Dead Dinosaurs Are Amusing

Earlier this month I posted a short case study about how the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was changing its standard State Park product with newer activities and amenities up at the new Lake Vermillion property under construction.

Just last week the Star Tribune carried another great example of a brand that is changing up its offering in order to better attract and retain customers.

This time around, it’s an amusement park instead of a State Park. But what Valleyfair is doing with plans to introduce a dinosaur exhibit in Shakopee is no different, at its core, than what the DNR is doing up north.



Change Your Product, Grow Your Base


The vision for the Parks & Trails Division of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources “is to create unforgettable park, trail, and water recreation experiences that inspire people to pass along the love for the outdoors to the next generation.”

My anecdotal thoughts on this vision, taken only from my own [admittedly too brief] visits to Minnesota’s state parks is that the Division is doing well with the youngest families and also with the RVing set. Not, perhaps, as well among couples or families with older kids. Spend some time in a county or regional park in Minnesota–in a way these represent some of the DNR’s competition–and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Especially when you consider the county and regional parks with brand new facilities and amenities, the state’s parks have some catching up to do.

Minnesota’s state parks are, basically, rustic ancestors for these more modern, playground-friendly and sanitized iterations. (Caveat: Catherine and I were married at Gale Woods Farm, a strong educational anchor to the counties’ Three Rivers Park District. We’ve been back countless times since our wedding because it’s an awesome park in another awesome park system. And yes, the unique “product” offerings at Gale Woods–hello, it’s a farm–certainly help.)

And that’s kind of the problem for the DNR: 75 state parks and recreation areas within a state filled with countless other options for those who are inclined to spend time outside. (We haven’t even talked about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the rest of the Superior National Forest or Voyageurs National Park!)

The DNR is working hard to counter the problem. Exhibit A: recent news about the development of a new state park being added to the DNR’s parks system: Lake Vermillion State Park. A DNR press release about the state’s newest park contained most of what I heard on the radio, plus a bit of history about the legislative proceedings that made it all possible in the last decade. Those aforementioned county and regional parks are about to get a run for their money:

  • It’s Minnesota’s first new state park in 30 years. That’s what we call a news hook in and of itself, on a few different levels.
  • It’s located in Ely’s backyard. There will no doubt be a halo effect attracting those already in and around Ely for recreation.
  • It’s being built with the very kinds of amenities adventure-seekers, well, seek. From children’s tree houses and an “adventure trail” with a ropes course to nearby Soudan Underground Mine State Park–this park is going to keep visitors engaged.

A classic example of how to win by changing your product. I can’t wait to add this park to the Mandle Family list of must-see must-do activities next summer!

(This post has been in draft mode for a while. This more recent Star Tribune article about Lake Vermillion State Park went even further with explanations about the adventure-based mindset driving this new park’s development. It also reminded me to finish this post up and push it live.)

Brands On Facebook

Half of the family was able to enjoy some bona fide deep dish pizza last weekend in Chicago while the rest of us made do with Domino’s. I’m sure the ChiTown ‘za was better than Domino’s. And, if you read this post you might be interested to know The Hut was better than Domino’s too.

In any event, we decided to try some local deep dish all together this weekend and ended up in a booth at Green Mill. What with the garlic bread appetizers and the really deep deep dish pie they served up–and the two squirrely children we brought with us–we ended up bringing a lot of food home.

It’s the box they gave us that serves as the inspiration for this post. Have a look at how they serve up the benefits of following them on Facebook: “…deals, exclusive offers and fun…”

Looks like someone in Green Mill’s marketing department–or at their agency–has been paying attention to social media 101 with an eye to their consumers.

All too often marketers–client- or agency-side–cue up Facebook marketing as a way to engage audiences. That makes sense if you have an audience that wants you to engage with it. But if you happen to be one of the approximately nine brands that the average fan has decided to “like” on Facebook, then engagement shouldn’t be leading with warm and fuzzy fun or discourse.

Your audience is following you because it wants something specific from you:

  • 40% of people follow brands for discounts and promotions
  • 36% of people do so for freebies

The fuzzier marketers will be promptly unfriended by the above thirty-six to forty percent because only 29% seek fun and entertainment. A much smaller population (13%) want to interact, whatever that means.

So to Green Mill I say: Congratulations on getting it right on Facebook.

Also: Thank you for the awesome family pizza night!

Stats according to Subscribers, Fans & Followers, published last year by ExactTarget and CoTweet.

Clementines & Trojans. Facebook & Tylenol

Every so often branding magic happens. It’s when two different brands realize they both could benefit from a mutual partnership. Like the clown fish and coral. Or algae and lichen. Or Clementines and Trojans.

Here’s another. Facebook announced this week that they were going to be making yet another tweak to their user experience: how Facebook users flag that they support a fan page on their network. No more “fanning” of pages. Now users will simply click “like”.

It’s a simple enough concept. I think it’s a step closer to Facebook’s goal of letting users “like” content on the Internet in general–taking over from bookmarking services like Digg or de.lici.ous, essentially.

Simple or not, users are going to get pissed. And there will be an uproar. “Bring back the old Fan Page” fan pages are sure to be launched.

Enter: Tylenol. For when you have a headache that just won’t go away.

Marketing Journalism

I’ve posted about USA Today before, so I don’t need to come out again and say I don’t think it’s the highest quality newspaper we have in the U.S. (But I will anyway.)

And just so we’re clear: I’m not a USA Today hater. Their iPhone app still rocks for how easy it makes news and story sharing.

But I just have to say something about their latest marketing effort. As summarized in the trade publication Editor and Publisher last week, the newspaper is pitching itself to readers as being about “what America wants.”

The intent is to refer to the paper’s broad distribution. See for instance how Starbucks decided to bring it back into it’s cafes due to demand .

But the new creative leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Sensationalist “news” rags should give America what it wants. Sports journalism should give America what it wants. Entertainment journalism: ditto.

But “news” papers owe it to their readers to research. Interview. And report. Regardless of whether or not the outcome is something we wanted to hear.

In the latter instance, perhaps it’s up to us to do something about it.