“Paid” is not a four-letter word

Okay, so there are four letters in “paid”, but you know what I mean.

More people are recognizing that there is a lot of value in social media and content marketing, but often they don’t fully understand these tools as marketing vehicles. Many of the people I talk to seem to think social media and content marketing are so great because they are toll-free highways to exposure, search engine dominance, celebrity, and riches. At the same time, they think that paying for any sort of exposure is a waste of time or some form of cheating. They’re convinced that getting the social/blog/content formula right means they should never need to spend any money on online marketing.

But “paid” doesn’t need to be a dirty word, because “free” doesn’t mean free and “paid” isn’t cheating.

“Free” doesn’t mean free

Just because you don’t have to spend any money to create a Facebook page, Twitter profile, blog post, or Google+ profile, doesn’t mean results come for free. It takes tons of effort, creativity, time, expertise, and insight to create and execute a proper social media and content marketing plan.

Before you even type one character into a tweet, there is a lot of planning that needs to go into finding your audience and understanding what their needs are to be sure you aren’t wasting time. You don’t want to waste your time, but more importantly, you never want to waste the time of your audience. First, you need to invest some time observing your audience. Where do they spend time online? What do they like doing offline, besides the obvious things that are closely related to the product or service you offer to them? What stage of life are they in? How much money do they make in a year?

With the answers to those questions you then need to start thinking about how you can use that information to help them. If you’re a bank and you want to attract young families, you can create a monthly email newsletter that provides them with quick tips and services to save them time and spend more of it with their children, for example. If you’re a realtor you could create an official definitive checklist of all of the things your audience will need to accomplish on moving day, such as calling the utility company, the cable company, ordering pizza for their “free” labour (see what I did there), etc.

Finally, you need to create a schedule and stay in front of them. You need a carefully considered content calendar, established tone of voice, and a suite of tools to make it as easy as possible for you to deliver. You need to brainstorm content ideas, things to write and tweet and Facebook about. You need enough to satisfy the schedule in the content calendar you’ve created.

All of this takes time, energy, and creativity. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that time, energy, and creativity don’t grow on trees. And if something doesn’t grow on trees, it isn’t free. That’s what my parents taught me, anyway.

“Paid” isn’t cheating

After all of that hard work, hopefully you now realize that there is no dishonour in paying to put the value you’ve crafted in front of the people you created it for. It isn’t cheating to place ads on a site where your audience likes to get their entertainment news, browse for vintage dolls, or share their hatred over the way Apple changed the icons on their beloved phones. Actually, it’s pretty smart, and it shows you know your audience well enough to offer them the things they wanted in places they never thought to look for them. And they probably didn’t even realize they wanted those things until you showed them.

If you’ve taken the time to understand your audience enough and you’ve put the things you’ve crafted for them in the places they will find it, then your content will do well. You should be absolutely confident by this point that what you are doing is actually serving them, so why should you feel dirty for using your marketing dollars to give it to them? You should really be feeling like the most generous person in the world.

Here’s the thing: you are not buying “Likes”, clicks or +1s, you are buying the opportunity to earn these things at a faster pace than you would have if you worked to earn them organically, one by one, without any monetary intervention. There is nothing wrong with that.

Now that you know deep down you are spending that money to serve the right people, at the right place and time, you can eliminate all guilt you may have been feeling. All that research you did, the time you took to understand who you were trying to serve, that’s going to show in what you’ve produced for them. So get it out there any way you can. You want to build your audience by exposing them to your genius philanthropy, and if you have to—especially at the beginning of a campaign—pay for that exposure. They’re gonna love you for it.

The Truth Behind the Tweet

Lives are lived online now. Some people live more online than they do off, but it’s easier to live the dream if they share that they’re living the dream. They craft their social media bios to say the things that they secretly wish were true, because they figure that is what they should wish to be true.

“Loving theatre, music, movies and friends on patios.”

When her friends are with her anywhere else, she doesn’t love them. At least not as much. She gets antsy and wants to leave to dream up the next glorious thing she is going to post online. She thinks about snapping some pictures of old buildings and the candid moments of the passersby to share with her online friends. The hilarious conversation she just had with her patio friends is quickly tweeted, to share the good times they have. The moments will live on forever online while they quickly fade from her memory.

When she’s not on patios she logs in and grazes on all of her past glories, all the posts she has shared where she is on patios or thinking about patios or leaving patios. The amazing meals she had and who she shared them with. She reads them in less than 140 characters and relives them as if they were fresh experiences.

She sees the posts of others sometimes. Everyone living their dreams doing what they love and making the money they never could have if they stayed in their corporate job. She is one of them now.

“Formerly in a boring office life, now living life in Leslieville.”

It’s a place with a historical appeal. The houses were the houses of the gardeners and brickmakers that worked for the elite generations ago. They all left when the work dried up and the industrial plants rained pollution down on the neighbourhood. They left because it was downwind of the sewage treatment plant and it made no financial sense to put up with it anymore.

Later, young couples would fawn over the huge, majestic old trees and thick bushes that guarded old brick homes and decide to move in. They erected cafes and restaurants and cute little shops and called it home. They laid patios. The pollution dissipated, but the smell still returns when the wind blows the right way.

She read a book one Saturday when she was an accountant in Cubicletown. The author was telling her how she could make all the money she needed in 4 hours each week. He wasn’t special—he said so himself—so why couldn’t she do it? Why couldn’t she just make that giant leap, move somewhere where cubicles didn’t exist, and find her peace?

There are no offices in Leslieville, but there are lots of patios, so she moved there.

Her friends and family were all worried for her. She could tell by the practical questions they asked her, with worry poorly veiled on their faces. They didn’t come right out and tell her they thought she was being romantic. They were thinking things like:

“Life doesn’t work like that.”

“We all want to leave and be artists, but we all have to eat.”

“You’re crazy.”

But they never said any of these things.

Apparently, she left her old life. She left to seek adventure and fulfillment in the creative side of town. At the beginning she used her meager savings to pay the bills and spend time in coffee shops, clicking and pecking away at her laptop, altering the colour profile of the photos she had taken earlier in the day ever so slightly. Captured moments needed the best possible colour profile to show the emotion behind the subject. It was so important that it usually took her three no-fat lattes to get it right. Secretly, she took joy in how creative she looked to everyone, taking for herself a table that could seat four. Emptying the contents of her laptop bag she settled in for really demanding, really fulfilling, really creative work.

Now she serves the lattes. She is far more fulfilled being near all the kinds of creative people in Leslieville. She is one of them now.

Her social media bios all show a bright colour profile, beaming yellow and gold. She’s fiddled with them a lot to make them look that way. She needs the best possible profiles to show the emotion behind the subject she’s created in her mind.

For all of her nudging and no-fat lattes the photos she alters minutely all seem to come out the same. Filters and saturation selectors applied to the photos bring out the same cold colour profile, blue and lonely.

The Ugly Couch, Dirty Words, and the Meaning of Your Brand

It would be understandable for most people to think “branding” is interchangeable with “logo”, “graphic design”, or “tone of voice” in copy. It’s actually more closely related to “meaning”.

The Ugly Couch

Many of us place an inordinate amount of meaning within inanimate objects. For example, my wife was given her grandmother’s horrendously ugly, inhumanely uncomfortable couch when she passed away. It was a sort of dirty brown tweed that kind of folded into a bed, although there was no way I would offer it as a place for friends to sleep. Unless they really enjoyed sleeping on the types of furniture displayed in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds.

In every possible way and every function it was designed for, it was horrible. But my wife loved it.

We moved that couch to way too many places that weren’t the dump. From her mother’s house to her apartment and finally to our matrimonial home, where it stayed in the basement and was used maybe twice before we needed the space it occupied and it finally made its trip to the dump.

For me it was a simple decision to get rid of an ugly and unnecessary furniture item, but for my poor wife it was a painful separation from something which held immeasurable meaning for her. The ugly couch brought fond memories to her, warm memories of her loving grandparents and all the time she spent with them. It meant enough to her that it deserved a tearful goodbye before it took its last trip. If you showed her a pattern matching the material the couch was made of it would awaken very deep and meaningful positive emotions in her.

Dirty Words

We can also give more-than-deserved meaning to words. A Globe and Mail article reporting on an unfortunate oversight by Coca-Cola shows that even one word taken out of context can unwittingly invoke a negative emotional response, and ultimately affect how people perceive your brand.


A Canadian promotion was meant to encourage consumers to have fun with words from both of our official languages by printing a variety of English and French words under the caps of bottles of vitamin water. The caps were designed to be collected and arranged into humorous sentences, the idea being that anglophones would use French words and francophones would use English ones.

When people found the French words “[you] retard” and “douche” under their caps, they became offended by these words which meant something very different to them in English. In French these words mean “slow” and “shower”; innocuous words safely used in French homes every day by children without fear of having their mouths washed out avec du savon.

Much like the ugly couch held no special meaning to me, some English-speaking citizens may find no offensive meaning in these words. Unfortunately the woman quoted in the article found them especially offensive, because, “she has a younger sister who is developmentally delayed.” She was also quoted as saying that her father has forbidden use of the word “douche” in their home because, at least to him, “It’s equivalent to the ‘N’ word.”

This example isn’t meant to scare you into being overly sensitive to every possible interpretation or emotional response, only to illustrate the power of meaning in something as small as a single word.

The Meaning Behind it All

Logos, graphic design, tone of voice, and more are expertly crafted for a reason: to make sure the right meaning is planted in the minds of those who interact with your brand. Stressing about which shade of blue to go with, the synonym to best fit the sentence, the right tone of voice for that tweet, and which magazine to run an ad in may seem like we’re taking things too far, worrying too much.

When the right people are responsible for the success of your branding efforts, they treat it with the seriousness it deserves. Everything we work with has meaning, and every aspect of your brand deserves great care in ensuring that the right meaning is encouraged in the minds of your audience.

How ARE You Kitty

Just a little something I threw together. Arrested Development and Hello Kitty, together at last!

How ARE You Kitty

The Value of Words

Words are ridiculously valuable.

The commodity players will assign a value to those words, based on how many readable words you can cram into a specific area, how much competition there is for those words, or how much a market will reasonably bear before deciding that word is too expensive.

A fiction book which costs $19.95 US / $21.95 Canada could have 100,000 words in it. You paid (enough) attention in math class growing up, so you know that each word is worth $0.0001995 USD ($0.0002195 CAD). Right?


Words are just the construct and have absolutely no value until they are crafted into a message. Some words are worth millions in an international ad campaign, some are worth priceless memories crafted in a moving story, some are worth your life itself in a crucial moment.

A gigantic raw diamond is worth millions and nothing at the same time, until it is expertly cut, polished, and presented. It is laboured over for hours with an immense attention to detail, because at any point it could be rendered worthless. In the wrong hands, it is a chunk of rock. Words are also worth everything and nothing until they are expertly placed, trimmed, focused, and presented. They must be properly arranged, they must be reserved for the right reader, they must paint a picture. They need the right person to bring out their impact.

Words are imagination and potential and profit and hope and emotion and everything.