Merry Christmas from the King of Lies

“Captain Atheismo, give me your report on the War on Christmas.”

Yes, Your Eternal Nastiness. This Powerpoint shows highlights of this season’s initiatives:

  • The Yiddish Brigade successfully decoupled Hannukah from December, drawing an estimated 100,000,000 American Jews out of the festivities.
  • Our Moslem allies have so well established Sharia as the law of the land that Allah has become more popular than Jesus in 39 states and the District of Columbia by an average of 14.5 percentage points nationwide.
  • The Fox Shock Troops have instilled fear throughout all remaining true Christians. In a recent survey, 92% cited “fear of retribution by neighbors” as the primary reason for no longer openly celebrating or acknowledging their so-called faith.
Moslems at prayer in a mosque

Hundreds of millions of American former Christians flocked to mosques in December to affirm their conversions and protest the holiday season

Additional results are most gratifying:

  • Christmas music is not heard in any stores catering to the general public
  • Gift buying, Christmas card sales, and UPS deliveries are all down to Depression-era levels
  • Vast forests of Christmas trees remain uncut this year
  • Churches and homes have been successfully prevented from applying both interior and exterior decorations.

In sum, Your Holy Terrorship, Operation Kill Christmas has nearly entirely suppressed the holiday in 2013. Next year should be a simple mopping-up operation.

“Excellent report, Captain. You’ve done your work well. Eggnog?”

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When the Media is the Marketing Message

Pilot marketing tools

Marketing handouts and promotional gimmes exhibit the Pilot’s visual branding, which relies on fashionable colors and bold design.

How does a news medium market itself? That’s the question The Penobscot Bay Pilot faced before it launched in September, becoming the Midcoast’s newest news source and advertising venue.

Almost any other type of company would send news releases to the local media, and run a few ads saying “We’re here!” In addition, those ads might promote a “Grand Opening Special!!!” (can’t forget the exclamation points!) to get people through the door and overcome the natural resistance among potential customers or clients to changing suppliers.

But that approach obviously wouldn’t work for the Pilot: sending news releases to the VillageSoup newspapers would be an explicit acknowledgment of their importance as a news medium in the region, and it’s questionable whether the Soup would run the news in any case. And it would be a bitter pill indeed to purchase ads from a direct competitor for local advertising dollars.

Instead, the Pilot based its launch strategy on a combination of distinctive branding, social media marketing, and personal contacts. Sales Directors Terri Mahoney and Janis Bunting say that they didn’t solicit advertising until the day the site went live. As soon as they had something to show potential advertisers, however, Mahoney and Bunting began an aggressive push, targeting 20 organizations with whom they had done business in their previous roles selling ads for Village NetMedia, the former owner of the VillageSoup brand. “Just getting out and meeting people face to face and showing them what we have available” has been one of the new company’s most productive marketing strategies, says Mahoney.

By offering free trials of the Pilot‘s Affiliate program to those former clients, they overcame initial resistance and had all 20 come on board. This leant the site credibility and in turn encouraged other advertisers. (Many of the original 20 organizations have been successfully transitioned into paid Affiliate status.)

Online marketing has taken off in several complementary, directions. Of course the Pilot maintains a Facebook page (current “likes,” about 3,600), and has a Facebook “Main Street” page for its advertisers “designed to make it fun, easy and rewarding to put your money where you live,” according to Mahoney.  They’re also active on Twitter, and their Pinterest account has followers who appreciate the separation of content into various pin boards for news, sports, recipes, etc. The most popular board is Contests, Giveaways and Free.

Perhaps the most strategic element of the Pilot‘s social media program is to make the site itself a social medium. Readers are invited to submit stories and upload their own photos. With the website’s tight integration of all common social media platforms, readers can then easily forward their own photos to friends and acquaintances and share them on their own Facebook walls. This goes beyond simple reader engagement and helps create emotional investment in the medium. Reader uploading took off in a big way during the recent winter storm that was named for a cartoon fish (Sorry, Weather Channel, but we’re not on board with you branding public weather events.), and it got another boost a day or two later during the National Toboggan Championships.

Photo uploads are further encouraged by the QR code on a giveaway tote bag, and by another, more unusual gimme: an “egrip.” These are little imprintable rubber pads that you stick on the back of your mobile phone to prevent it from sliding around on your car’s dashboard. The Pilot‘s version is imprinted with the message “See Something? Shoot it/Share it” with an upload address.

Branding, too, played an important role in the launch. Working closely with Adventure Advertising, the Pilot developed a striking visual identity that relies on large blocks of contrasting, contemporary fashion colors, lots of “white space” (which isn’t white), and unusual but not inconvenient organization of content. Business cards and rack cards were printed in non-standard sizes which, while distinctive, may involve some functionality tradeoffs (for example, the square business cards don’t fit in a wallet). But aggressive face-to-face efforts by Mahoney and Bunting have been successful in getting the 7″X7″ rack cards placed in many stores, restaurants, cafés and even libraries, even though they don’t fit in a typical literature-rack pocket.

Graphic-wrapped PenBayPilot car

The Pilot’s graphic-wrapped car is a can’t-miss-it moving billboard

Whether seen individually (each staff member has a different color business card) or together (as on a car wrap), the designs and colors are eye-catching and memorable. “Adventure Advertising was extremely helpful,” says Mahoney. “They were instrumental in a lot of our creative concepts and were a great organization to work with.” And the sales directors have some attractive, high-value goodies at their disposal, including color-coordinated travel mugs, tote bags, and a logo-inscribed yellow rubber “cause bracelet” that conceals a USB drive. (Disclaimer: this blogger received all of these goodies, and they are awesomely cool.)

The Pilot still faces better-established competitors, most notably, the VillageSoup newspapers and website, and their cousin publication The Free Press. But the Pilot‘s innovative marketing efforts and its proposition of free news for all readers look to be a combination for success for this new local medium.

Evangelism

“We are fiber evangelists,” says Mim Bird, owner of Over the Rainbow Yarn in Rockland. “We want everybody to have a fiber component to their lives.”

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Mim Bird, owner of Over the Rainbow Yarn in Rockland

Over the Rainbow (OTR), which opened in June, 2012, stocks tools and supplies for fiber arts, including knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving and felting. But for the owner of what appears on the surface to be a straightforward retail store, Bird views her business in unusually strategic terms.

“We are not here to sell yarn. Selling yarn and needles and patterns and books is a byproduct of what we’re really doing here, which is promoting a lifestyle,” she explains. “How we market that has everything to do with ‘how are you going to support your lifestyle?’, not ‘how are we going to make you buy more yarn?'”

Central to the fiber arts lifestyle is its social aspect: participants often pursue their craft in social groups, made possible by two characteristics common to many of the fiber arts: they are portable (one can readily stick one’s knitting project in a bag and take it anywhere) and – not to demean the skill or artistry involved – they can be done without a great deal of concentration. Consequently, says Bird, knitters, crocheters, et al, enjoy getting together for pure social chatting, as well as “helping each other over the rough parts, and teaching and learning new techniques, and giving each other pattern and design inspirations.”

OTR supports this lifestyle by offering free events and programs that bring fiber artists together to share their craft and their company. Two evenings and one morning each week, the store holds a “Stitch and Spin Circle,” in which women (it’s predominantly women) simply gather at the store to work on their projects and chat. The event takes place in a circle of comfy chairs and sofas right in the front of the store, where it can be readily seen from outside. There’s no program or sales pitch: just a hospitable place for the participants to get together with easy access to tools and materials (should they need them) and expertise.

Although participants are not obligated to buy their supplies from OTR, the store will often place an interesting new product on the table in the midst of the circle. “It’s gentle marketing,” says Bird. “There’s no sales pitch or call to action — it’s just there. Sometimes they ooh and ah over it and nobody buys it that night, but the seed is planted.” And sometimes, she says, people love it and buy it on the spot.

OTR offers similar weekly sessions for youngsters (After School Stitch and Spin) and for mothers with very young children. In the latter, the store provides a safe space in which infants and toddlers can play, and toys to keep them occupied while the mothers have a chance to chat and knit with their peers.

At the 2012 Maine Lobster Festival, a mere six weeks after OTR opened, Bird pulled off the first Maine’s Fastest Knitter competition, with eight contestants and dozens of spectators. The event attracted interest from knitters in Connecticut, California, and Nova Scotia, all of whom asked for Bird’s permission or guidance to use the concept in their own areas. This she readily granted, urging the hopeful organizers to stay in contact after they run their own events. The objective is to arrange competitions between the respective winners, so that national and even international “fastest knitter” contests can be held in the future.

In connection with the national I Love Yarn Day sponsored by the Craft Yarn Council of America, OTR organized a Community Blanket Marathon in October, in which shifts of four knitters worked around the clock, for 24 hours, in the small park in front of the Brass Compass restaurant, at Rockland’s key downtown intersection.

The event originally had a simple charitable objective: to produce a knitted blanket that a local nonprofit organization could raffle off as a fundraiser. But Bird found a way to extend the benefits in several directions. As a means of selecting the single nonprofit recipient of the blanket, she invited all local nonprofits to a friendly competition to donate the most nonperishable food items. Ten or so organizations brought empty boxes to the knitting event and spread the word among their own constituencies, urging them to “vote” for their favorite organization by donating food in the appropriate box.

The event produced “winners” all around. Over 200 pounds of food were collected and donated to the Area Interfaith Outreach food pantry. New Hope for Women, as the biggest vote-getter, won the blanket. Bird then displayed the blanket and sold raffle tickets at OTR, raising $530 for New Hope for Women. One individual won the blanket for the nominal cost of a raffle ticket. The knitters – 43 of them – had such a good time that almost all of them have already signed up for this year’s event. The yarn distributor, who donated the yarn and knitting needles, got excellent exposure, including getting the materials into the hands of 43 serious fiber artists. And sales of the yarn used during the event saw a dramatic spike of three week’s duration at OTR, benefitting both the store and the distributor – and, presumably, the knitters, who were pleased with the product.

While all of this makes for great YouTube and FaceBook content and local publicity, it’s a lot more than your standard “event marketing”: it’s a truly strategic approach to business. By helping anyone who’s interested in the “fiber lifestyle” to live and enjoy it, Over the Rainbow Yarn is primarily engaged in pursuing its mission. And the fiber artists who benefit from these events that support their own passion are almost certain to become evangelists themselves for the organization that makes them happen.

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.