Words & Phrases You Need To #StopUsingNow

keep it simple

Creative industry folks, just like those in other fields, get wrapped up in our work and tend to create our own mini-language. In marketing and communications, we are very much guilty of this, although we can be painfully unaware of it. For example:

Client: “Our Big Data Rock Star ideated a cloud-based, scalable, native programmatic tool set that produced excellent learnings.”

Me: “Well, it sounds like he took it to the next level … efforting 110% to craft a best practices, robust solution you can leverage, and it’s clearly out of the box thinking … but maybe you shouldn’t try to boil the ocean … it’s got a lot of moving parts and I’m not sure it’s something you want to take ownership of. … You might be accused of punching the puppy, so the optics are all wrong. We should probably put this in the parking lot.”

That’s a pull-out from a Shelly Palmer article in Ad Age – which I find both accurate and highly amusing. In “My Banned Words for 2017”, he lists different words and sayings that he just doesn’t want to hear anymore. I couldn’t agree more with some of his suggested bans, like the phrase “disrupt ourselves”, which is just plain icky.

For good measure, I thought I would add a few sayings that I wish would just go away:

  1. “No problem” in response to a simple request or ‘Thank you’ (in business or in personal life ) – instead saying ‘You’re welcome” or ‘Sure thing’ or anything else.  I didn’t think whatever I asked or thanked you for WAS a problem, so keep it simple and clear.
  2. “Sounds good” instead of a clear agreement with any number of words that connote agreement: “Yes! You bet! Sure thing we’ll meet at 8:00 tomorrow morning! Alright, I concur/agree/yepper to the meeting notes!”.  Let’s please be, wait for it, simple and clear in our language. Let’s reserve ‘sounds good’ for something that actually does: wonderful music, children laughing, skate blades on a cold pond (can you tell I’m Canadian, eh?) or birdsong.
  3. “Growth hacking”— jeez, every business needs to grow, and it’s not about hacking it.  It’s about marketing, communications and sales.  Just say ‘grow business’.

Okay, I feel better now that I’ve said my piece. Click here to read Palmer’s article, and just try not to flinch while going through some of his list.

What word or saying would you use a magic wand to make disappear forever? Comment below!

Key Digital Research Says ‘Get Going!’ Non-Profits

online donate key on keyboard

Along with other key findings, new research shows that online fundraising and digital advertising can be money well spent for most non-profits in today’s market. We’ve been following the M+R benchmarks study for several years now, and find it to be a credible and incredibly helpful resource.

I was going to pull out a few highlights for you, but NonProfit Times has done a great job already.  Have a read of key statistics that non-profits can check themselves against here.

As with all marketing, smart decisions and organizational growth come from analyzing and acting on good data. That’s why we encourage you to dive into this report and make note of where your money might best be spent with a good return on investment.

Embracing the Not-So Politically Correct


Photo credit: makeameme.org

It’s a world where political correctness can stifle your humour and put you into hyper-sensitivity mode. Especially in marketing, where we are constantly trying to come up with new ideas to cut through the noise and drive results, without offending anyone.

That’s why it’s refreshing when I see marketing campaigns with the right kind of humour and attitude – when they push boundaries but in a way that makes you chuckle, not gasp.

A great example of this recently came out from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (yum) in their “Swear like a mother” campaign. Take a look, and just try not to laugh:

Whether you’re a mother, father, or even an aunt or uncle, you’ve probably sworn in front of a kid before. And if you say you haven’t, as Kraft puts it eloquently, you’re likely full of it. This kind of marketing is a tad risky, but connects with consumers across all demographics. This not-so politically correct approach works; as the website shows , Kraft ran out of the customizable boxes that supported the campaign … also likely a good thing.

Another good way that marketing can break traditional barriers is through specific channels within social media … but proceed with caution. It can be a trap if you try to gain brand awareness through sassy social media engagement, such as when Netflix referenced their new controversial series 13 Reasons Why in response to Hulu’s post. When Hulu tweeted out that what they were streaming wasn’t available on Netflix, Netflix responded with “Welcome to your tape”. (In the series, a high-school student kills herself and leaves tapes for students in her class that start with “Welcome to your tape,” ─ which explain the 13 reasons why she felt suicide was the only option.) So in a sense, it could be construed that Netflix was saying to Hulu that what they tweeted translates to a reason someone might kill themselves, which is way past politically incorrect.


But edgy social media use can be done well, as seen many times by Wendy’s Twitter account. The fast food franchise has become infamous for its *saucy* responses that would have made marketers and PR agents cringe just a few years ago. For example, they recently accepted a challenge from a man who asked how many retweets it would take for him to get free nuggets for a year. Wendy’s responded with “18 million”, and now the challenge has gone viral and even gotten the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, check it out:

Wendy’s has not only gotten the attention of their target audience, but has gained celebrity recognition with only a single 11 character tweet. Their entire social media strategy is far from politically correct, but without a doubt it is amusing and working to exponentially increase brand awareness.

As marketers, and as people, we must all try to keep sensitivities in mind (as we have for decades). But every now and then, try to embrace the joy of blunt, abrasive humour so your message can cut through the noise.

They’re doing what!?

Shocked and surprised boy on the internet with laptop computer

Here are some cool things being developed in the world right now. You stumble across them, scrolling down your newsfeeds or browsing the latest blogs. The headlines or the images that stop you in your tracks and make you think, “hunh?” “cool!” or “WTF?”

Amidst what seems like a never-ending stream of bad news, I thought we could all use some time to ponder some forward-thinking, genius inventions.

Let’s start with an invention that has been the futuristic icon since the time of The Jetsons (full disclosure I wanted to be Judy Jetson).

Flying cars.


image courtesy of AeroMobil

I know I know, people have been making prototypes and championing their “flying car” for as long as you can remember, but this one is a little different.

The AeroMobil 3.0 (around for a bit of time already) is being shown off at a supercar show today. What makes it different? AeroMobil says the car will be available for pre-orders this year. That’s right, a commercially available flying car. Of course it will cost more than your average family car, with a price tag between 1.2 million and 1.5 million euros (2.1 million – 2.9 million CAD), according to this CTV article.

Want another cool thing? Okay, buckle down, this one’s a doozy.

Google (of course) is building artificial intelligence systems that compete against each other to get smarter. Yes, robots are testing and teaching each other, through photos, sounds and representations of the real world.

Now I am not going to pretend I can sit here and understand (and comprehensibly write) about AI in rocket scientist-like detail. But I can give you the run down from Wired’s article. Ian Goodfellow is building a new research group to look into what they call “generative models”:

“Standing there in the bar, Goodfellow decided that while one neural network learned to build realistic photos, a second could play the adversary, trying to determine whether these images were fake and, in essence, feeding its judgments into the first. In this way, he said, it could eventually teach the first neural network to generate fake images indistinguishable from the real thing,” writes Cade Metz in her article.

Identify fake content? That’s more than what most of the population can do on social media! (Looking at you, Facebook and certain political folks). Read more about the AI battles in Wired’s article here.

So there you have it. Some really cool things going on in the world to distract you from the not-so-cool things. Now get on with your day, but imagine on your way home tonight that you’re in a flying car, operated by robots that are likely smarter than you.

Sources: CTV , Wired

Appealing to Fickle (and Savvy!) Consumers

MomandTeeniStock_000007381719Large (2)Sept302014

Receive 20X the points! Free coffee reward! Redeem for $10 off your next purchase!

Such is the holler of brands spending billions of dollars on loyalty programs each year. And despite some valiant efforts and trackable successes, studies show consumers are fickler than ever.

Ad Age cites statistics from Accenture’s research here, showing that 54% of people surveyed (25,000 respondents globally) said they’d switched providers in the past year, and 78% say they retract loyalty faster now than they did three years ago. According to the report, banks, internet service providers, retailers, and cable and satellite providers were the most likely to have customers switch brands—no big surprise there.

An estimated $90 billion a year is spent on non-cash rewards alone by U.S. marketers. (The Canadian spend is significant, could not find a verifiable source for this article.) But there’s a lot of money being thrown at customers in hopes that they’ll keep coming back for more. Question for me is this: is the massive loyalty spend working for the brands doing the spending?

The Canadian Marketing Association partners with Bond Brand Loyalty to produce a yearly report that analyzes changes in consumer attitudes and behaviours in response to loyalty initiatives. The 2016 report sampled over 7,000 Canadian and nearly 12,000 U.S. consumers to gain insights on a variety of behavioural and attitudinal attributes. The report found some positives, such as:

  • On average consumers are ‘members’ of ~ 11 loyalty programs, with ~ 7 active
  • A majority of consumers (63%) modify the amount spent to maximize points
  • 66% of members are more likely to recommend brands with ‘good’ loyalty programs
  • ‘Very Satisfied’ rating of loyalty programs by members remains steady at 32%

And the research uncovered a few, key negatives:

  • Digital divide: Only 17% are ‘Very Satisfied’ with the program website experience
  • Missed opportunity: Just 12% feel ‘Very Satisfied’ with the level of personalization they experience with the program!
  • Show me the love: Just 13% ‘Strongly Agree’ that they ‘love their loyalty program’
  • Trust has declined: only 22% ‘Strongly Agree’ that programs are trustworthy

There’s an awful lot loaded into ‘loving my loyalty program’ and declining brand trust – those are strategic, complex topics for another day. But low ratings on both consumer website experience and level of personalization—the extent of the gaps here surprised me. These are strategically and tactically integrated, and can be improved by brands, like right now!

The data-driven and personalized consumer experience, when executed properly and ethically across all channels, shows consumers you value and respect them as an individual customer, you want to grow your understanding of their needs and preferences, and you have a mutual interest in solving their problems (perhaps even before they know they a problem).

As with pretty much everything we talk about with our clients at Wellspring, it’s all about the data. Collecting, analysing, deploying multi-source, aggregated and individual data (ethically) in ways that individualize, personalize and customize the consumer experience—that’s the magic that good data can create.

Especially when it comes to the biggest generation in the Canadian workforce today: millennials. The Accenture survey found that millennials aged 18-34 cited product experience, trust, customer-service, corporate social responsibility, and the ability to use points for privileged access to products and services as key factors contributing to their loyalty. A transparent relationship + personalization + brand alignment = more loyal millennial consumers – and every other segment, too.

So go ahead, offer up that free coffee. But don’t forget to customize and personalize your messaging, online and offline, too. You might just score some loyal consumers in today’s fragmented, message-overloaded marketplace.

Sources: Ad Age article, CMA report


4 Ways to Inspire Millennials to Reach For Your Cause

 High angle view of group of college students reaching upMany not-for-profits (NFPs) have begun to focus more robustly on accountability and transparency (for both ethical and legal reasons) as a way to attract and build a relationship with prospects and donors. After all, research has well-proven that donors give their money to a cause they trust will spend their hard-earned dollars wisely, and make a difference for that cause.

But accountability priorities seem to be more necessary than ever, according to a new article from The NonProfit Times1.

“Millennials value openness and transparency, so those must be present in your campaign,” said Caryn Stein, a marketing, content and communications strategist, at the National Development Conference event in National Harbor, Maryland.  (Just as a note, I prefer to define the age band of this segment based on the approach of most research firms: born between 1981 – 2000.)

She continued that their donation habits are different than previous generations, as they prefer to perform smaller actions before fully committing to a cause. Though Stein was referring to the United States market, similar tendencies are clear in the Canadian context.

Why should you care about millennial attitudes and behaviours? Because millennials are now the biggest generation in the Canadian workforce. Meaning the biggest generation earning the current and future means to donate to the causes that reflect their ideals.

In Canada, Millennials represent 9.5M or 27% of the population, but 37% of the labour force population.  There are many sub-segments within millennials but as a cohort, they are highly educated, especially the women, tech-driven, culturally diverse and hold firm values2.  Some of those values may align with your cause …

Once upon a time (WAY back when I first started in the NFP sector), building a long-term donor relationship was about bi-annual acquisitions, well-planned, cultivation asks throughout the year and then an annual renewal, showing some impact to the donor along the way. For progressive NFPs, that model is ancient history.

Savvy NFPs  must adapt their marketing approaches – acquisition and lifetime cultivation – to   the immediacy, fluidity and demands of millennial mindsets and behaviours..

So what does that mean? Here are four simple adjustments that you can make, right now:

  1. Instead of asking millennial segment(s) to commit to a monthly or recurring gift, offer them one-time, moderately-priced gift options with good impact but low perceived commitment.
  2. Strongly connect your ‘tangible need’ ask with quick follow-up, post-gift. Show and tell specific, detailed impact information – show faces and places and be authentic! Be clear about the ‘dollars and cents’ of it, no B.S..
  3. Make nurturing asks about more than just additional donations. Provide opportunities for different kinds of engagement to keep the millennial interested and invested in your cause. Petition campaigns, social network sharing (with a real reason to do so), opportunities to volunteer at an event or contribute to your blog. Provide a wide array of  choices that can appeal to a wide array of millennial supporters-types.
  4. This final suggestion may surprise you but here it is … use all channels relevant in the millennial’s world including direct mail! Yes, this segment loves receiving … and responds to … direct mail. What’s old is new again and for this over-digitized generation, a well-targeted, relevant direct mail appeal can connect the digital and physical worlds in an obvious, tactile and memorable way.  And, it can provide the necessary real estate to truly convey impact stories to capture the millennial heart and mind.

I’m a huge fan of millennials, youth-hiring and especially youth-mentoring (see January 6 post for more). So the next time you’re in strategic and campaign-planning mode, please remember to ask yourself, how can we engage millennials in our cause? And how can we best show (not simply tell!) this particular audience how and why their generosity can truly create change.



1 The NonProfit Times

2 Statistics Canada, 2015

Millennials: The Misunderstood (& Micro-Analyzed) Generation Y

Co-workers in the office

The mystical millennials ­— that group of 18 to 34 year-old creatures that confuses managers with their life and work desires, and stereotyped “entitlement”.

Steve Paikin held an interesting panel on TVO’s The Agenda the other night about millennials. The topics ranged from their workplace expectations, to the (perhaps forlorn) ideal of home ownership and of course, social media and the digital sphere of work life.

I’ve always felt an obligation – especially as an agency business owner – to bring interns and young people into Wellspring. It helps them enhance their skills and opportunities, and importantly for my business, brings fresh thinking and ideas to the table. After 20 years of serving clients, that freshness factor definitely matters! And sure, the ‘young folk’ might break a few eggs along the way, but that’s part of the fun. And, they can be hilarious.

Some stereotypes attached to this generation are that they’re entitled, lazy, and not hard workers (or at least ‘difficult-to-manage’ workers). Yet I’ve worked with (and raised) millennials who have purposeful ambition, work ethic and drive coming out the ying yang.

There’ll always be the lousy people, those who fulfill stereotypes in any generation. In the 60’s and early 70’s we called Baby Boomers pot-smoking hippies who would never amount to anything — true of some, not so much of those running business, government and the planet (not altogether well, but they got their heads out of the ‘pot’ clouds and broke doom-saying predictions).  I think millennials will likewise break most of the negative stereotypes currently attached to them as a cohort.



Steve Paikin refers to how this generation wants to feel heard and respected in their workplace, and compares that to the earlier days where we were told to shut up, keep our head down and work. Hearing what young people have to say and having them contribute as part of the team isn’t coddling them in my view; it’s embracing them, enabling  them to contribute and will ultimately help you as a business as they become more confident in their knowledge and abilities to help you succeed.

I’m not saying every intern or young worker should have free reign or be encouraged to vocalize opinions on everything … especially when in hearing distance of clients! But if  you coach them, make them part of your plans and respected members of your team, you’ll give them a chance to surprise you … ideally in  a very good way!

Only 60 per cent of workers aged 25-65 in the GTHA labour market are in some form of secure employment, according to the newest PEPSO report. The job market is changing with precarious work an on-going reality.  That’s not breaking news, yet we scrutinize and criticize millennials for shifting jobs and wanting to grow their careers and opportunities in a market that’s much different than it was even ten years ago. Giving them more frequent and positive feedback (when earned) than a yearly review (something millennials need—an entitlement?) isn’t ‘being too easy’ on them (as some proclaim), it’s called frequent communication — and that’s constructive for all parties.

At the end of the day, millennials are young people who want to learn, build careers, make money and have a good work-life balance. So let’s, please, stop micro-analyzing them and get to the part where we help them become the next generation of excellent business owners, public leaders and human beings.

You can check out the TVO panel for yourself here. 

Top 2016 YouTube Ads

Every year there are ads that grab your attention — some in a positive way, others not so much. YouTube announced its most popular ads of 2016 in the Ad Leaderboard for Canada, with various unique brands making the cut (and three of them are Canadian, hooray!)

I think it’s great when agencies try to break out of their norm to gain attention and challenge perceptions, and it usually makes for interesting ads. With millions of messages shouting at consumers every day, sometimes it takes being a little edgy to cut through the noise. That’s why I chose to highlight the two videos below, please watch them and share your opinion!

Momondo — The DNA Journey

Momondo attempts to breakdown perceptions and stereotypes in The DNA Journey. At just over 5 minutes long, for a fast-paced video consuming audience such as YouTube’s, this ad seems lengthy. But I find it to be impactful, what about you?

SickKids VS: Undeniable

This one didn’t make the 2016 list because of its launch date, but it did receive an honourable mention. I’m an avid supporter of non-profits, we work with many amazing ones that do even more amazing work. This SickKids marketing campaign has been both praised and condemned, but one thing everyone can agree on is that it cuts through the noise, with force. And for me, that’s the point.

For more of the top ads, visit Marketing Magazine’s article here.

5 Tips to Bring People Back


via GIPHY 

And no, not from the dead. Well, kind of. Re-engaging customers or donors can be a tricky process. Organizing and deploying “win-back” campaigns can be time-consuming, expensive and quite possibly, not result in the necessary ROI.

The best practice of course is— DON’T LOSE THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE. Treat all your customers and donors like platinum from the beginning and throughout their journey with you. Use data and develop strategies to create personalized experiences that acknowledge individual interests and aspirations (we’ll do an in-depth blog on that another day). But alas, there is no formula to retain 100% of the people all of the time. So here are some tips to help get customers back once they’ve defected. DMN listed 10 in this article, I’ve summarized five of the best here:

  1. Survey

Everyone has a voice and opinion, let them use it! Surveys can be a great way to re-engage your customers and donors when carefully crafted. Ensure to only include questions or comment sections for topics that you know your brand can follow-up on, otherwise you can create frustration with a lack of follow-up. Also, if you choose to ask about any personal matters, don’t forget to be inclusive and conscious of the language you use.

  1. Goals

Before launching any re-engagement campaign, it is a must to establish who you’re targeting —we fall back on the good old 5 W’s and how. Targets not only help orient more cohesive and relevant communication, it also helps evolve other steps to success (see below!).

  1. Personalization and Customization

Personalizing communications with your customers is essential to rebuilding and maintaining a relationship. Here are a few ways you can acknowledge individuals in relation to your brand:

  • Use data to call in names and acknowledge and thank them for their previous contributions.
  • Provide personalized offers based on previous purchases or interests — customized incentives based on interest can elevate response, too!
  1. Timing

Too many messages, or conflicting ones, can be one of the biggest things that cause customer and donor fatigue. Make sure you know what your brand has in market, and when, to ensure the timing of your re-engagement messages isn’t just competing noise, but welcomed by your audience.

  1. Theme

Use birthdays, holidays, special or current events to create a theme for your message. Send a coupon to your customer for their birthday, or inform donors about a current event and how it can help their community of interest. Themes make your message relatable, reputable and relevant.

And if all else fails, everyone loves free stuff!

My 5 Best Practices for Empowering Distributed Teams


This isn’t actually Stanley. This photo came from iStock, we don’t actually know this man.

Businesses – of the entrepreneurial and modestly-sized variety – have all the tools we need to communicate effectively with our teams and clients, to produce excellent work and motivated teams.  Online collaboration tools, at our fingertips, leave ‘no excuse’ for communication gaps.

Or do they? While it can be cost-effective (and contribute to work-life balance, if you make it!), managing a remote team with distributed work tasks can be challenging. How do you enable creative and innovative collaboration, WITH good quality control, but WITHOUT onerous processes across too many channels?

I’ve had many (many?) years of experience leading and coaching remote teams (creative and technical, data-oriented teams I might add), and have tested out many communication and project management tools and platforms. I want to share a few key ways – digital and otherwise – that can empower distributed teams to be the best they can be …

Disclosure: Neither I nor Wellspring has any vested interest in any software or other product noted here.  None.

  1. Use an Integrated Project Management and Communications Program

There are plenty of these programs to choose from, such as Basecamp, Teamwork, Slack and many others … They can help connect your team, set task priorities and ensure everyone knows who’s responsible for what. Each product has its own strengths and gaps. Make sure you know what features you need—and which ones you don’t— so that they don’t end up being more time-consuming than helpful. Do the research and ensure your team members are part of the decision process!

  1. Face Time is Essential

And no, I don’t mean on your iPhone. Plan ahead with your team and set days to meet and work together in person – let’s call this Human Time. It will increase your productivity, build and solidify relationships and help you better understand how each person works and thinks. Human Time can be especially helpful when brainstorming big concepts and creative ideas. Key point: it needs to be helpful so I always pay attention to individual team members’ schedules, and especially, commute time.  (If there’s a really bad travel day because of weather or whatever, I reschedule to be respectful of time and unnecessary stress!)

  1. List Priorities, Talk About Them and Follow-up Regularly

When working with remote teams including freelance contractors or partners, conflicting and busy schedules can make meeting deadlines a challenge. Ensure you clearly discuss and confirm priorities for each team member, with specific deadlines. Everyone needs to know what they’re supposed to be doing and when, who can support them and the most efficient ways to get their tasks done.  Be sure to share the happy consequences of getting it done ‘right and on time’ and the unhappy consequences if commitments aren’t met.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid of the Telephone

When did the sound of another person’s voice on the phone become so scary and something to urgently avoid? Picking up the phone is a fear that lots of people just need to get over! The phone remains personal; it’s the best way to quickly connect to prevent and solve problems, to enhance relationships and short-circuit digital communications that are being harmful rather than helpful.

That being said, you can still embrace the use of communication channels that make the most sense for your team — say texting your millennial intern even when you’re a grown up, like me. But if something is urgent, or needs more brains to get something right, don’t be afraid to pick up the dang phone.

  1. Allow for ‘Fun Time’ in Communications

It’s why most project management programs allow you to send emojis and GIFs in your conversations – adding some fun to some very long days. Just because some of your team is working remotely, that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to be human and have some non-work related conversations. One trick I try when things get crazy busy is no matter how you’re communicating with someone, pretend you’re talking to them in person. Have conversations, ask about their days, and above all, loosen up and let everyone’s sense of humour shine through.