David Kirkpatrick

Marketing 101: Don’t forget about the “Holy Smokes!”

April 10th, 2012

When you first started in marketing, your first thought might have been — I’m going to create the next “Got Milk,” “Think Different” or “We Can Do It!”

Of course, after a career of KPIs, lead nurturing and discount deadlines, it’s easy to lose that sense of wonder and forget about the power of creativity, or as Jason Falls calls it … the “Holy Smokes!” factor. At the end of this blog post, I’ll show you how one marketer brought that creativity to a campaign that sought to capture children’s attention through learning in an era when video games and Facebook compete for their attention.

But first, let’s explore the “Holy Smokes!”

Several weeks ago, I attended Explore Dallas Fort Worth, a one-day workshop/boot camp on digital marketing that was a great experience both professionally and personally. I recently had the chance to speak with Jason Falls, CEO, Social Media Explorer, and co-host of the Explore event that will occur in five cities across the United States this year.

Jason told me that sometimes marketers lose track of the essential point of marketing — persuading someone to take an action, an idea that ties into my recent blog post about conversion.

He says, “Even in public relations, sometimes you’re trying to persuade a legislature to go a certain way, sometimes you are trying to persuade the general public to have a certain opinion about your company. It’s not always about making someone buy something.”

To accomplish this, Jason suggests taking the “Holy Smokes!” approach for any activity, from writing a speech, to producing a video, to writing ad copy. He says the idea is anytime you are engaged in marketing, you want your audience to consume the message and think, “’holy smoke,’ this message is: incredible, sad, awesome, beautiful, intelligent, informative or some other declarative response.”

Ideally, they will think, “Holy smokes, I have to share that with my friends,” he explains.


Easier said than done

Jason admits it’s a pretty daunting task to essentially shoot for the fence on every marketing message.

His advice is to remember that there is always going to be an audience member who will have that “holy smoke” reaction.

If you are writing about internal combustion machine parts, not everyone will find the topic very interesting or sexy, but there are some mechanical engineers, mechanics and gear heads who are going to totally love the message.


You don’t have to thrill everybody

“Keep that ultimate audience in mind,” says Jason, “and know that you’re not always going to produce the holy smokes reaction from every single person who reads that communication. You don’t have to thrill everybody; you just have to thrill the people that you are trying to reach.”

Jason’s second piece of advice to help create a powerful marketing message is to keep the human element in the communication, and appeal to people’s emotions and their sense of security. Take the time to think about the element of humanity in your marketing efforts, he says.

“If you incorporate those emotional ties in what you are doing, I think you’ll accomplish that ‘holy smokes’ moment a lot more frequently,” Jason states. “And understand, too, that the ‘holy smokes’ moment can sometimes be very subtle.”


A mini “holy smokes” case study

Jason provided an example of what he means by “holy smokes” content with the Wonderopolis blog connected with the National Center for Family Literacy. He sits on the board for the organization and serves as a strategic advisor on the project.

I had the opportunity to interview Emily Kirkpatrick (note: no relation that I know of), Vice President, National Center for Family Literacy, on this consumer marketing effort.

MarketingSherpa: Tell me a little about how this blog got started?

Emily Kirkpatrick: We wanted and needed to create a game-changer in education and literacy. After visiting with families of all demographics from coast-to-coast, we gained insight informing us that children no longer saw learning as fun.

Parents desperately wanted ways to help their children learn and also retain enthusiasm for learning. They told us this meant moving away from textbooks and toward what interested children’s minds. This led us to the concept of “Wonder” and away from education as we typically think of it.

This change created our own “holy smokes” opportunity: appeal to the Wonder inside of us all, as opposed to education for its own sake.

MS: How often is it updated?

EK: Daily. We offer a Wonder of the Day each and every day, totally free of charge thanks to a grant from the Verizon Foundation.

The fact that we offer daily content is another “holy smokes” component to Wonderopolis. A learning nugget or fun nudge each and every day.

MS: There is a lot of content on the Web, and certainly a lot competing for kids’ attention — from geometric sponges to dancing mice. How do you determine what content will really create that wonder in your target audience?

EK: By asking questions! We listen to our audience — what do they wonder about? What do we wonder about? What are the curious questions or ideas that we’d like to know more about?

MS: How do you go about writing or obtaining this content? Who contributes to the blog?

EK: As often as possible, we hear from children and families directly regarding their interests. From there, NCFL’s team of content specialists brainstorm and move forward on writing. We challenge ourselves to find unique angles to each question and/or topic.

In addition, our audience is invited to create Wonders and we publish them. One of my favorites came from Wills, a thirteen year old from California. He has actually produced two Wonders. User-generated content creates a new level of excitement and participation in Wonderopolis.

MS: What is the marketing difference before this blog launched and after? How did it improve or change your overall marketing strategy and efforts?

EK: Wonderopolis created a game-change in less than six months. Wonderopolis’ audience quickly grew through word-of-mouth, exemplified by growth such as an 81% increase in page views and week-over-week site visit increases totaling 40%.

The difference, as discussed some above, sits in positioning education and literacy with Wonder and something expansive, bold and fresh — a big distance from approaching things with a fixed approach like a set curriculum. In addition, Wonder offers us the opportunity to explore endless disciplines and topics. This allows us to potentially appeal to everyone … the scientist, the food lover, the athlete in us all.

MS: Any final thoughts on the topic, key learnings or takeaways?

EK: It’s not about the content we want to teach. The real opportunity is how to cause children and families to be inspired and engaged in learning through what interests them. Bottom line: the audience and their needs are first.


Related Resources:

Lead Nurturing: 12 questions answered on content, tactics and strategy

Content Marketing and SEO: The world doesn’t need another blog post

Public Relations: 5 tactics for getting your message to the media

Public Relations: Getting corporate data out of subject matter experts heads and into quarterly trend reports increased media coverage 261%

Overall Content Marketing Strategy Leads to 2,000% Lift in Blog Traffic, 40% Boost in Revenue

Silent Conversion Killers: Your peers share elements that are hurting your marketing performance right now

Social Media Marketing: Going viral is so easy it’s hard

David Kirkpatrick

About David Kirkpatrick

David is a reporter for MarketingSherpa and has over twenty years of experience in business journalism, marketing and corporate communications. His published work includes newspaper, magazine and online journalism; website content; full-length ghosted nonfiction; marketing content; and short fiction. He served as producer for the business research horizontal at the original Office.com, regularly reporting on the world of marketing; covered a beat for D/FW TechBiz, a member of the American City Business Journals family; and he provided daily reporting for multiple LocalBusiness.com cities. David’s other media and corporate clients include: USA Today, Oxford Intelligence, GMAC, AOL, Business Development Outlook and C-Level Media, among many others.

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