Top 25 Social Media Books from an Academic Perspective: #24 Influence Marketing

Continuing our countdown on the top 25 books that could qualify for classroom reading, number 24 is Influence Marketing by Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella.

Influence Marketing ranks as top social media book

Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella as authors of top social media book

Do a search on influence marketing, and you will likely stumble upon these two pioneers What makes their book especially appealing to academia is its modelling of influence paths that shape our customer’s buying decisions.  This fits well with sales funnel concepts discussed in marketing and lead management.

And rather than romancing high Klout scoring individuals that could amplify our messages, the authors help us dissect the situational factors surrounding a customer’s affinity for our brands. This centers the influence exercise more around the customer than the influencer.

The book, in my opinion, qualifies academically as a recommended reading for an MBA level program. Its appeal is limited to influence marketing topics in social media for which it has the following advantages:

  1. The author’s provide numerous cases and stories related to the mapping and modelling of influence down to micro-influencers.
  2. The modelling takes a bottom-line view of influence that transcends the more popular approaches to merely counting followers and likes or measuring Klout.
  3. High academic rigor is applied to understanding the customer’s influence path with their Customer-Centric Influence Marketing and the Customer Life Cycle Continuum.
  4. Their 4 M’s of influence marketing offer a structured approach to deploying influence strategies.

What keeps the book, however, from qualifying as a primary text for MBA social media courses is the following.

  1. The topic, itself, covers less than 20% of a typical curriculum that covers content marketing and social media.
  2. Following a great MV-1 Canada story of how the influence modelling process works, the rest of the book takes a more technically descriptive approach to sharing insights. This dispels some of the early energy gained from a fascinating example at the onset.

Overall Evaluation of Social Media Book

Category: Recommended reading for MBA-level course in social media marketing.

Social media book evaluation

Evaluation of Influence Marketing as top social media book

So what is your take on this book being qualified for higher education? Please share your own criteria or what disagreements you have with this book’s academic influence.

Top 25 Social Media Books from an Academic Perspective: #25 New Relationship Marketing

Beginning our countdown on the top 25 books that could qualify for classroom reading, number 25 is The New Relationship Marketing by Mari Smith. 

The ever ebullient Mari Smith is often nicknamed the Queen of Facebook Marketing. Her webinars are entertaining and she attracts millions of fans. As would be expected, her book is packed with fascinating stories. 

The New Relationship Marketing ranks as top social media book

Mari Smith as author of top social media book

But the book, in my opinion, narrowly qualifies for academic purposes. Its appeal is limited to an undergraduate class in social media for which it has the following advantages:

  1. Mari’s popularity and upbeat personality is bound to strike a chord with some students.
  2. The book portrays well the relationship aspects of social media along with some best practice tactics to be considered by beginners in this field.
  3. Her anecdotal style lends well to content recall.
  4. Her references to Hollywood Squares as an influence building technique is highly useful in influence marketing exercises.

But what creates much of her higher popularity among newcomers to social media actually hurts her book’s acceptance in the classroom for the following reasons:

  1. The title itself has to sting the many relationship marketing scholars who credit the field of relationship marketing with well studied constructs and frameworks backed by years of empirical research.  To stake a claim on “new relationship marketing,” I believe the author should discuss what part of relationship marketing changed because of social media.
  2. The tactical checklist orientation of the book does not bode well with theory-based approaches to learning.
  3. The numerous references to people in high places throughout the book may leave students wondering if its out of their league.

Overall Evaluation of Social Media Book

Category: Recommended supplementary reading for undergraduate level course in social media marketing

Social media book evaluation

Evaluation of The New Relationship Marketing as top social media book

So what is your take on this book being qualified for higher education? Please share your own criteria or what disagreements you have with this book’s academic influence.

Top 25 Social Marketing Books from an Academic Perspective

Have you ever wondered what books on social media and content marketing make it to the classroom? Of the literally hundreds of social media marketing books released over the past few years, not many qualify for the standards imposed by undergraduate and MBA level accreditation guidelines. But after reviewing those that do meet the standards, the following rank ordering of qualified books was derived from a detailed analysis explained further.

Rank ordering of social media books

Rank ordered list of top social media books for MBAs

In order to understand how authors can meet these standards, consider some of the courseware and curriculum standards followed when selecting primary texts, recommended readings or specialty topics. 

social content marketing books

Meet Curriculum Standards

As a full-time professor of Social Media and Content Marketing courses, I have used over a dozen books across 2 MBA and 3 undergraduate courses since 2010. Few have had the staying power of traditional marketing books, however, in large part because of their quickly outdated concepts or misalignment with broader course objectives.

Without a doubt, this field has been dominated by practitioners anxious to define their versions of inbound marketing, the age of context, Youtulity and a whole host of other alternatives to traditional marketing jargon. As a result, these high energy and often insightful books can serve as a breath of fresh air to the dry nature of textbooks.

In fact, some of the elite MBA programs published lengthy lists of recommended readings by leading practitioners in their syllabus. Like them, I reached the same conclusion that academically oriented books on the subject were either too narrow, too out of touch or simply too boring to suit the interests of today’s millennials.

But after teaching nearly 800 students over the course of thirty classes, I stopped using these books as recommended readings. Rigorous AACSB standards and other performance criteria present too much of a challenge for adopting these books in class. Consider the following shortcomings of a typical “client oriented” book on either content marketing or social media marketing:

Insufficient Strategy Foundation

Especially important for MBA social media marketing courses, few books provide enough critical thinking exercises and conceptual understanding to educate our students on the holistic value of inbound marketing. Most address their points as a checklist of tactics often spun around a catchy title or theme that boosts the author’s exposure with the search engines.  

At the other extreme, social media evangelists get too abstract in their visions of future social business and people behaviors. Although this may serve well to address the advanced strategies of big brands, most MBA’s are seeking foundational knowledge on subjects like audience development, content marketing, SoLoMo context experiences, influence marketing, etc. 

Lack of Case Study and Class Exercise Rigor

What makes many practitioner books so attractive is their testimonies with marque clients. But beyond just a few classic examples we all know (e.g., Marcus Sheridan’s Riverside Pools),  few success stories pass the rigorous standards of  what  enables a critical thinking case study.  The same applies to exercises that lend themselves to performance driven testing and chapter reviews.

Lack of Content Scope

This is perhaps the biggest challenge of adopting books to curriculum requirements. At best, we professors settle for 3 books to cover the necessary program scope. This tends to annoy students with the high price, numerous text overlaps and skipped chapters. 

Evaluating the Top 25 Social Media and Content Marketing Books

To help practitioners reach the classroom, I am sharing the following academic perspective on what books should qualify as a recommended reading or primary text. This evaluation is based on course objectives, courseware adaptation, student excitement, concept credibility, currency and scope.

Social media book analysis

Summary Evaluation of Top Social Media Books for Academia

The evaluation is just one professor’s opinion of what suits the classroom. But I base this judgment on my qualifications as a relationship marketing educator with a doctorate in the field and full-time faculty responsibility for developing and teaching social media marketing courses at NSU’s H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business. 

For detailed reviews of the top 25 books approved for academia, check out these posts. 

#1 Audience by Jeffrey Rohrs

#2 Social Marketology by Ric Dragon

#3 Your Brand: The Next Media Co. by Michael Brito

#4 Optimize by Lee Odden

#5 The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David M. Scott

#6 Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi

#7 How to Measure Social Media by Nichole Kelly

#8 Maximizing Your Social by Neal Schaffer

#9 Youtility by Jay Baer

#10 The Impact Equation by Brogan and Smith

#11 Global Content Marketing by Pam Didner

#12 eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale by Ardath Albee

#13 Content Rules by Handley & Chapman

#14 Inbound Marketing 2nd Ed. by Halligan and Shah

#15 Visual Storytelling by Walter and Gioglio

#16 Go Mobile by Hopkins and Turner

#17 Age of Context by Scoble and Israel

#18 Think Like a Rock Star by Mack Collier

#19 Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

#20 Social Marketing to the Business Customer by Gillen and Schwartzman

#21 The B2B Social Media Book by Bodnar and Cohen 

#22 Launch by Michael Stelzner

#23 Mobile Influence by Chuck Martin

#24 Influence Marketing by Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella

#25 New Relationship Marketing by Mari Smith

So what is your take on this selection criteria? Please share your own criteria or what disagreements you have with the ranking of books qualifying academically.



7 Ethical Dilemmas Faced in Content Marketing

With the rise of content marketing, brand marketers and advertisers have found a gold mine of opportunities for reaching and engaging their audiences. What’s more, consumers enjoy the power to invite their potential suitors.

But with this newly discovered consumer freedom to select what they read and who they befriend comes some new ethical challenges. No longer is the information vetted through high journalistic standards. Internet users now have to adopt their own filters for information. In addition, temptations still exist for advertisers to fake their endorsements and literally purchase favorable commentary.

Social Media Ethics

A growing list of ethical dilemmas continues with violations of misrepresentation, privacy, cyber bullying and general “creepiness.” With the arrival of broad reaching and relatively unrestricted social channel communications comes the price of consumer vulnerable to new scams and deception. This is why ethics in social media is now receiving a great deal of attention. At the heart of consumer protectionism in this arena is a concern for trustworthy advice and protection of privacy as it relates to the protection of an individual’s own credibility.

The following are several common ethical dilemmas faced when sales personnel and marketers engage in social media:

Invasion of Privacy

Actions that unknowingly infringe on the privacy of social networking participants should be considered unethical if it potentially harms an individual’s personal and professional credibility. This would include any non-permissive approaches taken by a marketer to disclose profile information as well as the sharing of sensitive personal information through channels that could exploit or otherwise harm the individual’s standing.

A questionable area to consider when evaluating social media ethics is the role of behavioral targeting. Consider the ways advertisers track where you shop and browse from “click-through” behaviors used in retargeting campaigns. An assumption here is that ad viewers will appreciate the the improvement in message relevance.

A similar question should be raised in the use of Custom Audience features that permit marketers to pass on their email lists to Facebook, who then matches these lists with their own user log-in IDs for further targeting.


Over-promoting unsolicited messages is often viewed as unethical given the manner in which messages are broadcasted. Users are often deceived through a trail of spamming Twitter and Facebook links. The unwanted messages often clutter up opportunities for more useful information.

Public Bashing

Publicly disparaging others (e.g., your competition) in your social media dialogs is typically considered unethical. Such negative sentiment can quickly go viral without permitting fair rebuttals. These defenseless attacks will not only damage your reputation, they run the risk of libelous lawsuits if not properly founded. 

Dishonesty and Distortions

At the core of social media intentions is transparent communication. Dishonest claims or untruthful derogatory comments can jeopardize the long-term reputation of your company with an uncontrollable number of message recipients.

This issue has become especially contentious with the trend towards native ads. Although the FCC is likely to step into the arena, brand publishers have essentially been given a green light on disguising their ad content as publishing content. 

Distorted Endorsements and Improper Anonymity

A similar ethical violation involves the misrepresentation of your credential, affiliations and expertise. Many once reputable companies have been severely damaged with fake stories of consumers using their products. i.e., What may appear to be an anonymous testimony is instead backed by a voice with a vested interest in the sponsor.

Any practice of hiring folks to comment favorable or fabricate a story about your company’s offerings should be considered unethical. In a similar vein, overly aggressive employees have been found guilty of exaggerating competitive shortcomings. This activity is especially harmful if it catches the parent company off guard.  

Misuse of Free Expertise and Contests

With the growing use of Facebook contests and crowdsourcing for soliciting design ideas, contest participants run the risk of divulging their secrets with no reward. Oftentimes, design ideas are rewarded to the most profitable partners of the social network sponsor leaving many with unrewarded work. This abuse is especially unethical if the sponsor knowingly gathers superior design ideas from contestants they have no intention of compensating.


In the spirit of providing social networking communities with contributions to their cause or business challenges, social media marketers are discouraged from providing content that subliminally heads readers down a self-serving path. Whether these actions are unethical or just plain “unprofessional” depends on the situation and degree of deception.

So which of these deadly sins concern you the most?

Building Engagement with Social TV

Contrary to popular opinion, the internet did not kill TV.  In fact, social media is spurring the growth of television to the point where Americans are watching more television than ever before. Just like it revitalized the dying world of email marketing, social media is transforming TV to become a new entity. This new Social TV refers to the technologies surrounding television that promote social interaction related to TV program content.

Without a doubt, social TV is going to explode as advertisers see a gold mine in target audience and extended program content with a more engaged audience. 

2nd Screen Back Channels

What is creating this marriage between social media and TV is the role that back channels or second screens play in engaging TV viewers on the web. i.e., Viewers of TV program content (including ads) are sharing their insights with their social communities.  Some research shows that at least 40% of tablet or smartphone owners are using their devices daily while they’re watching TV.

2nd screen

Nielson points out that 57% of TV viewers use the web simultaneously. Much of this time, they claim, is spent discussing the show or advertising they are viewing at the time. And since a lot of people multitask while watching TV, second screen app developers are jumping on the bandwagon of this huge market opportunity.

Global Audiences in Social TV

Besides app developers, TV advertisers now see a gold mine of opportunities stemming from this “social lift” in the form of social voting, better targeted ads and post-view content sharing. The latter refers to a whole host of social gaming and TV program features that go beyond the broadcasted content.

Advertisers are also focused on an engaged audience that they never had before. i.e., These new social impressions are amplifying their marketing messages with a more viral media than they could ever expect from even smart TV.

In his Social TV Book, Giacomo Summa attributes this growing interest to the following:

…Television’s influence on culture and society has been widely acknowledged for many years. On the other hand, with the diffusion of the web and of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, used in concert with television, the TV experience has become much more interactive and it is now impossible not to acknowledge that television has also become a driving force for social interaction. Furthermore, the parallel diffusion of internet videos and user generated content, fostered by YouTube in particular, has provided society with a different approach to media and television in particular: consumers have also become producers. Twitter and Facebook have influenced some of TV’s fundamental properties such as liveness, character centric storylines and flow and to what the YouTube phenomena means for television…”

-          Giacomo Summa, Social TV Book

Many analysts now believe that the social connection is becoming nearly as important as the content itself, in part because this back channel amplifies and spreads the content well beyond the life of a broadcasted program. In fact, the worldwide market for Social TV is expected to reach $250 billion by 2017! That is the same amount spent worldwide today on all television advertising.

World Social TV Market

Re-casted Commercials

In some cases, advertisers are leveraging the “second screen” to drive synched and deeper brand engagement. My own study of over 3300 commercials re-casted on YouTube, for example, showed nearly 2 million comments and 5 million likes registered across 3 billion views of these recast commercials. You can imagine the data gleaned from these comments that would never be disclosed in the best of focus groups or advertising round table discussions.

Recently, this second screen engagement has reached millions of viewers in a wave of movie trailers. The Game of Thrones trailer, for example, reached 22 million views in less than 4 months of its release.

Twitter and TV Advertising

Nearly all the major social media platforms are moving into this social TV backchannel (e.g., Twitter, Facebook and Google+) with Twitter accounting for 80% of the chatter. Following the massive amount of tweeting during Super Bowl commercials, Award Shows and Game of Thrones, social media fanatics are accustomed to being heard for the first time.

Shows are even known to feature backstage scenery, one-on-one dialogue with celebrities and other exclusive content for those engaged with their programs or ads. For more information on how Twitter, in particular, has spurred the development of Social TV, check out The Evolution of Social TV and Inbound Marketing.

Social Media Engagement and Research

But simply creating a Twitter hashtag or placing a Facebook “Like” button near your content is not what is stirring the enthusiasm across the broadcasting industry. Where many networks and advertising sponsors hope to capitalize on Social TV is in the area of advertising research and advocacy. It is here that extended second screen content is reexamined for a more targeted ad placement. In some cases, the resulting research has led to cancelled programs or drastic shifts in networks or programs featuring the ads.

For examples of how this is done, check out Professor Shawndra Hill’s The Value of Social for TV  well as Stacy Shepatin’s preview of her “Social TV” book. Stacy describes how the rapid growth of portable devices, social interaction and real-time program advertising feedback provides a level of advertising research never made possible in the era of Nielson Ratings and focus group research.

As both discussed further by Shawndra and Stacy, we not only have mastered the art of social voting on shows like American Idol, we have ways of correlating show and advertising popularity with the volume and sentiment of social commentary occurring before, during and  after show episodes. This drastically improves network show creation while providing advertisers with significantly greater amounts of target audience demographic and interest-based targeting. i.e., We are seeing an emergence of context marketing.

But even on a smaller scale of live engagement, viewer commentaries posted on Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and Facebook are now being data mined as ways of measuring social impressions. This data can give brands the ability to hyper target at an individual user level based on that person’s favorite TV shows and how they engage with them.

To some advertisers, this is even more important than the traditional TV ratings as it reveals more about viewer sentiment through comments. Encouraging to many advertisers focused on this back channel is the growing number of these comments that viewers now regularly post.

Social TV research also provides an alternative to the guesswork that goes into show releases. More importantly, it sets the stage for audience creation of future storylines and ad preferences.

Finally, social ratings are used in conjunction with TV ratings for advertisers to gauge how likely their program content is to resonate with audiences. In particular, they are now focused on social impressions that indicate an “engaged” audience’s likelihood to view and promote the content

Context Marketing through Social TV

And as advertisers garner more of these insights on their receiving audiences, they hope to capitalize on the emerging trend towards Context Marketing.

 “…In the social TV era, your ability to listen and garner feedback has risen to an entirely different level. Today, more than one billion people worldwide share their insights and opinions, clues to purchasing behavior, and likes and dislikes online. Instead of relying on episodic and delayed opinions, you can capitalize on trends by taking advantage of real-time interests, attitudes and desire…

-          Networked Insights,  Social TV Survival Guide         

Imagine, for example, knowing who the audience is through synced social media activity as well as what parts of the program content or advertisements appealed to them. Moreover, imagine content that is curated based on audience popularity as in the case where audiences even select your cast or story endings?

So how do you think social TV will shape our approach to marketing? Do you believe it will be effective in building viewer engagement? Will it force broadcasters and advertisers to rethink their target audience strategies? And will it allow greater context marketing? 

Related Links

S-H-I-P-P-I-N-G Content with an Emotional Twist

A growing body of research is supporting the need for content to strike an emotional chord if it’s to go viral. And from what some are calling content shock, we have more than enough examples to test this claim. In a nutshell, content that evokes “high-arousal emotions” is more likely to go viral than is educational content

But is your head spinning from the myriad of expert tips on amplifying, electrifying or igniting your content? If so, the following includes an academic perspective of what really qualifies as emotional content.

Wrapped ContentLet’s first start by calling it what it is: we are shipping our content through online channels. The reason for emotionalizing this content on its way for delivery is to get it ready for a surprise discovery or something that moves us. Once opened, it needs to get your audience excited enough to digest it, share it, remember it, and most of all, create one more sentimental attachment to you or your brand.

Shipping in a Bottle

Wheel of Emotional Content Attributes

Scores of blogs and articles have covered the subject of emotional content. And while some have justified a set of emotional stimuli from psychological studies, we seem to be left with a mixed bag of psychological stimuli, voice characteristics and media formats as a framework for studying viral content.

Add to that the myriad of expedited practitioner pieces on 6 ways to…, 7 emotions for…, etc., and you can see why content marketers lack a cohesive set of meaningful emotional drivers.

There is, however, a convergence developing between theories of emotional drivers and what is implied from viral video statistics. For example, content marketers and researchers seem to agree that emotions associated with viral content have the following attributes:

  1. They are either personal, visual or inspiring in nature
  2. They get our audiences to know, like and trust us
  3. They often entertain our audiences with humor, games or stories
  4. They can reflect positive or negative conditions (e.g., joy vs. fear )

Sorting out these characteristics for completeness and category distinction, an evaluation of viral content leads us to eight attributes of emotional content, the names of which are adjusted to spell S-H-I-P-P-I-N-G as a memorable acronym.

Emotional WheelSurprise Audiences with Flash Mob Spontaneity, Pranks, Serendipity and Bold Change

In almost all cases, content that goes viral has an element of surprise to trigger attention. By itself, however, surprise does not qualify as an emotion stimuli; but when combined with fear, sadness, anger, disgust or joy, it accounts for nearly every case of emotional content.

This “element of surprise” often happens as an unexpected twist revealed toward the end of a content piece. In perhaps its most effective setting, the element of surprise is cast in a monotonous public setting that challenges crowd routines with a “let loose” spontaneity. 

Dozens of flash mob videos garnered millions of views when cast in unsuspected public settings including malls, train stations, airports, public squares and universities.  Consider how effective T-Mobile’s was in stirring hundreds of folks at London’s Liverpool Street station. The flashmob-style advert presents a strong case for public spontaneity as an audience engager. And by adding an “element of surprise” to the dancing euphoria, the video garnered nearly 4 million views.

In similar fashion, Banco Sabadell surprised a huge outdoor audience with well orchestrated music. Beginning with a small number of professional musicians, the audience was overwhelmed by an eventual full orchestra accompanied by a music choir.

Besides flash mobs, others have capitalized on surprising crowds with augmented reality. Check out how British digital agency Appshaker stirred up a crowd at a UK mall for National Geographic Channel. The passerby’s were invited to interact with wild animals and other fictional characters on a big screen. 

Augmented Reality as a “Delightful Surprise” to Attract Crowd Attention

Pepsi Max took this one step further in a public prank also created by augmented reality. Crowds, in this case, were shown aliens and heart stopping scenes through cameras disguised in bus shelters. And much like other crowd disturbing entertainment, the video went viral.

Pepsi Max

Pepsi Max Uses “Fearful Surprise” to Attract Crowd Attention

And this growing trend towards rattling crowds doesn’t involve just brands. A coffee shop in New York startled the wits out of unsuspecting customers witnessing a telekinetic tantrum. The video amassed over 55 million views in less than 6 months. TNT released in Belgium their staging of a big red push button in a normally quiet Flemish town square. The audience was shocked at what happened next.

Much like the impact of a flash mob scene, the button pressing consequences led to over 50 million views. This combination of surprise and fear attests to the impact that negative emotions can also have on viral content. 

Besides spontaneous public disruptions, another element of surprise involves an unexpected change of routine. In her most recent debut, Beyoncé rolled out her own album promotion. Much to the surprise of the press and her fans, she sidestepped traditional PR channels with her own Instagram album photos and music videos. It not only stirred emotions, it helped her create a more direct bond with her fans as well.

This technique bode well for the ever ebullient Richard Branson. In a daring move to challenge the mundane airline safety instructions we all dread, he surprised his patrons with an entertaining approach to the subject. Passengers were likely startled to see such an unorthodox approach to conveying serious safety issues. 

But the performance of the same video on YouTube demonstrates its high favorability. Since its release, DeltaPhilippine Airlines, Southwest and others have followed suit.

Now imagine the surprise to the viewers of Metro Trains Melbourne. Like Virgin Atlantic, they took a chance with their lighted hearted approach to safety. Their “Dumb Ways to Die” video reached 76 million views and 73 thousand likes. Both Metro and Virgin clearly demonstrate that audiences need stimulation. And one way to accomplish this is through the element of surprise.

Humanizing Your Brand with Human Speak, Personality, Empathy and Togetherness

Humanizing brands is nothing new, but it wasn’t as important back when brands controlled their own perceptions. With social media transferring control to consumers, however, open and honest conversations have taken over market-speak. And content marketers are quickly grasping that, without personality, brands will die on the vine.  

A look at Who’s Who in Facebook marketing validates the need for personality. With dozens of authors publishing in the field, three personalities always seem to stand-out (from left-to-right): the entertaining Grandma Mary alter ego of Andrea Vahl; the ever charismatic Mari Smith; and the  enterprising, but humble  Amy Porterfield. These ladies can really capture an audience. And they do it while still being themselves.

Queens of Facebook

Undoubtedly, brand personality requires more than one person’s voice. First, the values represented by the brand have to resonate with the target audience across every piece of content. If done effectively, a brand’s personality often reaches a sweet spot usually in one of five dimensions: excitement (Disney’s It’s a Small World), sincerity (Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches), ruggedness (Red Bull’s Give You Wings), competence (Chipotle’s Food with Integrity) and sophistication (Grey Goose’s Fly Beyond).

GE shows its personality through its technology. They consistently show how their technology changes the lives of those that depend on it. From stories of a Japanese doctor jet skiing across islands with GE’s medical equipment to Scottish islanders that harness the power of their tide-driven undersea turbines, GE’s personality is cast as a caring and innovative provider of life altering technologies. Notice how this was done, for example, in a story of a first time flyer travelling to an elite soccer camp in a plane powered by GE’s engines. 

Secondly, the voice has to be consistent across the enterprise. Here is where the rubber meets the road. Can a brand‘s personality be as consistently described and enforced enterprise-wide as Apple’s “making people’s lives easier” or Virgin Atlantic’s “vibrant, loose and fun image?” And is the voice a reflection of the founder’s personality and vision as in the case of Apple’s Steve Jobs and Virgin’s Richard Branson.

Besides personality, humanizing a brand also requires us to “speak human.” In his book, There Is No B2B Or B2C: It’s Human To Human #H2H, Bryan Kramer builds a compelling case that much of what we read is riddled with messaging that is too complicated and overly though out.

Instead, he argues in his “5 Basic Rules for Speaking Human” that content should “market to the heart, and sell to the head.” This means getting to the point in as few words as possible. It also means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes when crafting communications.

A great example of this empathy towards customers can be seen in TSB Bank’s story of the Reverend Henry Duncan, a man whose radical creation of a trustee savings bank resonated with ordinary hardworking folks. The stark contrast of Duncan and today’s global investment firm resembles that of George Bailey and Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. In so doing TSB humanizes their brand

Another example of empathy is displayed by Ram Trucks. Their story of how God made a farmer on the eighth day is done as a tribute to the hard work ethic and unique attributes of a farmer. The video generated over 17M views and 55K likes. 

Finally, emotional connections can be made through content when the audience is invited to play a role or belong to a community. Access to “behind-the-scenes” content, in particular, is a great way to build a sense of togetherness.

And by allowing users to help shape the brand through crowd-sourcing or their own content, audiences can earn bragging rights. Microsoft can attest to this audience role back when Windows 7 was introduced. Their infamous “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea” campaign created an emotional attachment to a brand not well known for humanizing.


Inspiring Audiences to Overcome, Shoot High or Make a Difference

Much like entertaining content, inspirational messaging transcends the best of informative and instructional content. Did you ever notice how many tweets, posts, pins, videos or other news feed updates are intended to lift our spirits or encourage us to pursue a better self?  In general, most content of this type relates to:

  1. Overcoming obstacles
  2. Feeling spiritually lifted and grateful
  3. Aspiring for better self endeavors
  4. Pursuing dreams
  5. Discovering talents and gifts
  6. Eureka moments


Among the ways that inspiring themes lead to viral content is through messages of hope and encouragement. This is often done by allowing us to live vicariously through the lives of those experiencing far greater misfortune.

In “My Last Days, Meet Zach Sobiech,” I asked my students why they felt inspired from a video leading to Zach’s final hours. Most claimed it gave them a sense of closure with their own issues. Others implied it made them feel grateful and more willing to take chances in life. This may explain why Pfizer’s “More than Medication” surpassed 4 million views.

Other forms of inspiration include the many “no pain, no gain” moments of truth used primarily in sports content. Brands often capitalize on this technique to tap into our resilience and resolve. Perhaps no one does this better than Richard Simmons, whose promotion of weight loss programs over the past 35 years claims to have helped humanity lose over 12 million pounds.

In Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign, the centerpiece of content features an overweight 12 year old, Nathan, toughing out a grueling and lonely jog. The campaign is not only meant to inspire everyday athletes, it supports their motivational hub for athletes looking to “share their progress and success through social channels.”

Another way that inspiring content taps into our deepest emotions is through reassurance. Dove does this very effectively in their “Real Beauty Sketches.” The tear jerking video went viral (62 million views) as women realized they are their worst critics. Backed by a statistic that only 4% of women worldwide consider themselves beautiful, Dove creates an especially strong emotional bond in their commitment to “create a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety.” 

Finally, inspiration aimed at pushing our aspirations can work well in audience reach and engagement when backed by personalities we admire. From Eureka moments of newly recognized talents to first attempts at fighting depression, inspirational content can create perhaps the most lasting emotional connection with your audiences.

Entertaining Audiences with Humor, Games and Animated Stories

Another way to spark emotional connections from content is through playfulness. Humor, in particular, accounts for a vast majority of viral YouTube videos.  Rooted in three theories, laughter is produced when we see something out of sorts, enjoy others’ misfortunes or release ourselves from inhibitions.


The incongruity theory of humor explains why we laugh at comic wit often expressed as irony or exaggeration.  Volvo Trucks featured Claude Van Damme performing a leg a split that separated two parallel moving trucks.  The video surpassed 79 million views as observers conducted a mental reality check. In a recent release, Southwest announced their $9,999 round trip to the planet Mars. 

Another great example of exaggeration includes the infamous case of Blendtec, where its founder, Tom Dickson, produced a series of videos exaggerating his product’s performance. In total, the videos garnered nearly 200 million views.

The theory of superiority explains for the sudden glory we experience in witnessing others’ inferiority or misfortunes. In its most common form, it includes bungled behaviors, macho moments gone bad and society satires. T-Mobile capitalized on this form of humor in their royal wedding spoof. Using a host of royal look-alikes, they parted a shot at haughty royal etiquette with playful irreverence.

This style of humor is also supported by the relief theory of humor that explains why we laugh when letting loose of our inhibitions. Several videos exceeded 10 million views when accompanied by unruly behaviors or the violation of sacred taboos. IKEA is known for their edgy content that makes us laugh when parents act out.

Other have taken the route of explosive behavior from intimidating icons in their approach to this style of humor. Consider how Snicker’s Mr. T,  Nike’s Clay Matthews, and Reebock’s “Terry Tate Office Linebacker” videos reached millions of views as these icons disrupt peaceful settings.

Playful content can also be created through gamification, or the use of game thinking in non-game contexts to solve problems and engage audiences. According to Gartner, more than 70% of the world’s top 2,000 companies are expected to deploy at least one gamified application by the end of this year.

Foursquare, in particular, brought attention to this concept with their rewarded badges. Since then, rewards have extended to everyday activities like ordering food or watching movies. 

Much of the gamification is being used for motivation. In a recent blog post, Lee Odden points out that:

“…People are relying on this technology for feedback and motivation. Examples: Alarm clock app that donates money to charity every time you hit the snooze button. Nike Plus app notifies your social networks that you’re going for a run; and when anyone likes your update, the app plays applause. Or Gym shamer, which posts when you don’t go to the gym…”

-          Lee Odden, TopRank

So far, the concept shows promise in stimulating audience engagement especially when applied to tasks we normally dread (e.g., managing email overload, fitness, diet and medical checking). A growing trend is to create fun out of safety issues. Besides the Virgin Atlantic and Metro Trains examples cited earlier, Volkswagon created this fun initiative that encourages folks not to speed.

Another growing trend in playfulness is the use of 3D animated stories. Especially when applied to holiday fun, this use of mini movies has worked well for LEGO® and Coca Cola. But John Lewis took it to a new level in their viral Christmas advert “The Bear & The Hare.” Reaching nearly 13 million views, the storied content extends to their website with behind the scenes content and other entertaining features.

And most recently, Caterpillar entered the foray of fun with their “Build For It” branding campaign. The viral video shows the lighter side of the heavy machinery company by using their equipment to play a game of Jenga with 600 lb. blocks. 

Finally, brands are now sponsoring content that allows a more immersive experience. In Pepsi’s “Now is What You Make It” interactive film and TV commercial, they allow fans to create their own experience by selecting additional interactive content as the video progresses. 

The recent $2B Facebook acquisition of Oculus Rift suggests that an even more immersive experience may be in the making. The 3D head-mounted display could potentially take virtual reality gaming experiences  to a new level of content interaction.

Oculus Rift

Facebook’s Oculus Rift Acquisition Brings 3D Virtual Reality to Gamification

Stir Passions with Solidarity, Puppy Love, Pleas & Awe 

In 1975, an unknown actor and film producer shocked the world with a $225 million film that later produced five more successful sequels. In the film, a kind hearted debt collector named Rocky Balboa overcomes all odds as a prize fighter. To this date, the infamous “Gonna Fly Now” song is used by many to fuel their passions.

Emotions are often aroused when our favorite teams are competing or when we show allegiance to our country.  This sense of pride and solidarity transcends beyond almost every other form of emotional connection when it is felt personally. Both Coca Cola’s “America is Beautiful” commercial and Budweiser’s 911 tribute are great examples of how content can go viral when it taps into sentiments of allegiance. 

On a softer side, hearts are often moved from the display of puppy love or family connections. Hallmark has done this for years in their sentimental displays of family affection. Especially when reflecting on nostalgic moments or the impact made by those that passed, these emotional connections can significantly stir emotions.

And when adding a touch of humor to the sentiment, as in the witnessing of child innocence or puppy love, audiences get a dose of laughter and family joy. Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” commercial reached over 50 million views by featuring the strong bond between a dog and horse.

Others have taken the route of stirring emotions through compassionate pleas. Last year, Christina Aguilera made a plea for the hungry and homeless during her mission trip to Rwanda with the World Food Program. In a similar vein, Hope for Paws used their footage of a homeless dog living in the streets as a plea for animal rescue. Both went viral as dramatic displays touched the hearts of thousands.

But passionate feelings are not restricted to heartfelt moments. Content is often staged in performances that feature musicals, performing arts, drama or moments of awe.  Our own study of viral videos showed how theater, choreographic beats, mini-drama and musical interludes impact audience engagement through emotional connections.

Similarly, passions could be stirred as we marvel over the spectacular. In our blog “Top 15 Top 15 Viral Video Engagers: #2 Astonishment,” exceptional reach and engagement was noted when audiences were spellbound. Like Apple’s “Think Different,” the marvel is often centered around those we admire.

Heighten Emotions with Imagery 

Creating these moment of awe, however, normally requires superb photography and video performances that allow audiences to marvel over greatness, beautiful nature or  masterful craftsmanship. Ideally, the imagery taps into a deeper sense of admiration we have for extraordinary talent or our Creator.

AstonishmentFew would debate that smart businesses are incorporating more visuals into their content plans. The rapid rise of visual social media through Pinterest, Facebook/Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Vine are testimony to the appeal that imagery has over textual content. An estimated 90% of information transmitted in the brain is visual; but, more importantly, visuals are processed 60,000 X faster in the brain than text.  This gives our content far greater opportunities to stand out from content noise.

Imagery, in particular, is unique in its evoking feelings of serenity, provocation or deep sentiments. And when extended to videos, they take on multi-sensory aspects that often have a compounding effect on emotional arousal. Our earlier blog on “Top 15 to Create Engaging Content” demonstrates a number of ways that concept imagery, in particular, arouses these emotions.


Using Narratives to Shape Stories of Quest & Rebirth 

Perhaps the greatest attention given to emotionalizing content by brands has been in the crafting of compelling brand stories. Our 3 part series on storytelling demonstrates how brands can create H-E-A-R-T-F-E-L-T elements, emotions and impacts especially when the narrative reflects both the values of the brand and the targeted audience. 

The trend towards storytelling has especially been noticed among brands seeking to distinguish themselves in an overwhelming sea of content. Two areas in particular, visual storytelling and mobile storytelling, have been widely discussed as brands see promise in both apps and videos enabling them to portray their sense of purpose to targeted audiences.

Although 7 types of plots are mentioned among storytelling researchers and practitioners, most viral videos featured over the past year include stories on:

  1. Changing the World (e.g., Upside: Anything is Possible)
  2. Enterprising Quests (e.g., Johnnie Walker – The Man Who Walked Around the World)
  3. Heartbreak to Triumph Endeavors (e.g., Duracell: Trust Your Power

In their heartfelt series of raising olympians, P&G’s “Thank You Mom – Pick Them Back Up”reached over 20 million views as it captured the gut-wrenching trials of young athletes determined to go all the way.

Displaying Generosity in Contributions, Kindness & Causes

One of the greatest methods agreed by most content marketers to stir emotions is through generosity. And this starts with generous contribution of content. Let’s face it. Audiences love to be rewarded. It’s a sign of our attention to them as well as their reward for spending time with our brands.

Consumers are quite accustomed to receiving free content. In a recent piece on FREEmiums, we point out how free content is key to advancing prospects through a social sales funnel. But more importantly, audiences delight in knowing they received a gift.

The same applies to thoughtful gestures as when WestJet surprised their arriving passengers with Christmas presents. The video reached over 35 million views in less than 3 months as the previous unknown airline expressed an extreme act of goodwill.  

Most recently, TrueMove H Thailand released this amazing commercial centered around their theme ”Giving Is The Best Communication.” The video brings many tears to eyes as a benevolent citizen is paid back in his time of need.

TVC Thai Life Insurance shared a story of a generous citizen whose efforts to help others paid off with their emotional responses. The video surpassed 17 million views and earned over a 100,000 likes.

Finally, Duracell demonstrated their generosity through community kindness. In their “Moments of Warmth Powered by You,” they surprised patrons of a bus shelter with hand powered heating.  The gesture not only resulted in Duracell’s video reaching 1 million views in only 2 weeks, their benevolence was especially appreciated by winter worn Canada residents. And it resonates well with the Duracell brand message of being powered by a human connection: “…In Canada, we have cold winters, but we also have each other…”


So with the alarming levels of content hitting the internet, it is clear that content marketers must find a way to distinguish themselves by emotionally amplifying their content. This will likely shift the bulk of content formats from one of instruction and information to one of entertainment and inspiration.

Heartfelt Content

And to do this effectively, brands and small firms have to show their true colors while surprising us with playful content, awe inspiring imagery, sentimental pleas or passionate performances. Add stories of generosity or triumph; and you may find the key to establishing emotional connections that get your content to go viral.

So what other ways do you think content can strike an emotional chord with targeted audiences?

The Real Story behind Brand Storytelling (Part 2: HEARTFELT Emotions)

Without a doubt, content strategies are reaching new heights. Brands are not only becoming their own publishers, they are turning to stories to connect emotionally with their audiences.  And as we saw from Part 1 of this series, emotions rule the day. So what kind of stories strike this emotional chord?

Creating H-E-A-R-T-F-E-L-T Emotions that Trigger Content Sharing

An examination of audience reach and engagement leads us to nine story techniques that show the most promise for connecting emotionally. And by connecting through emotions, research suggests that the brand benefits from:

  1. Greater awareness
  2. Quicker grasp of the brand message
  3. More lasting recall
  4. More powerful brand association
  5. Greater opportunity for sharing content

brand storytelling

Humanitarian Acts Tug at the Heart of All Souls

When acts are performed by a person to protect life or human dignity, it rarely goes unnoticed. Like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, stories of personal sacrifice touch us all in a deep way. And when they are based on random acts of kindness or involve personal risk, it summons the compassion in many that long to see fresh glimpses of a benevolent world.

Arguably, it’s among the few story themes whose moral fits almost every culture. And because it follows a familiar story arc involving a hero, obstacles to overcome and a favorable transformation, stories of humanity seem to have universal appeal.

Some great stories of humanity involves brands that stepped up to resolve a food or water shortage.  DuPont stirred the hearts of many in their film showing how their hybrid rice approach helped sustain rice production in Vietnam. 

Similarly, Charity: Water’s role in solving a water crisis gained notoriety through the world. The founder, Scott Harrison’s “Water Changes Everything” story is featured in conferences around the world. The popularity of their videos are testimony to the strong emotions roused when we witness people surviving hardships. 

Exhilaration Tops the List of Positive Emotions

A study of the emotions most likely to generate social video success rated ‘exhilaration’ number one. From scenes of jubilation or ecstasy, this form of emotional connection typically lasts longer and gets shared further than any other form of entertainment.

WestJet’s Christmas Miracle garnered over 200,000 ‘likes’ that brought tears of jubilation to the 35M+ watching unsuspected passengers getting their Christmas wish. The real-time giving turned a fairly unknown airline into a fun and caring brand.  

Others like Red Bull and GoPro went the euphoria route with jumps from the sky that pounded the hearts of audiences sharing the exhilaration. On one notable jump, Felix Baumgartner broke the speed of sound in a 24 mile jump out of a stratospheric balloon that stunned millions. Stories like this inspire us to reach beyond our limits.

Astonishment Dazzles Us with the Spectacular

For centuries, we have marveled over athletes and magicians that entertain us with the “wow” factor. Our fascination with the extremes of beauty, craftsmanship and human potential can especially stir emotions when we take it in with all of our senses. 

Extraordinary Beauty
astonishment in storytelling
Master Craftsmanship
astonishment in storytelling
Incredible Human Potential

Rebelliousness Let’s Us Escape from Our Roots

A common story form used by brands today taps into our rebelliousness natures. Consider how this was done by The Pioneer Woman as a way to encourage other women to escape from their uneventful life styles. Others like the Mini Cooper appeal to those trying to stand out as they make the case that “normal is not amazing.”

In her book, The Fortune Cookie Principle, Bernadette Jiwa discusses the mystique of the Vespa and the joy of riding uninhibited with the wind in your hair. “To these people, the Vespa was a style statement that helped them to feel like they could escape their own working-class roots. (p. 105).”  

Another technique involves an appeal to independent thinkers. This is done well by Virgin Atlantic as well as Nike in their Nike Girl Effect videos.

Tenderhearted Moments Bring Tears to the Eyes

One way to connect your audience through emotions is through tear jerking stories. Many stories went viral on YouTube when they featured sentimental memories in scenes of puppy love, cute romances and nostalgic connections.


Stories that cry out for animal care or reveal families reuniting can especially provoke a tenderhearted emotion. Hallmark, Google and BERNAS all use this story technique in very dramatic ways.

Similarly, tears of pride can stir an emotional response. Tributes to our heritage can foster a community bond that runs deep and lasts long. Consider how New Zealand mustered up team spirit while reaching millions with their “Haka War Dance” and “This is Not a Jersey.”


Following 911, Budweiser’s commemoration to New York City led to YouTube video shares in the millions. Other stories, like Volkswagen, tap into these tenderhearted moments with their farewells to the good old days.  

Feeling Savvy Fuels a Sudden Glory

Another way to provoke emotions with our brand stories is to poke fun of bureaucratic institutions.  This often leads us to a feeling of ‘sudden glory’ as we bask in the sunlight of our superior choices.

Oftentimes, we revel in our removal of unnecessary middle men. Consider, for example, how Amazon makes an emotional connection with us by removing retailers who stand in the way of efficiency. Similarly, Nespresso, Warby Parker, Zappos, and Spanx all represent cases where audiences celebrate their “feeling savvy” from saving money.

One of the most viral of videos in this domain are the razor blade putdowns sponsored by Dollar Shave Club. One of their videos reached 13M views as an amateur acting host describes how their more sensible approach to purchasing razors avoids unnecessary overhead costs.

This “feeling savvy” story-line technique especially works well when aimed at the socially irresponsible or artificial foods. Brands like Bahen & Co. and Chobani tap into our desire for real natural ingredients. By reaching 2.6 million views on YouTube, Chobani’s Bear Game Day Commercial is a testimony to this story telling effect on our emotions.

Encouragement Comes from Witnessing Turnarounds

Audiences, for example, love to witness a remarkable turnaround. Consider how popular Marcus Sheridan became after turning around a near bankrupt swimming pool company to a world leading installer of fiber glass pools. His story resembles that of David and Clare Hieatt, who resurrected legendary jeans brand, Hiut Denim.   

Other stories that rouse emotions through encouragement are those involving life-altering choices. Weight Watchers and Splenda do this in their stories of living healthy or losing weight.  

Legendary Sentiments Tap into Better Times

Following the saddened demise of Detroit’s car business, Chrysler’s YouTube video tribute to the Motorcity reached millions. Like other legendary stories, tributes like this rouse our emotions from a sense of pride and longing to return to better days. The NFL and Budweiser often use these story techniques as a way to rekindle our ties with the past.

Microsoft’s ‘Child of the 90s’ Internet Explorer ad is a sentimental trip back to when Gen Y’s appreciated a simpler, slower and more affordable life. The fact that it reached over 50 million views attests to the power of stories that are reminiscent of better days. 

Triumphant Against all Odds Makes us Thankful

Everyone loves the success story of an overachiever. And like any story of triumph, we pull for an underdog or a handicapped individual to overcome their obstacles.

But we also experience a moment of truth when realizing our lives have been spared against all odds. Chevy and the American Cancer Society celebrated survivors of cancer as well as those who support them on the road to recover. Their 2014 Super Bowl commercial reached 1.7 million views in just three weeks.

Knowing this could happen to all of us, it is easy to live vicariously through the grateful hearts of the triumphant.

So what other brand storytelling techniques do you feel are effective in striking an emotional chord?

Stay tuned for “The Real Story Behind Brand Storytelling (Part III: HEARTFELT Elements)”



Part I of Mobile Marketing Trends: C-U-S-T-O-M-E-R Experience Gap

A common prediction among 2014 mobile marketing forecasters is that SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) marketing will materialize in a big way. Much has to do with big data solutions and the mobile device boom. But should this bullish forecast rely on device and data enabling or on a growing base of consumers expecting better experiences?

Evidence is mounting that consumers expect more than SoLoMo technology is able to deliver. In this first part of four series on Mobile Marketing Trends, we examine the growing demands in customer experience as well as the lack of marketing initiative that seems to be holding it up.


Gap in Mobile Customer Experience

As the number of smartphones now exceeds 1 billion, it is not surprising that mobile is rapidly overtaking desktop access to the internet. One obvious consequence of this trend is the growing number of online marketers embracing a “mobile first” design philosophy. But more research is suggesting these intentions are not materializing into a distinct mobile customer experience. Instead, efforts are often limited to screen optimizing and mobile friendly interfacing.

mobile trends

What’s evident in many mobile websites is a marketing myopia that fails to appreciate the mobile user’s end-to-end journey. Consider the role of research, for example, in a mobile setting. The demand to instantly research products, competitive pricing, ratings and reviews has far greater relevance to mobile users especially when they are in close proximity to a marketer’s place of business. And with 50% of mobile web searches now being used for local businesses, these demands for real-time research build a strong case for a mobile-first web design philosophy.

Mobile customer experience

The good news to marketers is that efforts to convert on online marketing initiatives becomes more promising. The buying stage of a mobile users tends to be closer to the bottom-of-the-funnel (e.g., shopping checkouts). And with mobile message responses averaging around 15 minutes as compared to 48 hours for a desktop delivered email, marketers should have more opportunity to stay engaged throughout the buying cycle.  This should translate into more personalized messaging, relevant mobile apps and responsive mobile websites. But we are not seeing this.

 “…Marketing is failing to prioritize the mobile customer experience…”

-          Amy Bishop, Digital Marketing & PR at Digital Relevance

A Vibes study, for example, found that 89% of consumers want personalization, but only 18% see it frequently from retailers. And the mainstream adoption of local context has yet to materialize, leaving a gap between what consumers have now come to expect and what mobile marketers are actually providing. The criticality of this gap in mobile attention becomes an even greater concern as trends support a predominantly mobile world in years to come.

Mobile Users Want Less and Expect More

So what is keeping marketers from addressing these mobile experience demands? Experts attribute most of the sluggish response to the following:

  1. A desktop first, ‘mobile second’ design philosophy
  2. A failure of marketers to adequately understand and map a mobile customer’s end-to-end journey
  3. Continuing technology maturing across mobile payment apps, geo-fencing and in-store shopping infrastructures

What should be an alert to all mobile marketers is the damage done when consumers have a bad mobile experience. According to Compuware and IAB, an estimated 40% to 61%, respectively, will visit a competitor’s site when this happens.  

Mobile Friendly Websites

At the same time, consumers are clamoring for less functionality to accommodate their smaller screens and reduced attention span when on mobile devices. This often goes beyond the obvious reduction in links and text required for a mobile display. The more simple and direct end-to-end journey of a mobile user typically translates to far fewer navigation steps as well.

Overall, the unique experience expectations of a mobile user can be defined in an acronym that spells C-U-S-T-O-M-E-R.

Mobile Customer

Convenience of Payments, Calls and Directions

Consumers expecting quick-and-easy mobile experiences. This includes having instant access to product and service research, locations triggers and the ability to make mobile payments in hassle-free steps.

 “We like mobile devices because they make our lives more convenient.”       

Chris Horton, Content Creator and Digital Strategist at SyneCore Technologies

Mobile Marketing

Mobile consumers expect far more in real-time research and context relevance in comparison to their desktop counterparts. And with a growing number of apps primarily aimed at simplifying the mobile experience, these expectations will become greater. Steps like linking local addresses into contact listings, or automatically mapping directions, will become commonplace as mobile users experience this elsewhere.

Mobile payment, in particular, is one area where users have been enamored with the convenience of merging coupons, loyalty cards and credit cards into one NFC swipe. And while Apple and Google work out the differences in their proposed payment technologies (e.g., Bluetooth LE/iBeacons vs. NFC), mobile marketers need to gear up for some type of iWallet. At stake are the many pull-through loyalty perquisites and behavioral tracking that comes with mobile wallets.

Mobile Convenience

Utility for Real-Time Self-Help

In his book, Youtility, Jay Baer builds a strong case for utility as the future of marketing. Utility marketing is defined here as “putting content and information in your marketing material that your target audience can utilize.” One way to accomplish this is through mobile apps.

By using apps to help consumers with useful problem solving in real-time, mobile marketers stand to gain far more in brand loyalty. Imagine, for example, an app offered by a grocery chain that offers free advice on dieting habits or by a bleach manufacturer helping you decide the best way to remove a wine stain. The key to applying this “friend of mine” marketing approach is having brand credibility in the area of advice offered to the mobile user.

Apps for Friend of Mine Marketing

Showrooming for Better Deals

Perhaps the most demanded mobile user experience relates to showrooming or the practice of examining merchandise in a traditional brick and mortar retail store often with the intent to purchase the merchandise elsewhere. Mobile users can now get ample research in-store on competing prices as well as on ratings and review. It is at this point that retailers in particular should consider personalized offers as a way to thwart away any temptation to buy elsewhere.


According to a recent Vibes Study, the number of consumers who purchased a product from a competitor while in a retail store has increased 156% since 2012. The study further demonstrated that:

  • 47% move onto complete a transaction
  • 45% go elsewhere to purchase items
  • 7% do not make purchases.

Timely Reminders

But these timely offers apply to more than just showroomers.  Mobile users “on the go” are far more prone to look elsewhere in dealing with any online task at hand. And with the average adult will now spending over 5 hours per day in mobile activities, expect an “instant response” mentality to become increasingly important.

 “…When conceptualizing mobile marketing strategies, it’s essential that you understand timing is key to converting mobile leads to buyers…”

-          Martin Jones, Editor of

Timely Mobile Marketing

The same applies to timely alerts outside of, but in proximity to, store shopping. Mobile users in close proximity to a marketer’s place of business often don’t benefit from local offers out of their reach. So timing becomes everything especially in light of the high number of users in shopping mode. And when done proactively, as in the case of reminding customers of upcoming events or appointments, mobile users will often credit the mobile marketer with a convenience benefit as well.

Special Offers & Rewards for Mobile Efforts

Much like the case of rewarding social media fans for the privilege of accessing their news feeds or inbox, mobile users expect something for their efforts. After all, marketers are asking for time spend downloading apps.

They are also asking to interrupt a mobile user’s journey with SMS messaging and other alerts often when the mobile user is in the midst of pressing business. So special compensation is should be expected in the form of exclusive mobile rewards. 

Mobile Offers

The good news to mobile marketers is that 90% of users who enroll in an SMS loyalty program feel they gained value from it. Why? When you send timely, relevant and useful information to them during the shopping stage of their buying cycle, you may be credited with expediting their decision. An even more surprising statistic is that 70% of them say they would actually like to receive offers on their mobile phones.

Mobility in Addition to Mobile

As the global workforce become more mobile, consumers and employees will count on devices like tablets and smartphones to do their work at the office, at home, and while travelling. Conceivable, more workplace information will be transferred from desktops to tablets as portability becomes critical to workplace efficiency.


This same portability is also gaining favor among mothers needing to multi-task when on the run. And when packed with photo messaging apps, mobile devices provide them more real-time social networking as well.

Ease of Use for Shorter Attention Spans

In his podcast interview with Amy Porterfield, Greg Hickman shares some startling statistics on mobile user intolerance for unresponsive web designs. For example, he points out that 74% of consumers will wait 5 seconds for a web page to load on their mobile device before abandoning the site. Perhaps even more startling is that 46% of them are unlikely to return to a mobile site if it didn’t work properly during their last visit.

Responsive Mobile Websites

Among the ways to optimize mobile sites for friendly user interfacing are the following:

  1. Touch interaction that avoids “fat thumb syndrome”
  2. Video and other imagery that replaces text
  3. Shorter route “calls to action”

Responsive Mobile Websites

Relevance for Space, Time and Opportunity

On a more positive note, retailers, brands and even small businesses have made strides in developing mobile friendly websites compatible with the multitude of smartphone and tablet configurations. Progress is also being made with mobile wallet solutions that expedite in-store shopping experiences while enabling cross-device loyalty programs. And with more advanced audience targeting and cross-platform re-targeting underway, mobile users are rarely greeted as “Dear Valued Customer.”

But fulfilling customer experiences on smart devices goes well beyond loyalty programs and personal greetings. Mobile users expect far greater context relevance that taps into who they are, where they are, what they are doing and when they need help. This is why the role of native ads has become even more important to mobile users than to desktop users. And if marketers know why they need help, the mobile user can further benefit from anticipated needs as well.

Context Marketing


The mad dash towards mobilizing our marketing efforts is well justified.  Mobile has traditionally taken a back seat to desktop internet marketing. But as mobile access surpasses desktop access, marketers seem to be dragging their feet in designing customer experiences that are meaningful to a mobile consumer’s journey.

Statistics show that many marketers still see mobile simply as an optimization exercise. Some are indeed stepping up to responsive web designs as a top priority. But missing from many mobile marketing strategies is a very different customer experience that extends beyond the demands of a desktop user.

And as SoLoMo matures to SoLoMoNative and SoLoMoVideo, don’t be surprised if mobile web access becomes the defacto standard for internet access in retail, at home and in workplace settings. Those who embrace this “mobile first” philosophy have a significant advantage in light of the higher receptivity of mobile users to personalized messaging and offers.

The key to implementing  a responsive mobile strategy is a recognition of the distinct customers experiences expected by mobile users. In particular, mobile users place greater emphasis on:

  • Convenience
  • Utility
  • Showrooming
  • Timeliness
  • Offers
  • Mobility
  • Easy-of-Use
  • Relevance

So are you buying into this unique CUSTOMER experience? Are their experiences missing from this C-U-S-T-O-M-E-R acronym? And do you feel this gap in customer experience is due more to marketing reluctance or technology bumps?

Native Advertising: Finding the Sweet Spot for SmallBiz

A common prediction for 2015 was the mainstream arrival of native advertising or the purchasing of sponsored content on social networks and online news sites. Pushing this trend is banner ad blindness; the viral brand lift gained from native ads; and a user migration to mobile platforms that do not accommodate traditional display ads. Add to that the pressure publishers are feeling to fill the gap of declining display ad revenue, and the growing popularity of native advertising becomes clearer.

native ad

But will native advertising eventually take over display ads for small and medium sized businesses? If so, how quickly will it be adopted, and how will it change the marketing landscape?

To answer this, the following includes a review of its current state of adoption along with the industry momentum required to overcome its primary challenges of scalability and transparency.

What is Native Advertising?

A clear grasp of native ad trending first requires an adequate definition of what constitutes native advertising especially since a universally accepted definition is still in the making. But for now, let’s define it as  “the use of content-based ads that match and live within the stream of editorial-type content, while contextually following the experience of the publisher’s platform.”  i.e., finding the sweet spot between advertising and publishing content.

But finding this sweet spot has been quite a challenge for brands and publishers confronted with issues like transparency and disclosure of native ads as “ads”. The mere fact that the ads are created to blend in with content often confuses the reader with what is promoted and what is editorial. 

native advertising

Some of the more notable definitions proposed by reputable content marketers and advertising boards include the following:

“…Native advertising is a “pay to play” opportunity that is content based and delivered In-Stream while not disrupting the user experience…The information is intended to be useful, interesting and highly targeted to the specific readership and is delivered in a way that does not impede the normal behavior of the user in that particular channel…”

-          Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute

“…Native advertising is a form of converged media that combines paid and owned media into a form of commercial messaging that is fully integrated into, and often unique to, a specific delivery platform…”

-          Rebecca Lieb, Altimeter Group

“…Native ads are purchased ads that mimic content in the venues in which they appear. They are more entertaining and less interrupting than traditional ads, and hopefully popular enough to get shares…”

-          eMarketer

“…Native social advertising is the branded content integrated directly within a social network experience (i.e., the newsfeed or content stream). These integrated, advertorial qualities differentiate native ads from traditional display…”

-          BIA/Kelsey

“…Native ads are paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong…”

-          IAB Native Advertising Playbook

“…Native advertising entails taking that which is organic and flipping it around into advertising…”

-          Howard Greenstein, Harbrooke Group

In attempting to narrow down the most important elements of a native ad definition, the Online Publishers Association concluded the following from a survey of online publishers.

native advertising

Source: Online Publishers Association (OPA) Study in Partnership with Radar Research 

Common to many definitions is the acknowledgement of native ad as a convergent media (placement paid, content owned and sharing earned) that covers sponsored content found in new sites (e.g.,, BuzzFeed, Mashable and The Atlantic), advertorials, promoted/sponsored social media content and content recommendations. Some would argue it also includes sponsored searchable content as well. Finally, many acknowledge the dual objective of native ads to (1) ‘stand out’ for reader awareness and (2) ‘fit in’ with non-disruptive, opt-in content. 

Another area of debate in attempting to define uniform standards for native ads are the various media formats they represent. In their Native Advertising Playbook, the IAB identifies and provides examples of six types of ad units most often described as native:

  1. In-Feed Units
  2. Paid Search Units
  3. Recommendation Widgets (e.g., “From Around the Web”)
  4. Promoted Listings
  5. In-Ad with Native Element Units (e.g., banner with text or preceding a post)
  6. Custom Campaigns

The wide variance in formats has much to do with the ad’s fit to form (e.g., in-stream vs. out of stream); its match to function (e.g., video on a video or story among stories); match to surrounding content (e.g., mirrors page content behavior); its target specificity and guarantee of location placement (e.g., narrowly vs. broadly targeted placement); and its metric objectives (e.g., views, likes and share for top-of-funnel brand engagement vs. sale, download, register for bottom-of-funnel direct response).

In its most limited form, these ads could include sponsored posts found in many social platforms.

native ad examples

Examples of Social Sponsored Content

At the other extreme are long-form narratives including featured news article or videos hosted in major publications. Although the publications were once the domain of social news aggregators such as Buzzfeed, Gawker, Mashable, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Business Insider and The Huffington Post, an estimated 90% of publishers are now offering native ad offerings.

branded content

Examples of Branded Content in News Sites

Why all the Hype?

No doubt the content marketing craze has reshaped a marketing landscape once riddled with digital display ads.  According to Patrick Albano, Co-Chair of IAB Native Advertising Task Force, “this renaissance in digital advertising is driving brands, publishers and consumers to communicate with each other in more personal and natural ways.”

What has likely delayed a more widespread adoption of native ads are the mechanisms to scale and integrate them into editorial content acceptable to publishers. The pace of adoption is likely to increase, however, due to revenue pressures.  Many publishers are feeling the pinch of ever shrinking display ad margins as a greater number of blogging sites, social news sites and social platforms are staking claim to available ad space. This over-supply of inventory, coupled with consumers being clobbered with overwhelming ad noise, is forcing publishers to adopt some form of native advertising.

Brands see these content-based ads as a far superior approach to brand affinity lift and consumer engagement than can ever be realized under traditional display advertising. Banner ads, in particular, are not conducive to social sharing or to mobile usage. And it is this lack of mobile adaptation that is most concerning to traditional display advertisers since mobile is expected to overtake desktop web viewing in the not too distant future.

In a detailed evaluation of the native ad landscape, Altimeter Group’s Rebecca Lieb highlights the many reasons why brands, publishers, social networks and advertising agencies stand to gain from a widespread adoption native ad formats.  Common to all parties is a drive for:

  1. New revenue streams
  2. A potential for deeper behavioral/contextual data
  3. Target audience opt-in to content

How Far will it Advance?

Among the hold-ups barring parties from embracing native ads more extensively is the potential of native ads to deceive its readers. In particular the Altimeter Group study cites transparency and disclosure as major concerns especially in light of the ethical sensitivity towards ad content that is mistaken as editorial content. Perhaps no one sheds light on this concern better than the hilarious John Oliver in his HBO feature on Native Advertising.

This issue came to a head in the infamous publication by The Atlantic of David Miscavige’s salute to Scientology. The Atlantic posted an advertorial package for the Church of Scientology, which was subsequently inferred by many as an editorial piece endorsed by the publication.

Another issue suggesting a more limited roll-out of native ads is its scalability to so many diverse publication standards. Compared to banner and other display ads, native ads are not portable across platform formats. To scale them optimally across publications, a great deal more is required to make them contextual relevant while also having them fit seamlessly into a publication’s form, fit and function. Banners, on the other hand, merely require compliance with universally accepted placement standards, something yet to evolve for native ads.

Much progress has been made in this area, however, as technology companies jump into the fray. Sharethrough, Outbrain, Taboola and Disqus are among the 40 technology firms listed in the Altimeter Group’s review. To date, these predominately software companies have been able to sort and configure the many content, creative and social metric elements associated with native ads to where they are becoming increasingly programmatic across multiple publishing platforms

So How Much of the Landscape will Shift towards Native Ads?

According to BIA/Kelsey and eMarketer, U.S. native social advertising revenues are forecast to grow from $1.6 billion in 2012 to $4.6 billion in 2017. The near 23%/yr. compounded growth reflects the higher engagement results seen from native ads. It also attests to the rapid adoption of native ads by publishers, many of which are finding engagement rates of native ads to approach those of their editorials.

Forecast of Native Ad Revenue (BIA/Kelsey)

Even the more minimal in-feed native ad placements and promoted listings we see on social networks are demonstrating the efficacy of native ads. According to a study by Interpublic Group’s IPG Media Lab and Sharethrough, consumers looked at sponsored content 52% more often than banner ads. The same study showed native ads generated 9% higher brand affinity lift and 18% higher purchase intent response than banners. Finally, the study found that 32% of respondents said the native ad “is an ad I would share with a friend of family member” versus just 19% for display ads.

This bodes well for what seems to be a welcomed attraction to the marketing landscape. Consumers can now view our marketing messages as part of an overall brand story told in the context of something relevant to what they are reading. Brands benefit when the consumer shares the content-ad. The more the engagement, the greater the brand affinity lift especially when the ad is seen as relevant and useful. Finally, publishers benefit from a new source of revenue to offset a dismal decline in display advertisements.

When will Small Business See the Impact?

So far the momentum behind native advertising has mainly benefited large brands that have the resources and relationship with news publishers. The scalability issues have been reasonably addressed to date with tighter brand/publisher collaboration. Publishers, in some cases, have even hired dedicated staffs to manage native ad content. 

Minimums to play in this arena, however, are quite high given the growing demand for premium placement of native ads. Add to that the time consuming collaboration required of this convergent media to represent both brand and publisher interests, and you can see why smaller businesses may not be so quick in their adoption of native ads.

But with the growing adoption of big data into contextually relevant platforms, expect to see a roll-out of limited in-feed native ads for small businesses. Though not as customized as the multi-platform narratives used by big brands, these more affordable alternatives are being aggressively promoted by native ad integrators  (e.g., and news sites. 

BuzzFeed, in particular, has had recent success in building a native advertising ad network on other publisher homepages. Should they and others elect to broker their native ad placement capacity,  small businesses may have an answer. This assumes, however, that these native ad integrators or publishers can auto-configure content-ads to suit the standards of multiple platforms.

But the adoption by small businesses of native ads may be hindered more by a mindset than technical solutions to scalability. Small businesses may be slow to embrace the true essence of native advertising.  For example, it’s one thing for Coca Cola, Chipotle and Dell to piecemeal powerful brand stories over numerous branded content placements. They have the vision and appreciation for content strategies that justifies a long-term investment. But it’s another thing for small businesses to embrace this type of narrative especially where results in brand buzz and brand affinity lift may not be so readily measurable.

Small businesses will have to be courted, in part, by publishers and agencies willing to train them on native ad scaling as well as in making content contextually relevant. In essence, these small businesses will have to understand that native advertising has as much to do with complementing editorial content as it does with catching the eye of a waiting prospect. This perceptual shift from fitting in over standing out will undoubtedly require a new leap of faith. 

As best said by Patrick Albano of Yahoo!, “The challenge with native is finding that sweet spot between fitting in and standing out.”

So what is your take on native ads? Are the forecasts overstated or understated? What additional challenges might small businesses face beyond that discussed for brands? 



The Real Story behind Brand Storytelling (Part 3: HEARTFELT Elements)

Few would debate the success that stories have on legendary brands. According to Seth Godin: Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” 

From Disney to Apple, Coca Cola and Chipotle, we have seen the power of storytelling in providing emotional connections that supersede the best of any product facts and figures.  But how can entrepreneurs adopt stories that have real traction?

From Part 1, we found that storytelling lives up to its hype as a competitive advantage in the growing clutter of content overload. It creates a lasting emotional bond with fans by permitting a brand’s personality to shine through the eyes of the audience. And by connecting emotionally, stories are more easily remembered and shared than value propositions. Much of this is the result of a new consumer seeking ways to connect to “what brands stand for.”

Part 2 pointed out the effective ways brands have developed stories that truly strike an emotional chord. 

In this latest part, we explore the elements of storytelling that entrepreneurs should consider in designing their own content strategies.

Design H-E-A-R-T-F-E-L-T Stories

Common to stories cited in the brand and content marketing field is a narrative that inspires audiences to consider a change in their behaviors.  And although the emotions elicited by the best of brand stories vary widely, the elements of HEARTFELT storytelling are fairly consistent. 

brand story

Heroes, Villains, Mentors and Moral

Common to the effective brand stories shared in Part 2 are the story characters that permit a dramatic narrative. For a story to be relatable, it should feature your customers as heroes cast against villains standing in their way of living a better life.

Chipotle’s campaigns casts a scarecrow as a superhero that represents socially responsible and healthy eaters. The hero is up against greedy farmers seeking to exploit hormone injected cows. In their fight against these villains, Buck Marshall of the Industrial Food Image Bureau, invites us on his crusade against harmful farming practices.


Chipotle’s Hero Struggles Against Greedy Farmers

As the protagonist in Farmed and Dangerous, Buck exposes the criminality of farming with scenes of exploding cows. But like most great stories, he serves as a mentor guiding us through a “hero journey” toward “cultivating a better world.” Without these roles, the story follower has little involvement in a promising outcome. This is why brand stories are better left with audiences driving their own conclusions than brands “telling” them what to do.

Episodes of Themed Micro-Content

Weaving stories into content is much like casting a TV series over a season of episodes. Most TV narratives have an overarching theme played out in part by each episode. But much like each series episode, you can’t convey an entire story in each piece of content you post.

Great stories adopt themes that are consistently applied to each episode. In Geico’s caveman series, a theme of “easiness” was played out in the form of “disrespected cretins.” Each episode featured one more bout of disrespect. The same episodic style should apply to any micro-content (e.g., blogs, ebooks, etc.) covered under the banner of a brand story. Each episode should stand on its own merits while supporting an overarching moral to or changed life experience from the entire story.


Geico’s Episodes Carried a Common Theme

Affirmative Value for an Audience’s Life Choices

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton attributes our love for stories to their affirmative value. He claims that an effective story is one where the audience sees the storylines and characters as similar to their own. This connection not only creates a bond of shared values, it validates the reader’s own life choices. 


More than just a checklist of buying criteria, stories we like should have real meaning to the point that it actually shapes an audience’s perception of value.  In effect, the story connects to an audience’s own narrative. It is at this point that the storyteller has an opportunity to persuade the audience with its brand ideas.


Relevance to Audience Needs

But to truly understand an audience’s own narrative, the story itself has to be relevant to something the audience needs. Without this, the story merely becomes an episode of entertainment. It’s when a story makes sense to other people’s lives that it gains real traction. This can often be done by relating with your audience how your company overcame a similar challenge facing the audience.

Consider how Apple’s and Virgin’s story of reaching beyond the norm resonates with independent thinkers who thrive on raising the bar. Much of the success in attracting their followers has to do with Steve Job’s and Richard Branson’s penchant for overcoming odds. Similarly, Ree Drummond likely attracted millions of women to her Pioneer Women blog that shared her desire to escape their hectic and complex urban lives.

Trusted Source

A fundamental tenet of any great brand story relates to its influence on audiences to trust the story teller. Creative brand strategist, Mark Di Somma, perhaps said it best:  

“…The story has to come from a credible source – buyers need to know the storyteller can be trusted. Your story needs to be consistent with the receiver’s understanding of you because the person telling the story is in a position of trust. They have control of the narrative. To me, this is the make or break of storytelling. If we don’t believe the storyteller, we’ll never believe the story. Southwest Airlines have been telling a wacky story about loving to fly for decades. They absolutely walk the talk…”

-          Mark Di Somma

brand storytelling

Familiar Story Arc and Brand Connection

At the heart of every great story is a narrative arc that includes a beginning, a middle and an end. Normally obstacles are placed in the path of the hero so as to advance the story across episodes of adversity. Where brands can especially capitalize on this story arc format is in their Origin Story. Part 2 demonstrated a number of stories where entrepreneurs overcome adversity in their early stages of growth or during a turnaround.

brand stories

Origin, Product and Customer Stories

The same portrayal of struggles can be harvested in customer stories that highlight the worries facing customers. In the case of product stories, this adversity presents an opportunity for the brand storyteller to bleed the pain of their audience. 

Key to any effective brand story is its tie to the brand message. Duracell’s video of NFL player Derrick Coleman’s struggle with hearing  tied very well to the battery company’s “Trust Your Power” theme. 


Duracell’s Trust Your Power Story Ties Well With Brand Intentions

Finally, great stories require a meaningful purpose often translated into a “moral of the story.” Chipotle unfolded a story of greed and animal abuse in the context of farming for cheaper food. But in the end, audiences are easily convinced that organic farming and sustainability pays off.

Emotional Content to Inspire Action

What separates a business story from the facts and figures associated with brand’s product promises is its ability to tap into an audience’s beliefs, passions, sympathies or sentiments. And evidence shows that this type of connection has greater impact on both brand awareness and loyalty.

Brand Stories

Great Stories Inspire Action

“…When you tell a great story, people connect with you emotionally and want to get to know you. You become likeable…”

-          Dave Kerpan

But the key to making this emotional connection is first recognizing that audiences want to connect with something important or of a higher purpose.  If a brand’s story can accomplish this, audiences can be “inspired to act” as opposed to “convincing them to act” from product or service claims.

Language of the Audience’s Story

“…To make a connection with customers and prospects online we need to tell stories that build empathy, create curiosity, evoke emotions and establish a sense of community…”

-          John Gregory Olson

The right story has to be the audience’s story. Common to the narratives highlighted in Part 2 of this series is a storyline that speaks the language of the audience. In effect, the story empathizes with the audience’s situation to a point where audiences see themselves in the story. A great example of this is the Story of Kate offered by Sprint Small Business Solutions.

Transform Audiences into Wiser People

Like any story, an objective of a brand story is to shape audience decisions and change their behaviors through a series of episodes. An effective story arc essentially sets the stage for meeting an unmet desire of the audience with a product that transforms their lives.

And to do this effectively, the hero must face numerous setbacks as their journey plays out. Story arcs typically advance the hero from a low point to the removal of obstacles in their path. If handled effectively, the hero gets transformed into a wiser creature as they triumphantly face adversity.

 “…The end of a narrative arc is the denouement. It shows what happens as a result of all the conflict that the characters have gone through…”

-          Author Jenna Blum, The Author at Work, 2013

 Brand storytelling

So what other elements of a brand story do you find effective in your content strategies?