Last month, we found our way down to Silicon Valley for the 10th Anniversary BlogHer Celebration, a conference built around a community of more than 100 million women inspired to find their voices and turn their passions into content, community and commerce. And it did not disappoint.
From keynote speakers to workshops to brand activations, the theme of being true to your authentic self echoed loud and clear as one of the biggest and most compelling issues in the industry today. As blogging has grown into a broader and (in some cases) highly profitable profession, the dueling interests of authenticity and monetization have become increasingly prevalent and the blogosphere is struggling to strike the right balance between organic voice and conventional success.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
We heard from notable individuals like Arianna Huffington, and smaller, self made bloggers, like Jenny Lawson, who all stressed the importance of authenticity to empower both yourself as a blogger and your audience, connecting with them in a meaningful way to forge a strong online community. Despite Huffington’s success as a media mogul, she steered away from traditional business advice and instead offered unexpected insights on the topic on the quality of life (after all, her most recent book is titled “Thrive”), emphasizing the importance of enabling your body to be its best, authentic self so that you can be yours. Something that – while seemingly obvious – is clearly easier said than done in the context of our busy, over-stimulated lives.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
In the activation world, the themes of authenticity and personal connection were common threads throughout the conference expo floor, with brands large and small vying for the attention of this powerful, enthusiastic audience of influencers. While all of the booths were stocked with mountains of expected giveaways, it was no surprise that the brands offering hands-on services and interactive experiences to convey their messages were the biggest hits…proving that a photo booth with cute props is no longer enough.
One of our favorites was Skype’s #paywithpassion storefront, with a beautiful custom airstream lounge as its backdrop. Store “shoppers” were asked to make a pledge to be more passionate about a personal goal and share this pledge with the #paywithpassion hashtag as a form of currency. Using the power of social media to amplify their message, this was a prime example of a brand successfully using personal and emotional connections to help tell an authentic story to a larger online community.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
Another activation that grabbed our attention was the Timeline Project. Instead of throwing money at extravagant fabrication, this social startup focused on goal setting and chose to offer engaging services and creative eye candy that cleverly tied back to their overall message of recognizing and realizing your dreams. A live painter captured her timeline of personal aspirations as bloggers of all ages flocked to speak to astrologists, tarot card readers and life coaches. A goal setting photo booth and nail bar offered attendees a chance to interact with this new brand and for those eagerly waiting for their turn, they were able to get hands-on with the product by setting up personal timeline profiles on provided laptops.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
One of the most powerful activations of the weekend had a band behind it, rather than a brand. The Mrs. released their new single, Enough, live at the conference, and their#imEnough mirrorhelped spread their message of empowerment and the importance of embracing your true self. Women who were brave enough to stand in front of the magic mirror had the (unfortunately rare) chance to hear strangers and loved ones sing their praise from behind the curtain. The response was emotional and powerful, tying this unexpected experience seamlessly to the conference’s overwhelming focus on the power of being comfortable in your own skin.
Photo courtesy of BlogHer 2014
Throughout the weekend, the importance of forging emotional connections with your target audience was reiterated time and time again. As we know well from the experiences we create for clients at Grow, if you are authentic and have a unique story to tell, monetization will follow. Tap into your core beliefs, express your truth, forge emotional connections, ignite your passions…and your audience will organically grow.
As any experiential marketer knows, effectively communicating brand messages to consumers is key to a successful engagement program. Last month, Grow had the opportunity to attend PR Summit’s fifth annual conference at The Old Mint in San Francisco, where business leaders, media influencers and entrepreneurs gathered on two stages to present TED-style thought leadership talks on the latest trends and best practices in business communications, storytelling and engagement marketing.
The lines between marketing, social media and public relations continue to blur and we’re intimately aware of the critical need for the integration of public relations and engagement marketing strategies, to ensure consistency across a wide range of communication channels and to amplify your message.
Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the action-packed day that are sure to benefit any brand:
Be smart and credible
With all the content out there these days and platforms where anyone can be a reporter or expert, finding the best can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Kym McNicholas, CEO and Founder of Kymerview, is an expert on preparing clients to deliver messages in compelling and effective ways, and shared her top tips for brand positioning. First and foremost, to engage your audience and motivate them to share, Kym recommends tapping into the heartbeat of your brand, finding meaningful and exciting ways to connect. Further, to differentiate from the rest, she suggests identifying an influential niche that you can own and demonstrate thought leadership, highlighting expertise and insights that stem from in-depth knowledge that goes well beyond that of all the generalists. Lastly, she underscored the critical need for credibility, building and maintaining trust through transparency and honesty and making sure to always align with your brand or company values. Remember, in certain contexts, it’s okay to mention your competitors in friendly ways – it helps position you as a realist and demonstrates awareness of your respective field or industry.
From a big meeting to a night out with friends to the inevitable happy ending of a romantic comedy, we all have a tendency to create expectations for and envision how various events and activities in our lives will unfold. Ben Parr, author of Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, suggested violating expectations as a surefire way to captivate your audience’s attention. Parr shared his research on what makes us pay attention to certain people, products and ideas, noting that humans are intrinsically drawn to things that feel out of place. For example, in 2011, Patagonia launched a campaign instructing consumers: “don’t buy this jacket.” Challenging common expectations of sales-driven retail advertising, people paid attention. In fact, this green marketing effort to encourage consideration of the effects of consumerism resonated with customers who share the company’s values, resulting in a 40% growth in annual sales over the next two years. So next time you want to grab your audience’s attention, especially in light of the current landscape of content saturation and stimulus overload, find a compelling way to surprise your target and violate expectations – you might just defy your own.
Photo courtesy of Adweek
Strike while the iron is hot
You’ve heard it a million times: timing is everything. But really, it is. While requiring both the ability to act fast and the perfect blend of preparation meeting good old-fashioned luck, real-time marketing is a great way to get more mileage out of your message by making it hyper-relevant to what’s happening right now. Jason Miller, Senior Manager of Content and Social, at LinkedIn highlighted how anticipating the moment can exponentially amplify your message into something a lot more popular. For example, during a FIFA World Cup match last month, an unfortunate incident involving a Uruguay player biting an Italian player had fans and media in uproar. With everyone in a frenzy, a few brands decided to take advantage of all the attention. Bud Light tweeted “Relax, they’re twist off,” with an image of a man trying to open a beer bottle with his teeth. Snickers tweeted “Hey @luis16suarez. Next time you’re hungry just grab a Snickers,” with a picture of a Snickers bar captioned “more satisfying than Italian.” These quick social engagements generated thousands of impressions and buzz for these clever brands, while demonstrating humor and relevance. Whether you build up an arsenal of ready-to-use content, anticipate upcoming conversations or just seize the moment when lightning strikes, real-time engagement should definitely be part of your communications strategy.
Photo courtesy of Adweek
While no one size fits all, messaging matters more today than ever – to break through the clutter and effectively engage consumers. Whatever your industry or brand, these tips will help inspire you to connect with your target audiences in bold and unique new ways.
We’re in the business of creating experiences for brands, which means we spend our days dreaming about the thoughtful details that set an experience apart and make attendees feel that only [insert brand name here] could have done this. Almost from the moment we moved into our new digs in Jackson Square last fall our wheels were turning about how to celebrate this moment in a way true to Grow’s essence. Joined by clients, partners and friends (the most important element of any successful gathering) we brought in some of our favorite things to warmly welcome guests into our space. And, based on how long many lingered, we think it was a hit!
In keeping with our feminine, Parisian-inspired aesthetic, the fête incorporated Grow’s personality and essence, including thoughtful touches from candlelit staircases to lush floral arrangements by Natalie Bowen Designs in ivory and pink tones to our favorite Glassybaby candles in bright, fun colors.
Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley
Given our mutual love of inspiration from aesthetics and unique lifestyle experiences (not to mention our love for a great bottle of wine!), Grow invited our friends at Ma(i)sonry – a bespoke Yountville-based wine collective – to join us and offer guests a very special tasting of wines from their limited-production collection.
Chefs from Roka Akor, a contemporary, innovative Japanese restaurant located only two blocks from our office, hand rolled an incredible array of sushi for guests to sample as they explored the various nooks in our new space. We’re salivating over the beef tataki with shaved black truffles just thinking about it.
As a team of logophiles (word-lovers, in case you didn’t study Latin), we couldn’t have dreamed up a more unparalleled, captivating experience than that of on-demand poetry. Each guest received a personalized poem, crafted on a vintage typewriter in mere minutes by the talented Silvi Alcivar, the results of which made more than a few of us a little weepy.
Hog Island Oyster Co.
One of the premier producers of certified sustainable shellfish and also our neighbor over at the San Francisco Ferry Building, Hog Island Oyster Co. set up shop in our communal kitchen to offer fresh oysters from their 160-acre farm just up the coast in Tomales Bay. As expected, this was a popular spot throughout the night that left our guests saying “aw, shucks.”
As our go-to spot for a special meal, catered lunch or just a post-work nibble, Cotogna offered Grow guests a taste of their rustic Italian fare, including burrata crostini and their heavenly arancini.
This was truly an affair to remember – from sharing stories about the Barbary Coast history of our building to toasting with the entire Grow family. We are so grateful to all who joined us and can’t wait for all the milestones we’ll celebrate in the years to come.
For anyone who wasn’t able to join us, please stop by and check out our new spot next time you’re in the neighborhood!
As experiential marketers design figures heavily into our daily inspiration and world view.
We’ve been watching the maker movement for a while and the increasing interest and innovations in design technology. Autodesk is at the forefront of bringing makers from this movement together and highlighting some of the coolest innovations with their monthly Design Night in the Autodesk Gallery here in San Francisco. And because we are lucky enough to have it located in our own backyard we just had to check it out. Filled with other design enthusiasts, innovators and natural born toyers and tinkers from across the globe, the experience brought to life how tech is transforming the design industry.
Bright yellow signs that exclaim “Eat! Drink! and Make!” grabbed our attention and set a playful mood as we entered the space excited to explore the inventive, playful interactive moments. Over 20+ exhibits, including Nike’s latest running shoe, a digital flower, a styrofoam Mercedes Benz, magnetic silly putty, an 8.5ft dinosaur made of 62,500 LEGO pieces and a soccer ball that generates electricity from play — all in one room. Each station conveyed a fascinating story of the tools and engineering used to create the unique design. Taken all together, the experience demonstrated in an engaging and relevant way how the intersection of design and technology is improving our everyday lives by shaping a better world.
We are defined by and draw inspiration from the neighborhoods where we live and work. Grow recently moved into our new home in San Francisco’s historic Jackson Square neighborhood, a building that was formerly Spider Kelly’s Tivoli, considered by many to be the foulest saloon and brothel on the vice-ridden Barbary Coast. We’re proud of our building’s rich history and “life of the party” heritage while, a century later, embodying a more honest way to make a living!
Nestled between the Italian flavor of North Beach and the bustle of the downtown Financial District, today Jackson Square is truly a gem – boasting a European charm meets artsy, bohemian vibe, and serving as home to many of the city’s top restaurants, creative agencies, antique shops and design galleries.
As we get to know our new neighborhood, we wanted to share some of the local spots that we’ve come to love, and hope you’ll join us soon for an artisan cocktail or stroll down Pacific Avenue.
1. Cotogna: Quince’s rustic Italian sister restaurant, Cotogna is a neighborhood hotspot offering daily-changing menus and ingredients from local purveyors (…and they’re also great for catering). This is Gabrey’s favorite spot, who shares that if you are lucky enough to grab a sidewalk table, to sip an amazing cocktail on a beautiful night — you will feel the magic of Jackson Square. This is Grow’s Cheers, and Gabs is definitely Norm.
Photo courtesy of Cotogna
2. Reveille Coffee Co.: a charming, yet hip coffee shop on the corners of Columbus and Kearny also offering countertop workspace and a full, locally-sourced menu. Alyssa loves their beautiful space, with clean lines and windows that let in floods of sunlight, and beyond friendly staff. Although, she warns, watch out: their vanilla latte is addicting and will keep you coming back!
Photo courtesy of SF Eater
3. La Boutique: a gorgeous boutique with one-of-a-kind finds from European brands and perfectly located for some post-work retail therapy. Our fashionable Tami frequents this shop and credits La Boutique’s fantastic stylists with helping to find the right look for any occasion.
Photo courtesy of La Boutique
4. Comstock Saloon: a local watering hole offering classic cocktails and refined turn-of-the-century fare, nodding to our neighborhood’s Barbary Coast history. Shannon loves the vibe of this historic space, including the amazing cocktails from interesting mixologists who clearly take pride in their creations. She recommends ordering the Barkeep’s Whimsy (their choice), and ensures it will delight!
Photo courtesy of SFGate
5. Tosca: a part of the fabric of North Beach with a recently launched menu, Tosca is known for their classic cocktails with a twist…especially the house cappuccino, which they’ve been serving since 1919. Cassie loves stepping into this rich, iconic San Francisco experience, not to mention that there’s something for everyone on both the food and drink menus.
Photo courtesy of Tosca
6. William Stout Architectural Books: with over 20,000 titles on architecture, art, urban planning and design, William Stout’s 30 year old shop is a creative’s dream bookstore. Every time Thao steps through the door it’s a new adventure, where she finds hidden gems and amazing inspiration amongst the shelves.
Photo courtesy of William Stout Architectural Books
7. Barrique: a private-label wine bar, offering hand selected wines from the barrel and a perfectly balanced menu of snacks from charcuterie to truffle popcorn to a robust selection of cheeses. Barrique offers a great atmosphere and is a frequent spot for Shana to grab drinks with her friends while nibbling on small bites.
Photo courtesy of SFWeekly
8. Bocadillos: offering some variety from the many Italian restaurants in our neighborhood, Bocadillos serves the best of Spain’s wine and small plates (tapas). You’ll often catch Shari at the bar, enjoying the friendly, laid-back ambiance and intimate space filled with locals, noshing on the out-of-this-world lamb sliders, patatas bravas and kale salad (they are also open for breakfast & lunch).
Photo courtesy of Bocadillos
9. Naked Lunch: famous for their fried chicken sandwich, Naked Lunch offers a “small” menu of farm fresh ingredients, which changes every day. Brie loves their variety of sandwiches and refreshing cinnamon sweet tea, especially when she has the chance to enjoy on their covered patio.
Photo courtesy of Hungry Hong Kong
10. Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub: offering Irish American hospitality, good music and plenty of TVs, Kells is the place to be to meet friends over a cold beer. Only one block from the Transamerica Pyramid, Neel frequently finds himself at Kells to catch sporting events, meet friendly locals and unwind after a long week.
Photo courtesy of SFGate
TED is an experiential marketer’s dream. Everything about the thought-leader conference is centered around storytelling, engagement and challenging conventional perceptions. And they combine all of the elements in a way that draws your attention to each so nothing is missed. Even the setting, which provided a breathtaking view of Vancouver’s bay and surrounding mountains, the seaplanes coming and going with the frequency of new ideas being tossed around, served as a moment of respite to clear your mind before heading to the next session.
Here are some of our favorite highlights from Day 4:
The Weirdest Athlete Wins
There’s a reason why Michael Phelps is a better swimmer than you are, and life-long training is only one part of the equation. While 17 American men in history have run a marathon in under 2 hours and 10 minutes, 32 Kalenjin men (a tribe in Kenya) did so last October. Know a man over 7 feet tall? There’s 17% chance he plays in the NBA. David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, gave a fascinating talk in which he challenged our thinking about why athletes have gotten so much better, stronger and faster over the last 100 years — and why we’re still far from reaching our limits (not yet live on the TED site but captured in this blog post).
Who’s In Charge?
Why would a mouse seek out a cat, or a seemingly mad caterpillar protect the offspring of its killer? Science writer Ed Yong took us on a fascinating journey of how parasites engage in a sophisticated level of mind-control over their hosts that causes self destructive and annihilating behaviors designed to propagate the parasite’s existence. He ended by introducing us to toxo, a parasite that lives in a third of the human population. Are we being controlled as well? Read a summary of Yong’s humorous, illuminating and deliciously creepy talk here.
From Blind to Brave
Mellody Hobson, an African American woman and president of Ariel Investments, acknowledged that she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Although she is one of only two publicly traded companies chaired by a black woman, in 2006 she was mistaken for the help at a high powered media luncheon in D.C. that she had helped to orchestrate. Without an open dialogue on race — a topic she compared to the third rail — change will continue to remain elusive. “It’s time,” says Hobson, “for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race. If we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, we need to have real conversations about this issue. We can’t be color blind, we have to be color brave.” Read her story and challenge to the TED community here.
Honey, I Laid Off The Kids
We also had the honor of attending a luncheon featuring Day 5 TED speaker Simon Sinek, leadership expert and author of Start With Why? in conversation with Thomas Goetz. Sinek began the lunch with the provocative question of if we believed we were good parents. He later used the metaphor to discuss how companies can create long-term success by using the family model, something that was the norm until the layoffs of the 80’s, to create an environment of safety and allowing for the failures that are the necessary precursors to real innovation.
And of course we explored the social spaces during the breaks and checked out the different and interesting ways brands chose to show up at TED. From a pop-up eyeglass shop from do-good brand Tom’s to a journey to find your social soulmate courtesy of Delta to a live tweet art install and handwriting analysis from Target (one of us was deemed a Visionary, the other an Individualist), we fueled up on the plethora of healthy snacks and artful cappuccinos, which took us into the closing party where literally everyone was the most interesting person in the room.
Thank you to the TED team for another amazing and thought provoking event. We can’t wait for what comes next!
This past weekend, we had the amazing opportunity to head down to Austin, TX, for SXSW Interactive and after 3 days of session hopping, countless breakfast tacos and a dozen photo booths, we’re back at Grow smarter, inspired and excited to share our thoughts on the smartest activations at the conference.
As marketers who develop unique branded experience for clients, we kept our eyes peeled for the most innovative and interesting event happenings at SXSW – and we weren’t disappointed. Though we tired quickly of countless free t-shirt after free t-shirt, several brands found ways to engage consumers in a new way. We found that those that stood out most used three strategies:
Stealing the Buzz: Taking Advantage of Existing Fads
At SXSW, we saw multiple brands capitalize on a piece of pop culture that’s already cherished by the Internet world and found a way to make it their own. By incorporating a pre-existing “fad” into their event, these smart marketers drew an already engaged audience — guaranteeing crowds huddled around their event.
Mashable’s creation was one of the best examples of this, as it continued its tradition of being one of the most buzzed about brands at SXSWi. With over 579 million views on YouTube and endless parody videos, Mashable capitalized on Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking ball video by replicating the set. As hoards of Miley fans took their own tongue-out photos on the wrecking ball, posts were automatically streamed to a social-media wall showing all snaps with #MashSXSW. Billy Rae would be proud.
Unless you’ve ignored the Internet for 2 years, 3D printing is the hot topic that still amazes us all — and brands took note. OREO tapped into this realm with its “Trending Vending Lounge”, using 3D printing technology to give out cookies with custom cream designs equalling over 4,000 different possible combinations. Deloitte also dabbled 3D printing by scanning guests to receive digital 3D-rendering versions of themselves and creating actual edible candies made by 3D printers — yum!
Making your brand purpose bigger than your product
Sometimes brands forget that it’s not all about them and their products, and we as consumers forget that technology can do so much more than entertain us and fill our phones with apps. There were several brands at SXSW that reminded us that sometimes a product exists for a bigger purpose.
AT&T Digital Life popped up a fully-functional home exhibit to allow consumers to experience the ease and convenience of managing their home security, locks, electricity and water all from the Digital Life app on their phone. Marching to the same beat, Nest introduced their smoke and carbon monoxide alarm with a retrofitted fire truck and lounge to drive home the message to let technology help you stay safe.
The 3M Idea Generator lounge reminded us that 3M doesn’t just create tape and post-it’s. Attendees walked away from the lounge buzzing about 3M’s contributions to the tech and design world including futuristic outerwear prototypes that revolutionizes reflective materials and insulation, amazing chemicals that provide fire protection and cool data centers, and an enhancement film to make LED screens brilliant with color.
Launching big with an immersive experience
To launch a brand new music streaming service Milk Music, Samsung made a SXSW splash in a big way. The beautifully designed Samsung “Galaxy Experience” lounge took over a gorgeous space and featured a juice bar, custom-printed swag bar, taco stands, lounge space, Milk Music demo stations and a photo area that curated photos from your personal phone using WiFi to create a photo montage commemorating your SXSW experience. On top of all of that, buzz flooded the streets about their on-demand battery delivery service to whoever tweeted #PowerOn – ensuring their customers stay charged throughout the festival immersive experience.
Take the time to engage your audience in a thoughtful way. We’re not telling you to recreate Miley Cyrus videos for every event, but the devil’s in the details and you get one chance to make an impression.
How can your brand break through the industry noise to the top? Grow Co-Founder, Cassie Hughes, shares strategies to make your brand stand out from the crowd. Read more on DailyWorth:
Read our latest on Entrepreneur, we share how to create super-charged experiences that result in highly shareable content for press, influencers and social media mavens to amplify the story.
In a society so focused on numbers and data, how can we capitalize on our intuition? Grow Co-Founders share three basic tips to get started, now on MediaPost: