away for free, but such worries presume that the only currency that matters is money. What marketers make available at no financial cost to consumers is actually bought and sold in a different currency. If a brand can’t persuade consumers to spend social currency sharing it or talking about it, or if a brand can’t get consumers to spend time with it as, say, an app, then money is less likely to change hands.

The superbrands of the future may not necessarily be the ones that perform the best or offer the best solution to a problem. They just might be the ones who use apps to market themselves rather than brands that don’t.

Does your website need a fresh look? How to know if a website needs to be redesigned.

There are many factors that go into redesigning a website. Many experts suggest you should focus the majority of your budget and efforts on content and not on design. I could not disagree more! While the content of a website is of the utmost importance, the design is equally important. If the design is not clean and engaging to catch users’ eyes, they will quickly move on to the next site. Don’t get me wrong; if your content is not relevant to the visitor’s request, you will lose the opportunity to convert them to a customer. With that said, there has to be a balance between quality design and excellent content.

Good design attracts people and helps them focus on what the design team feels is important, but good content retains and converts them to customers. There are people who only care about content, but there are also many who care about the combination. Take a car, for example. Some people look at a car to get from point A to B, but most people care about the looks of a car, the features, and how it functions. A website is similar in that if it’s designed poorly, doesn’t function properly, and has bad navigation, a visitor is not going to be as interested in engaging with your content. This is why they are equally important.

A website is an additional component of your brand and should be handled with the same minimum standards as any other aspect of your brand. The voice of the content should complement the layout and design of the site so they are portraying the same message. If they don’t, you’re only going to create brand confusion. Below are a few questions to ask yourself that will help you decide if you should start thinking about a redesign.

  1. Is your website code outdated or obsolete?
    As technologies change so do the languages they’re written in. It’s very important to make sure your site stays current with the latest standards or your search placement will be effected. If your site is built completely out of Tables, that’s a good sign you need to consider a redesign and rebuild of your site.
  2. Can you manage your website?
    Today there is no reason why a site should not be built on a CMS (Content Management System). A CMS gives the site owner the ability to make updates to your site without the knowledge of HTML. This is extremely important these days if you want to stay relevant in the search engines. You have to continue to keep your site fresh and a CMS will help you do this easily.
  3. Has your company had a change in focus?
    Websites are often built when a company first launches. If this is the case, you need to evaluate the site and make sure the products and services are current. You also need to revisit the goals and make sure they are in line with the ongoing vision of the company. I have seen many companies offering a product or service on their websites that they no longer support. This is why having your site built on a CMS is very important.
  4. Has the company brand changed?
    If your company has updated or rebranded but neglected to update the website, then it’s time to redesign. There’s nothing worse than reading marketing materials and then visiting a website and it looks like a different brand. This will make people question your credibility.

These are just a few of many questions that can be asked if a site needs to be redesigned.  If you find yourself answering any of these questions, then you should put an action plan together.

Here are a few tips to consider when thinking about redesigning a website.

  • Have specific goals in mind
    You need to define the goals before you redesign the site. You should also create a list of wants and needs for your new site. This is very important as some items may be out of reach depending on your budget, but they may be phased in at a later date.
  • Inventory your current assets
    It’s important to make sure you inventory all of your current assets and make a list of what needs to be incorporated into the new site.
  • What features do you need
    Do your research and look at competitors’ sites to find any features you feel are important for the new site. Your old site may have just listed products, but now you’re ready to sell online. You will need an eCommerce function for your site.
  • Content strategy
    A content strategy is important to develop during a redesign. You should be thinking about adding value to the site over time. You will have better positioning on the search engines the more active you are with adding content to your site.
  • Make sure you have a budget
    Create a budget for this redesign. A budget will help manage the expectations of everyone involved.
  • Long-term marketing strategy and budget
    Now that you have decided to redesign your site, make sure you think about the long-term marketing strategy. You have to have a plan in place to help drive traffic to the site. It’s more than just publishing your site to the World Wide Web. You should also consider a budget for this ongoing effort. Things like Pay-Per-Click advertising and ongoing execution of content strategies will cost money but can be measured and adjusted as needed. Often times, this is forgotten and there’s not money left in the budget. Don’t let this happen to you.

So do you feel your site needs to be redesigned? If so, I would love to hear why.

photo credit: Kemeny_x via photopin cc

Going Gaga for “Gangnam Style”

They’re pretty much over before you even know about them. But that’s the nature of viral videos, isn’t it?

Yes, my friends, “Gangnam Style” – the Korean music video and single by South Korean rapper PSY that broke a Guinness World Record (For what, you ask? Besides awesomeness, it has the most ‘likes’ on YouTube ever with 2,141,758.), was spoofed on SNL and birthed countless parodies — will soon be filed under Internet meme nostalgia (right alongside that “Charlie Bit Me” tot).

Just when we were getting tired of over-done spoofs of “Call me, maybe?” (special thanks to the U.S. Olympic swim team for officially killing that one…) this gem comes around.

Between lasso dancing hip thrusts and a red-pant-clad Asian boy who could win a dance-off against Usher, it’s hard to look away.

Can’t. Stop.

Must. Learn. Dance.

So what does this tell us about viral video and human beings?

1) We like the over-the-top (why else would we watch things like Real Housewives). We like figurative train wrecks. We like extra doses of social awkwardness. We also like things that tug at our heartstrings. Above all, we like things that make us smile. These components help make a video viral because they are fodder for mainstream outlets (the “changemakers”), thus, fueling them to meme-dom.

2) Add a perky beat and some crazy dance moves, and you’ll have brides and grooms everywhere trying to do copycat reception dances. (Yes, I am getting married soon. No, I will not be doing this…sorry.)

3) (Almost) everyone wants 15 minutes of fame. But what separates the hours and hours of video uploaded to YouTube everyday from those that go viral? According to YouTube’s Trends Manager Kevin Allocca, it’s this: change-makers, communities of participation and unexpectedness.

What do you think makes a video go viral?

7 Tips to Develop the Best Mobile Website for Your Company

Waterstone's in-store ad for their mobile website
Photo by ianfogg42

Now that having a mobile presence for your company website is almost a necessity, how are you developing your mobile strategy? If you haven’t started your mobile planning,  it’s time to give some thought to executing the strategy. Should your mobile site be a miniature version of your main site?  How should you present content?  How can you deliver the best user experience?

Here are some tips I thought were worth sharing from the Content Marketing Institute:

1. Keep it simple
Your mobile website home page should only display the most relevant information. Do not try to cram all the information you provide on your website into your mobile site. Instead, include a link to the desktop version from the mobile site. Include information like phone numbers, addresses and maps which would be useful to people on the move.

2. Don’t make ‘em wait
To retain your mobile visitors’ attention, your mobile website has to load in less than 5 seconds. It’s been found that 58 percent of mobile phone users expect websites to load as quickly, or faster, on their mobile devices as they load on their desktop computers.

3. Avoid “heavy” graphics
Avoid using large, Flash-based video files on your mobile site, as most smartphone browsers do not support Flash. Instead, use simple images to improve the look and feel of your mobile website — but make sure all images used on the desktop are set to resize automatically to fit a mobile device’s smaller screen sizes.

4. “Touch” is the new “click”
When designing your mobile site, use drop down menus, check boxes, and pre-populated fields whenever possible, so that your mobile visitors can navigate and input information easily rather than having to fill in long forms.

5. Every device is important
Your mobile website should work flawlessly on devices with various screen sizes and on various mobile platforms and operating systems, including iPhones, iOS, Android, Blackberry, Nokia, and even feature phones that use Opera browsers.

6. Redirect your mobile visitors automatically
Do not forget to redirect your mobile visitors automatically to your mobile website. Your webmaster can do this by creating a subdomain of your main website which will serve as your mobile website.

7. Track your mobile visitors
For all you know, your mobile website traffic might have surpassed your desktop website’s traffic. If you have an analytics system in place, such as Google Analytics, create a separate profile for your mobile website. This will help you track your mobile traffic and desktop traffic independently.

Recent studies back up many of the points above, especially when it comes to loading times. According to a study by Compuware,  60 percent of mobile users said they expect a mobile site to load in 3 seconds or less! When it doesn’t, 57 percent won’t return. It’s pretty clear, you can’t afford not to pay attention to these statistics.

Need More Comments On Your Blog? Try These Suggestions

Dog, cube
Photo by Ethan Hein

I recently re-read an older blog post about getting more comments on articles. I see posts claiming to give you awesome ways to increase your comments all the time, but this blog is still one of my favorites. Why? Because the author doesn’t repeat the same tired suggestions like, “Ask a question at the end of your blog.” I still think asking a question at the end of your blog can be a conversation starter, but we’ve all read those suggestions over and over again. So, I’m condensing his great blog into a shorter version for you here.

Why are comments important?
The benefits of user-generated content are obvious to most. Not only are you generating additional unique, (hopefully) on-topic content for your pages, comments may even contribute to your article’s freshness score.

1. Make it as easy as possible to leave a comment
Does “website” really need to be a required field? Are your CAPTCHA images harder to solve than a Rubik’s cube? Sometimes the effort it would take to comment on your blog outweighs the potential user benefits. Take a look at each field and ask yourself  ”is this a hoop I’d be willing to jump through to leave a comment on a blog I’ve never visited before?”

2. Comment placement
So many widgets, so little real estate. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that the end of a blog post is the hottest piece of property on the net these days. After you’ve pumped your full author bio, social buttons, “other articles you might like,” opinion disclaimer, and multiple ad units, the comment section often ends up an entire page screen below the actual content. If you’re truly serious about getting the conversation going on your article, then you should consider giving the comment section a more prominent position on the page.

3. Social logins
If for whatever reason you simply must require users to register for commenting (a rather large barrier to entry) consider allowing them to log in using the social media accounts they’re already using. If you’re running WordPress, this can be done by installing one or two plugins of your choice. Simple Facebook Connect will get the job done and the Twitter version will do the same.

4. Join the conversation
Respond to comments on your articles. You took the time to write the piece, so get in there and stand by it! Keep the conversation rolling with questions of your own and address things you may have glossed over in your initial publishing. The reality is that articles with comments get more comments.

If you want to read the whole blog, go to SEOMOZ. Oh, and don’t forget to add your comment below!


Lessons for Business Leaders on Delighting Your Customers and Creating Brand Advocates



I am a recipient of under-delivery, and I hope to turn my disappointment into some sharable lessons about customer service. I love the concept of excellence and over-the-top delivery articulated in the Ritz Carlton brand. When I choose to stay at a Ritz hotel, I have a particular set of expectations.

Last December, I stayed the night at The Ritz in White Plains, New York, celebrating my niece’s 14th birthday. While preparing to check out of our luxurious room, I broke my toe on a protruding bathroom ledge. I preferred to deal with the issue on my own, and the hotel management team was so excited to have a non-litigious guest — they radiated gratitude and relief as they watched me sign a release. In this celebratory moment, I was asked if I prefer wine, soup or fruit. Making my choice, I was told that whenever I stay at a Ritz, for the rest of my life, I would have fruit in my room.

So, as I travelled to my next family reunion in New York, my hotel of choice was the Ritz Carlton in White Plains. My husband and I checked in after a stressful travel day. Although we were hungry and tired, I convinced my husband that we should wait to eat, as there would be a wonderful fruit basket waiting for us when we arrived. We were greeted with this message: “Welcome back. Thank you for choosing the Ritz Carlton.” Imagine our disappointment when we couldn’t find the fruit – was it perhaps hidden in the mini bar? No fruit to be found yet my toe continues to ache in cold weather.

Given my experience, here is the advice I have to offer when it comes to customer service:

Brand promise: Ensure that the brand promise is echoed through every activity. Make sure that the entire staff understands the nuances of what your company stands for and makes decisions based on this promise.

Action rather than words: Rather than state that you are going to do something special – just do it and then you will have the opportunity to talk about it. Surprise your customer in a good way.

Keep meticulous records: The more you know about your customer the more you are able to delight and super-serve. Beyond keeping records, develop a system to tap into the information that you are collecting without having anything fall through the cracks.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I am sure that you all have many more lessons to share. I have written about the importance of customer service before, and you’ll find more tips in my blog, “3 Ways Women Business Leaders Can Create Brand Super Fans.”


Increase Your Media Exposure with Video

Photo by: jsawkins

Making your message stand out is harder than ever. Brands are focusing their marketing and PR efforts on gaining earned media coverage. The result is that journalists are flooded with releases and pitches, meaning your brand must stand out from the rest.

That is why this article by Mickie Kennedy on using YouTube for public relations intrigued me. Mickie cited three ways video can be incorporated into a brand’s PR.

1. Respond to a crisis. While you hopefully never have to respond to a crisis, odds are your business could face one at some point. What qualifies as a crisis? I’ll define it as any situation that brings your company negative press. As you can imagine, the severity of a crisis could vary widely.

Say someone accuses one of your employees of a heinous crime. You could create a video message to address the issue rather than hide and hope it goes away. The personal response could build goodwill with your customers.

2. Contact and connect with media. Reporters and bloggers are inundated with pitches via email and telephone daily. It can be difficult to get them to hear your story. But, people love to watch and share videos.

If you create a video that involves your pitch and you share it with reporters through sites like Twitter, you may increase your chances of setting your pitch apart from the pack. This means you’ll increase your odds of coverage.

3. Get your campaign rolling. Are you about to start a new product campaign? What better way to do so than to post a video on YouTube showing exactly why people should pay attention? Make sure the video is of good quality, and that you provide reasons why people should pay attention. In other words, keep it focused on benefits.

It is well known that imagery can sometimes say more than words alone. This is especially true for highly visual brands. Using a video service such as YouTube or Vimeo is an easy, fun and creative way to get your brand’s message to stand out above the rest in this competitive media environment.

Will there be broken panes on Windows 8?

windows 8

With Microsoft soon releasing Windows 8, it is a good time to open up the window and take a deeper look inside. There are some exciting features being released in this new version of Windows. The big question is will this version be free of broken panes? As many Windows users know, when Microsoft releases new versions of their operation system (OS) it’s not always a good thing. In some cases, its been an outright disaster.

Windows 8 could be the OS to get Microsoft back in the game and potentially make them a contender for the leading OS against Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. One might consider Windows 8  a hybrid OS because it’s designed to work both on a standard type of computer or a touch-based device. Being able to toggle from the new Metro UI to the standard Windows UI is extremely important due to the limited amount of touch-style devices. I believe Microsoft is opening the door for device manufacturers to develop a laptop style device with touch capabilities that has computing power to handle everyday tasks.

Microsoft not only revamps the user experience in Windows 8, they also introduced a new design feel into the interface. I have to say they did a really good job from what I have seen thus far. It has a clean and modern looking design that’s refreshing to see. Microsoft is slowly doing away with the bubbly glossy look and moving to a flat, clean iconic-based design.

Windows 8 Release Preview

Only time will tell if Windows 8 will live up to its full potential and not become a bust like many of its predecessors. If successful, it will be very exciting to see how Google and Apple respond as well as device manufactures. As a designer I want nothing more than a touch-based computer powerful and large enough to design on.

You can download a 90 developer trial if you would like to test-drive it.