Tag Archives: content marketing

Creating Timely Content for Situational Triggers, Urgencies and Routines

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High on the list of many content marketing plans is the timely sequencing of content across a target audience’s buying cycle. At the top of the funnel (ToFu), content marketers have an opportunity to encounter audiences right at the time they recognize a pain point. Known as situational triggers, these moments provide timely opportunities to post blogs and other ToFu content.

Encountering Ready Prospects

Consider the case of a cosmetic dentist. Many dentists wait for signs of aging teeth as the moment to present their message. Other see the value of encountering prospects the moment they detect hair loss, discover new wrinkles or experience aging ailments. Using this moment as a situational trigger, their content could be developed on the subject of anti-aging, which features smile makeovers as one of the anti-aging remedies. This assumes the content is not perceived as self-serving (about teeth) or biased (about the dentist).

Timely Content

Continuing the analysis across other targeted personas, moments of encounter could then be identified for audiences planning to walk down the aisle, perform on stage or mingle in high society circles. When timed to reach the audience as they experience these early awareness pressures, the content can then create an opportunity to influence the consideration and evaluation phases of the audience’s decision making as well.

Exploiting Urgent Situations

Besides triggers, another way to get your target audience to appreciate your timely content is to address urgent situations early in their buying stage. The following example illustrates how a real estate accountant educated his property management and HOA audiences on what to do with a recent county regulation. At the time when condos and housing associations were faced with serious economic issues, HOA boards were looking for sources of cash to offset foreclosures.

Timely content case

One method to solve this problem was to liquidate reserves applied against potential property damage. But when a county ruling restricted the use of reserves as a cash source, HOAs faced tough choices on how to the fund budget shortfalls.

A savvy real estate accountant used this opportunity to connect with an urgent pain point. Starting with what the ruling implied, and continuing through the decision cycle with alternative workarounds, timely content was aligned with the HOA’s frame-of-mind from awareness to decision. The accountant, in this case, was credited with providing an objective response to an urgent issue.

Timing Content with Audience Consumption Routines

Understanding the routine your audiences follow in checking their email, tweets or posts can make a difference in whether your content gets on their radar at the right time. Many tools like Klout’s scheduler shown below will let you know when your audience is most active across each day of the week. Their scheduler, along with that of Hootsuite, TweetDeck and others, allow you to tweet your content to meet these peak periods.

Timing Your Content

So what other ways do you know can make your content more timely? Are their opportunities besides triggers, urgent issues and routines?


Creating Relevant Content for Target Personas and Their Buying Stage

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One of the most common complaints expressed by brands and entrepreneurs is the inability of their email marketing to yield high open and click through rates. Invariably, the low rates are blamed on email content or messaging that failed to connect with the target audience.

The same holds true for content postings on blogs or social media. In a growing climate of info-besity, relevance is arguably the most critical attribute of any content intended to educate its target audiences.

content marketing

For content to be truly relevant, it has to resonate with a persona’s pain points or passions. A test of relevance could start with the following questions proposed by content marketing strategist, Joe Pulizzi:

  1. Who is the audience and specific buyer persona you are targeting for each piece of content?
  2. What’s the pain point you are solving for them?
  3. Is what you are saying really that important?
  4. Could they find the information elsewhere?

From Spending Motivations to Personas

But the process of first discovering the relevant personas is not as simple as framing clients with monikers like “Debbie Downer” and “Soccer Moms.” Unless the persona evaluation leads to distinctions on what topics intrigue each persona or where they hang out, the evaluation serves little purpose.

If, on the other hand, an examination is made of the audience subtleties that reveal distinct pain points or passionate interests, any blog post, webinar or mobile app aimed at these persona nuances has a chance of at least being viewed by a target audience. Where the rubber meets the road on delivering relevant content is when it reveals a rich enough insight into each personas interest that the marketer is credited with intimately knowing the targeted persona as well as speaking their language.

To do this effectively, the following audits and analyses should be conducted as a prelude to discovery relevant topics:

  1. An audit of the spending motivations behind current target audiences (i.e., Why was your offering selected?).
  2. An examination of distinct psychographic personas most associated with each spending motivation.
  3. An analysis of the traits, wants and passions associated with each persona.
  4. A translation of these persona attributes need oriented topics of interest.

Notice how this was down for the case of a custom tailor. Starting with why target audiences pulled out their wallet, four spending motivations were discovered. Customers of the tailored suits were either seeking (1) perfection, (2) pleasing others, (3) prominence or (4) posturing. But when further examining the psychographic attributes of personas, twelve distinct personas were discovered, each with distinct traits, wants and passions.

social media personas

Although this seems like an overkill, a scan of the twelve personas should convince you that these folks don’t hang out in the same circles; nor do they expect the same lifestyle image from their tailored suits. Each one showed distinct enough persona traits and passions to warrant dedicated content topics especially at the top of the funnel.

From Personas to Pain Points

Continuing with the analysis, each persona attribute now allows a consolidation of needs traced back to the spending motivations. This begins the process of defining relevant content without having to build twelve different segment strategies. In this case, eleven topics were compiled for potential blog content that addressed the following pain points:

  1. Not fitting in desired social circles
  2. Inability to exude charisma
  3. Fear of embarrassment from inappropriate etiquette or attire

Topics were developed as a way to brainstorm helpful tips that address these pain points. But without knowing the personalities associated with each spending motivation, pain points are difficult to derive. Consider the case of an organic food supplier whose target audiences include chefs seeking worry free appetizers; mothers looking for nutrition for baby development; adults seeking hair and skin development; and those suffering from inflammatory diseases. The latter, in turn, consists of 3 personas: a Deprived Athlete, the Closet Bound and the Les Miserable.

Each of the personas has highly distinct pain points. For example, the Deprived Athlete is mainly concerned with high burst performance in high pollen conditions. The Closet Bound is concerned with disguising ailments. And the Les Miserable needs energy and lifted spirits to get through the day.

Collectively, the target audience (inflammatory diseases) needs relief and could perhaps benefit from natural remedies; but their specific pains points require very different content. For a more complete evaluation of more small business personas and the process used to derive relevant content, you can download the free eBook on 74 Personas for Small Businesses

Closing the Gap Between Relevance and Your Goals

The next challenge related to relevance, however, is closing the gap between audience relevance and your own content marketing goals. Too often, marketers drift too far toward a target audience’s pain points without envisioning the following:

  1. An accumulation of expertise perceived by the target audience from seeing your content.
  2. ToFu (awareness stage) topics that naturally lead into solution alternatives relevant to your value proposition.
  3. A trail of repurposed content that allows richer webinars, ebooks and other MoFu (consideration and evaluation stages) content.
  4. Topics that are readily discovered through search.

Instead, the targeted content often leaves a confusing trail of perceived subject matter expertise. And if the addressed pain points are scattered across too many disjointed topics, target audiences will struggle trying to grasp your value proposition as well as validating your understanding of their business challenges.  

Building Your Trail of Expertise

To do this effectively, notice how a real estate accountant considered their trail of expertise and customer orientation in line with one of their target audience’s pain points. Nine blog posts were aimed at addressing the needs of a property manager faced with the housing and condo meltdown in South Florida.

From the blog post titles, it is clear the accountant has an understanding of property manager’s cash flow problems. Finally, the content is sequenced along a consistent cash flow topic thereby allowing for the development of a more comprehensive ebook or webinar on maximizing property cash flow. This middle-of-the-funnel content entitles the accountant to an email opt-in, an option not available for less valuable blog posts.

relevant content example

Rather than chasing every pain point associated with the 4 audiences and their respective personas, the accountant focused on the residential property manager. By maintaining a consistent focus on their condo and HOA cash flow issues, the accounting firm validated their expertise while showing an appreciation of the property manager’s pain points.

And in the process, a stream of blog posts was repurposed into more valuable content. Without the trail of preceding blogs, however, the resulting eBook would likely have a low open rate as property managers had little chance to examine it’s the firm’s accounting expertise and knowledge of property management.

So to make your content relevant, start your process by asking why folks buy your product or service in the first place. From these spending motivations, find the subtleties in personas that reveal new insights on pain points. Then ask yourself what questions might be asked to resolve their problems.

While doing this, consider how the question could be diced into individual blog posts later consolidated into an ebook that addresses the problem more completely. This allows you to build a trail of trustworthiness posts for your audience to examine before digesting a more complete solution to their problems. 

 So what other ways can content be made relevant? Please share your own thoughts. 

Part III Blogging Tips: Blogging with Consistent Q-U-A-L-I-T-Y

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With your blog now tuned to target audiences and focused on capturing their attention, a remaining step is to ensure your content is backed by consistent quality

Quality Content

Quick and to the Point

As described earlier, the use of a conversational style and visuals makes a blog more scannable. But much can be done with writing structure to make it even quicker to digest. That is why expert bloggers spend considerable time on the first few sentences. This opening must spell out why the topic benefits your audience and what you plan to say.

The first point implies that the fewer points made the better. The concept works much like an ad. You have a limited number of seconds to convince your readers that the one pain point or passion they have will be well covered in your post. And there will be nothing else to distract them.

The second point means you have to “tell them what you are going to tell them”. Then “tell them” in the body of your post. And then “tell them what you told them at the end of your post”. Progression of the post should be quick and to the point if you want today’s reader to stick around.

To accomplish this, leading bloggers like Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman offer the following advice:

  • Use bullets and lists to edit out unnecessary words
  • Make sentences and paragraphs short (< 6 lines paragraph)
  • Break up text with headings and subheadings
  • Highlight key points in quotes or bolded phrases
  • Use easy to read fonts

Unbiased Content

What distinguishes true journalism from the average blog post is the information vetting process used to validate findings. Few would argue that traditional journalism is based on far more rigorous standards for source accuracy than what is found in the blogosphere. This does not imply you shouldn’t express an opinion. But it does suggest that readers appreciate content that is unbiased and backed by either well documented evidence or well respected insights.

So for content to be considered high quality, the information offered in your post has to be accurate and reliable. Among the best ways to accomplish this is through empirically tested results or the insights offered by recognized experts in the field. This is why leading bloggers regularly post interviews with leading authorities often in the form of a playbook of insights from many experts.

Survey results from your own client sampling can also remove this biased perception especially if the sample is large, representative and empirically tested with at least a reasonable methodology. This can be done without laying out the entire testing procedure in the base of the post. It merely requires a brief explanation or reference to the study background.

As an example, I released fifteen blog posts on ways to create entertaining content from a study conducted on viral videos. Each post made reference to the study posted on SlideShare and included the following closing paragraph on the study background. 

A total of 3351 high performing videos (> 50K views) were examined in this ranking of top YouTube videos. These viral videos included re-casted television commercials that were posted on YouTube as a social media video back channel. Statistics were then recorded on the number of likes, dislikes, comments and views, where an exploratory study was subsequently published with the Academy of Marketing Science and 2013 Cross-Cultural Research Conference.

Quality Content example

Actionable CTAs

Blogs are used primarily as top-of-funnel content. This makes them ideal for capturing audience attention at an early awareness stage. But much of that blog traffic may not return unless readers are encouraged to take immediate action after reading the content.  This requires that your blog content host actionable calls to action (CTA) such as:

  1. Registering for free webinars
  2. Downloading white papers, case studies, reports or eBooks
  3. Joining live events
  4. Following on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest
  5. Sharing with friends
  6. Subscribing to newsletters and blogs
  7. Offering comments
  8. Posing questions
  9. Requesting demos or more information
  10. Buying through shopping carts

These CTAs not only provide an avenue to maintain engagement, they help escort your prospects through the sales funnel. A compelling CTA, for example, represents an opportunity for you to analyze data from the downloaded content or subscriptions and measure which topics had the greatest impact on conversion. And by encouraging your prospect to take the next step, you stay in the loop. This allows another opportunity to demonstrate your trustworthiness while keeping the prospect from researching elsewhere.

Link-worthy Content

As blogs invite far more interest than websites for an audience to link their content to yours, it is important to make your content link-worthy. This goes beyond a desire to share your content. There must be something of value that adds to their own content.

This value could include a source of validation for some of their expert claims or positions taken on a subject. This is why the display of study results in your blog post from new empirical research can attract links. The same applies to ratings, top rankings and reviews that validate someone’s credentials. Finally, audiences often link to their own guest posts on someone’s blog as a way to validate their expertise or popularity.

Linkworthy Content

Image Intensive Content

A clear drawback of predominantly textual content in a blog post is its often overwhelming and impersonal appearance. Graphical and photo based imagery not only require less mental processing, they strike an emotional chord that even the best of written poetry cannot accomplish. Moreover, imagery allows you to mix up your content as a diversity tactic. Audiences often appreciate the change up.

It is no secret that images are the most shared media on the likes of Facebook. That in itself is testimony to its appeal as a content element. But the rise of photo messaging apps (e.g., Snapchat), mobile photo-sharing services (e.g., Instagram) and visual discovery tools (e.g., Pinterest) attests to how dependent social media users are on viewing something over reading something. Pinterest, in particular, has become one of the leading drivers of traffic to websites. Your benefitting from this traffic, however, assumes that your blog post accommodates photos to be pinned.

Besides photos, SlideShare decks can be embedded into your blog both as a site traffic builder and a preview of deeper content.  Notice from this example on my own blog where an embedded slide gives you a preview of the content from SlideShare right on the blog. A downloaded eBook, on the other hand, would not give you this built-in preview.

Slideshare Content

Talk-worthy Content

For blogs to engage with your audience, they have to invite a dialog. Some refer to this tactic as making your content REMARKable (by inviting remarks) or Talk-worthy.

This may not be the same incentive they have to share or link to your content. Share-worthiness and Link-worthiness have more to do with leveraging your bragging rights or backing your story. The intent of making your content talk-worthy, on the other hand, is to stimulate a conversation or invite feedback as a method to keep your readers involved.

Some of the most popular techniques for accomplishing this is to include open ended posts that fuel a debate. Rather than solving the problem, you could engage in a series of points and counterpoints enlisting your reviewers to share their own thoughts. More reputable bloggers often engage their viewers for crowdsourcing (i.e., the process of gathering content by soliciting contributions from a large sample of followers). But even a simple request for feedback or response to a poll can often spur a dialog.

Talkworthy Content

Your Voice

One of the most common responses offered by blogging experts on tips for drawing in an audience is to be authentic and enthusiastic. This starts with writing about something you are passionate about; but, more importantly, doing it in a voice that best reflects who you are. As leading blogger, Michael Hyatt, points out, many bloggers attempt to be someone that are not when building a blogging platform.[ii] Instead, he prescribes one of three possibilities (authority, empathy or transparency) to examine in defining your own authentic voice:

  1. The Sage. This is a recognized expert in the field who can speak with authority.
  2. The Sherpa. This is the trusted guide who has learned from their mistakes and who speaks with the voice of confidence and empathy.
  3. The Struggler. This is a fellow traveler who merely shares their own successes and mistakes as they embark on their journey. They have the voice of transparency as they tell it like it is.

Once you determine your role as Sage, Sherpa or Struggler, you have a clearer path as to how you want to solve your target audience’s problems. The Sage may entertain an interview or FAQ format while the Sherpa chooses a more talk-worthy approach where the two-way dialog permits more shared experiences. The Struggler, on the other hand, may elect to be more visual in their approach so the reader gets a more intimate look at what works and what doesn’t.

Regardless of the chosen role, upholding this authenticity requires that you stay consistent with the voice. Too often we read blogs written by someone with a low key blogging tone only to hear a motivational speaker when they are interviewed in a podcast. By resorting to these pumped-up impersonations, you run the risk of tarnishing the connection your readers, listeners or viewers may have had with your candor and personality.

Finally, consider how you will impart this voice. A great way to set the stage is to get personal with your audience. That is why the world famous Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, has achieved astounding results on her blog. She started with a personal story.

So what are some of your additional suggestions for focusing your blogs on audience attraction?

Part II Blogging Tips: Blogs F-O-C-U-S-E-D on Audience Attraction

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This second of a three part series on blogging tips deals with audience attraction. Now that the blog strategy and selected topics are tuned for the right audience connection, another critical exercise is to ensure that your blog efforts are F-O-C-U-S-E-D on capturing the attention of your audience.  The next part of this series deals with creating quality content.

Social Content Focusing

Frequent Postings

Content consistency is paramount. That is why it is important to blog at least twice a week especially when starting out. If there is nothing new for readers to see, they will quickly lose interest and see you as disengaged. But beyond the retention of repeat visitors, the frequency of posts impacts the number of new visitors to your site as well. Each new post, for example, adds to the number of indexed pages recognized by the search engines. Fresh content also signals to the search engines that your authority on the subject is backed by frequently updated information.

This not only improves the chances of target audiences simply finding the content, a study conducted by Hubspot revealed the following impacts on lead generation as well:

  • An average company will see a 45% growth in traffic when increasing total blog articles from 11-20 to 21-50 articles
  • Companies that increase blogging from 3-5 x/month to 6-8 x/month almost double their leads.

Optimized Content

According to Lee Odden, author of Optimize, “Blogs are one of the most powerful publishing platforms that integrates the best of SEO, content marketing and social media optimization” (p. 147). As the centerpiece of content marketing, blogs can serve as an aggregator of all your content while exploiting the power of its search potential and social outreach.

Search is greatly enhanced by its text-rich content and ability to attract links. But this requires attention to the following opportunities you have to boost search results.

  1. Optimizing your blog domain URL, titles and page construction descriptions around key phrases relevant to your target population and the benefits you provide.
  2. Optimizing each blog post around keyword phrases you are targeting for persona pain points.

This last point refers to visible text opportunities as well as the hidden HTML text used in tagging and page construction. Each post provides an opportunity to exploit key phrases in the visible body of text where special attention should be given to the titles, headers and the first paragraph of the post. In addition, bloggers have ample real estate in their HTML meta tags for describing their content through title descriptions, tags, anchor text, and image alt text.

The key is to tag and categorize everything but without overdoing the process. If the algorithms sense that you are engaged in keyword stuffing, you can get heavily penalized in search results. Instead, focus on simply being the best answer to what your target audience repeatedly asks. The latest of search algorithms (e.g., Hummingbird) will likely credit your content to a popular search query and reward you with high search results.

This also implies, however, that your content cannot be too short as it provides few opportunities to demonstrate your authority on the subject. So despite the pressure to keep blog posts short due to overcrowded content, blogging experts suggest that posts exceed 500 words for searchability.

Cross-Platform Promotion

Blogs lend themselves well to hosting mid-of-funnel content often through registration pages, download links and embedded presentations. For example, you can make an audio version of your blog post for an upcoming podcast show.  This cross-promotion not only boosts the exposure of your other content (e.g., podcasts, webinars, videos and apps), it allows a top-funnel to mid-funnel connection with your target audience.

Cross Platform Social ContentThe same applies in the outbound direction. You can make you posts social by abbreviated them for microblogs, newsletter digests, weekly roundups, social media posts or social networking group discussions. A link to the more comprehensive blog post could then provide detailed information if needed.

In addition to cross-promoting, blog posts should be crafted with an intent to create multiple pieces of content often in the form of a blog series. Turning blogs posts into podcasts, slide decks, eBooks or white papers are just a few of the many ways to repurpose your posts. This saves on resources while providing an avenue to mid-funnel content in the process. An additional blog post – remember this for search potential – can then be used as an introduction to the deeper content. As an example, see how this is done on my own blog for showcasing eBooks and by the Content Marketing Institute for their podcast introductions.

Unique Content

But in order to deliver something of value to your target audience in your post, you need to offer something unique. If not, your audience will merely see you as a curator of others’ ideas. A great way to start is to look for original content. This could include recently surveyed information or breaking news.

But as blog experts will point out, unique content does not always have to be original. You can write about your unique strategies or experiences as well. Many bloggers merely provide a unique angle to widely discussed topics. If not their own, they invite experts to share their thoughts. Either way, by providing a unique perspective, you help your audience with interpretation and judgment.

I applied this to my own field when evaluating social media books to read. There are plenty of practitioners who rate their Top 10s; so I reviewed, rated and ranked the Top 25 social media books from an academic perspective. As acknowledged by bestselling author, Jay Baer, the countdown offered something new to the social media community.

Social Content Perspective

Another approach to making your content unique is to play the role of the contrarian or devil’s advocate. Readers then benefit from the counterpoints often giving you the credit for having a fresh perspective. And by building controversy into your argument, readers will often become more engaged as they feel compelled to share their own perspective.

Ironically, a fourth way to make you content unique is to back off on over addressing audience needs and focus more on injecting your own passions. After all, it’s how others respond to your ideas that count the most. Social media author, Jay Acunzo, puts it this way: “If you only think about your audience, you’ll likely start to sound exactly like all your competitors.” Ideally you want to blend you audience’s interests with your own. This can best be accomplished with a personal story relevant to your audience. 

Shareable Content

The key to making your blog shareable is to first make your posts easy to share. Most blogging platforms allow you to accomplish this very easily through plug-ins that include sharing across dozens of platforms. At minimum, your posts must be reach where your target audiences hang out. This could include relevant LinkedIn groups, Google+ communities and Twitter chats.

The more emotion felt from your post, the greater the opportunity to be shared. This could include the use of humor, heartfelt moments, feelings of astonishment or inspirational stories.

Another inducement to share is based on the passing of bragging rights. This is why articles on breaking news are key. Readers are often anxious to share what they believe to be an exclusive discovery.  

Shareworthy Content Marketing

To ensure your content is shareable with a relevant audience, it’s important to syndicate it through an RSS feed or through the many blogging listing directories, social bookmarking sites and news aggregators. Finally, you can post the blog outside your domain with the intent of creating a new audience. This can be done by featuring your posts as a guest blog on a high traffic site as well as posting on social networks like LinkedIn.

Eye Catching Title

Without a doubt, headlines are the most important part of your post. And to craft one effectively, you have to pique your audience’s curiosity. One way to do this is to distract them with a message that seems out of sorts. When asking my students what advertisement they remember on a highway sponsoring over 50 signs, they invariably recall two of them. One says “You Wife is Hot”. Reading further, the sign says “You Better Fix Her Air Conditioning”. The other says “We Buy Ugly”. Both represent anomalies that capture our attention.

Asking a question – especially if it’s provocative – can also pique your audience’s attention. At minimum, curious readers may enjoy the insights from a contrary position like “Will Instagram Disappear”? Leading blogger, Jeff Bullas, often uses negative terms in his titles. His post on “The Top 15 Social Media Marketing Strategy Mistakes to Avoid” has amassed nearly 3K tweets.

Documented Content

The fast growth of video for content marketing has undoubtedly created the most powerful means of attracting and engaging target audiences.  A challenge at this point, however, is to make the video searchable. One way to accomplish this is by transcribing the audio and posting the script along with the video. This will help the content get found by search engines. Once transcribed, the scripted version could be embellished with slides, diagrams, infographics and photos to make it more appealing as a blog post.

The same could be accomplished for audio podcasts and conference presentations. Recordings can be spelled out into scripted versions with embedded slides and audio takes. This not only provides an additional opportunity to release another blog post, it captures the attention of search engines recognizing the embedded link s potentially from high page ranking sources as well as the keyword rich text in the script. If permitted by the podcaster or presenter, the script could be optimized around additional search terms that further boost the page rank. 

So what are some of your additional suggestions for focusing your blogs on audience attraction?

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?

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 1: HEARTFELT Impacts)

“…For years, she fashioned herself as a fast tracking, glamorous woman from Los Angeles. After 25 years of city life, the stage was set for a cosmopolitan lawyer to hob-knob in the country club settings of corporate America…”


Do you believe the hype surrounding brand storytelling? It is highlighted in dozens of 2014 social media predictions as the key to standing out in a noisy world of content. The following first of a three part series explains why brand storytelling can build an emotional connection with your content audiences.


“…One day when paying a visit to her childhood hometown in the American Midwest, Marlboro Man captured her glance. Soon after, she found herself in the arms of a cowboy who would be the father of her four children. Her black heels turned to tractor wheels as she rode into the sunset with a slow-talking, easy-going cattle rancher.”

Pioneer Women Story

Ladd Drummond & Lee Drummond, The Pioneer Woman

“Once Upon a Time” Content Marketing Explosion

This prairie-tale romance led to Ree Drummond’s story as The Pioneer Woman, an award-winning American blogger and a No. 1 New York bestselling author. Now the wife of cowboy, Ladd Drummond, her story attracted 1.4 million Facebook Likes and a blog reaching over 30 million page views a month while earning millions of dollars annually from display advertising.

What fascinates Ree’s readers are her stories of ranch life and home schooling that feature real country-life characters. Her home page persona essentially implies that those dreaming of being lassoed by a cowboy should follow her story of city girl turned country gal. 

Ree Drummond Persona

Ree Drummond’s Persona Epitomizes the Sensibilities of Country Living

Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, represents a style of storytelling where alter egos long for the freedom to escape their hectic lifestyle roots into a more sensible and care free world. Much like the “la dolce vita” persona of Vespa owners or the rebellious demeanor of Harley Hogs, she appeals to an audience longing to let loose of their complex and regimental lifestyles.

But what about B2B content? Is there really any place for storytelling? Consider the way hundreds of business schools and thousands of operations managers learned about the Theory of Constraints. This popular management philosophy was introduced by storyteller, Eliyahu Goldratt in his 1984 book titled “The Goal.”

Eliyahu Goldratt Story

Eliyahu Goldratt’s “The Goal” Used a Story to Sell 3+ Million Copies

Can you ever imagine a college textbook that you could not put down?

Eli’s sale of over 3 million copies and a movie is testimony to the power of story when solving production problems. Written as a suspenseful piece of fiction, Eli hooks his reader into an episodic work of adventure juxtaposed with his marital life. The main character, Alex, has a mentor, Jonah, who helps him solve the company problems and his marital challenges. 

What’s Behind the Brand Storytelling Hype?

Hardly a social media prediction went by this past year that did not mention brand storytelling as among the top trends to watch in 2014. Brands are jumping on this bandwagon as a way to connect with their audiences on an emotional level – and for good reason. We are being bombarded with so much content that many brands see the emotional route as perhaps the only way to standout.

Building an Emotional Connection

So why storytelling? Let’s start with the concepts most often used to create an emotional connection with our content. For content to provoke an emotional response, it helps to have entertaining value. Our own study of the top 15 ways to creating entertaining content found commercials involving astonishment, heartfelt moments, sentimental humor, put-downs and performing arts to score extremely well on engagement.

entertaining content

Six of Fifteen Entertaining Concepts Tap Into Emotions

Besides entertainment, humanizing and personalizing content also creates an emotional attachment as audiences credit our empathy as being oriented to their personal needs. Having an authentic voice, in a context that involves our audiences, is a great start towards connecting at an emotional level.  

And by creating content in a visual format, audiences can quickly see a connection to our brand’s message hopefully in the context of their own experiences. In essence, we are telling rather than selling so that audiences grasp ideas over product pitches.

Adding Compelling Narratives for Brand Recall, Involvement and Inspiration

But storytelling not only combines personalization, involvement and entertainment, it provides an opportunity for brands to inspire audiences. By offering a persuasive narrative, equipped with a hero, a conflict and eventual resolution of the conflict, audiences can become part of the storyline.

brand story

Stories inspire audiences to live vicariously through your brand’s story

If done right, the story could hook audiences into an anticipation for upcoming episodes while creating a growing connection with the stories protagonist. Over time, the brand is seen as providing something meaningful to the audiences’ own challenges.

And this can be done without pitching product features or directing your audience on what to do. It’s done by allowing the audience to live vicariously through your brand’s story; which, according to Dave Kerpan, is the secret to making a brand likeable

Without a compelling narrative to capture your brand’s vision and personality, personalized messaging and entertainment merely offer moments of attention and engagement. To be remembered, however, audiences need repeated doses of emotional lift often brought about from ongoing episodes and a story-line that resonates with their own life challenges.

Stories Abound in the Age of Information Overload

So how far have we come in adopting brand stories?  In our study of the Top 15 Ways to Create Entertaining Content, over 50 high performing videos (> 50,000 views) released in the past few years were found to involve some form of brand storytelling. This included 30-60 second slice-of-life narratives as well as plotted story-lines.

Since then, we have seen numerous releases of the 2-5 minute brand story captured in animated storylines and mini-films, many of which garnered millions of views.  This longer-form release captures the true essence of storytelling. Some great examples include:

  1. TSB: The Story
  2. Glenlivet’s Brand Story
  3. Chipotle’s Back to the Start and The Scarecrow 
  4. Nikon Brand Story “THE DAY”
  5. WestJet’s Christmas Miracle
  6. Jose Cuervo
  7. Dove Real Beauty Sketches
  8. Google Chrome: Dear Sophie
brand stories

Growing Popularity of Long-Form Brand Stories

Storied Content Sponsored by Brands

But this year, we have seen the adoption of brand stories in multi-episode web productions like Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous, Chanel ‘s Reincarnation, Sony Cracker’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee shown during the Super Bowl, and the Brotherhood Pilot presented by Esquire TV and Chivas. The high performance success of these native advertisements shows early signs that branded entertainment may be a powerful vehicle to create brand stories.

web brand stories

Emergence of Brand Stories in Multi-Episode Web Productions

Common to this long-form storyline is a musical journey into the brand’s roots often leading to obstacles, a perseverance to overcome and a moral to the story (e.g., Chipotle’s call to cultivate a better world).

Brand Stories Adoption will Accelerate

But the growing trend towards brand stories does not just include mini-series productions and slice-of-life narratives recast on YouTube. The concept of using storytelling is now be applied to web design, podcasts, imagery and even data.

What’s fueling the rapid adoption of brand storytelling is incredible content overload hitting social channels. We are now producing enough content to explain why 90% of the world’s data ever produced was created in the last two years 

Brand stories offer an option to distinguish yourself from the noise. By provoking feelings and emotions, stories stand a greater chance of reaching prospects at the awareness stage of their buying cycle. And by allowing audience’s to easily visualize a brand’s vision, stories have a better shot at conveying meaning to an audience’s own pain points. Add to that the more lasting impact that visual storytelling has than factual-based messages; and you can see why stories resonate more in an age of information overload.


Information Overload Demanding Stories with Heartfelt Connections

Brands are also recognizing in a bigger way how their unique personality can distinguish their content from that of their competition. Ample evidence shows that audiences seek connection with an authentic brand voice whose values resonate with their own. This emotional connection overrides even the most powerful of value propositions especially at a time where trust in messages is at an all-time low.

Finally, brands are seeing how they can strike an emotional chord with their target personas from the vast amount of big data characterizing their audiences. Today’s marketer has sufficient profile and behavioral data to craft a brand story that truly resonates with their followers.

So be prepared for the incessant “Once Upon a Time” approaches to content strategies as brands seek to distinguish themselves with a lasting emotionally connection. Boardroom meetings may even occur around a campfire previewing their latest “Tale of Two Budgets.”

Part II Storytelling

So do you buy into this trend towards storytelling as a mainstream content strategy? Or do you think it will only create a new wave of content saturation?

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


2014 Social Media Predictions: Wrap Up of Top 10 Stars, RIPs, Marginals & Rebounds

As the list of 2014 social media and content marketing predictions winds to a close, what can organizations really take to the bank this year?

2014 Social Media Predictions

Download this complimentary report  of the Top 10 Rising Stars, RIPs, Marginals and Rebounds from an academic perspective that attempts to winnow the wheat from the chaff. In addition to rationalizing the hottest trends in social media and content marketing, we also examine the comeback potential of traditional media caught in the social, local, mobile (SoLoMo) tsunami.

Synthesizing over 200 expert predictions from the social media and content marketing world, we concluded the following. 

2014 Social Media Predictions:

Top 10 Stars, RIPs, Marginals & Rebounds

So have we missed anything? Please share your comments.


2014 Social Media Predictions from a Strategic Planning Perspective

After combing through scores of predictions on what will happen in 2014 with social media, you have probably seen a pattern. Social media and content marketing will be more about honing strategies, leveraging big data, hosting micro-videos and getting serious about ROI. But how can we distill from these predictions a manageable set of planning inputs to our operating budgets?  

To begin, let’s consider what impacts the planning process. Many of the predictions relate to strategy development across marketing, advertising and brand development. Other predictions cover the environment as it relates to user expectations, media ecosystems and changes to expect in our operating infrastructures. The rest provide insights as to what business models are likely to succeed.

2014 Social Media Summary

Strategic Summary of 2014 Social Media Predictions


Strategy in this social media Zeitgeist can be summed up as one of streamlining and seamlessly blending into our audience’s social experience. Consider the streamlining in your plan as the typical steps taken by companies during a lean recovery state. During these maturation stages, we begin to prune away the experimenting of shiny new objects and focus more on the most likely to payoff.

This usually leads to greater attention on integration and execution and less attention on experimenting. So for many brands and small businesses in 2014, there will likely be heightened attention on what really contributed to lead generation and conversion. As a result, the merits of content that shows promise in stimulating engagement will weigh more heavily in budget decisions than the merits of content reaching the largest audience.

Consequently, engagement metrics (e.g., comments and shares) will be more important than vanity metrics (e.g., likes and followers).    The seamless blending of content into our user experience streams has much to do with separating ourselves from the clutter. One way to do this is by adding value to the content our audience is actually seeking. This should translate into more purposeful content pieces that reach our audience in the right way, at the right time and in the right mood.

social media strategy

Strategic Planning Implications from 2014 Social Media Predictions

Content Strategies

Content marketing strategies will have to be more justifiable and hyper-focused. The goal here is to boost conversion rates at the expense of more fans and followers. One way to start on track is to repurpose curated content. For example, consider how you can regularly reach a targeted audience at many points in their buying cycle by recasting your content into several blog pieces, podcasts and videos. Not all of the content has to be original.

Your audience merely wants a reliable source that answers the mail briefly and immediately. The latter suggest you repurpose the content on whatever platforms your audience prefers at the time. This leads to another planning adjustment. 2014 may be more about smart content distribution than content development. In order for conversion rates to go up, budgets will have to shift more towards channel placement.

And with pay-for-play social advertising on the rise, this will mean more investment in reaching your targeted audience. Finally, nearly every social media and content marketing expert agrees that “creating for mobile first” should be foremost in our content marketing thinking. With mobile access to social media expected to exceed desktop access in less than 2 years, expect successful brands to invest heavily this year in responsive mobile websites.

Brand Engagement Strategies

Many predict that 2014 will be the year where real-time mobile customer engagement, brand storytelling, influence marketing and share-worthiness is seen as the key to deeper engagement. With noise levels skyrocketing, more brands are recognizing that engagement will require more than promised benefits. Brands will have to inspire and entertain more than ever.

By storytelling, brands have an opportunity to develop a loyal following that is far more interested in stories than brand messages.   In addition, more brands will be expected to adopt their own media studios and newsrooms as tight control of the brand story requires a more immediate response and authentic voice to their target audience. Although the cost to operating plans seems onerous at this point, longer-term savings are likely to result as in-house control of the brand story leads to a more reliable boost in engagement.

Advertising Strategies

Here is where we see a great deal of consistency among predictions. 2014 will be the year where paid social ads will be adopted reluctantly by brands as perhaps the only way to maximize their reach in social network news feeds. At question, however, is the timing of native advertising as a core element of content marketing plans.

Sponsored or branded content will be key to separating brand stories from the noise of too many brands now competing for diminishing social ad attention. Much of this content will likely be niche-specific and of high enough quality that followers recognize immediate value. And to provide this value, brands may have to consider longer-form content. Jay Baer even suggests this will be the year that Advertorial 2.0 takes hold.

But perhaps the biggest breakthrough backed by 2013 evidence will be the widespread use of native apps. According to Portio Research, mobile apps, in general, are projected to grow in revenue from $12 billion last year, a projected to $64 billion by 2015 As more brands witness the success of Clorox, Charmin, Ortho and Columbia in advising us how to remove a stain, find a clean restroom, identify a weed, and tie a boat knot, respectively, native apps in particular will capitalize on this trend towards real-time ‘self-help’.

Marketing Strategies

As the quality of data surrounding our prospects has drastically improved, more brands will likely exploit the ability to know what audiences are doing at a certain time and place. Add to that the knowledge gained from behavioral tracking and social profiles, we have an excellent formula for hyper-targeting. And much of the technology is here to pull it off.  In 2014, however, it is premature to estimate the impact that a combined SoLoMo-Pro (social, local, mobile, information) will have on market planning.

At minimum, however, expect brands to be ramping up for the use of predictive analytics in retargeted advertising. Experience in this level of behavioral targeting can then lead the way for contextual marketing that supports a real-time and locally relevant shopping experience. Another trend to expect in 2014 is the growth in agile video marketing. Expect brands to embrace their own newsrooms as mobile users become accustomed to getting rapid response news on breaking stories.


As in any plan, a survey of our surroundings help us understand the landscape of competition and technology constraints. Most likely to materialize this year is:

  1. A technology that is analytical and possibly wearable
  2. Data that is important for ROI
  3. An audience tweeting with TV
  4. A referee, called Hummingbird, that will level the playing field for true content contributors
  5. Content platforms meant for the short-lived and easily escapable
social media infrastructure

2014 Predictions for Social Media Infrastructure


Much to the credit of big data, an estimated 20% of US display advertising will involve programmatic ad buying. The rapid growth of brands flocking to the programmatic buying process will likely continue as over-stretched marketing resources seek efficiencies from automation. Social networks are dramatically changing the landscape of TV marketing and will certainly impact planning for 2014. The market for second screen for global social TV is expected to reach $250 billion over the next 3 years.

As the sale of iPads and smartphones continue to skyrocket, expect the same growth in TV viewers interacting with live show content. One area still in question is the role of wearable technologies. Glassware, smart watches and wrist-ware are still serving the early adopters in an application seeking mode. Although Google Glasses is often sported in the media as the high-concept wearable tech product of the year, its future is still uncertain. At most the market will still be in its nascent stage. So small businesses, in particular, may be wise to holding off any plans to gear up for wearable device optimizing.

Social Search Engine

Google’s Hummingbird is being greeted with mixed responses. It is good news for legitimate content providers and bad news for black hat SEO spammers. We finally have a search engine who is penalizing SEO link spamming and magical keyword stuffing. Hat’s off to Google and their semantic oriented search algorithm for coming pretty close to a fair measure of legitimate content.

Content marketers would be wise to provide high quality, in-depth content that resonates with topics most sought after by their target audience. And think video first, video second and video third. The same will apply to search algorithms inherent in the social networks and their tagging or hash-tagging formats. Those that provide engaging and highly shareable content will ultimately win out on exposure.


Here also is where there is a great deal of consistency in predictions.  Brands should devote an inordinate share of resources to short-form visual content. Video content will benefit search. Short videos in particular will appeal to the limited attention span of today’s audience. And perhaps more than before, we are seeing evidence that consumers expect content to fit the platform.

So think erasable video on Snapchat, gifs on Tumblr, 6-sec videos on Twitter Vine, infographics on blogs and photo rich content on Facebook. At the same time, brands inundated with multi-platform involvement are turning to fusion marketing to integrate their traditional and digital marketing tools.

By working off one platform or dashboard, they hope to manage and benefit from multiple campaigns launched from one place. Investments should also be considered for the development of niche oriented apps. This growing field of Friend-of-Mine apps is likely to materialize this year as more consumers recognize the value and handiness of self-help mobile apps.

Success Models

A successful business model could be summed up as serious and laser-focused. Successful brands by the end of 2104 will likely attribute their success to hyper-targeting. Rather than seeking new ways to acquire fans and followers, this will be a year of measuring, re-calibrating and reloading.

2014 Social media predictions

Business Modeling Implications of 2014 Social Media Predictions

Common to most business models will be a subscription-based approach to engagement. This bodes well for email marketing services and will likely put in question the need for RSS. Brands will be looking at courting highly qualified leads with pinpointed solutions to each need across the entire buying stage. Big data and closed loop analytics will then validate what tactics worked best toward conversion. And if not conversion, expect brands to measure retention and influence as a proxy for business to come.

This will also be the year that brands formalize their involvement in content marketing. The arrival of more Chief Content Officers and more formalized social business set-ups will likely pave the way for new social talent and enterprise-wide collaboration on social intelligence gathering and social listening. More importantly, 2014 will likely see PR and customer service finding their way into social media marketing

Companies will capitalize more on the power of employees as brand advocates. And with this greater commitment to a social business, more pressure will be placed on marketing, in particular, to validate a greater amount of budget requests with hardcore ROI measurements now available from online tools and cloud-based databases.

Social Experience

Of all the crystal ball predictions, this area of planning is perhaps the least suspect. Here is what we know for certain. Millenials, in particular, are flocking to ephemeral media sites in droves. Facebook’s offer of $3 billion for Snapchat was just topped by Google for $4 billion. So it is safe to say, Millenials want erasable media.

2014 Social Media Predictions

User Experience Implications from 2014 Social Media Predictions

We also have ample evidence to suggest that the deteriorating attention spans of Millenials will accelerate the arrival of contextually relevant content. So expect location based services to rapidly adopt social context as well. And as the momentum of early adopters builds, inside shopping assistance will become an expectation.

In the interim, many predict that Twitter Vine will flourish in this next year as applications for “how-to’s,” and “where to find” will augment the earlier and more limited functions of geo-targeting. Now imagine what this does to our customer service departments as target audiences become addicted to getting what they want NOW.

Finally, consumers will recognize all the more in 2014 that the power of conversation rests in their hands. Brands will have to compromise their desire for storytelling with allowing fans an opportunity to share their experiences. In return, fans will expect to be inspired and entertained if brands want their continued involvement. This will pressure more brands to step up their social customer service as fans will expect immediate reaction to their socially registered complaints.  


Arguably, 2013 was a lackluster year of new technology. Wearable technologies were a disappointment; and perhaps the only shiny new object warranted our attention was Snapchat. Instead, we witnessed the maturation of content marketing and how the social dominion went from publishing to sharing to repurposing curating content. Much of this new wave emerged from the media fatigue that forced many brands to adopt smarter and more proven approaches to their social media marketing efforts.

That is why many experts are predicting 2014 to be less about breakthroughs and more about hyper-targeting, optimizing and fine tuning strategies.    What’s more, plenty of evidence is mounting that marketers will be less concerned about reach and more about impact as executives press them for measured results. Much of this impact will likely come from legitimate, high quality content as Google’s Hummingbird algorithm makes it increasingly more difficult for SEO spammers to muddy the waters. 

So which of these predictions will likely present the biggest challenges to entrepreneurs in 2014?

Social Media Predictions Wrapped Up in 13 Oxymorons

Had your fill of Social Media Predictions? Some say this is the age of advocacy and experience marketing. Others say it’s the year of proprietary audience, content purpose, content quality and SoLoMoPro. One thing is for certain. This is the year of the oxymoron.

2014 social media predictions

Definition of an oxymoron: two opposing words or concepts.

If you assume that most social media experts are correct in their predictions, then we are likely entering a year of:

  1. Open Secrets
  2. Personalized Anonymity
  3. Erasable Relationships
  4. Paid Trust
  5. Unwinding Fatigue
  6. Longer but Shorter-Form Content
  7. Smaller Use of Big Data
  8. Interrupting Permission Marketing
  9. Edutainment
  10. More Exact Estimates
  11. Social Technology
  12. Acting Naturally
  13. A Pretty Ugly Facebook

In summary brands should focus on building lasting, but ephemeral relationships using outbound techniques for inbound marketing in an anonymous, but highly personal media. What’s wrong with this picture? 

Open Secrets

Call it social privacy, the term itself is a contradiction. But consider this paradox in objectives. Organizations today are arguably more concerned about data security than ever before. From Edward Snodan’s Big Brother NSA revelations to HealthCare.gov’s security concerns and Target’s massive data leaks, security breaches have made more brands sensitive to their domain privacy.  

At the same time, they are embracing cloud resources more than ever to help scale their social media participation. It sounds like they are taking measures for their public space to be private and their private space to go public?

Personalized Anonymity

Following the Weinergate saga and other public snafus, consumers are also getting sensitive to their social privacy. The early successes of Snapchat and Whisper are testimony to the rising popularity among Millennials to erase any potential of wrongdoing or less than desirable make-up.

social video fo predictions

Personalized Anonymity

At the same time, we expect high-context content to reach these audiences with hyper-targeted precision that is now possible from knowing what they like, where they are, what they are doing and who they are with. So are we trying to find out as much as we can about anonymous fans?

Erasable Relationships

And don’t forget to build lasting relationships and lifetime value with these folks before the media expires. You have 6 seconds to make that happen on Vine. If they are using ephemeral media, you better hit the resend over and over and over.

Ephemeral Media: This Tape will Destruct in 5 Seconds
oxymoron for 2014 social media predictions

This tape will self destruct in 6 seconds.

Paid Trust

Most agree we now have to pay-to-play for fans to notice our posts in their News Feeds. But wasn’t the purpose for maximizing organic reach to reward routine engagement of communities with relevant content? In return, these brands would be rewarded high exposure from those that supposedly know, like and trust the brand. So doesn’t ”pay-to-play” imply “buy my trust?”

Unwinding Fatigue

A common complaint cited in many 2014 social media predictions relates to social media fatigue. The reduced attention span of consumers is pressuring brands to consider shorter bursts of video based content.

But wait. Don’t forget to pack more into our audience’s decompression time. Podcasting and wearable computer technologies are expected to rise in popularity as burned out content users seek more ways to cram in content at the gym, in the car and on the couch.

Interrupting Permission Marketing

Do you remember the early definitions of inbound marketing or permission-based marketing? We were avoiding the use of interrupting and non-permissive advertising techniques which were more about “telling us” rather than “inviting us.” The concept relied on the use of social media and content marketing to earn the attention of prospective customers.

This contrasted to the more interrupted style of broadcasted, outbound marketing. But with a deluge of competing content, many brands are quickly resorting to the promotion of links and social ads to their content. i.e., we are using outbound approaches to trigger our inbound marketing.   

Longer but Shorter Content

Many experts predict 2014 will be the year where attention span deterioration forces a greater consumption of short-form, video content Consumers will expect 15-second Instagram videos and other micro-content. And many experts agree that short-form will trump long-form in viewership and engagement. 

At the same time, top social media forecasters are predicting an inordinate rise in longer-form content as brand publishers response to what Google’s search algorithms prefer in their high quality content assessments. So the long and short of it is:  ”Tweet a teaser to your richer media experience and more complete brand story where and when Google’s Hummingbird and a more available audience will give you the time of the day.”

Smaller Use of Big Data

Big data is the arguably the most cited trend in 2014 social media predictions. We have reached a point where massive amounts of contextual, historical and real-time data will be married to predictive behavior models for the perfectly hyper-targeted and behaviorally matched content.  And all of this will be consumed on a smartphone, wristband or tiny watch.

Big Data in Social Media

Big Data for Smaller Screens


Marketing in the year 2014 is often referred to as the age of engagement, entertainment and education. So we are being entertained and educated at the same time? How cool is that? Why couldn’t Sister Jolene understand that? We were only disrupting her teaching in response to the entertainment value she apparently didn’t recognize.

More Exact Estimates

Almost every 2014 social media prediction claims this is the year we crack the social ROI code. Really? So through native ad tracking and other big data revelations, we will now know the return on influence?

Granted our measurement methods are far more precise than what we could muster up from traditional advertising. But even the most trackable content marketing program requires a great deal of time to get real data. The most we could probably expect from recent advances in closed loop analytics and big data are more exact estimates.

Social Technology

This is perhaps the ultimate oxymoron. If anything, the emergence of wearable and other social technologies has hijacked relationships and promoted an anti-social atmosphere. If we are truly saddened by the hyper-texting culture witnessed during Thanksgiving dinner, imagine the deterioration of intimacy and conversation when Google glasses hit the market.

Act Naturally

With videos taking over content marketing as perhaps the most often cited 2014 prediction, brand publishers will have to develop a personal touch. One way to avoid the often criticized “corporate-speak” demeanor is to make a personal connection through a likeable persona. And to do this effectively, many social video experts suggest that we simply act naturally.  Got it? 

But aren’t we then acting? Or are we being natural? Or perhaps we are innately acting out our alter egos in a staged enactment of who we really are not but could be in a contrived natural setting. Maybe we should just be ourselves.

Pretty Ugly Facebook

We knew it was a matter of time before the once darling of the social media world lost its luster. Millennials, in particular, are flocking to Tumblr, Snapchat and even Twitter as their distrust and dissatisfaction with Facebook grows. And by earning the lowest score in the business value, marketers have expressed their disappointment in Facebook as well.

And with the recent strides made by Pinterest, a revamped Google+ and a LinkedIn Pulse/Slideshare/Hootsuite make-over, it’s no wonder Snapchat refused to bite on a $3 billion offer from Facebook. Only time will tell if pay-to-play will be the bane of its legacy. But for now, Facebook is looking pretty ugly.  

So what can you add to this year’s social media oxymorons?