Marketing during COVID: A 4-step plan

I’m writing this about nine weeks into lockdown, during the biggest pandemic of the century.

2020 wasn’t supposed to be like this. The year started with optimistic projections. The global economy was healthy and robust, with the OECD projecting lofty growth among both G20 and developing countries. It was to be an Olympic year. Unemployment was down. Living standards were up. Digital advertising revenue was forecast to grow by nearly 11%, to a whopping $326 billion.

And then everything changed.

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How to suck at social media customer service

twitter customer serviceLike it or not, customers have gotten accustomed to reaching out on social media channels when they have a comment, complaint or issue with your company.

And yet, even years after channels like Twitter, Facebook or Whatsapp have become commenplace for customer service, so many companies are still doing it wrong.

If you’re a company that REALLY does not like your customers, and your goal is to royally piss them off, here are 6 surefire ways to do that:

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10 more indispensable digital tools for frequent travellers (2017 update)

My status as a travelaholic is no secret to anyone who knows me. Between frequent business travel and maximum personal travel, I’m on the road as much as possible, trying to quench a wanderulust that can never be satisfied.

Like most people, I use a lot of websites and digital tools pretty heavily when I travel. I previously posted a list of some of my favourites. But that post is over seven years old now, so I figured it was time for a refresh.

A few notes about this list: I haven’t included some of the self-evident sites like Google Maps, just because they’re so well known and I’m assuming everyone is using them already.

Without further adieu, here’s my current Top 10 travel list:

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Is TripAdvisor ruining travel?

Girls walking Alpaca in Cusco
Cusco, Peru, May 2017. Photo credit: Sari Stein

A couple of months ago, I was travelling in Peru. I’d just completed an absolutely magical trip to Machu Picchu, one of the world’s spectacular Great Wonders. It was a life-altering, breathtakingly beautiful, almost spiritual experience.

And the next day back in Cusco, waiting in my inbox was an email from the tour company: “Please, review us on TripAdvisor!”

Increasingly, businesses in the tourism industry live and die by their reviews. The word-of-mouth networks of yesteryear have been increasingly replaced by travellers on their smartphones, Googling a place to eat, sleep or visit in the vicinity.

Large hotel chains can survive on their global brand reputation and marketing. But for small independent restaurants, guesthouses, tour operators or guides, a “recommended by TripAdvisor” sticker on the door can mean the difference between survival and failure.

And do they ever know it.

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Just get moving: Overcoming digital paralysis

moving-day I’ve finally up and moved. Welcome to my new home here at WordPress. And, apologies for being out of touch for so long.

See, when I started this blog back in 2010 over at Typepad, that platform was all kinds of modern and full-featured. But, digital years are like dog years. Seven years later, my non-mobile responsive site on a limited-access platform wasn’t looking so new and shiny anymore.

I knew I had to migrate the blog over here. I just never seemed to get around to it. Despite being in the industry for fifteen years, my actual technical skills are fairly limited. I’ve set up WordPress blogs before, and I knew how easy it was to fall down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out how to do those million things right, from design to functionality to site admin. The actual work involved felt daunting. Because I never felt like I had enough time to finish the task, I never actually started it.

I’d fallen into the classic digital paralysis trap: Because I couldn’t do everything, I stopped myself from doing anything. Which is why it’s been nearly two years since my last post.


The thing is, plenty of companies suffer from digital paralysis, too. The rate of change in digital is too fast for most corporations to keep up.

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The internet’s long memory: Politics in the era of social media

The 2015 Canadian federal election campaign has been marred with a series of embarrassing gaffes and candidate resignations.

The most well-known example is probably #peegate, where Tory candidate Jerry Bance was caught on video urinating in a coffee cup and forced to step down in embarrassment. Another Conservative candidate, Tim Dutaud, was also forced to resign after videos surfaced of him making harassing prank calls.

But it’s not only the Tories who’ve been caught with their pants down — in the case of Bance, literally — here. All the major parties have been caught out in scandals during this campaign, with candidates being forced to step down due to Facebook posts, Twitter tweets and other offhand comments coming to light — some of which were posted years ago. From racism to sexism, from drug references to Nazi comparisons, a casual observer of this election would be forgiven for thinking that the only people running for leadership of this country are the worst of the worst of our citizens.

It begs the question: Have our political candidates gotten worse? Or has the internet’s memory simply gotten better?

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It’s 2015, but our content laws are stuck in last century.

Happy 2015, everyone! We’re now midway through the (twenty-tens? teens?) and I am fully expecting my hoverboard and flying car to arrive any minute now.

But, with this new year comes a flurry of new crackdowns on the entertainment content that I, and millions of others, can access.

  • Canada’s ironically-named Copyright Modernization Law went into effect January 1st.  A law so ridiculous that it only could have been written by politicians, the Copyright Modernization Law will require ISPs to send out a warning email to people who download copyrighted content. This email will apparently have no effect other than to clutter up our already-crowded inboxes, though copyright holders could theoretically choose to sue (but they probably won’t).
  • The Pirate Bay, a large and popular torrent file-sharing site, was shut down when its Sweden headquarters raided last month, and its founders were arrested. This prompted everyone to, well, simply move to another torrent site, of which their are dozens. Also, the Pirate Bay is reportedly coming back online under new management in February.
  • Now, in yet another attempted blow to grey-market content consumers everywhere, Netflix has announced that it is cracking down on VPN and proxy users.

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Flies in the ointment: Will fraudsters kill crowdfunding?

The IndieGoGo campaign looked fantastic. A friend had shared it on her Facebook feed last fall, and I clicked through, intrigued. It was an advance-fund crowdsource model, whereby an entrepreneur raises production capital by accepting pre-orders to ensure a minimum quantity. The product idea sounded brilliant, simple and well thought out. On video, the founder came across as smart, enthusiastic and passionate. I hit “fund” almost immediately.

A year later, and I still haven’t received my product. The founder’s Facebook page and IndieGoGo campaign site is full of similar angry complaints from other backers demanding refunds. Slow shipping, product delays, poor communication. And so on, and so forth. IndieGoGo won’t get involved — it’s not their policy to do so. There’s a chance I’ll still get the product eventually, but I’ve basically written it off at this point. I took a risk. It didn’t pay off. And I’m hardly the only one.

From Kobe Beef Jerky to the GoBe wristband, the media abounds with stories of crowdfunding fraud. Some of these projects are blatant scams, with the intent all along to defraud backers. Others fall into a bit more of a grey area, starting off with good intentions on behalf of the initiators, but turning sour when the project hits a few speedbumps. It’s enough to make everyone a little wary of crowdfunding, even — or especially — when a project sounds really, really great.

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Defining success by the right metrics: The case of Bixi

By most accounts, Bixi — Montreal’s much-loved bike-sharing service — is a runaway success.

It has thousands of impassioned riders who use it to get around for 7 months a year. It has boosted cycling culture and encouraged more bike lanes and safety measures to be put in place. It has gotten otherwise inactive people exercising more. It frees up road and transit capacity, it’s good for our health, it’s good for the environment, and — for a time — it was good for our city’s image. The bike’s designs won awards and were sold and adopted in a dozen other cities around the world. For a time, Bixi was Montreal’s darling.

Ah, but here’s the rub: It’s not making money.

In fact, it was bleeding so much cash and had racked up so much debt that it had to file for bankruptcy and get taken over by the city.

And that is a very, very big problem for Bixi. So big, in fact, that you merely have to mention the word “Bixi” to just about anyone, and the first thing they’ll say in response is “they’re in financial trouble, aren’t they?”

The thing is, those folks aren’t wrong. Bixi isn’t profitable. But does that mean it’s not successful?

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7 useless facts about your personas

Aaahh, personas. Those imaginary people that all planners invent to help inspire our marketing.

At their best, personas are like our childhood imaginary friends – so real that we can almost hear their voices in our heads. At their worst, they’re cardboard-cutouts, boring “average” people designed to appease everybody and please nobody, with 2.1 kids and a dog, who haven’t existed outside of a Norman Rockwell painting in half a decade.

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