Upcoming Langley Tweetup!

I’m very excited to announce that, along with the lovely Jessica Owen of Paprika Writing, I’ll be co-hosting a Tweetup this coming Friday in Langley.

When: Friday June 10th, 12:00pm

Where: Cafe Corbeau, 5572 204 St Langley BC

Anyone interested in networking with fellow Langley business owners is welcome to attend, and for the foodies out there, Cafe Corbeau will be revealing their new summer menu!

What is a Tweetup? Essentially, it’s a chance for people who normally connect via social networks (like Facebook or Twitter) to meet for some face-to-face interaction and conversation. Even if you’re not active on Twitter this is a great opportunity to meet new people, and enjoy a delicious meal.

Thanks so much to Sarah, the brains behind Cafe Corbeau, for letting us take over her cafe for a lunch hour (follow the Cafe on Twitter).

Jessica and I hope to see you there!

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Avoiding a Blockbuster Mistake

One of my brother’s best friends as a child was Willy (or, Will, as he now prefers to be called; follow him on Twitter). Willy had a unique situation growing up in that he was a true blue mallrat – his parents owned the jewellery store in the local mall, so he spent hours there finding new and enterprising ways of killing time. Lucky for him, another store owner had a son about his age, so they bummed around the mall together, grabbing Orange Juliuses or drinking chocolate milk at the Sandwich Tree.

It was a experience that I think most of us will never appreciate; being youngsters clowning around in an adult’s playground. Willy had a kinded spirit who understood what it was to sacrifice a parent to full-time bread winning, and having friend who shared that unique loneliness must’ve been invaluable.

But, a new store opened up across the street from the mall, and it put intense pressure on his friend’s family business, as well as other family-run businesses in the area. They couldn’t match the pricing, selection, or convenience of the new business, and the invader showed no remorse in gobbling up territory like a virus. While some people (like our family) tried to support the local businesses, it wasn’t enough, and soon they had to close up shop. Some of us lost a good local business that day, but Will lost a friend and confidant.

The business that moved into the area? Rogers Video, soon to be joined by Blockbuster video and other chain video stores. Family video stores like our old stomping ground Classic Video just couldn’t compete; their pockets weren’t deep enough. And the chains were unrelenting in the pressure they put on the Mom & Pops.

But, unless you’re living in cave, you’ve heard by now that Blockbuster is bankrupt, and Rogers is closing stores left and right. Their nemesis? Netflix, and other on-demand media services. The days of the chain video store are rapidly coming to a close, and in  a twist of irony they’re being hung out to dry because they don’t know how to compete against a business that is cheaper, has more selection, and is more convenient.

So today’s blog is heavy in schadenfreude, as we simultaneously dance on the grave of Blockbuster (soon to be joined by Rogers), and we also try to learn from their mistakes. We’re going to learn how Blockbuster sowed the seeds of their own demise, and how you can avoid doing the same thing.

(I should note, my research was greatly helped by Fast Company’s run down of the history of Netflix and Blockbuster – I highly recommend you check it out)

Lesson #1: Don’t Get Cocky

The origin story of Netflix is fascinating; a Blockbuster customer gets fed up with late fees, and thinks “there must be a better way!”. And so he decides to found a DVD-by-mail service in 1998, and by 2003 they are posting profits in 7 figures.

In 2004 Blockbuster finally decides to attack Netflix head on, and begins an online DVD rental program. In a conference call with investors, Netflix CEO and Founder Reed Hastings comments that “in the last six months, Blockbuster has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at us.” The following day, a package arrives at Netflix HQ from Blockbuster. What was inside? You guessed it – a kitchen sink.

Now, its entirely possible that this was just a joke made in the spirit of friendly competition. But, you have to consider that in 2002 Blockbuster had posted a loss in the billions, and their first stab at online, on-demand movies fizzled when their partner in the venture went out of business; incidentally that partner was accounting-challenged energy firm Enron.

Simply put, Blockbuster was deep in the red, and their response came off like they weren’t taking Netflix seriously.

Avoiding the Mistake

Your business is going to face challenges as you grow, and the appropriate response to these difficult times is not to take them lightly, or to stand on your laurels; you need to recognize you’re getting your ass kicked, and act accordingly. There are times when jokes are appropriate, but coming off like a cocky jackass rarely works in your favor, especially when it’s more bluster than substance.

Lesson #2: Don’t Put your Head in the Sand

Even worse than responding with false bravado is pretending like the problem doesn’t exist.

By 2006, Netflix and it’s 6.5 millions subscribers were becoming a very significant thorn in Blockbuster’s side, who boasted only 2 million subscribers to their online service. In ’07, Blockbuster’s new CEO decides to scale back their online rental service, costing them 500,000 subscribers.

So, what response does the management team give to NetFlix’s gains versus their losses?

“I’ve been frankly confused by this fascination that everybody has with Netflix…Netflix doesn’t really have or do anything that we can’t or don’t already do ourselves.” – CEO Jim Keyes, expressing doubt about Netflix

“No, I don’t know where that comes from” – CEO Jim Keyes, after he was asked if Netflix was behind Blockbuster’s financial troubles

“We’re strategically better positioned than almost anybody out there. Never in my wildest dreams would I have aimed this high” – Blockbusters Head of Digital Strategy explaining their position in Aug. 2010

For the record, Blockbuster entered bankruptcy protection in Sept. 2010.

Avoiding the Mistake

It’s one thing to put on a brave face, but it’s another to delude yourself into thinking everything is okay when it’s clearly not. A problem is not going to wish itself away, you need to be prepared to take decisive action. As you’ll see in the next section, Blockbuster was doing almost nothing to counter the triple headed threat of Netflix; they clung to their existing model even when everyone could tell it was on life support. Don’t make the same mistake; be aware of the realities, and act accordingly.

Lesson #3: Don’t Abandon your Principles When Things Get Tough

In 2005 Blockbuster attempted a Hail Mary pass, to try and kick start their business back into profitability. Did they launch an online portal? Offer a cheap subscription model? Nope, they went with this:

Now, in and of itself the idea of scrapping Late Fees is not a bad one; it was one of their customers’ more vociferous complaints.  But, Blockbuster forgot to mention one tiny detail when they rolled out the program: users who were 7 days late returning their movies would actually be on the hook for the entire cost of the movie. And if they returned it after 7 days, they’d be refunded the cost of the film, minus a $1.25 restocking fee.

Now, I never went to no fancy accounting school or nothin’, but that sounds like a late fee to me.

Consumers were outraged, and complained to their state legislatures. 48 states sued Blockbuster, forcing the chain to modify and clarify their late policy, so there were no misleading practices.

Oh yeah, and 5 years later in 2010, Blockbuster reintroduced late fees, trying to recoup the $300 million in revenue they were losing each year from the “No Late Fees” policy.

Avoiding the Mistake

If Blockbuster’s customers weren’t already tempted by Netflix, the company’s blatantly misleading campaign certainly gave them reason to shop elsewhere. As a business owner at the end of the day, all you really have to stand on is your reputation. Shady promotions and misleading promotions might give you a short term boost, but it will only cost you goodwill in the end, and that’s worth far more than whatever revenue you might bring in.

The Cost of Doing Business (Poorly)

I feel bad for the Blockbuster and Rogers employees out of work; they’re the ones who are paying the real price, not the executives with their golden parachutes. They’re the ones paying for mistakes made well above their pay grade. Unfortunately, it was probably a fait accompli. As soon as on demand media hit its tipping point, their days were  numbered, doomed to join the ranks of record stores and book stores – dinosaurs in this digital age.

But, don’t leave my blog filled with doom and gloom. Because this story isn’t just a cautionary tale for business owners, but a celebration of entrepreneurship. Reed Hastings did what we all dream of – he stuck it to the man, and simultaneously changed the world at the same time. Not only should you learn from the mistakes of Blockbuster, but you should also be inspired by the success of Netflix – score one for the little guy.

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The Past Feeds the Present

On Monday night I was cruising through my social feeds when I came upon this Tweet by Tyrell Mara:

The Internet was invented with collaboration and community connection in mind… We are finally getting there via #SocialMedia

(Incidentally, if you haven’t checked out Tyrell’s blog, I highly recommend it. Thought provoking stuff.)

It’s  a great Tweet, and it got me thinking about not just where we are today, but where we’ve been.

What I want to do today is celebrate some of the stepping stones of communication and collaboration, the technologies that helped shape the world as we know it today. People tend to forget what the internet was like before the Dotcom boom; to many people, the birth of the Internet happened the day Amazon, eBay, and Google were launched. So I want to take a moment to remember the past, and to see how it evolved to where we are today.

Geocities

Gave Way to Facebook/WordPress/MySpace

MySpace. Finally a place on the Internet to call our own. A little corner where we could blog, decorate, post photos, and discuss our favourite things. It might not be so popular now, but MySpace was huge, before Facebook turned the corner. And people use Facebook for many of the same things; connecting through shared interests, posting photos, and sharing about themselves.

We tend to think of this concept as a recent development, but in truth people have been creating pages to share their lives with the Internet for over 16 years.

Geocities was founded in 1994, and its mission was simple: the company wanted to offer users (thereafter known as “Homesteaders”) the ability to develop free home pages on their servers. All it took was a little programming know-how and you could share whatever you wanted with the world.  The concept of “owning” a piece of the Internet was mind-blowing at the time, and though Facebook added a layer of social connection to the format, it’s thematically similar to what we were doing 16 years ago.

In 1997 Geocities signed up its one millionth Homesteader, and it was ranked the 5th most popular website on the Internet. To put it in perspective, today that would rank it behind only Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo!. The popularity of the service declined as more user-friendly tools were developed, and it was finally closed down in 2010, but it’s worth remembering how Geocities, for the first time, allowed so many of us to express ourselves online.

ICQ

Gave way to Skype/Chat Roulette/Facebook Chat

Skype is a fantastic tool, allowing communication via video, voice or chat, from any point on the globe. I use it professionally and personally, and the degree to which it shrinks the world is simply amazing. Similarily, Facebook chat and other popular products like Blackberry messenger have kept chatting at the forefront of popular communication tools.

Skype was launched in 2003, which seems like a lifetime ago, but 7 years before even it was conceived, people around the world were discovering the usefulness of chat thanks to ICQ.

Now, chatrooms are nothing new (the first was actually developed in 1980), but they weren’t perfect; you could only chat with people in the room, it was difficult to chat one-on-one, and it was hard to filter out the crazies.

Don't even get me started on the smart asses

But ICQ was different – it allowed you to chat with only the people you added to your contact list (so, no crazies). You couldn’t share files, or pictures, or chat via voice or video, but it was still a huge step forward in personal communication; you could see who was online, and who was busy, you could chat with multiple people (or just have a private chat) and you could log your discussions.

This was heady stuff for 1996.  I know I’m not alone in saying I wiled away many a night chatting with my teenage friends on ICQ, and there are many people who look back on it nostalgically.

MUDs

Gave way to MMORPGs/World of Warcraft

Care to take a guess what this is?*

Partial Credit if You Just Screamed "Nerd!"

If you guessed that it’s a visionary gaming concept born in the late 1980’s that allowed users from around the world to connect and play online adventure games, then you’re either a genius or a level 12 Wizard Elf  (probably both).

Before World of Warcraft and other Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) helped sell Cheetos and Red Bull, MUDs (Multi-user Dungeons) were allowing role playing fans to take their games online (presumably helping sell Cheetos and Jolt Cola). Of course today’s games work on a much larger scale, and the graphics have improved, but there’s no denying that they owe their existence to MUDders and MUDding, who popularized the idea of online gaming.

Alta Vista

Gave way to Google

In the Internet’s infancy there were a bevy of search engines vying for our queries. Lycos, Dogpile, WebCrawler, and Excite (amongst others) were pioneers in indexing the web; they allowed us to view the Internet with some sort of organization for the first time.

One early entrant into the search engine race was Alta Vista. Elements of their indexing technology were positively groundbreaking, especially when you consider they launched in 1995. That’s right – one year after the Canucks lost to the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals, Alta Vista was providing above average search results to enterprising web surfers.

But it was more than their search technology that gets them included on this list, take a look at their interface:

Let’s see: a plain white background, simple search box, with a logo above it? Look slightly familiar to anyone? But it was more than just UI that Google emulated; Alta Vista was also one of the first search engine companies to begin offering other web hosted solutions. Most famously, they launched the well known translation engine Babel Fish in 1997 which gave users another reason to frequent their search engine. The parallels between this and Google’s various consumer products show pretty clearly that Google’s founders were inspired by Alta Vista when they launched their now ubiquitous engine in 1998.

The Internet is Driven By People

When I look at this collection of sites, I’m amazed at how they were invented simply to make it easier for human beings to connect. We think the concept of “sharing” online is a recent phenomenon, but really we’ve been trying to do it for decades. These sites might’ve been primitive, hard to use, and ugly, but at their core they were trying to help us bridge the gap between ourselves virtually. And for that, these sites should be celebrated.

The internet is, was, and always will be driven by people, and social media is just a new method for us to connect.

*image comes from Cracked’s article “6 ‘New’ Gaming Innovations that are Way Older then You Think”. Definitely recommended reading.

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Upcoming Wink Creative and Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce Event

I’d like to invite all my blog readers to an upcoming event I’m really excited about; on Wed. May 25th I’ll be presenting an exploration of Location-based Services Marketing at the Langley Chamber of Commerce breakfast briefing.

Thanks so much to the Langley Chamber for giving me the opportunity to speak at their briefing, and I hope to see you there!

The Presentation

The rise of location-based marketing services (Like Foursquare, Facebook Places, and Google Latitude) are giving local busintss-to-consumer firms new tools to reach their audience. And with sales of smartphones now outpacing traditional phones, more and more consumers are using their mobile devices to locate products and services.

Is your business positioned to capitalize on a location-based future? When a customer fires up their iPhone or Blackberry, will they find you? This presentation will give you the tools to prepare for this next wave of marketing opportunities.

Join us and learn:

  • The rise of the smartphone and its role in location-based services
  • The major players in the game (Google, Facebook, etc.)
  • The tools businesses can use to take part
  • Comparing location-based services to group buying services

Where & When

  • ABC Country Restaurant – 19219 56th Avenue Surrey
  • Registration: 6:45am to 7:00am
  • Introductions and Presentations: 7:00am to 8:00am
  • Networking to follow.
  • Members: $20.00 + HST
  • Non-Members: $25.00 + HST
  • Breakfast is included!

Registration

No tickets at the door

Cancellations will not be funded within 24 hours of the event.

To Register: Please call the Chamber Office at 604-530-6656 or email events@langleychamber.com

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What Being a (Shitty) Goalie Taught Me About Being a (Good) Businessperson

Far away from the bright lights of the NHL, in smelly, dank, cold, arenas, I find an hour of catharsis a week. Surrounded by Realtors, doctors, contractors, retirees, executives, and those in between (jobs) I concentrate like hell to embarrass each and everyone of them, before we share a laugh in the locker room later. On the ice I push a body that rarely knows more than a lump-like existence to move faster, stretch further, and last longer. The life of a beer league goalie is far from glamorous, but the experience is fantastically rewarding.

I started playing goal about three years ago, and in that time I’ve learned a lot about the position, and a lot about myself. When I started it was on a lark – I always wondered what it would be like to be a goalie, and I thought I may as well give it a try. What I found was that not only did it challenge me in new ways physically, but it also challenged me to think differently in my daily life. And so today I’d like to share with you a few lessons I’ve learned about finding success in business, while (mostly) failing as a goalie.

Lesson 1: Be Flexible

It’s obvious that any goalie needs to flexible; even flabby 30-year old ones need to get in a good pre-game stretch. But, that’s not the kind of flexibility I’m talking about. Goaltending is a very technical and precise pursuit, and you need to be extremely proficient in your movement, angles, depth, and anticipation in order to be successful.

But sometimes, you need to forget all that shit and just make the save.

They’re called desperation saves, and the first step is throwing out the goalie instruction manual; no it won’t help you here, all you’ve got is your reaction time and your mobility.

The same is true in business ; sometimes you need to throw out the text book, and just move. Often decisions need to be made quickly, without time to consider all the consequences. It’s not an ideal situation, but the better you’ve trained your mind to react quickly in stressful situations, the better you’ll be at eliminating “noise” and making a confident decision. You can be your own worst enemy in times likes these, weighing options and getting bogged down in what-ifs; it may be better to take your best shot and let the chips fall where they may.

Lesson 2: Stay Focused

Do you think you have what it takes to be an NHL-goalie? Are you flexible like a Russian gymnast, have the reflexes like a cat, and the pain tolerance of a sadomasochist? Well, I have bad news for you – you still might not cut it. You see, having all the physical gifts is one thing, but what sets a professional goalie apart is their mental toughness. You might be built to stop the puck, but do you have the concentration to follow the puck with 10 other guys skating around you?

Try watching the game from Marc Andre-Fleury’s helmet cam to get an idea what it’s like – you’ll have problems even tracking the puck:

(I imagine playing with Kenny Loggins in the background is even harder)

As difficult as it is staying focused on the puck, as a business owner sometimes it’s even harder to keep your eye on the prize. I know firsthand how distractions can threaten to steal your focus:

  • Administrative Tasks
  • Maintaining Relationships (both personal and professional)
  • Family Responsibility
  • Community Services
  • Customer Issues/Demands

These (amongst others) are all important, and need to be dealt with in a timely manner. But, successful people have learned to manage their demands, while staying on target; just like a goalie keeps one eye on the puck, and the other on the backdoor, you learn how to juggle multiple balls at the same time.

Lesson 3: Accept Failure 

The moment you decide to take up goaltending, you’ve tacitly allowed failure to enter your life as well. It’s a fascinating position in that the expectations are so phenomenally high, and so difficult to meet. Your team demands that you stop the easy ones, expects that you’ll stop the hard ones, hopes that you’ll stop the really hard ones, and, you know, all the guys would really appreciate it if you could stop a couple of the impossible ones too.

That’s why the best goalies have short memories; they sweep the puck out of the net and they’re already thinking about what they’re going to do with their next opportunity. Guys who dwell on their failures or get emotional simply don’t last because they just get eaten up inside.

It’s the same in business – it’s not a question of “if” you’ll fail, but “when”. And when it happens, the best leaders know to accept that failure, learn from it, and move on. Crunch time is not a time for self-doubt or second-guessing – there will be time to analyse your failure in detail later. Instead, focus on what you need to do next to be successful, and then do it; mental toughness beats physical toughness any day (just ask Jim Carey).

The Most Important Lesson of All

There’s one final lesson being goaltender has taught me about the working-world: the most important things you’ll accumulate in both sports and business are the relationships you form. Ask anyone who plays beer league and they’ll tell you their best times are often after the game in the locker room, when the beer is flowing and the stories start to come out. The friendships you develop are what make the game fun; you could lose 10-0 and still have a blast if you’re playing with the right group.

In business it’s the same way. I close sales all the time, but that’s not what get’s me excited – I’m far more satisfied meeting new people and making new connections. Your teammates, your coworkers, your clients, they are what make it fun to go into work everyday, and they are what will see you through the tough times in life.

I’ll finish up with a quote from Stanley Cup-winning goalie Ken Dryden, which I think sums up that explains why I love sports, and business:

…the dressing room remains something that is ours. For a half-hour before practice, and hour and half before games, for a few minutes after each, there are no coaches, no press, no friends, no fans, no families. It is just us – sitting around, getting along, making something

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Don’t Stop Believing

When I was around 12 or 13, there used to be a youth center in Langley I liked to frequent. They were in an old building in a rundown part of town, and it wasn’t exactly a thriving business. But, I liked playing foosball against some friends, or playing one of their giant collection of board games.

One of the center’s most distinct features was a large white-washed wall that ran the full length of the building. In the hopes of encouraging creativity (or perhaps, a safe outlet for preteen street artists), the owners placed felt markers in a container right next to wall, available for any kid to express themselves.

I saw this wall as an opportunity to send a little encouragement to the other kids who came to the center. I would write short, 1-2 two sentence “words of wisdom”, which I would sign with a thumb print. I used different colours to create a mosaic of inspiration, and I made sure never to repeat an adage. My work grew to fill roughly half of the wall, sharing space with a collection of doodles and scribbles, but for all intents and purposes it was my opus. My little 13 year old self was very proud of this art piece I had created, and I was sure that other teens would find purpose and encouragement in my words.

Eventually I outgrew the center, wanting to spend more time chasing girls at the mall or goofing off at the food court. But one day a couple years later I returned to the see the old place, partly to see if my masterpiece was still intact. I bounded up the stairs and turned the corner to see an entirely whitewashed wall, with no hint as to what lay underneath the paint. A few months after my visit the entire building was torn down to make room for Cascades Casino, and any trace of my efforts was wiped off the face of the Earth.

It was a body blow to see that wall completely covered. At the time I can remember the palatable disappointment that something I had (naively) hoped to stand for a long time could be lost without a whimper. But, time and maturity have lent some perspective on the experience. I look back now and think “even if the wall only stood for a short time, at least I did it. And, if even one person was positively affected by my words, then it was worth the effort”.

Setbacks are a part of life, and the important thing is to keep creating; you never know what will resonate.

The Important Thing is to Create

You cannot let pitfalls in the road of life dissuade you from continuing to create, because your next project could be the one that becomes your legacy.

One of the most influential literary geniuses of the 20th century was Franz Kafka. Any time a name becomes a description of a trope (“Kafkaesque”) you know the inspiration was significant. But, during his life, Kafka was actually very unhappy with this work; he didn’t believe any of it was good enough to see the light of day. When he died at the age of 40, he left explicit instructions to the executor of his will that every scrap of his writing was to be burned.

Thankfully, his executor  recognized the brilliance of the work, and ignored Kafka’s request. He published everything he could find, and the world discovered too late a sublime talent.

The fact is, you never know where or when success is going to land on your doorstep. The important thing is to remain steadfast in your belief in your work, and continue to create; what you make today could change the world tomorrow.

Success Might Be Unexpected

The vagaries of fate are mysterious and unexplainable – you can never predict what tomorrow will bring. Success may come from unexpected places.

In 1970 Elton John released his self-titled 2nd album, hoping to find more success than his little-heard debut.When the lead single “Border Song” barely cracked the US top 100, Elton and his label made the bold decision to release the cryptic “Take me to the Pilot” as the 2nd single:

The single didn’t gain traction amongst DJs, and a failed single can be a death blow to an album; once an album loses momentum it takes a monumental effort to get it back.

But, the B-side to “Take me to the Pilot” was a little folk/jazz ballad called “Your Song”, and radio DJs who received the single made the rare choice to play the B-side over the A-side. “Your Song” reached the Top 10 in the US and the UK, and has become a treasured favourite of music lovers everywhere. A simple love song written over breakfast becomes one of the most poignant pieces of an artists career, when it was originally judged to be no better than a b-side.

Don’t Stop Believing

I don’t normally write inspirational, Maya Angelou blogs; they’re not really my style. But every once and awhile I need to be encouraged to keep moving forward. As any sole proprietor will tell you, often your most dangerous times are sitting alone in front of a computer, when negative thoughts creep into your thoughts and you’re left with a cold lump in your stomach wondering “am I wrong? Am I making a mistake that will cost my family and I forever?”. You start to question your choices, question that very things you built your business on. It’s times like these that probably caused Kafka to torment himself with self-doubt.

What keeps me going is the knowledge that tomorrow someone might find a piece of my work and be inspired. I have nothing to base this on but my own self-confidence that I’m creating good pieces of content. I can never know where success might come from, and it might be brought about by the fleetingist of glances.

So, this is for everyone who needs a little Monday motivation. A reminder that the greatest day of your life could be tomorrow, and the only way to get there is to stay on the path. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy, and our toughest critic. But, at the end of the day, sometimes we just need to tell ourselves “I’ve done all I can, and I’ll let chips fall where they may”.

“I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do”.

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The Campaign Trial

Another Canadian Federal election has come and gone, and we must be only another few months until the next one is called, so I’m sure every political party has already started to plan their upcoming campaigns. And if I can make a somewhat bold prediction, I get the feeling every party is going to emulate what was easily the most forward thinking and innovative campaign in Canadian political history – the NDP’s groundbreaking series of ads. Not only did it lead the NDP to Official Opposition status, but it will change the way political parties advertise for years to come.

There were two critical pieces to the campaign:

1. The focus of the branding

2. The innovative ad placement

Joe Everyman

For years the NDP has promoted their leaders as “regular joes”, but arguably no one has been more successful in that role than Jack Layton. He has seemingly captured the essence of a blue collar leader, and the polls seemed to indicate before the election that most Canadians saw him as the best candidate for PM; Ipsos Reid polls concluded that Layton was considered most trustworthy,  and the leader with a vision most Canadians could get behind.

In the 2008 election, Jack appeared in shirtsleeves at foundries, plants, and factories across Canada spreading the NDP’s platform, but they could do no better than 3rd place in the Federal election. Ads pushed the NDP’s economic and social plans, and promised “a new kind of strong”:

Ads such as these ran on Canadian TV and spoke to working class values, but apparently were not enough to sway Liberal voters.

A New Branding Focus

Fast forward to 2011, and in a stroke of genius, the NDP makes a slight change to their branding, see if you can spot it:

2008 Sign

2011 Sign

Did you spot it? Surely most Canadians seemed to – it’s the new prominence of Jack Layton in the campaign. It’s fairly obvious that the NDP decided to push Layton’s personal brand ahead of the party’s, because their ads also changed slightly:

The ending of the ad is slightly different than 2008, but the minor change is a major shift in the brand:

“I’m Jack Layton, vote for the new democrats”

– 2008 Ad

“I won’t stop until the job’s done”

– 2011 ad

There’s not a mention of the NDP at the end of the ad, only the assertion from Jack that he’s the right leader for Canada.

This focus on a personal brand is nothing new as far as negative ads go (every party tries to sling mud at the other leaders), but to subjugate the party below the leader in a positive way? It was revolutionary, and a stroke of genius. When combined with Jack’s charisma and attitude, it’s no wonder most Canadians felt him the right choice to lead Canada.

The Importance of Placement

But, creating a great campaign is only half the battle – it’s just as important to ensure people see it. If you’re a regular reader of my blog you already know the importance I put on placement, and the NDP’s choice to embrace digital mediums was inspired.

Even political dinosaurs have embraced Youtube, uploading their party’s videos to their own channels in order to stream them via tubes to Canadian homes. But, the NDP took it a step further in their campaign by actually purchasing ads on the extremely popular video sharing network. Their self proclaimed startegy was to “take over YouTube”, and in doing so they put thousands of Canadian eyeballs on their ads.

The choice of YouTube supplementing traditional TV ads was brilliant. According to comScore and the Vancouver Sun, YouTube says Canadians are the biggest users of the site per capita, and watch an average of 147 videos a month.  That’s about 50 per cent more than the average American. You also have to keep in mind that some YouTube channels offer as many as 2.5million impression per day, which is a phenomenal number of eyes on a page.

Plus, YouTube is a great way for targeting the hard-to-find “twenty something” demographic. Users aged 18-34 make up 30% of the site’s audience.

Combining the reach of YouTube with the NDP’s focus on helping the average Canadian, along with the prominence of Canada’s most popular leader, it’s easy to see why the NDP enjoyed such success.

What the Future Looks Like

With the NDP’s strong showing at the polls it’s almost a sure thing that the other parties will take two lessons for the next election.

  1. The importance of a charismatic leader cannot be overstated (as Michael “The Walking Coat Rack” Ignatieff proved). But, a party can’t be afraid to let their leaders shine, even if it means usurping the spotlight from the party itself. Sure the NDP’s platform and policies are important, but in this day and age constituents want to believe in their leaders, and so putting a powerful figure in centre stage is key to a party’s success. I think going forward we will see more Canadian political parties embracing American-style politics where the man (or woman) becomes more important than the issues.
  2. Utilizing new media and digital communications will be paramount to reaching Canadians. We lead the industrialized world in our adoption of social media and the internet, and so for a party to grow their grassroots support they’ll need to find a way to reach us; lawn signs and radio ads aren’t going to cut it in this century. The politicians who can best navigate the digital landscape will be the ones who receive groundswells of support.
In the interest of full disclosure, I myself did not vote NDP, and am not an NDP supporter. But, from a pure marketing perspective, I know good stuff when I see it, and the NDP did things right this time. I hope the Liberals were paying attention.

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