Clump & Seal Litter Gets Two Thumbs Up!

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I am a proud mama of two kitties whom I love to death. (No seriously, I always try to ElmyraHuggingBuster&Babshug them and they just want to run away. My husband calls me Elmyra from Tiny Toons…)But one thing I do not love is the litter box they cats need in our relatively small apartment (at least small compared to a house), and litter box changing is my chore. A few months ago we got a covered litter box and that helps a little bit with the smell and the dust, but it’s still so dusty inside the box. We had been using Arm & Hammer Double Duty and it kept the smell at an acceptable level even if it is a bit dusty.

After receiving a coupon for a free box of Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal litter, I don’t want to ever use the Double Duty kind again! Clump & Seal is awesome. It’s so much less dust and less mess. It smells better for longer and the cats don’t seem to shoot it out of the box quite as much (don’t get me wrong, they do a little bit. But it’s much better with this litter).

For me, the only drawback of this litter is that they don’t (yet) carry it at my local grocery story, Wegmans, which is where I buy my litter 99 percent of the time. As soon as they start carrying it there, I will give it five full stars! I was able to find it at Petco and Target, both of which are just a short drive away. It seems a shame to make a drive just for kitty litter, but it really is a lot better than our old litter!

I know tons of cat lovers out there who are probably sick of the dusty litter, too. If you are, check out the NEW ARM & HAMMER (TM) CLUMP & SEAL (TM) Cat Litter. (Click the link for a coupon!)

Try it and tell me if you like it, or share what your litter of choice is. And don’t forget to tell you about your furbabies, too! Here are my kitties, Gabby (looking up) and Bonnie (the hipster, looking cool by looking away from the camera). ImageFull disclosure: I received this box of litter for free as part of a mission with Smiley360.com. You can join Smiley360.com, too, and have a chance to receive missions with free samples to try!

A healthy dinner is just a zip away

Lately I have been trying to eat healthier and one way to do this is by steaming more veggies (rather than pan frying them on the stove all the time). I have also thought about steaming meat or seafood but did not know how to go about this.

This picture is blurry because I couldn't wait to go eat this fish I made with Old Bay in a Ziploc Zip'n Steam bag!

This picture is blurry because I couldn’t wait to go eat this fish I made with Old Bay in a Ziploc Zip’n Steam bag!

When I was shopping for Ziploc baggies today and saw the Ziploc Zip’n Steam bags, I had to try them. On the bag, it shares that they are great for cooking seafood, and I happened to have an uncooked tilapia filet at home for dinner, so I thought I would give it a shot.

I can’t lie, I was nervous to cook food in my microwave. Don’t get me wrong. I love using the microwave. But I am very picky when it comes to fish. I don’t like fishy fish. It is especially odd since half of my family lives near the Virginia coast and lives off seafood, but I am not a fan of eating something I can taste came straight from the ocean.

Fish is pretty easy to cook anyway, but these bags just made it even easier, and the fish was so good! Moist, flaky, perfectly cooked. I can’t wait to try chicken in the bag.

Here is how I made the fish:

  1. Remove fish from packaging (I used tilapia from Wegmans). Rinse and then dry with a paper towel.
  2. Put a little garlic powder and a teaspoon or so of Old Bay seasoning (best stuff ever for seafood) and rub it all over one side of the fish. Flip and repeat.
  3. Put the fish in the bag and seal tight, making sure any air is out.
  4. Stick in the microwave. I cooked my filet (about 6 ounces) for about 4 minutes and 30 seconds and at the same time, also cooked a small baked potato at the same time. While the fish is cooking, the bag will expand. This is normal.
  5. Take a look to see if it’s done. I am always nervous that my fish won’t be done and prefer it overcooked rather than undercooked, so I ran mine for another 30 seconds just to be sure. By then it was so flaky it was falling apart.

Voila! I did still eat this with my signature “tartar” sauce (ketchup and mayo – it’s definitely a childhood comfort food for me but hey, it’s only about 60 calories). For sides, I put a tablespoon of sour cream on my potato and I also had some fresh baby spinach (with a splash of apple cider vinegar, another child comfort food as I would only eat green veggies like spinach with vinegar as a kid) that I had steamed on the stove.

All together, this meal was about 350 calories and took me less than 10 minutes to cook with very little clean up. Just throw away the plastic steam bag!

Has anyone else had any luck with using the Ziploc Zip’n Steam bags or any other steaming relate products?

Apps like Snapchat illustrate change in communication for youth

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When I first started college back in 2006, one of the most exciting aspects for me was getting my own college .edu email address. Having that meant I could join older friends on Facebook, and I could not wait to be able to have a Facebook account.

Things have changed quite a bit in the last seven years since then. Now it’s not college students who are excited to join Facebook, it’s middle schoolers and those under 13. And Facebook is beginning to lose even that age group.

Because of this, it makes perfect sense for Facebook to begin buying mobile app services like Instagram. Most recently, Facebook attempted to purchase Snapchat for $3 million but did not succeed as Snapchat explores other offers it has received. On the flip side, it also makes sense for Snapchat to refuse the offer, seeking ways to stay as “hip” as possible with youngins. Who would have thought Facebook would ever be considered a social network for “old” people?

Apps like Snapchat show a significant change in the way our youth are communicating. They have learned that parents, family and other adults are on social networks like Facebook, leaving little room for a “private” conversation with a friend. For marketers, this is an interesting trend to consider. If a person leans more toward messaging apps like this and less toward social networks like Facebook, this could mean a shift for marketers is on the horizon. This also continues to prove the idea that today’s consumers are much more interested in short communications (think 6 second Vine vids) and have less interest in the more complicated, lengthy communications. 

Personally, I have started using Snapchat to communicate with a few very close friends from college. We send each other goofy pictures but no truly meaningful conversation takes place there, at least for us. However, the future may show us more implications and uses for this app than we could have imagined. 

Do you use Snapchat? If so, in what ways? What uses could Snapchat have for marketers?

Authenticity matters in TV show sponsorships

Product placement and sponsorships definitely have their value in marketing, but there is a certain point at which the mentions become, well, annoying.

Unfortunately, it looks like tonight’s episode of Master Chef is a prime example. I have been watching this show with my husband since the second season and am by no means a food expert. However, I enjoy watching the show to learn a little more about cooking and to see what “average” people can do with food. It’s inspiring!

Or at least it was, until Walmart all but took over the show.

Sponsorships can be very useful from a marketing standpoint. They help people learn about a product or company, and they help a company spread its message. However, there is a tasteful way to do this, and having the “contestants” of a “reality TV show” say such obviously scripted lines is not the way. It feels fake and it is frustrating to watch as a viewer (although it does provide a good talking point among fans on Twitter). Maybe this might be just what Walmart wanted. Perhaps they were thinking of this old adage when making their decision: Any “press” (in this case, social media press) is good “press”. 

I disagree. I shop at Walmart from time to time, and I doubt I will cease shopping there all together any time soon. However, sponsorships like this, that repeatedly and relentlessly try to “trick” me into thinking these nearly professional amateur chefs — and the master chefs themselves — actually say the things they say in real life is just absurd.

Master Chef and Walmart, I am not stupid. I know what real people sound like and what real recommendations sound like. A marketing tactic like sponsorship or product placement should not come off so obviously as a paid ad. In an age of speedy discussion and social networking discussion, being authentic has never been more important!

Do you have any other examples of absurd product placements in a TV show or movie? If you’re a marketer, how do you keep product placements/mentions or sponsorships “real”?

Technology increasingly impacts the classroom

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Education has always been important to me; it is essentially what has allowed me to be where I am today. Throughout my own educational career, technology has changed almost every aspect of our lives, including the way we learn.

I remember the first time I heard about the “World Wide Web” back in elementary school. I think I was in third grade. I can’t remember the rest of the sentence she said, but I very distinctly remember my computer teacher saying “World Wide Web.” It sounded so funny to me, and I didn’t like it because I didn’t like spiders. I couldn’t comprehend what this meant. Was there a web out there somewhere? Little did I know this short phrase would change our lives so dramatically! But I digress.

Today at all educational levels, technology makes it easier to explain and take in new information. Rather than list facts myself, here is a wonderful graphic that cites some of the statistics surrounding technology and education.

If you’re a teacher, how do you use technology in the classroom? If you’re a student, how does your teacher use it? Or how do you wish your teacher used it?

 What do we Know Infographic

 

Infographic courtesy of http://www.onlineuniversities.com

2013 Super Bowl Ad Recap

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Every year around this time, the world is graced with thousands (or more) articles written about Super Bowl advertising. At millions of dollars for just 30 seconds, I suppose the ads are worth discussion!

It is easy to get caught up in what ads made you laugh or made you emotional (#Clydesdales, anyone?). However, the point of the ads is not just to make you laugh; it is to build awareness and make you feel more connected with the brand or an individual product. Based on this concept, the following are my favorites and my least favorites.

Favorite: Best Buy

Amy Poehler is a hoot, and she naturally makes things more entertaining. But the best part about this commercial was that the concept related to the brand (unlike some brands that just have some random funny thing). Best Buy wants to be the technology expert — your technology expert. The employees are there to answer your questions, no matter how many (and how ridiculous) they might seem. They expressed that here, and got a couple laughs, too.

Favorite: Doritos

My favorite Doritos commercial was the one with the daughter who convinced her dad to play dress up with her by bribing him with Doritos. Besides just being an entertaining concept, I love that the Doritos commercials are crowdsourced. It gets the audience involved and allows for everyone to participate in the brand.

Favorite: Coca-Cola

The Coca-Cola brand is all about enjoying the good things, life’s pleasures. This commercial captured that perfectly; it helped us believe the world is a good place by videotaping (via security cameras) strangers performing acts of kindness for no other reason than to be kind. Among all of the sleazy, arrogant ads out there, this ad was refreshingly different.

Least Favorite: Budweiser Black

I get the idea. This is a better, higher class beer and they tried to illustrate that with a seemingly upper class party, filled with dark glam. However, I have a problem not only with the product, but with the placement. I don’t think the Super Bowl is really the ideal audience for this beer product, let alone this type of commercial. That being said, if all Budweiser hoped to do is build awareness (versus build appreciation or like for something), I think this accomplished the goal. It certainly informed millions of the new product – although I doubt they are running out to buy it any time soon.

Least Favorite: GoDaddy

This was an easy one. I don’t think anyone liked it; it was unpleasant to watch. Additionally, a colleague pointed out on Twitter that it was downright offensive to the target mark, which is primarly the tech “geek”. Just because someone is smart or an IT person does not mean they are unattractive. The idea of GoDaddy’s other commercial also seemed out of touch. I get it that they were trying to convince people to reserve their URL names before others have the same idea, but it seemed mean spirited to me.

GoDaddy didn’t necessarily fail because of the awkwardness of the kiss; it failed because it portrayed its brand as haughty and simply out for attention, two less-than-desirable characteristics these days. I’d much prefer the humorous or the heart wrenching. That being said, if their goal was to get people to talk about them, they succeeded; that commercial received one of the strongest responses of the night!

Bonus Prize: OreoSource: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/02/oreo-twitter-super-bowl/

I did not get their actual commercial (maybe it was me?) but they hit the ball home with their highly discussed social media piece regarding the game’s power outage. The piece not only demonstrated creativity and wit, but it also showed they were ready and prepared. We all should take notes and learn from Oreo’s success: Always be ready to take advantage of the unexpected!

You can watch all the commercials here. Then tell me: Which commercials did you love? Which did you hate? And why?

Book Takeaways: The Referral Engine

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For service-based businesses, word-of-mouth referrals are perhaps the most important aspect of marketing. But how does a business go about acquiring more word-of-mouth referrals? After reading The Referral Engine by John Jantsch, I have a better understanding of why we refer. The book also offers numerous strategies and tactics for making a business more referral driven, and I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in marketing, especially marketing for small or medium sized businesses.referralenginebook

For me personally, two main concepts of the book stand out in my mind. The first is the idea that we all as human beings have a natural need to refer friends and family to businesses we like. Therefore, gaining more referrals is more about making yourself more likable and less about gimmicks and “traditional” marketing tactics.

On the flip side of that argument, monetizing referrals can actually do more harm than good, as it takes that natural desire to refer and attempts to turn it in to something people do only to get money or something additional. Businesses that provide unexpected thanks after a referral has been made will likely be more successful because that model follows more closely with human nature.

The second biggest takeaway I got from the book was the idea of just asking for a referral as well as the best time to ask. If someone tells you they are extremely satisfied with the service they just received, why not take that as an opportunity to ask them to tell their friends? Rather than hoping they think of someone later on, have cards available where clients can write someone’s name down then and there, before the chaos of life gets in the way.

The book offers numerous ideas like these that can be applied to many industries. I would again highly suggest anyone who performs marketing duties for a small or medium business to check it out. In addition, the author has a wonderful accompanying website at referralenginebook.com.

If you’ve read the book, what did you think? What ideas have you put in place to help your marketing efforts?

My Opinions on “The 36 Rules of Social Media” (Two Months Later…)

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This post has been a long time coming. Back in November, I came across this intriguing graphic from PRDaily: The 36 Rules of Social Media. If you haven’t seen it, take a look. While the graphic is a couple months old now, it is worth considering the points it makes. Here are five I thought deserved further discussion. (Although I would love to chat about any of them!)

#2. Stop and ask: Would an actual person talk that way?

For my own work, this is a big one. It is especially difficult because, as an organization, you need to be your brand while also speaking the way an actual person speaks; you must get rid of the “marketing speak” as one of my professors used to say often. The content I work with at my job is often centered around health topics, which can get very confusing very quickly. It is always important to put yourself in the place of your audience!

#3 Everyone says they don’t want to be marketed to. Really, they just don’t want to be talked down to.

This is a big one, not only for social media, but for marketing in general. It is the cornerstone of what modern, strategic marketing is about: Blindly blanketing everyone you can with your message is not likely to get you too far. Drilling down your services and offering them up to people who need them now or will soon in the future is likely to offer more success.

#11 Solve problems for people who talk about you, even if they don’t address you.

I agree with this one, although it often makes me feel like I am “creeping on people. For example, I currently use HootSuite to monitor Twitter mentions of a few important keywords in my geographic area. This means any time someone located within 15 miles of my business’s particular city, their tweet comes up in my feed, and I can view it there. This not only helps me to see when something related to my company’s industry occurs in the local area, but it also helps me to reach out to people who mention my company or have a need. I try not to be too obtrusive for fear of, as I mentioned, “creeping” people out. But because of this feed, I have offered sympathies, compliments or additional advice for a problem. Often there recipient does not respond, but occasionally the person reaches back with a thank you. Finding and engaging in two-way conversation is what social media is all about, and doing that openly is easy with Twitter, which I feel is often considered much less private than Facebook.

#25 The only way to scale word of mouth: Paid advertising.

For the most part, I agree with this statement. Paid advertising can boost engagement and awareness significantly. However, I don’t think it is the ONLY way. I think sometimes there are stories, businesses, people, etc., that are so amazing or so outrageous that they grow by themselves. They grow because of what they are. However, this growth is not the norm and there is no shame in receiving a push. If you aren’t able to get that crowd organically, paid advertising is a technique.

#33 Fans own your brand.

This is another fact that, in my opinion, goes much farther than social media. Branding 101 says that your brand is not defined simply by taglines and logos, although they help to build it. A brand is contained in the minds of those of a community. It’s what an employee thinks in the morning before entering work, and how he or she treats the client that greets him first thing. While we all say that companies own brands and a brand belongs to a company, a brand is actually something that is developed in the minds of the people it affects through the experiences or knowledge they have.

Do you agree with these rules of social media? Do you have something you would add to the list?

Mainstream media not as negative as The People

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As Americans approach the polls in less than 24 hours, many are just thankful that the circus will be over. In this election and others, many have complained about negative advertisements and media coverage. However, a recent Pew Internet study shows that individual Americans may be just as much to blame as the media. That’s because now that we, the people, have the power via social media to say anything and everything we want, we are being just as negative – or rather, more negative – than the media and candidates themselves.

Throughout this election cycle, I have heard numerous Facebook and Twitter friends complain about how annoying it is to see friends talking about politics via social networks. At first, my thought was that we should be proud and glad that we can speak our opinions regarding politics, whether in person, in print or online. In some places, speaking ill of leaders, whether in person or digitally, could result in harsh punishment. However, after doing some thinking and after seeing this study, I realized people are probably most frustrated with the negativity that is on our social networks rather than the actual political discussion. But we can’t shut off all discussion just because others want to ruin it. Instead, we need to look at ourselves, at the reasons why we use social networking sites and the people we are looking to reach through them.

For myself, I use social networking sites to communicate with friends, family, acquaintances and others. It is fun and laid-back, but that does not mean it should be rude, offensive or hurtful toward others. I am looking for honest, intelligent, and sometimes entertaining information and updates, and people looking for the same things are going to reach me.

It’s too late to change the discourse of the 2012 political campaign season. But perhaps for the next election, we can all be a little more civil online. We can have informed discussions  on politics — both online and in person — without being negative or hateful. We can agree to disagree, and we can agree that hatefulness is not the answer.

And we can realize that if we can’t be civil with our friends and acquaintances on social networking sites, how can we expect the media and the candidates to be civil during a campaign? It’s on us to do better next time.

With that being said, it’s time to go vote! No matter who you choose, it’s important to participate. We owe it to those who came before us and to those who do not have the same privilege we are able to enjoy.

Happy Election Day!

KONG, iPet Companion bring new technology to shelter pets

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One of the neatest parts of my job is being able to keep up on the pet industry, which can obviously be fun at times. But who knew keeping up on the pet industry could also help me learn a bit about some new technology as well? That happened when I came across an article about an online app that allows you to virtually “play” with shelter cats.

Basically, a toy is set up in the shelter and is somehow connected to the buttons on the website. When a user (such as myself) goes to that page, I can see the cats in the play area sleeping, eating or doing whatever. I can choose to press and hold one of three buttons by clicking my mouse, and each button makes a different toy spin, swirl or shake. Sometimes, the cats are too busy napping or keeping to themselves. But a few times, the moving of the toy piques a cat’s curiosity, and he or she comes to check out the commotion.

Besides being entertaining for the human user from afar, this technology has done great things for the six shelters involved in the “testing” phase, according to ipetcompanion.com. For example, iPet Companion’s website says:

After just a few weeks of installing iPet Companion, Oregon Humane Society saw the following response:

  • 18% increase in kitten adoptions
  • 295% increase in sponsorships
  • 52% sustained increase in overall web traffic

That is wonderful! While I believe it is still in the beginning phases, it is great to know that people from potentially all over the world can help shelters and the cats in them just by taking two minutes from their day to click a few buttons. I can only imagine how busy shelter volunteers are, and so genuine play time for each cat must be tough to come by. But having the general public be able to virtually play is genius, because all parties receive satisfaction.

This has huge implications for many in the pet industry, besides just in life. We often (unfortunately) have to leave me cat home alone for a night or so and I always feel bad doing it. She must get so lonely! While it is not the same thing as the physical presence of being there, using a tool like this would at least at allow my fiance and I to interact with our cat while we’re gone. We’d get to “socialize” with her momentarily while also helping her get a bit more exercise.

I encourage you to try out the app and share your thoughts. Who can think of any other ways this type of technology could be used?

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