December 22 – Travel (#reverb10)

December 22 – Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year? (Author: Tara Hunt)

Travel this year was pretty sparse. I didn’t have a lot of vacation time and what I did have was used to stay home with a sick child or when daycare was closed, or I used it to stay home and do household projects. 

Staying home was kind of the theme of the year for me. 

BlogHer ‘10 came at the end of the summer and I was, of course, not attending. Then someone had this idea to do a different kind of conference that I COULD participate in. It was called HomeHer10 and I was all over staying at home, because it was the theme of my year. For a whole weekend, I chatted with people all over North America who attended HomeHer10 - right from the comfort of my office with my arse parked in my comfy desk chair. No lineups or layovers or long car rides.

Then I got invited to a real conference. One that was actually out of town. And it was going to require a long car ride. By long, I just mean over to Toronto, so really not all that long at all. But long enough.

Yep, that was the extent of my travel this year. One little trip to Toronto with an overnight stay in a hotel. 

I’d love to go to BlogHer ‘11 in San Diego, but it’s unlikely that I can make it this coming year. Maybe in 2012. 

What I want to do more than anything else in 2011 is see my family. I haven’t been down to Florida since I was pregnant with Brandon. That is now over three years ago. No one in my family has ever met my son and I want to correct that. I also have a beautiful little niece that is going to be two in June who I would love to finally meet as well. Now I just need to get that travel documentation renewed. ;)

She's Connected 2010: Talking to Brands (2/2)

Ottawa’s own CL Buchanan Photography was the official conference photographer. I’ve included a link to Cherie-Lynn’s site at the bottom.A couple of weeks ago, I wrote my first post about my experiences at the She’s Connected Conference in Toronto. The presentations in the morning were filled with great information that was relevant to the bloggers who attended as well as the brands. From the blogger’s perspective, we could easily see how brands should want to work with bloggers to get their message across. The value was clear. As a blogger, I could imagine sitting there as a brand and thinking that I was surrounded by a goldmine of influence. A roomful of people who could help humanize and spread my message.

But did the brands see it that way?

There were 10 brands in attendance at the She’s Connected Conference. Here’s the list and my impressions of their message.

Kobo

 Kobo was one of the first presentations of the day and I did touch on it in my last post. I won’t lie - I really didn’t know we were going to receive readers when we went to the conference. Yes, I am oblivious at times. When they set up the table and everyone flocked to get their Kobo eReaders, I thought it was extremely generous! But I was also skeptical. I hadn’t heard great reviews about the product and I have high expectations of devices I like. I wasn’t sure this one would be able to deliver.

After the presentation, which consisted primarily of a short tutorial and overview of the company, I found I really wanted to like the Kobo. It was evident in talking with their CMO, Marina Glogovac, that they didn’t quite know exactly how they wanted to use social media to promote their products, but they are trying very hard and were open to suggestions. They’re willing to work with bloggers and they’ve already instituted some suggestions that came up at the conference. I applaud their openness and quick response. It’s refreshing.

Coca-Cola

Unfortunately, I missed Coke’s presentation in the afternoon. I did have the opportunity to be part of two discussions with their team, though. Coke is a challenging product for moms to get behind. Personally, I try not to drink pop, especially diet - I don’t consume artificial sweeteners anymore. Apart from my personal weight loss goals that I’ve written about quite a lot, there’s the simple matter that Coke really doesn’t make any products that are truly appropriate for children, in my opinion. Additionally, I don’t give my son juice unless it’s very watered down. I don’t personally believe children need juice - it often has as much or more sugar as pop. Brandon tasted Coke one time (because his Daddy let him) and it was clear after one sip that he wanted more. We braved the upset and said no to more. I don’t want him getting hooked on it. 

Coke (Canada) is struggling to figure out how to use social media. It’s a new part of their promotion strategy, so they’re still trying to figure it out. While I do enjoy a good Coke every now and then, am I the right person to promote Coke? Probably not. I’ll be very interested to see if any of the bloggers from the conference feel differently. 

Maple Leaf/Dempster’s

I thoroughly enjoyed talking with the reps from Maple Leaf and Dempster’s. I’ve used their products for years without really thinking about it. But who can forget their response to the listeria outbreak a couple years ago? And, of course, that came up at the conference because, obviously, moms are concerned about the safety of the food they give their children. They faced some tough questions while they were there and answered every single one. They did so without any sign of defensiveness or even discomfort. I’m sure they would have preferred not to have to deal with that issue, but they were prepared with honest answers. Executive Chef, John Placko, gave us all the details about the lunch we were served and he was a pleasure to speak with at the round table sessions.

The reps I spoke with for Maple Leaf/Dempster’s were also new to the social media scene. They seem to have so much enthusiasm for the possibilities and were very open to suggestions and discussion. As a mom and health-conscious individual, I see Maple Leaf/Dempster’s as a brand that I can envision working with and feeling good about that choice.

Calvin Klein

I sat through the Calvin Klein presentation wondering what they were doing at the conference. Sure, I brought home a ton of perfume that will last me roughly 50 years, but there weren’t any actual CK reps at the conference. The presentation was from a scent expert hired by CK to speak. We didn’t get to talk to anyone from the company about working with them. This was the one brand I felt didn’t fit at all in the purpose of the day. 

Bourjois / Smashbox

We didn’t get to hear from Bourjois and Smashbox at all. There were makeup artists and sales reps from the company, but beyond setting up to do the conference attendees’ makeup and telling us about their products, we didn’t get to hear from them at all. I wear makeup every day and I would have liked to hear their ideas for using social media and bloggers in their promotions.

Look Good Feel Better

Getting to see Sherry Abbott speak was something that many of us were looking forward to. Her story of surviving cancer is nothing short of miraculous and she’s paying it forward to countless cancer patients/survivors by helping them work through the effects of cancer/treatment on a woman’s body, and dealing with the inevitable morale issues that can come up. Look Good Feel Better is Canada’s only charitable organization that deals with the self-image issues that arise with cancer treatment. Unfortunately, as much as we were all riveted by the presentation, we didn’t get a chance to speak with her during our round table sessions about working with bloggers to raise more awareness of what they’re doing.

Egg Farmers of Ontario

I touched on the Egg Farmers’ presentation in my previous post. It turned out to be an unexpected gem in amongst all of the huge brands that were there - we learned some really useful things about eggs. I did get to speak briefly with someone at the table in the exhibit hall, but I wasn’t able to get a clear sense of whether they want to work with bloggers or if they were just there to give their spiel. I love eggs - I hope they decide to do some social media campaigning, because I’d work with them!

Booty Camp Fitness

Lisa Richards’ presentation was high energy and motivating. She clearly loves her job and loves talking about Booty Camp. She’s also made it known that Booty Camp Fitness is ready, willing and able to work with bloggers. They are all about using social media to promote their products and services. I’m scheduled to participate in a four-week Booty Camp session in January, so you’ll be hearing more about it from me later on!

Corby Distilleries (Seagram)

One of the key messages that we, as bloggers, tried to reiterate over and over through the day was that what we do has value. Yes, many of us write for enjoyment and aren’t paid, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be paid if we’re promoting a company’s products. That said, it became clear pretty quickly that the only payment Corby/Seagram was willing to give was coolers for our time so we could have a big party (organized by us, of course). BIG - like hundreds of people. I’m not a big drinker and I’m not big on large gatherings, so I’m probably not going to be working with them anytime soon.

Kraft Canada

It was interesting talking to Kraft. They were honest about not being part of a two-sided conversation with their social media activities. They’ve developed some interesting tools for dinner ideas - from text messages to a mobile app. These are in addition to their quarterly What’s Cooking publication. Our discussion with them was enlightening. They don’t know where to go with social media, but they were open to suggestions and constructive criticism - primarily that the conversation needs to be two-sided. I’m very keen to see what comes out of those discussions with Kraft. Hopefully, they’ll be taking our advice and we’ll see them on twitter soon.

My Takeaway

It was truly a mixed bag. Many brands seemed to come to the conference to feel out the potential for social media as a tool for promotion, yet they didn’t have a clear grasp on any of the ways they could accomplish that. Fortunately, the women in the room were not shy about helping them out with suggestions. Other brands seemed to be there to make a sales pitch. Actually, all of them were there for that, though I do think some had a dual purpose that included talking with the bloggers.

What I would love to see from my next She’s Connected Conference is some brands that are actually already using social media as an established promotion tool - and doing it well. I’d love to see companies come in who work with bloggers and who want to expand on that. I’d also like to see the sales pitches limited. Yes, they have to have a chance to do it, but the afternoon speakers went over so long that we ended up two hours behind by the end of the day. My selfish little complaint: That effectively eliminated the opportunity for any social interaction amongst the bloggers and though we know each other online, we would have liked to get to talk more in person. :)

I enjoyed the day and I do think it was a very successful first conference for Donna Marie Antoniadis and the rest of the She’s Connected team. I’m thrilled that I was invited and I look forward to the next one!

*****

Photo credit: CL Buchanan Photography. Visit her Web site or like her on Facebook.

She's Connected 2010: So, I'm connected, eh? (1/2)

About three or four weeks ago, a lot of buzz was going around on twitter about the very first She’s Connected Conference in Toronto. I did apply, not anticipating that I had even the remotest chance of getting an invitation. To my utter shock, I was issued an invitation and, after doing a happy dance, I did what I had to do to make sure I could go!

So, last Tuesday that I left work early in anticipation of picking up a car provided by GM Canada’s Media Relations Manager, Adria MacKenzie. I contacted Adria on behalf of the group of women I was going to be travelling to the She’s Connected Conference with to see if they would be willing to provide a sponsored vehicle for our drive down. We were given a Chevy Traverse without hesitation and with surprising ease.

When I heard we would be in a crossover that seated 7, I thought we’d have plenty of room. On our way down to the conference, this held true. However, after adding our She’s Connected swag, it was a tight squeeze for the ride home. That’s more indicative of the amount of stuff we received than it is a complaint about the amount of room in the vehicle. It was a very nice car loaded with just about every option - from satellite radio to GPS to a rearview camera for backing up. We really rode in style to and from the conference.

On Wednesday morning, I was wide awake at 5:00am, ready for the day to begin. Our group suffered a couple of mishaps due to my bleary-eyed directional errors, but we eventually all made it to the conference around 8:15ish - hungry and ready for coffee. We were greeted with hugs at the coat check by an enthusiastic Donna Marie Antoniadis; it was an unexpected surprise that she was passing that way as we came in. Her excitement was infectious and I began to look forward to the day even more.

We started off the morning by receiving our Kobo e-book readers and then having a presentation from Marina Glogovac, Chief Marketing Officer at Kobo, Inc. She told us about this “little Canadian company that could” compete against the big boys - like Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader. Having used the Kobo for a few days, I’m not so sure their product has the potential to beat the more established e-book readers that are on the market right now. I’m a fairly technologically experienced and proficient user and I find the interface and setup are not terribly intuitive.

I really want to like this product, because it is Canadian-made and the spirit of the company is so positive. I genuinely enjoyed the presentation and found myself getting excited about using the Kobo from it. The Kobo is quite a simple device and I’m really trying to like it, but when I had to type in my email address to connect to my account to sync my books over wi-fi, it took me about 5 minutes since it doesn’t have a qwerty keyboard. So far it just hasn’t met my expectations of what I want from a really good e-reader. I’m curious to know what Kindle, Sony Reader and other e-reader users would say about their devices. Perhaps they have similar issues. Personally, I happen to be ultra-picky about single-use devices because it’s a large expense to incur for one purpose. That’s one reason why I haven’t purchased an e-reader to date.

When Kobo finished, we got to hear from Dianne McComb, an Egg Farmer. I was really pleasantly surprised to hear the answer to a question I’d been discussing with my mother-in-law just a couple weeks before during our Thanksgiving dinner. I learned that when you boil eggs and go to peel them and the egg white comes of with the shell, that means the egg is quite fresh. The older the egg, the better the peel separates from the white of the egg. I’d always thought it meant they were underdone.

I have to admit that my initial reaction to the Egg Farmers being at the conference was a big “Huh?” However, after the presentation and thinking it through a bit, I realized it was a really good match. Most of us in the room were moms and as such, we’re concerned about feeding our children a healthy, balanced diet. One that doesn’t include too much cholesterol. And, according to a nutritionist at the conference, eggs don’t affect your cholesterol. Sure, many would debate that, but let’s put it this way: If I eat 2 eggs every day, it’s going to have a lot less effect on my cholesterol (if any) than if I ate an 8oz. steak every day. I love eggs and I do eat them nearly every day. Brandon gets them several times a week and I feel good about that. (Also, I’ve never had high cholesterol.)

The keynote address by Joanne Thomas Yaccato, President and Founder of The Thomas Yaccato Group really struck a chord with me. The title was “What marketers need to know about marketing to women, and getting women to embrace their brand”. Her opening remarks pointed to who makes decisions in households. She quoted the statistic that 25-30% of women say they decide jointly what products to purchase. However, upon further discussion, even that 25-30% admit that the woman independently researches and presents her case to her partner. “It’s a joint decision. I find it and I convince him he loves it.”

She showed us fabulous examples of ad campaigns gone horribly wrong when companies “feminize” rather than “humanize” their brand. Then she gave examples of gender-targeted ad campaigns that hit the mark and succeeded. The best example was the Toyota Sienna ads from a few years ago. Remember the commercial with the sporty car our in the desert doing stunt driving? Then the camera changes the angle and you see it’s actually a minivan? Yeah, that ad made my husband want a minivan. (FTR, I said no.) The corresponding ad geared to women highlighted all of the safety and kid-friendly features, as told by a mom - although it still didn’t make me want to take the minivan plunge. :)

The quote of the day for many was, “Humanizing does not mean feminizing. It’s about making it real, not making it pink.” I’ve been bothered for a long time by some of the gender-based campaigns that “feminize” by dumbing down products, or by making them fashionable accessories. I’m a woman and I do like pretty things, but I find it insulting that marketers think I’d sooner buy from a site that’s pink and has a focus on women than be able to find what I want on their main site.

Sidneyeve Matrix’s presentation was a really fascinating discussion of broad generational traits among moms in particular, their online activities and how they buy: 

If I had any criticism at all about this presentation, it would be that it could have included GenXers as well since there were quite a few of us in the room. There were some who disagreed with some of the information that was shared, but that’s bound to happen with generalizations. Overall, the statistics that Sidneyeve quoted were eye-opening to us as bloggers and should be factored in by brands when they are doing their marketing. Women (moms) are a very fast-growing group online. We influence each other daily through Twitter, Facebook, our blogs and other online tools as well. Companies who are willing to work with us and recognize the value we provide can benefit from the communities we’re building. But first, the need to have a plan.

*****

As you can see, I have a lot to say about this conference. In my next post, I’m going to talk about the brands and I have a few thoughts about how the conference went as well! If you’ve done a post about She’s Connected, please leave the link!