7 Marketing Best Practices I Picked Up in Amsterdam

Bicycles, canals, Vermeers, cheese… Amsterdam in autumn is well worth the trip. But it’s also a city that reminds you of marketing lessons at every turn. Here are seven of my favorites for you to steal – without the price of airfare.

1. Make It Easy for Multiple Audiences to Participate

By now we’ve all dissected the Ice Bucket Challenge’s runaway success, but a key driver was the initiative’s low barrier to entry. (All you needed was a bucket.) And that’s what always frustrated me about Movember, the month-long celebration of male facial hair growth in support of the fight against prostate and testicular cancer. It’s a wonderful program that half the population – women – could support only as bystanders or through donations. Leave it to the TOMS store in Amsterdam’s trendy 9 Streets shopping district to hop on the nail art bandwagon, making it easy for the fair sex to participate.


Expert tip: Who are your secondary and tertiary audiences? How can you lower their barrier to entry?

2. Visual Content Still Reigns Supreme

There are few works of art more beautiful and nuanced than Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid,” from the 17th century. And yet, arresting visual imagery is everywhere in Amsterdam, reminding you that the old adage is true – a picture is worth a thousand words. Take, for example, these Delftware ceramic tiles, which I saw mounted unassumingly in a canal house, depicting scenes from everyday life.



Since Facebook posts with images get 53 percent more likes, 104 percent more comments, and 84 percent more click-throughs than text-based posts, according to Kissmetrics data cited by Buffer a picture may also be worth a thousand shares. To wit, this photo I took of “Amsterdam at Dawn” was my most-liked Facebook post in the past six months. For more on launching your content marketing strategy, go here.


Expert tip: A picture is still worth a thousand words – where can you tell your brand’s story through images?

3. Embrace New Technology

Amsterdam is known for being open-minded (Red Light District, anyone?), but it was incredible to see just how many venues are already accepting Bitcoin. The Bitcoin 2014 Conference was held in Amsterdam, and a “Bitcoin Boulevard” along the city’s historic canals commemorated the event.


Expert tip: As mobile payments, contactless payments, and RFIDs become mainstream, be on the lookout for smart ways to deploy these new technologies in your marketing campaigns.

4. Invite Customers to Experience Your Creation Process

Rembrandt, unlike fellow Amsterdamer Van Gogh, was successful during his lifetime. Accordingly, he had a huge townhouse in the city center, complete with a studio (pictured below) and a thriving art school on the top floor. Pupils, businesspeople, and customers were constantly shuttling through the space, witnessing Rembrandt’s creative process in action – and adding to the hype that surrounded him.

Today, we have the IPG Media Lab, the Google Creative Sandbox, and East London’s Makers Café, where you can sip a latte while you watch your 3-D printing project come to life. In this age of authenticity, showing customers how your products are created can deepen their connection to your brand.


Expert tip: How can you share your creative process with customers? Is there a space to visit? A group of technologists to meet with? Or is there a behind-the-scenes video of cutting-room-floor footage waiting to be shared?

5. Don’t Bury the Lede

We marketers love words. But sometimes we seek out clever, witty, and cute at the expense of straight talk. Ultimately, good marketing must explain what your product actually does! This “coffeeshop” reminded me to keep it simple, and don’t bury the lede.


Expert tip: Cut the jargon. Get to the point.

6. Partner to Win

We all know that distribution partnerships can be the most effective way to scale your message and grow your audience. This fall, Uber and WeTransfer partnered with Museumnacht, a one-night-only event during which museums citywide host parties late into the night, to reach the young and culturally minded.

By appearing within the app, the companies ensured they reached a tech-savvy audience – and one that had a smartphone handy to download their apps! And by connecting with consumers on a night when they’ll likely need a ride from one museum to another, Uber ensured contextual relevance. While Uber has typically executed event partnerships with custom discount codes, here it’s a straight awareness play. After all, reaching the right audience in the right context will generate leads on its own – with or without a coupon.


Expert tip: Which brands share your target audience? How can you team up to reach them together? Are there assets you can share or barter in exchange for exposure?

7. The Best Ideas Are Universal

Recently, I laid out a roadmap to global launches, complete with best practices and pitfalls to avoid. But who doesn’t love this “Share a Coke” campaign? It’s simple, and it works. Everywhere.


Expert tip: Simple concepts can have legs, too. Look for opportunities to create universal frameworks that still enable personalization.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.