What does a hurricane have to do with IMC?

For the first time 28 years the island nation of Hawaii is bracing for a 1-2 punch of serious tropical weather.  One of my classmates lives in Hilo and has been keeping us updated on his situation by relying on multiple marketing channels we’ve studied through the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at WVU… including social media, digital storytelling, crisis communication, and emerging media.

This incredibly resourceful classmate posted updates on Facebook, set up a video camera to capture the story, shared the video footage with a national news agency, and stayed in touch with some of us via SMS.  Those of us who were following along all tuned in to watch the news to see our friend add to his 15 minutes of fame, so the news agency had a tiny spike in viewership.  His initiative and creative approach to what could be a dangerous environment is an example of what an IMC campaign looks like… even in its simplest form.  He got our attention and kept it by embracing several elements of communication.

Through the IMC program we all discover new interests, talents, and abilities that prepare us for the ever evolving world of marketing.  I’ve been in the field for almost 20 years now and, while the fundamentals haven’t changed — it is still about taking an message and sharing it with a target audience in a manner and in such a way for it to be received in a positive way — the way these messages can be relayed has embraced new territory.  When I started we relied on direct marketing and print ads.  Now we have social media, mobile marketing, public relations, and better ways to identify an audience and measure results.  We also have more subsegments of audiences  who need to receive our messages in their specific language.

As I review my resume and consider what needs to be revised, it occurs to me that I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity.  In each class I’ve picked up new skills and found aspects of IMC that I really enjoy (and one or two that I prefer not to be an expert in). I also am seeing a trend in my job history… consumer promotions.  How to get a customer to respond to an offer and, subsequently, turn them into a client and brand ambassador.  Just what is it that gets their attention?

Several of the jobs I’ve been applying for are in the retail industry and think this may be the path I want to pursue.  Time will tell.


‘Cause ya gotta have friends…

The last few days have been made up of very highs, very lows, and sort of middles when it comes to emotions.  I allowed myself to feel every one of them so that I could get through the process of  clearing my thoughts and start identifying what I want to be when I grow up.

Friday night I spent alone.  Saturday I forced myself to spend time with a girlfriend because I knew I needed to get out of the house.  While I wasn’t the most exuberant of company, she allowed me to be whatever I needed to be and the day unfolded into a really enjoyable evening with friends eating good food, drinking good wine, and solving the world’s problems.

Sunday I woke up with a really good attitude and the will to live.  I started poking around job search sites and collecting my thoughts.  Called my mom, who surprisingly was very supportive of my situation.  And my boyfriend is just the most awesome human being because he’s not the least bit concerned… in a good way.  I filed for unemployment and slept really really really well.

So far this week I have applied for a few jobs, gotten more familiar with my MacBook Pro, got really frustrated with WordPress, and pulled weeds in the yard.  The best part of my week was receiving a phone call from the wife of the owner of my former company.  She wanted to see how I was doing and reassure me that our friendship had not changed and that they both recognized my need to grow beyond the confines of where the company is.

After that call I knew I was going to be just fine.  I started reaching out to people I knew to explore opportunities with organizations that I thought would be great places to sort out my next move.  Vendors that I have worked with for the last 10 years have switched over to being best friends now.  My classmates at WVU are my most passionate cheerleaders.

Everyone has been so amazingly enthusiastic about my possibilities that I actually am starting to believe them.


What exactly should my resume say?

Today I started the process of registering on every job search site that exists.  I am dreading the subsequent emails but I knew I needed to start somewhere.  I also made sure my LinkedIn profile was up to date and have spent most of the day exploring all its functionality.  Some of the jobs posted on LinkedIn allow your profile to pre-fill the application process, which is a very cool and efficient way to apply without having to go through pages and pages of filling out forms online or uploading a .pdf.  Let’s face it, it is so much easier to update our LinkedIn profile than culling through a resume we have saved on our hard drive somewhere.  And I like being able to showcase some of the projects I’ve done not only for school but throughout my career.  These are the things you can’t visually display on a simple resume or cookie cutter job search site.  Slideshare is a great place to store projects, too, and I’ve got a few more projects that I want to upload to it.

Looking through all the job search sites, my LinkedIn profile, and my resume have started me thinking:

Am I my resume?
Do the words on the pages accurately reflect what I am capable of?

If yes, then I’m off to the races.  But I think I am more than my skill set and previous employers.

So the question is, how do I let people know?

It’s 3:am, I must be restless

The thoughts running through my head woke me up around 3am.  Should I change the name of this blog to something more catchy?  What should I write about next?  What should’t I write about?  Maybe I should organize the posts better since some of them were originally for a school project?  What’s the difference between Posts and Pages?

It is now 5:am and this is all I’ve got.

Well, not really.  I did conjure up some plans for the next few days so I don’t feel like a complete schlub.  Normally I have to squeeze in all the whatnot into the weekends.  I am in perpetual weekend now, so I’m only limited to opening and closing hours of wherever I need to go.

There is a litany of little things that I’ve been meaning to do.  That changes today.

Unemployed at 47

The decision to start over in any situation is always a bit unsettling.  I’ve been working steadily for almost 20 years and every decision to make a change has always been a positive move.  Most recently I had the opportunity to be part of starting up a company by running their marketing department.  Initially I was freelance… which motivated me to put all the sweat equity I could muster into growing the company to the point where I could be hired full time.  From freelance the position grew into part-time and then the opportunity to move into a full time job was presented, although not in a marketing role.  I took over a position on the sales team because the person in that role was let go and they needed someone immediately.  I had no experience but took it upon myself to learn by being resourceful.  After almost two years the company was at the point where they could hire someone to replace me in sales and I moved full time back into marketing, where I stayed for another two years.

But Friday I left the company to pursue other interests.  The reasons aren’t important, other than to say I needed to move on.  It was just time.  And at the age of 47 it was a complete leap of faith.  I am grateful to have a huge support group made up of cheerleaders, shoulders, motivators, and family who are letting me sort it out without worrying… too much.

Last summer I started the IMC Masters program at West Virginia University because I wanted to stay  fresh with marketing skills.  The program is online so the entire process has been… literally… virtual.  I made connections in the first class that inspired me to start a group on Facebook specifically for classmates.  This group has grown to 130 members and is more than just a social outlet for us.  We share our personal struggles and triumphs, woes about classes and professors, insight into projects, and have led to a conversation about starting our own IMC agency.

This past May many of us attended Integrate, a weekend symposium sponsored by the WVU IMC program.  It was an opportunity for all of us to finally meet in person.  This time together dramatically changed our relationships with each other.  We became actual friends, not just virtual.  When I posted in our group about this change in my career path I was met with overwhelming encouragement.  Everyone has pretty much convinced me I can do anything I set my mind to do.

So what does a 47 year old integrated marketing specialist do with the rest of their life?  Right now I’m sifting though a variety of ideas.  Fortunately I have some savings that I can rely on for a few months, but I don’t plan to sit around in my pajamas for too long.  It just isn’t in my nature.  I’m a go-getter.  A do-er.  I am going to take a few days to bounce ideas off my most trusted resources and see what I come up with.  I might work part time at a local garden supply store.  

The point I’m trying to make here… especially to anyone else in my situation… is that while the perfect job may not be available right now, that doesn’t mean I need to wait until it is.  I can start small, and still dream big (kudos to the best boyfriend ever for that gem).  In a few months I’ll have my Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University.  I am excited about all the possibilities this incredible accomplishment will provide me.  Through the IMC program I have had the chance to freshen up my current skill set as well as learn about new marketing methods and channels.  The world of marketing is always evolving and I am evolving with it.  Through the courses I’ve taken I’ve identified new passions and awakened old ones.  For instance, I would love to work for a non-profit or environmental organization like the Trust for Public Land, Casting for Recovery, Trout Unlimited, or one that supports a community of anglers.  Three years ago I never would have considered this.  I am also very interested in travel and wine.  Perhaps I could apply my skills there.  

The possibilities really are endless.  Once I figure out what I want to do.

For now, I am going to enjoy a little “me” time.  Stay tuned…

Waders come in women’s sizes, too…

According to The Outdoor Foundation’s 2013 Outdoor Participation Report, the profile of the average trout angler is 53.4 years old, homeowner and married.  They tend to have the discretionary income that allow them to pursue their sport and purchase the necessary equipment — such as rods, reels, fly line, flies and fly typing kits, as well as apparel.  In addition, these individuals tend to travel and enjoy other outdoors sports as well as appreciate wildlife and the environment.

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation states that forty-seven million Americans participated in fishing in 2012, a disproportionately high number of new participants in 2012 were female.  Fly fishing participation grew in 2012 to 6.0 million participants from 5.7 million participants the year before.  Much of the participation growth was driven by first-time participants who made up 20.5 percent of all fly fishing participants, up from 14.4 percent in 2011.

Women are one of the fastest growing demographics in the world of fly fishing and the companies that fuel the industry have noticed.  Females represent more than 46 percent of those interested in trying fishing.   The market may still be male-dominated, but watch these numbers change in the coming years; more ladies will be hitting the water as they are introduced to the sport.

According to Social Media Today, 71 percent of women are active on social media and responsible for 62 percent of shares on Facebook.  They are more prone to seek out the social page of a brand and 70 percent of referrals are generated from pins on Pinterest.   Sixty percent of consumers say the integration of social media is a motivating factor in doing business with and sharing the brand.  The key to growing fly fishing followers is to introduce more people to the sport.  This is where TU could lead the charge.

Almost all marketers find that social media helps them stand out in an increasingly noisy marketplace.  In fact, 88% of all marketers found social media helps get them increased exposure.  Additionally, 72% of those surveyed saw increased traffic as a result of social media.

Social Media Analytics Used

Simply Measured indicates fluctuating engagement with sporadic posts on the TU Facebook page with the most engaged fans being male and very little reference to female anglers or encouragement of their participation.  Of the posts, videos are the most popular form of engagement.  It would behoove TU to encourage national and local chapters to distribute more videos featuring female anglers as supporters of TU activities. 
 Simply Measured Figure 1 Simply Measured

Facebook is one of the more popular social media platforms available to organizations, especially when it comes to reaching the female audience.  The number of Facebook users over the age of 45 has increased by 45 percent since 2012.  A majority of these users are female.  Posting content regularly is an important part of using this platform to develop and maintain a presence for TU.

By contrast, Twitter users are primarily male and especially loyal.  RivalIQ indicates over 17,000 followers with an average Tweet per Day of 3.86.  As with Facebook posts, tweets from TU are sporadic.   RivalIQ validates the same data on Facebook activity gleaned from Simply Measured.

RivalIQFigure 2 RivalIQ

Google Trends and LikeAlyzer both indicate that social media activities need to be greater to be measured effectively.  LikeAlyzer specifically recommends responding to fan questions and comments quicker and publishing more photos.  Trackur provides good data but with no gender segmentation available.  Sprout Social does provide gender segmentation but, again, without direct access to TU’s account no further research is available.  This is important to the research proposal to determine the reach and effectiveness of the message from TU.  The social media metrics researched could provide useful insight into deeper data for the social engagement of TU but without direct access to the TU account for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn it was not possible to investigate further.

Women are the routers and amplifiers of the social web.  Women are thought to be more social, more interested in relationships and connections, better at multi-tasking, and able to maintain more relationships within every ring of closeness than men.  Women represent the majority of the online market and are more likely to pass along information about deals or finds to others.   Knowing that is important to build and encourage social network effects.  More female users will likely help the brand awareness of TU mature faster.

Providing regular content to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, TU blog, and the TU website ensures that anglers, particularly female, can find TU wherever they want to look.  These followers should then be added to a dedicated female angler database.  A consistent communication strategy will make certain that female followers of TU will keep returning to its social media platforms to read updates, view photos and videos, and stay engaged.

Fly fishing takes people to beautiful places, in clean water, and they connect with the natural world in a way that is magical.  Angling Trade reports an explosion of interest among women that has taken off in the last few years.  There is a tremendous opportunity for TU to capture huge market share with the female fly fishing audience through the use of social media.  These advocates can help promote TU through these collaborative social media conversations.

A Weekend in West By God Virginia

Each year, the WVU Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program hosts the INTEGRATE conference in Morgantown, WV. I was fortunate to attend this year and wanted to share just how amazing the weekend was for me, personally and professionally.

First of all, I was looking forward to being on campus for the first time… ever. Being able to take in Morgantown and the WVU campus was part of the reason I wanted to attend. I took several silly selfies, played temporary co-ed, and survived the trek up and down the steps to the Life Sciences Building multiple times (only on the last day did anyone tell me about the elevator). Visiting the bookstore and eating in the Lair were bonuses. The reception at the Alumni Center was special given the fact that next year I will be one and that building will be “mine” and I got to meet the Mountain Man. And living in Atlanta I may never be able to attend a Mountaineer Home Game so having dinner in the Touchdown Terrace was a real treat. (That being said, if anyone reading this has one or two tickets to the WVU v. Alabama game to throw my way, I’d be grateful).

I felt like I had the WVU Grad School On Campus experience super condensed into three days.

The anticipation of meeting classmates was another highlight. I started a Facebook group for classmates when I started the program last May because – quite frankly – I just really liked the people in my Intro to IMC class and wanted to be friends with them outside of class. The group grew as we each progressed through the program. There are people with whom I’ve not had classes but we’ve all bonded because of the group… sharing our struggles and triumphs in class as well as in our personal life. It was quite remarkable how many people made a point of finding me over the weekend to say “Thank You” and to introduce themselves. Just about everyone I met said the same thing, the dynamic of this year’s Integrate was changed because people felt like they were reuniting with friends rather than meeting strangers. Suffice it to say I think this group embraces, if not embodies, the very nature of the IMC program. (On a personal note, I was beyond pleased to hear the FB group was so popular because I started it for all these reasons, never imagining it would impact Integrate in such a positive way)

I was particularly happy to meet some of my favorite professors and hear how they remembered me and my contributions. This speaks volumes of the caliber of instructors as well as the program itself. Bonnie Harris and Joe Barnes both made a point of finding me to say “Hello” in person. And I cannot say enough times how invaluable it was to sit in the Capstone session and hear best practices shared by previous students. Seeing their final results was a little intimidating… but more so inspirational and motivating. I’ll be in Capstone in Late Fall and am already collecting resources for St. Jude (in hopes that the client does not change before then). I never expected to actually meet my professor for Capstone so that was a real treat… especially considering he’s Dennis O’Conner and he won Most Righteous IMC Professor along with Joe Barnes (who was most deserving).

The speakers were quite impressive. I am still culling through my old school notes (taken by hand, in a spiral WVU notebook) and implement the takeaways into my office. I AM the marketing silo– the department consists of just me – but I work closely with the sales team to give them things to talk about. The first thing I plan to do is start weekly meetings specifically with the sales team to review our marketing programs and answers questions or take suggestions for improvements or additions. That’s a start.

All in all I felt like many existing friendships were further cemented, made new friends, made invaluable connections with IMC staff and faculty, and felt the capacity in my brain expand with the knowledge received.

I may need to buy a larger hat size…

Boomers Away

Boomers control more than two-thirds of all the disposable income in the United States. And according to an AARP survey, more baby boomers picked “travel” than any other answer when asked what they would most like to spend more of their money on — beating out, among other things, shoring up their health or finances.

Leading-edge boomers — born between 1946 and 1955 – are a particularly ripe market. Along with seniors, these leading-edge boomers — many now at or nearing retirement age — account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today. Many seniors are also affluent. The difference is that boomers – unlike Depression and World War II-nurtured seniors – are willing to spend our money. As long as they feel they’re getting value for it.

The key to success is to understand the unique baby-boomer mentality – and specifically boomer attitudes toward travel. Not all boomers think alike. But the similarities in attitudes toward travel – especially among affluent boomers, the prime market you’ll want to target — are too striking to ignore. It’s essential to recognize these similarities if you want to win boomers’ business and loyalty.

One tour company – which used to be called “Elderhostel” – learned this lesson well. My grandmother used to explore the world with this organization, staying in dorms and low-budget hotels. No grass grew under her feet and she met some lovely people through these adventures, but the packages were rustic. And the name conveyed this. Recognizing this, the folks who ran Elderhostel changed their name to “Road Scholar” a few years ago. The name change was an inspired one for several reasons: It dropped the term “elder”; it dropped the word “hostel,” which is also toxic to many boomers; and it substituted “Road Scholar,” which appeals to the boomer love of educational travel.

National surveys show that boomers in general respond positively to travel information they receive in the mail: full-color brochures and circulars, direct mail advertisements, and destination guides that fill impressive-looking envelopes. Two-thirds of boomers say they are more likely to open direct mail than an email, and say they trust direct mail, newspapers and magazines far more than online media.

For a baby boomer, it can be hard to resist opening a big, thick envelope or beautifully photographed, printed brochure that arrives in the mail from a visitors’ bureau, tour agency, resort or cruise line. The psychology is simple: this is something with mass that you can hold in your hands — just as boomers have held printed matter in their hands all their lives. Nor will typical boomers be quick to discard the contents (assuming the material is compelling). Physical mail establishes a kind of emotional connection with boomers that shouldn’t be overlooked.

I’ve written previously about Viking River Cruises’ approach to marketing: a laser-like focus on their target customer — the classic baby boomer. They’ve tailored the product experience for the 55+ culturally curious in mind. They don’t try to be everything to everyone. Viking’s chairman puts it this way, “We have no need whatsoever to say we want some younger people onboard, we don’t encourage [inter]generational travel. We market to North Americans, Brits, Australians. Nothing else… It is for people like me who want to have a quiet time and travel with people like myself.”

In essence, their target market is people with some curiosity, who have worked hard and earned some money. They haven’t had time to see these places — and not just see, but experience the culture. They’re grown-up people. They speak English. They are 55-plus.

Viking is a prime example of one of the basic rules of marketing: know thy target customers and go after them, single-mindedly. They fill mailboxes with direct mail throughout the year, Internet ads, and beautiful television spots to create… and keep… interest. The marketing mantra that it costs less to keep an existing customer is less than to acquire a new one rings true here. Once you fill out a request for information, you’re on their list for life. Go on a cruise and they diligently remind you about the discounts you receive as a part of their Explorer Society club.

And it’s worth repeating: they’re targeting one key market: baby boomers. Baby boomers with money, curiosity, and time to spend on a river cruise in Europe, as well as Russia, Asia and Egypt, which Viking also offers. While Viking is by no means the most luxurious river cruise line, it delivers a solid product to boomers looking for good value.

This is good news for baby boomers willing to pay for value but dislike feeling ripped off. My mother is a textbook example of this statement. She is tired of being nickel-and-dimed to death by cruise lines. Tell her what it’s going to cost upfront, and she’ll pay it. We’ve been on four Viking cruises already, and have a fifth one booked to celebrate my graduation.

Do we really care if cows are happy?

Most would agree that cows are by and large pretty happy creatures, slightly less jovial than the common tree squirrel, but seemingly content with their lot in life.

They stand. They lie. They chew. They swat. They get milked. They get eaten. ‘Nuff said.

Au contraire, say the activists at PETA, who have whipped themselves into a froth (sorry, couldn’t resist) and sued the San Francisco-based Milk Advisory Board over television ads that depict dairy cows in a blissful state. According to PETA, our bovine friends are not happy at all. They’re actually, well, very sad.

CMAB_National_PrintThe Milk Advisory Board, creators of the national “Got Milk” campaign, have been running television ads in California and neighboring states showing digitally animated cows frolicking in lush green spacious pastures, chatting about the benefits of living in California. The tag line: “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California.”

The only people here with a realistic beef (oops, did it again) are the hardworking California dairy farmers who were forced to pay the roughly $17 million price tag of the “Happy Cows” campaign through mandatory assessments on milk produced in that state. With falling dairy prices and rising production costs, it’s the dairy farmers who are unhappy, not the cows

The Milk Board defends the ads by saying they are entertaining, and are not intended to be taken seriously. But the Milk Board is not in the entertainment business. It has not spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this ad campaign to amuse the public, but to increase the sales of California dairy products.

Besides, does misleading the public become legitimate just because it is done in an entertaining way?

How to justify buying shoes

One lifestyle trend I’ve noticed is the popularity of using retail “outlet” websites and apps to buy luxury items for considerably less.  On my iPhone I have apps from Zulily, RueLaLa (Rue), and Ideeli.  I browse these apps every day to see if I can find a really great deal on something I would not ordinarily dream of purchasing because of the regular retail price.  Trendwatching.com calls this “guilt-free consumption.”

For instance, through Rue I recently purchased a pair of $280 shoes for $59.  I would never pay $280 for a pair of shoes, regardless of how pretty they are and how fabulous they would look on my feet.  But I would pay $59 for them.  And wear them considerably more often because I would not revere them as strongly as if I had paid $280.  Math is not my best subject, but these retail apps make it easy for you by telling you exactly how much you save and a $221 difference makes a strong case to buy.  Any sense of guilt or remorse is removed.

A side benefit to using these apps is the ability to invite friends to shop, too, and be rewarded with store credits.  If you’re at all hesitant about a purchase, you can post a particular item you’re drooling over on Facebook to get buy in from your peers.  We all know that how we dress impacts how we feel about ourselves. Being able to afford designer duds, better made clothing, or scoring a really great deal on something all contribute to our self-esteem… because you’re able to wear expensive (conceivably better quality) clothing and impress your friends, especially when (if) you tell them how much you didn’t spend.

I see this trend definitely continuing due to the fact that our society is more and more mobile dependent.  From social networking to shopping, consumers are using apps to stay informed and entertained.  According to Tech Crunch, there are over 224 million app users every month.  I don’t see these numbers going down any time soon.  Mobile shopping continues to grow at a rapid pace, with an increasing number of mobile shoppers embracing internet retailer apps, social shopping apps, and brick-and-mortar retail apps to enhance their shopping experience.  eMarketer reported an increase of almost 70% from 2012 to 2013 in ecommerce sales.

That means there will be many more pairs of shoes in my future.