Birds, Pies or Nothing

Christmas is past, and the consumer gift-purchasing frenzy along with it. We wondered what local consumer/retail businesses are doing to keep the ball rolling in the post-Xmas season, so we asked a few stores in Camden and a couple inns in Rockland.

At Surroundings, a small sign in the front window trumpeted a 30%-off sale. This was an exception: we didn’t see similar sales at other Main St. Camden retailers.

A couple doors down at Once a Tree, owner Bernice Berger said “I am staying open seven days a week as my major attempt at keeping the ball rolling.” She added, “We do have sale items,” but no store-wide sale at the end of December. Come January, she’ll put some areas in the store on sale, but, she emphasizes, “Once a Tree is not a seasonal store,” and the merchandise retains its shelf-life indefinitely. December, she says, is only her fifth-busiest month.

Across the street at Ducktrap Bay Trading Co., I was nearly dragged off the sidewalk by a friendly lady excitedly urging me to visit to see live kestrels. You bet! That would have brought me in regardless of my mission. Inside, two members of the raptor rescue and education group Wind Over Wings were showing two of these lovely, diminutive and well-behaved birds of prey.

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Wind Over Wings visits Ducktrap Bay Trading Co. in Camden with a pair of kestrels.

According to owner Joyce Lawrence, Ducktrap Bay is not a gift shop but, rather, a “serious gallery of wildlife and marine art.” As such, Christmas is not her key season either, and the birds were not a post-season marketing device, per se. She hosts Wind Over Wings more or less monthly, and does so because it’s mutually beneficial: it brings people into the store, she acknowledges, and it also helps raise awareness for Wind Over Wings, which she supports. Lawrence says she also sponsors bird carving classes year-round, but like Once a Tree, isn’t doing much marketing tailored to specifically the post-Xmas season.

In Rockland, P.J. Walker, co-owner of the LimeRock Inn, says he’s staying open but not doing any active marketing. “We’ve never really pursued off-season business,” he says, explaining that the inn operates with a staff consisting of just its two owners, and that they like things quiet at this time of year, to make up for working “flat out” for six months during tourist season.

In contrast, owner Cheryl Michaelson at the Berry Manor Inn says her marketing is a year-round effort. Berry Manor is a prime mover behind 9th annual “Pies on Parade” event (January 27) that also involves the other Historic Inns of Rockland (including the LimeRock), the local museums, several restaurants and other businesses. It’s a collaborative, city-wide effort to bring people downtown during the year’s darkest, coldest, and otherwise quietest days. To get the word out, Berry Manor relies on its newsletter, Facebook, and website updates, and these efforts all supplement those of Historic Inns of Rockland, which also blogs and does publicity.

So how are we marketing in the “quiet” season? It’s all over the board. A few are laying low, actually hoping that things will stay pretty quiet. Some pursue business as usual, just accepting that this is a quiet time of the year. And others are running sales or putting in a special marketing effort, trying to make the post-holiday season as productive as possible.

Eliot Cutler on Marketing the Maine Coast

Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for Maine governor in 2010 and chairman of the marketing consulting group MaineAsia LLC, was the keynote speaker at Maine Built Boats‘ first Global Outreach Conference on December 6 at Maine Maritime Museum. While many of Cutler’s comments were specific to boatbuilders and/or the China market, much of his talk was relevant to many businesses in the Midcoast and Maine in general. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

CutlerAs we think about our Maine coast and try to solve the challenge of jobs and incomes that it presents, sometimes in unforgiving ways, we sometimes get confused . . . and confounded. We often make the mistake of thinking about this amazing resource – this ecosystem – in pieces independent of each other.

What do we need to do to keep the big ships rolling down the ways at BIW? (Well, they don’t roll down the ways anymore, but I like the imagery!)

How do we revive the ground fishery in the Gulf of Maine? How do we process more of our own lobsters for export to markets around the world?

What is the best way to promote the unmatched quality of Maine-built boats?

Tourism – exporting the Maine experience – is Maine’s biggest export product. Where can we find the money – now estimated at roughly $3-4 billion – that it will cost to repair Maine’s roads and bridges so that we can double the number of tourists who visit Maine?

In fact, all of these issues are elements – deeply interrelated to each other – of a single larger and deeply important question: How will we preserve Maine’s coastal communities?

As a state, what are the policies we need to pursue and the investments that we need to make that will help Maine’s coastal towns and villages, both those with working waterfronts and those without, retain young people and survive against the gravitational pull of larger urban areas?

If we fail to answer this question in a smart and strategic way, the consequences will be tragic.

Without coastal communities, from Eastport to Kittery . . .

  • Maine’s largest industry – tourism – will be decimated;
  • Our Gulf of Maine fishery – the third largest by dollar value in America – will be left to fishermen and women from southern New England and the Canadian Maritimes;
  • Maine-built boats will become a lost art; and,
  • We will have ignored our own DNA, abandoned our competitive advantage, turned our backs on our past and put Maine’s future in peril.

Yet, today we have no clear goals for preserving Maine’s coastal communities to which we are all committed.

We’re not focused, we’re not thinking, and we sure as hell are not investing.

We have no plan, no strategy, no shared idea of where we will be ten or twenty years from now. We have become fatally preoccupied in Maine with fighting over shares of a shrinking pie.

Let’s set a new course. Let’s put our extraordinary competitive advantages to work. Let’s build a Maine brand, market the hell out of our products and start making the pie bigger.

Some might ask, why do we need to build an overarching, umbrella Maine brand? After all, lobster is already synonymous with Maine. And you boatbuilders have a great brand, “Maine Built Boats.”

But you know what? Too many people around the world think that Maine lobster really comes from Canada or Boston, and no one in China has ever heard of Maine.

Yes, we need to build and develop the Maine brand.

The latent power of the Maine brand is extraordinary; there are a few states that are mythic, that hold Americans in thrall, and Maine is one of them. Yet, a powerful brand for our state is an opportunity that we have ignored for decades.

Over the years we have moved from one slogan to another faster than our weather changes.

Recently, and for a few years, our slogan was It Must Be Maine, a brand that some Business Week analysts said isn’t well-known because “it is bland, dreary, and vague.”

Now our slogan appears to be The Maine Thing.

Really?? The Maine Thing?

We don’t have everything wrong – there are, for instance, some wonderful new videos on the Maine tourism web site with Maine folks talking about why we all love to live here – but there is no evidence that we have invested the kind of time, effort, expertise and, yes, money that is necessary to develop a brand that is meaningful and that casts its net over all of the products and experiences for which we want Maine to be known.

We need to develop a brand that motivates people to place a higher value on what we make and sell and on the experience of living and visiting here.

If Virginia can be for lovers (as it has been for decades), if you and I can love New York, if pork can be the new white meat . . . then we ought to be able to figure out how we want people to think about Maine, and develop a brand that will get them to think that way.

For a state where so many jobs – now and in the future – are and will be found in this Maine Coast economic cluster – in tourism, in seafood production, in boatbuilding – there aren’t many more important investments that we can make in our future and in our kids’ futures than the development of a strong brand. 

I’ll take the Camry. Wrap it please.

You don't even have to read the text to know what this company does.

You don’t even have to read the text to know what this company does.

Until just a few years ago, marketing through vehicle graphics was pretty much confined to tradesmen’s vans and larger trucks. (OK, there’s NASCAR, but I’m going to confine this post to the vehicles that one sees on the street.) If you wanted to do some marketing on a passenger-style vehicle, you were practically limited to vinyl letters or rectangular magnetic signs to stick on the doors. But technology has made it increasingly practical to apply elaborate graphics to any vehicle. More and more conventional automobiles are getting the treatment, and they really stand out on the roads of the Midcoast.

Adventure Advertising wrapped this Nissan for Penobscot Bay Pilot.

Adventure Advertising wrapped this Nissan for Penobscot Bay Pilot.

“It’s an extremely effective marketing and branding tool,” says Joe Ryan, principal at Adventure Advertising in Rockport. “In terms of cost-effectiveness, nothing matches it. Every day you could be getting 30,000 to 40,000 impressions.” Adventure recently did a full wrap on a Nissan crossover vehicle for the Penobscot Bay Pilot, and their portfolio includes ATVs, cars, minivans, passenger vans, motorhomes, box trailers  and tractor-trailer rigs.

According to Ryan, a full-car graphic wrap costs about the same as a full-page color ad in the Portland Press-Herald. The print ad might make 60,000 to 70,000 impressions total. The vehicle wrap matches that in a few days, and continues to make impressions every day for a number of years.

“And in the newspaper, you’re competing with other ads,” says Ryan. “On the road, you tend to be one of just a few eye-catching vehicles that catches people’s attention.”

This relatively simple design works because of the colorful "lawn sign" element that is readily recognized in our region.

This straightforward design works because the colorful “lawn sign” element is readily recognized in our region.

Prices for full wraps can reach “into the three thousand range,” says Ryan, “but we have also done extremely effective vehicle graphics for as little as about $400” which, he says, might consist of a well-designed logo carefully placed on a door. “We do a lot of partial wraps, which can be more affordable for many smaller businesses. We use the lines, shape and color of the existing vehicle as design elements. It’s a nice challenge.”

The logo slash successfully ignores (or overcomes) the vehicle's door and window shapes and establishes a bold diagonal element.

The diagonal logo slash successfully ignores (or overcomes) the vehicle’s door and window shapes and establishes a bold dynamic element.

Ryan argues that the cost of even full wrap is quite reasonable if it’s considered in the proper context. “It’s not a vehicle expense. It’s a marketing and advertising expense,” he says. Very true. If you think of it as a vehicle modification like custom wheels, then a couple thousand extra dollars might not make sense. But that same amount may be easy to justify for a marketing tool that keeps catching eyeballs for years to come.

Wrapping the photo around the corner gives it standout three-dimensionality.

Wrapping the photo around the corner has the virtue of being unexpected, and gives it standout three-dimensionality.

(All photos courtesy Adventure Advertising.)

The Challenge of Dichotomies

Every audience is diverse. If you’re selling cola or sneakers, the range is vast: your target market consists of everyone in the world except (respectively) health-food devotees and double amputees. But even for highly niche products and services, the message always needs to reach across a range of attitudes.

If your product is a vegetarian health food, you recognize that some, but not all, of your audience are vegans. Some are additionally gluten-free; Hispanic; upper-income; Presbyterian; bald; saxophonists. Any of these characteristics might influence an individual’s response to your product. Most marketers attempt to span these differences in their messaging, to smooth out the hills and valleys, find the common ground, appeal to as many as you can and offend as few as possible.

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Rob Dietz, Principal at Pica Design + Marketing

This assumes that variability is somewhat evenly distributed across the audience, but not all markets demonstrate this quality. Rob Dietz, principal and creative director at Pica Design + Marketing in Belfast, feels that a defining characteristic of the Midcoast marketing environment is the dichotomous nature of its population: most people fall into one of two groups with rather distinct characteristics.

“Many folks in the Midcoast are local, native, deeply rooted here, proud of Maine and proud to be Mainers,” he says. “Many others are from other places, to a large degree well-educated, with a variety of interests, passions, backgrounds, experience, and connections with other parts of the world.” In other words, Maine’s perennial From Here/From Away division has implications for marketers.

Dietz says that in helping clients reach local consumers, Pica generally leans more toward “From Here” attitudes, without excluding or alienating those “From Away.” After all, many émigrés are here because they appreciate the local values. As a result, he says, “The methods that might succeed in New York or San Francisco may not apply here.”

“We generally take an authentic, straightforward approach,” he continues. “We’ll reflect on what makes a client special in this market without trying to make him or her out to be more than what he is. It’s a modest approach to marketing that requires sincerity on our clients’ part and in our recommendations to them.”

Another dichotomy that Pica deals with is not strictly local in character: it’s the shift away from compromise and shared purpose that’s discernible nationally. This, says Dietz, tends to affect attitudes and confidence throughout our communities.

“Uncertainty among consumers can change attitudes rapidly and dramatically,” he says. “Everyone is on an emotional roller coaster. I’m all about change: you have to adapt. But it’s a challenge to market to people who might be euphoric one day and reserved or frightened the next.”

Sidewalk Signs in Rockland

Hello Hello Books: eye-catching graphics, but too much text IMO.

Hello Hello Books: eye-catching graphics, but too much text IMO.

Rockland’s Main Street retailers and restaurants are approaching the holiday season in a generally understated manner. That suits me fine, since I do not like being bombarded with someone else’s holiday cheer — especially when it’s insincere or explicitly commercial. When you go Christmas shopping, you already know why you’re there, and a Santa window cling is probably not going to influence your decision to enter a store — or, at least, it probably won’t influence it in a positive way.

What Rockland retailers and restaurants do like for their storefront marketing is sidewalk signs — especially of the sandwich board variety. Some of them use the signs to good effect; others not so much. Here’s what we saw during a stroll along Main Street this afternoon.

Seagull Cottage promotes a special, without pricing or a holiday message. I'm  not implying that's bad.

Seagull Cottage promotes a special, without pricing or a holiday message. I’m not implying that’s bad.

PDQ Photo's sign has a bold, simple holiday-themed message for a holiday product. The vinyl banner up above also promotes a holiday product, but the display is problematic.

PDQ Photo’s sign has a bold, simple holiday-themed message for a holiday product. The vinyl banner up above also promotes a holiday product, but the display is problematic.

Clan MacLaren's also pitches their lunch specials.

Clan MacLaren’s pitches their lunch specials, with pricing.

Rock Coast Sports is bold a readable. It's the same pitch as By George's, but seems more appropriate here.

Rock Coast Sports is bold and readable. It’s the same pitch as By George’s (below), but seems more appropriate here.

Side Country Sports puts the price right out there on the street. If this is a killer price, then it's a great idea. If not, then it provides an excuse for people to call around and not enter the store if that's what they're looking for.

Side Country Sports puts the price right out there on the street. If this is a killer price, then it’s a great idea. If not, then it provides an excuse for people to call around and not enter the store if that’s what they’re looking for.

Loyal Biscuit's sidewalk sign color-coordinates with their permanent signage. Nice.

Loyal Biscuit’s sidewalk sign color-coordinates with their permanent signage. Nice.

Huston Tuttle's sign features items and services on offer.

Huston Tuttle’s sign promotes their range of products and services.

Grasshopper Shop uses its sign for cause marketing -- a good move, IMO.

Grasshopper Shop uses its sign for cause marketing — a good move, IMO.

L&H Burger's message is  a concise holiday message: no overt pitch being made.

L&H Burger’s message is a concise holiday message, with no overt pitch.

Lawn signs promoting  "cash for gold" in front of By George Jewelers seem tacky for an upscale establishment.

Lawn signs promoting “cash for gold” in front of By George Jewelers seem somewhat “off” for an upscale establishment.

Lobsterman's Restaurant gives their specials, with prices. The big colorful header is good.

Lobsterman’s Restaurant promotes their specials, with prices. The big colorful header is good.