michael-scott-businessAbout a month ago, I started creating my yearly list of potential brands for my Holiday Gift Guide and the New Year.  Being a blogger, a full-time online marketing strategist, and a Mom of teens is hard work and generating a list of this magnitude is overwhelming!  So what did I end up doing?  I stopped.

The other day, I was reading a book about Oprah Winfrey and there was a part that explains how she selects the brands for her ‘Favorite Things’ show.   According to this book, she personally selects every brand that is coveted the honour of making the list for this renowned ‘Favorite Things’ show.  However, there is one stipulation which is that the brand must give the selected product to every member of her audience or they are out!  This got me to thinking….

Even though I am not Oprah Winfrey and nor do I have the following that she has, Oprah is one smart cookie.  It was then that I opened Microsoft Word and started making a My Favourite Things list and focused only on these brands.    My intention was to create a brand specific email explaining why I loved them and why I wanted them showcased on my blog.

I’m a very simple person so knowing what brands I love is easy…until I got to one of them.

Case #1 – Blackberry 

Last year, when I sent out my Holiday Gift Guide presentation I explained my gift guide and included my blogging itinerary for the New Year.  The first note of importance for 2013 was to celebrate the Blackberry 10 launch.   As a business owner, I have never wavered from the Blackberry name in almost 10 years!  People in my circles knew me as the Blackberry lady and I could show them how to do anything on it.   Then came the Playbook and I encouraged all of my associates and clients to use this device, along with Evernote, to make their work and personal life more efficient.

I wrote many articles on the upcoming arrival of the Blackberry 10 and I excitedly waited and waited for that invitation to arrive for the Blackberry 10 party. I even told my sister-in-law in Gaspe to come visit so she could come to the party too.  Unfortunately, that invitation never arrived.

I had a knot in my stomach when I realized that Flo-Rida performed at the event.  It was then where I had my “WTF” or “Ah-ha” moment.   Being a Blackberry advocate and a Pop Culture blogger, why wasn’t I invited?  I was the perfect fit!

Why am I advocating for a brand who doesn’t take me seriously?

I was hurt.  I was dumbfounded.  I was spent.   In the social media world, it is a no-no to out a brand online.   But when I started going to events only to hear “Hey Trina, why weren’t you at the Blackberry Party?”, well I felt that I was publicly outed by the brand.

It was at that time I went and bought a used iPhone 4 and decided to expand my horizons in mobile technology.   Since then, my business has been a mess.  My Blackberry kept me organized whether I was at home or in Toronto.  I don’t know if I’m just dense to technology, but to this day, I don’t find the iPhone a business friendly device.

I love Blackberry because I’m a business person first and a “fun-phone person” second.

Every week, I meet someone who I have engaged with over the past 10 years in person.  When I pull out the iPhone, people are literally shocked that they can’t help but ask why I don’t have a Blackberry anymore.   Many times I’ve heard, “I was sure that you were the spokesperson for them.”  I love Blackberry and that’s all I can say.

When I was approached to test the new Z30 last week, I had trepidation but I decided YES, I want to do this.  You may ask why would I test a device when the brand doesn’t respect that I’ve advocated them for so many years (even before social media)?  Well, realistically it’s not for them.  It’s for the public.  My readership is a very different group of individuals.  It is not only for my blog, but it’s for the hundreds of people I come into contact with over the year.  I love giving my advice on something I believe in.  I love Blackberry and I believe in them too!  Maybe one day they will have the same belief in me as an advocate.

NOTE: I did present my case to Blackberry and I know that they went the opposite direction for a reason just like I went the opposite direction for a time as well.   The relationship did not end but nor did it continue to flourish.  (I’d be all over this going out of business stuff otherwise).  It is what it is and I am fine with that.  I love Blackberry.

Case Study #2 – Sleep Country Canada

As you can tell from the opening of this blog post, I love Oprah Winfrey.  Go into my menu bar and there is a section dedicated to her.  I would spend any amount of money to see her in person because she is such an inspirational person.  Most of my Twitter time is spent chatting on #SuperSoulSunday or #Lifeclass.

When Sleep Country Canada invited some bloggers to the Night With Oprah in Hamilton, Ontario, again, I was a little taken aback.  I was not insulted in the least, but I questioned their research skills when it comes online relations.   I know many of these ladies personally and they are wonderful. This isn’t about them, it’s about Sleep Country.

When Oprah came out on stage, she acknowledged a few her Tweethearts (I was not one of them).   These Tweethearts are her Twitter friends.   People that adore her and advocate on her behalf when she is not online.  I like to think I’m one of her Tweethearts that she hasn’t found yet.    While I was very happy for these ladies who were invited by Sleep Country, I wondered why Sleep Country didn’t do their homework?  For some, meeting Oprah is a blog post, while for Oprah advocates meeting Oprah, on behalf of Sleep Country Canada, is a gift from God where they will be singing the praises of Sleep Country for life.

Should I have been chosen?  I’d like to think so.   But I’d definitely go to the back of the line for Janet, Shelley, Nada, Misty, and Diane.

Will I buy from Sleep Country again?  It’s doubtful because this initiative proved that they are all about the numbers and not about researching and engaging with advocates.

Holiday Gift Guide

I’m a blogger who really has nothing to lose. This is not my income. This is my hobby and I am very good at it.   I have great numbers for the time I invest and with every opportunity I get, I share it with my online AND offline friends.  I am happy where I am and if this posts sets me back, I can at least be respected for my advocacy for fair and honest business practices.

What does it do for a man to gain the world and lose his soul? – Matthew 16:26

Oprah referred to this quote to when viewers and others took offense to her campaign for Obama in 2008.  My soul speaks on what’s right and wrong and then I choose whether it’s important enough to speak about.  This is important to me.

Aside from these two examples, I’ve had some really great brand relationships too.   Some of them include Ford, Volkswagen, Coleman, GoPro, Quebec Tourism, and Sephora.  They are all fantastic because they are great communicators who appreciates my advocacy,while keeping me abreast of their expectations of me.

My Holiday Gift Guide is tailored to brands I love.  I will not request payment or product from any of them but I inform them that I won’t refuse a product exchange for my work and effort on their behalf (a gift) and an opportunity to host a giveaway on their behalf.   Thus far, I’ve heard from three and was lied to by one that they don’t do giveaways or product exchanges.   Why would they do that when I stipulated that it wasn’t a prerequisite in the first place?  It doesn’t make sense but whatever….

Tips for Bloggers

Blogging is a very frustrating but rewarding thing to do.

  • You can choose to be used or run your blog as a business with policies and guidelines that hold you and the brands working with you accountable.
  • It is always a brand’s decision to work with you or not.  You must respect that decision much like an advertising agency does.
  • As much as everyone wants peace and love during the day and conference season, every blogger (who falls into your category) is a competitor.   PR Companies, Ad Agencies, Magazines, and everyday business runs this way.

Tips for Brands

  • Be responsive.  Answer every email that comes your way requesting to work with you. Tell them why because there is always a reason why you choose one blogger/influencer over another.  Honesty hurts, but it is what it is.
  • Ignoring only creates disgruntled advocates that talk online and off.  If you’re too busy to respond, hire someone to do it!
  • Do your research.  There are plenty of individuals with numbers that exceeds social media because they speak, they work, and they have a life off the computer.
  • If you plan on discontinuing a relationship, step up to the plate and tell the blogger or influencer why.
  • Loaners are stupid.   Treat bloggers like any traditional magazine; Promotion for Product.
  • If they are an advocate of your brand, do your research as you will find it……bloggers can’t help but talk about things they love.
  • Try different approaches to online marketing.  Yes, go for the numbers in one campaign, but design another campaign to reach out to new bloggers and influencers to attend events and review smaller product lines.    Everyone’s reach and readership is different.  

Blogging, in the eye’s of a brand, is a new form of promotional advertising where initiatives can range between advertorials, product spotlights, hot products or meaningful interviews with the brand’s representatives. In business, we all agree that we dread sales calls from advertisers.  I think it’s safe to assume that seeing 100 blogger inquiries in their inbox is no different for a big brand.

The most important part to remember, no matter how small, bloggers all have a voice and bad news always travels faster than good.  Keep your brand clean. Be honest, be responsive, and be accountable.

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