A video entry is worth a thousand words

In the past few weeks, we’ve looked at how brands can listen to consumers and craft compelling messages based on what they hear. However, truly connecting with consumers and driving them to action requires brands to become more involved. Disseminating messages and responding to consumer feedback is important in building customer loyalty and generating buzz in new consumer groups. However, to actually convert new customers and drive them to take action brands must go a step further by putting consumers in the driver’s seat.

Successful brands realize that sometimes the best digital media campaigns are born from user-generated content. It can be difficult for brands to embrace user-generated content, whether it is born organically or sparked by a direct invitation from the company. There are always concerns over negative public relations and, of course, concerns about messages that may portray the brand in a way that is contrary to the company’s desired image.

To help us better understand the issues around user-generated content, we’ll look at examples of companies that have harnessed it’s power in instances where it was part of the contrived marketing strategy, as well as instances where a company embraced existing content.

With two top awards at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, 34,000 consumer responses and 8 million website views and over 610 hours of play on YouTube, Tourism Queensland is one of the best examples of how to connect with consumers through planned user-generated content (Social Media Maximizer). In 2009, they took out a ‘classified ad’…

Tourism Queensland asked applicants from around the world to upload a sixty-second clip showing their creativity and skills. They narrowed the 34,000 responses down to sixty finalists, selecting Ben Southall as their official island caretaker.

On June 11th, 2009, Ben set out to experience Queensland for himself and report back to rapt audiences around the world. Nearly six months later, he is still giving hopeful visitors a first hand look, and undeniably compelling reasons, to visit Queensland, Australia on their next holiday. It’s working. Queensland has received over $390 million AUD of publicity since the campaign started, tourism to Queensland has increased by 20% with 50% of all Australia trips now including a Queensland component (Maffin). In the next post, I’ll discuss companies that have successfully leveraged non-solicited user-generated content to drive sales, as well as those that have missed one of a kind opportunities.

Maffin, Todd. Lesson’s Learned from the “Best Job in the World” Campaign. Case Studies Online: Proven Social Media Tactics for Assured ROI. Retrieved from http://www.casestudiesonline.com/bestjob.

Social Maximizer: Professional Social Bookmarking Service. 7 Awesomely Amazing Examples of Success Through YouTube. Retrieved from http://blog.socialmaximizer.com/youtube-business-use-cases/.


Southwest’s Battle Cry defeats competitors, wins loyalty

I’ve realized a critical error in going over my last few posts – I’ve broken my own rules.  I’ve been talking about how to create effective, engaging messages without being engaging at all.  This week, to better illustrate how successful messages come to be, I’m going to tell some simple, concrete stories about brands that have engaging consumers in unexpected, emotional ways.

My first example is Southwest Airlines, a company that has managed to stay profitable for the last 30 years among competitors that are consistently in the red (Heath).  Southwest has managed to do so by adopting a simple idea throughout their organization.  They are THE low-fare airline that makes it fun to fly again.  This simple idea addresses two of consumers’ biggest grips with air travel: the cost and the hassle.

So how did Southwest convince its external customers to believe this internal message?  First, they listened.  Christi Day and Paula Berg, head of the communications team, use Twitter, the blog Nuts About Southwest and other social media monitoring tools to gauge customers opinions and preferences before developing messages and corporate policies.  When examining their assigned seating policy, Southwest asked customers, via their company blog, how they would prefer seating to be structured.  They found out that customers didn’t mind first come, first serve seating.  Not only did this save the company valuable time and resources, it reinforced their commitment to customers. (Radian 6)

By listening to what customers want out of an airline, Southwest is able to create concrete benefits that are easily communicated.  In their ‘Bags Fly Free’ campaign they were able to tap into customers opinions on checking luggage in a surprising, personable way.

They carry this attitude through to their social media platforms, where they respond to customers praise, concerns and grips. Their famous ‘Rapping Flight Attendant’ video was actually filmed by a passenger, and later picked up by the communications team and distributed to news outlets where it received media coverage. (Radian 6)

Since then, Southwest Airlines has become well-known for their fun flight crews. They’ve learned how to make the monotonous experience of flying unexpected and fun, and have successfully created a memorable, emotional experience for passengers.

YouTube reaction to rapping flight attendant.

Southwest doesn’t just go the extra mile to entertain customers – their whole customer service philosophy is based on going above and beyond.  They monitor social media and customer feedback for complaints and work to address them transparently and quickly.  In the following Twitter stream, customers’ express their gratitude for Southwest’s level of service in providing a positive experience and addressing problems.

Southwest is a great demonstration of how to create compelling messages based on a simple, concrete idea.  They made flying fun and stress-free for their customers and gave them unique experiences they could easily share with their social networks.  As a result, the brand has been able to create loyal brand ambassadors that not only refuse to fly with competitors, but also pass on strong recommendations to their friends, family and colleagues.

Heath, Chip & Heath Dan. (2008). Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Rev. ed.). New York: Random House, Inc.

Radian6. Southwest Airlines Social Media Cast Study. Retrieved from http://tiny.cc/2ijkb.

Measure Twice, Speak Once

In my most recent posts, I’ve been discussing the best ways to develop an effective, sticky message.  However, in doing so I left out the most important part of crafting a compelling message: listening.  Before we worry about creating a message that is relevant and motivating, we have to find out what is relevant and motivating to our consumers.  Although traditional forms of market research, including focus groups, surveys and consumer observations, can be enlightening, I am a strong believer that unsolicited opinions are the most truthful.

Luckily, the internet not only provides accessible ways to reach consumers, it also provides accessible tools for eavesdropping on their true feelings about brands, companies and product categories.  I most recently found an excellent aggregation of some of these tools on Social Media Today.  Make sure to take a look at some of the highlights before you start developing your next campaign strategy.

Google Tools

Google Alerts
Any company using social media should be utilizing this tool to track consumer opinions, news mentions and competitive activity.  Choose a set of keywords and receive emailed updates of keyword mentions.  The more you listen to real consumer reviews and discussions, the better equipped you are to translate insights into effective messages.

Google Trends
Consumers may not be listening to your messages simply because they aren’t finding them.  Google Trends follows the trends and provides insights into broad search patterns – letting you develop relevant messages and tag them with appropriate keywords.

Google Blog Search
Blogs have now become a go-to resource for trend watchers and trend adopters alike.  Bloggers have become consumer influencers that can make or break a brand – and in the process have added a new dimension to product releases, branded events and public relations.  This tool will help you keep up with the top blog posts across the web, as well as ones that are relevant to your specific industry and competitive landscape.


Consumers have always placed more validity in peer recommendations than advertising; social media has widened the gap by magnifying what any one consumers social circle is doing, buying or talking about.  Tweetgrid allows you to do a real-time search for up to nine topics – including events, conversations, hashtags, phrases, people and groups.

Keep tabs on what is most important to your target audience, and watch how they share their experiences with others.  Once you know how your audience operates within their social circles, you can determine how to generate the most reach for your message.

For every product category, there are key influencers who move popular opinion. This tool filters content in real-time based on your interests. It will help you find the most active influencers within any one topic, allowing you to gauge what types of appeals are working.

Once you disseminate a message, it is critical to know how consumers are responding.  Twilert works much like Google Alert, allowing you to set up keyword alerts for your brand, competitors and your general product category.

Multi-Network Tools

Social Mention
Social Mention is a key monitoring tool if you’re engaging consumers across multiple networks.  It consolidates updates from news sites, blogs and social networks.  Go beyond tracking brand and competitive mentions to track responses to your marketing and advertising campaigns, link sharing and forum discussions.

The most passionate consumers love sharing their experiences with friends, families and sometimes complete strangers online.  Monitor niche communities, message boards and discussion threads to find out what features of products consumers get excited about.

Although this is a shallow picture of the tracking and analytical tools available, it provides a foundation for monitoring conversations online.  Effective messages tap into human truths – the kind that can only come from listening intently to consumers true feelings.

Please click here to verify you are a human being

Understanding how to utilize credibility, emotional appeals and stories is vital to developing successful brand communications.  It’s what makes campaigns memorable, and more importantly believable.  These rules should act as a guide in all media, but they should be treated as hard and fast in the digital realm.   A brand’s success or failure online is largely contributed to whether consumers are able to relate.  And although we all hope for a utopia where consumers are unwaveringly dedicated to their toothpaste brand, the truth is most consumers use digital media to connect to other people – not products.

This all sounds like common sense, but unfortunately many companies fail to successful execute a humanized strategy.  They talk at consumers, sending out various bits of information that give the audience no reason to become involved.   American Express’s OPEN forum provides a compelling case study for how to do it right and get consumers talking in the process.

OPEN forum

Credibility is an uphill battle for every company.  Those that successfully establish it (read: Apple) reap mega rewards over the lifetime of the brand.  To gain credibility, ‘Made to Stick’ recommends letting consumers pass judgement independently. Although it’s scary to stop spinning, the companies that do can quickly create brand ambassadors.

American Express allowed their customers to create Facebook-style profiles and share business tips, exchange financial advice and promote their products and services.  There was a chance that unhappy customers could have used the forum as a sounding board for their complaints. AmEx took that chance and saw a 350% visitor growth rate over the past year (Fredricksen).  They were able to do this because they embraced a simple human truth: business owners care more about interacting with other business owners than their financial institutions.

Emotional appeals should not be brand-centric.  Alerting your Twitter followers that your company was just featured on the news or won an industry award does not count as an emotional appeal.  It’s like having a baby – although it’s exciting for you, no one outside your immediate family wants to fawn over your newborn’s picture for 2 hours.  Emotional appeals have to hit on something that has significant, personal relevance to consumers.

OPEN was founded on the insight that small business owners are fighting everyday to keep their doors open.  Most often, they don’t have deep pockets and are constantly looking for small ways to make a big impact in their business.  OPEN knew their customers wouldn’t feel a deep connection with a multi-billion dollar corporation.  The best way to help them was to let them connect with other entrepreneurs that had also taken a leap of faith in launching a new business.

Stories get our attention when advertising can’t.  Humans are wired to pay attention to stories – there may be valuable information that can help us in the future.  Compelling stories spark consumers’ interest and encourage them to regularly engage with a brand.

OPEN leveraged this knowledge by creating a space where business owners could share real stories of success (and failure).  Jason Rudman, OPEN’s content strategist, explains how this approach paid off:

“The content on OPENForum.com is original and exclusive to us. It’s not like we have an aggregated RSS Feed and we pull in content and display it under our brand. It’s all original content, not repurposed from other publications and Websites…It’s essentially a virtual trading post of insight between industry experts and small-business owners.”

In other words, it’s all original stories coming from credible, real business owners that are financially and emotionally invested in their respective companies.  The result is an astoundingly involved community of over 9,000 American Express OPEN card members (Fredricksen).  In reaching out to consumers through digital channels, using an emotive approach is vital.

Fredricksen, Clark. (2010, 13 May). Case Study: American Express OPEN Forum Socializes Small Business. The E-Marketer Blog. Retrieved from http://ht.ly/2OdZ6.

Heath, Chip & Heath Dan. (2008). Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Rev. ed.). New York: Random House, Inc.

“Excuse me for saying this, but it’s only a f*@$%ing chocolate biscuit”

This phrase was uttered by an agency planner working on a new chocolate cookie for Nabisco.  His client mistakenly believed that housewives would be reduced to hysterics over a new product improvement that added an extra half-millimeter of chocolate all around the biscuit (Steel, 1998).   This statement reveals a painful, but accurate truth: most people don’t care about the intricacies of a product or service.

With the increasing penetration of online networks in the market, many companies naïvely cling to the idea that consumers are falling over themselves to comment on their brand’s Facebook page, Twitter stream, YouTube video and blog.  And of course after doing so they will promptly run to the store and buy the product.

Unfortunately, many brands are finding out the hard way that it doesn’t work this way.  While there may be 60 million Facebook updates a day (Qualman, 2009), but you can bet that most of them aren’t about products.  To understand how brands can develop effective digital content, we must first understand the core elements that make commercial messages successful.

In “Made to Stick” Chip and Dan Heath explore the common elements shared by   phenomenons such as urban legends and proverbs.  These messages went viral long before the internet was even conceived.  By exploring the commonalities between these messages we can learn important lessons on how to successfully communicate with consumers.  Below I explore the six elements of effective messages, and what this means for digital communications.

Successful messages are…


Consumers have always had limited memory capacity; now they also have highly segmented consumption habits, a diminished attention span  and a need for immediate gratification.  Tweets are 140 characters, status updates are rarely longer than a sentence and even URLs are being condensed.  Thus, if a consumer can’t explain why an online video or site is worthwhile in a sentence or two, it’s unlikely they will ever share it with their network.


The best messages talk in the language of the consumer.  Nabisco’s agency planner knew better than to talk to housewives about how many millimeters of chocolate were on each one of their cookies.  Even if it was put into terms they could understand, it is unlikely that it would break through the clutter and even more unlikely that they would care.  However, they might care if they found out their family was getting twice as much chocolate-y goodness for the same price.  This is an extremely important concept for digital messages.  Consumers have infinite entertainment choices and information outlets online.  They are not going to take the time to wrap their minds around a complex or convoluted statement.


There’s a reason why Old Spice and Nike enjoyed some of the biggest viral successes last year.  People expect deodorant to talk about how well it can keep you dry.  They expect an athletic company to talk about why their products make athletes great.  But these companies didn’t do that. Instead they discovered something the consumer was already familiar with – the desire to impress the opposite sex, the excitement that one moment of a championship game can lead  to glory or despair – and presented these moments in a fresh way.  It paid off: Old Spice’s sales doubled.

To fully understand how brands can develop effective digital messages, we must first understand what makes a message appealing to the consumer.  Although there may be a lot of important things we want to say about the product or service we are offering, it ultimately does not matter what we think.  By focusing our digital messages on simple, concrete concepts and presenting those messages in an unexpected way we can capture the attention of consumers in saturated medium and encourage them to share the experience with their networks.  In the next post we’ll look at how brands can leverage credibility, emotional appeals and stories to create consumer interest and involvement.

Steel, Jon. (1998). Truth, Lies & Advertising: The Art of Account Planning. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Heath, Chip & Heath Dan. (2008). Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Rev. ed.). New York: Random House, Inc.

Qualman, Erik. (2009). Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

The Digital Consumer-Brand Gap

Digital media has opened up endless possibilities for involving consumers through new channels. Brands can touch consumers wherever they are, whenever they’re online.The challenge lies in leveraging these media to create a mutually involved consumer-brand relationship. Too often, brands distribute traditionally formatted messages through digital media. This creates a disconnect between how brands use social media and how users consume information on digital media.  This can explain the current irrelevance of most brands in the digital world.

A study released by 360i highlights how most brands are speaking in a language foreign to the digital sphere. Although expansive possibilities for consumer-brand conversations exist, most brands still talk at people.

Don't shout!

They take a traditional media approach by simply passing along information, instead of connecting with consumers in a meaningful way.  A dissection of consumer-brand interactions on Twitter reveals how irrelevant most brands truly are:

  • 43% of consumer tweets are conversational (@replies to other users)
  • Only 12% of all marketer tweets show active dialogue with consumers
  • Only 1% of consumer tweets that mention a brand are part of a conversation with that brand

In the words of Nigel Carr, “the measure of communication lies with consumers; they are the ones who will notice or not, become involved or not.” Messages in the digital realm don’t need to be more informative, persuasive or believable. Instead, they need to be more noticeable, more relevant, more involving and more effective (Goldman, 1995).

Conversation is remarkable!As advertisers, it is our responsibility to utilize digital channels in ways that are cognizant of consumers’ usage habits. We must understand how consumers use digital channels, how they consume information and what content is most relevant in a digital format.  My next series of posts will examine how advertisers can better develop remarkable digital messages, as well as how brands must evolve to maintain relevance on digital media.

360i. (2010). Twitter & the Consumer-Marketer Dynamic [White paper]. Retrieved from http://ht.ly/2hkb3.

Goldman, Debra. (1995, April 10). The Species. ADWEEK, 31-21.

You Are What You Consume

We all can say, with varying levels of confidence, that the evolution of the Internet has allowed us to access, share and distribute information and opinions with increasing ease.  You can share news articles, sound off on discussion boards, independently publish content and find countless commentaries on any subject that manages to capture your attention.  However, does more, or most importantly easy, mean better?  Many researchers are saying no.

Nicholas Carr recently published an article for CNN Tech, “Is the internet making us quick but shallow?” In the article, he cites the President’s recent concern that our beloved digital gadgets are turning information into a “distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment” rather than a means of intellectual “empowerment.”  And in fact, a 2009 article by Patricia Greenfield, a developmental psychologist that teaches at UCLA, drew attention to supporting evidence that our increased interaction with computers, smartphones and other digital platforms weakens our ability to think deeply, critically and creatively.

If this is true, it presents a bit of an oxymoron: a technology that is based on informing, inspiring and educating its users may in fact be doing the opposite.  And it’s an oxymoron that borders on technological blasphemy in the eyes of many avid members of the digital community.  Bloggers and media outlets rushed to condemn Obama as being a ‘technophobe’ (coming from Economist magazine according to the article), perhaps because he is ‘a grumpy old man’.

Why is the majority so quick to criticize those that question the effects of the Internet?  Criticism is often what breeds improvement and evolution.  However, in this case, I don’t think it is the Internet, smartphones or social platforms that need to do the evolving – it’s us.

The next time you stumble upon an link or article, ask yourself the following:

Is the author legitimate?

Are there any hard facts, research or expert opinions that back this up?

Is this information useful in my personal, professional or social life?

Why do I agree or disagree with this?

They seem elementary, but when I thought about it I couldn’t pinpoint the last time I’d really consciously thought about those factors. Those four simple questions are helping me kick my bad habits and consume more constructively. The great thing about the Internet is anyone can publish and share content.  The bad part about the Internet is anyone can publish and share content.

It’s up to us to separate and determine what is first legitimate, and second useful in improving our daily life.  If we become indiscriminate consumers of information, the Internet will lose its power to enlighten.  Instead, we stand to become passive users who are shaped by the serendipitous convergence of links in our Twitter streams, blog feeds, and surfing expeditions rather than our own opinions.