What Brands Need to Know About the Current State of Earned Media

The news cycle is overwhelmed with pandemic-related stories. Media organizations are facing trying times, and it’s hard to get the attention of reporters to pitch your company’s latest news. Yet, earned media remains an essential strategy for brands who want to reach their customers and prospects with trusted information.

The news cycle is overwhelmed with pandemic-related stories. Media organizations are facing trying times, including managing remote staff, a reduction in resources, and anti-press attacks. It’s now harder than ever to get the attention of reporters and pitch your company’s latest news. Yet, earned media remains an essential strategy for brands who want to reach their customers and prospects with trusted information.

To be successful at securing news coverage, brands must understand the current state of media and how to best engage the press.

Find the Right Audience

Before a brand can pursue earned media, research must be done to know the reporter and publication and ensure it’s an appropriate match for your story.

According to Cision’s “2020 State of the Media Report,” the No. 1 thing that PR professionals could do to help reporters is to understand reporters’ target audience, and what they find relevant. Of the over 3000 reporters surveyed by Cision, only one percent consider 75% to 100% of the pitches they receive as relevant.

To ensure relevance, read past stories and look at what reporters are sharing and discussing on their social handles, in particular Twitter, where many reporters and publications have an active presence.

Keep in mind that coverage areas of reporters and publications are changing in the face of COVID-19. For example, the New York Times has scaled back its Travel and Sports coverage and introduced a new section called At Home.

Be Strategic With Your Communications

Cision’s study emphasized that reporters feel bombarded with pitches and prefer email: 51% of respondents said they get from 1-50 pitches a week, 25% receive 51-100 per week, 10% receive 101-151 per week, and 14% receive over 151.

You need a good pitch, sent to the right contact and publication. If you don’t hear back right away, be patient, and send only one follow-up within a few days of your initial outreach.

Perfect Your Pitch

A pitch should be concise and include supporting information such as links and a press release. According to Cision, 72% of journalists said press releases and news announcements were one of the kinds of content they wanted to receive.

Within the pitch, let the reporter know the source available to comment, as well as when and how (video or phone) an interview can take place.

Put your news into the context of a bigger story or trend. You shouldn’t treat earned media as an advertisement or promotion (save this for owned and paid content). Therefore, do not fill your pitch with marketing speak and jargon.

Find Virtual Ways to Build Media Relationships

Your pitch is more likely to be read if the reporter knows you and your brand. Getting to know reporters is an integral part of securing earned media now and in the future. However, COVID-19 has halted our ability to network with reporters, and the broader marketing community, at conferences and events. In this environment, there are no face-to-face coffee or lunch meetings taking place.

You can, however, find creative ways to develop relationships. Social media is a valuable platform to explore shared interests with reporters. I’ve connected with reporters on topics such as cooking, fitness, parenthood, and music.

Now is not the time to abandon an earned media strategy. Instead, to break through the news clutter, brands should be strategic, flexible, and informed.


WWTT? Planters Kills Off Mr. Peanut in Viral Marketing Effort Ahead of the Super Bowl

Mr. Peanut survived two World Wars, as well as the white-mold rot crisis of 2012, but at the age of 104 his time had come. Or maybe his death is a hoax. Either way you try to shell this nut, it’s clear that Planters has opted to invest in a viral marketing effort ahead of its Super Bowl ad debut on Feb. 2.

[Update, Jan. 27: Planters announced that following the news of Kobe Bryant’s death on Jan. 26. the company would be pausing the current promotion of the death or Mr. Peanut campaign, however that ad and the “funeral” ad spot are still scheduled to air during the Super Bowl.]

Dearly beloved, we’re gathered here this day to mourn the untimely death of everyone’s favorite dapper legume, Mr. Peanut. Donning his monocle and jaunty hat in 1916, Mr. Peanut survived two World Wars, as well as the white-mold rot crisis of 2012, but at the age of 104 his time had come. Or maybe his death is a hoax, as some would believe. Either way you try to shell this nut, it’s clear that Planters has opted to invest in a viral marketing effort ahead of its Super Bowl third quarter ad appearance on Feb. 2.

On Jan. 22, Planters announced the death of its mascot via social media, which resulted in an outpouring of responses from both brands and consumers alike:

With brands like those above, as well as Toyota, Shake Shack, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Chips Ahoy, and more “mourning” the loss of the nutty icon, Planters followed up on social media with a Super Bowl teaser ad, showcasing just how Mr. Peanut met his untimely demise:

Samantha Hess, brand manager for Planters, said in a statement:

“It’s with heavy hearts that we confirm Mr. Peanut has passed away at 104 years old. He will be remembered as the legume who always brought people together for nutty adventures and a good time. We encourage fans to tune in to Mr. Peanut’s funeral during the third quarter of the Super Bowl to celebrate his life.”

I suppose turning a Super Bowl ad into a funeral for Mr. Peanut is both 1. a fairly unique use of advertising dollars; 2. one way to get people to start talking about the ad before they watch it; and 3. a good opportunity to either surprise viewers (he was never dead!) or launch a new branding initiative.

That said, while supposedly “killing off” an iconic mascot (remember, we didn’t see the body) is quite the branding switch-up, there is no question that this well-timed stunt is the epitome of viral marketing. Just take a look at this Google Trends chart for starters:

Google Trends chart showing the effectiveness of Planter's viral marketing campaign surrounding the death of Mr. Peanut

Mentions about Mr. Peanut (and thus Planters) have jumped significantly due to the viral marketing effort. A Google search for “Mr. Peanut” netted 107 million results Thursday afternoon, showing me media coverage about the anthropomorphized legume’s death from CNN, Deadline, New York Post, Sports Illustrated, AdWeek, Forbes and more.

So sure, people are talking about Mr. Peanut, but does that translate into anything more meaningful than talk? The campaign’s reach was thoroughly amplified, especially due to the #RIPeanut hashtag, but what does going viral mean for Planters?

I think Jason Aten’s article “Yes, Mr. Peanut Is Dead. But Old-School Advertising Is Even Deader” makes an important point about the viral marketing campaign. Referencing Oreo’s tweet during a power outage during Super Bowl XLVII and Arby’s hat tweet during the 2014 Grammy’s, Aten writes:

But the beauty of those tweets was that they happened in reaction to real-world events. That isn’t the case with Mr. Peanut. In fact, there’s literally nothing more manufactured than a pre-planned marketing campaign featuring a tweet announcing the death of a made-up brand character just to generate buzz for a pretend funeral for said character.

Think about the creative meeting for this: Some social media-savvy account manager pitched the idea that this tired mascot really needed to be permanently retired. And, desperate to attract the attention of salty-snack-craving Millennials, the company agreed.

Aten hits the nail on the head: While we can all laugh at the ridiculous responses from other brands to the the social media announcement of the death of a brand mascot, what purpose does this campaign really serve? Mr. Peanut is not a real person, and is this use of social media even real marketing? You tell me.

And, for anyone interested in a little conspiracy theory regarding the death of the mascot, check out this Jan. 14 Facebook post from the Mr. Peanut account … “dying to hit the road”? Talk about some foreshadowing.

Because it’s Friday and we probably could all use a giggle, I will share with you one last Twitter thread:

Pop Tarts responds to Planter's viral marketing effort regarding the death of Mr. Peanut


3 Ad Campaigns That Resonated With the Gen Z Audience

Gen Z is completely shifting the way advertisers work. The long-held mindset of heritage, comfort, and familiarity is being upset by this up-and-coming generation of digital natives. Gen Z approaches the world differently than previous generations.

Gen Z is completely shifting the way advertisers work. The long-held mindset of heritage, comfort, and familiarity is being upset by this up-and-coming generation of digital natives. Gen Z approaches the world differently than previous generations, and their way of thinking is coming to the forefront of today’s society. Their passion for social justice, demand for authenticity, and short attention spans have forced brands that target Gen Z consumers to shift their advertising strategies accordingly.

Today, brands are starting to get better at picking up on what Gen Z values and learning to adapt. From a company structure perspective, this can mean implementing more corporate social responsibility initiatives; while in advertising and marketing, this can mean deploying messages, media, and strategies designed to resonate with Gen Z consumers. There are a number of one-off ad campaigns that have redefined success with this generation, as well as continuous campaigns and brand behaviors that are molding and shaping the way marketers and advertisers target this audience.

Here are examples of three very different ad campaigns that have resonated with Gen Z in unique ways, and how they did it.

Aerie ‘Real’ Campaign

Historically, clothing brands have promoted themselves with bombshell supermodels who possess unattainable beauty. It may seem simple, but Gen Z is challenging that paradigm by calling for and responding to ad campaigns that feature “normal” people, and by rejecting impossible beauty standards.

In the early ’00s, brands began receiving backlash for digitally enhancing the faces and figures of their models in noticeable ways and removing anything that might be seen as an imperfection. Once it became clear that this imagery was harmful to the development of young girls’ self-esteem and confidence, American Eagle’s intimates brand Aerie decided to connect with its target consumer, Gen Z, with a different approach — body positivity.

In 2014, Aerie’s “Real” campaign was born. American Eagle started by announcing that it would not only cease the use of supermodels, but would also refrain from digital retouching. That campaign received a flurry of attention as the first-of-its-kind and was a big success. Since then, Aerie has continued to expand the parameters by which it chooses lingerie models. Campaigns have included women with curves, cellulite, small chests, large chests, disabilities, medical illnesses, stretch marks, body hair, and more. Furthermore, the “Real” campaign has expanded by including Aerie consumers. The brand encourages people to feel positive, confident, and comfortable in their own bodies and show it off by joining in with the hashtag #AerieReal on social media.

Not only has this approach helped Aerie stand out in the market and build a positive reputation with Gen Z, but it’s also increased sales year-over-year, with a 38% increase in Q1 of 2018, alone. Overall, the “Real” campaign enabled Aerie to earn credibility in authenticity, diversity, inclusion, and body positivity spaces. Aerie was also ahead of the curve, and many brands are now embracing body positivity and inclusion in their own branding.


Casper is a new age mattress company that has completely shaken up its sector. A traditionally brick and mortar industry, Casper took a direct-to-consumer approach to mattresses that appeals to a younger-skewing audience. Casper has succeeded with this business model by incorporating selling factors that are important to Gen Zers.

Before Casper, the idea of getting a bed-in-a-box was unheard of and viewed as impractical. Casper, however, had a deep understanding of its target audience and realized a DTC approach could be effective, if the brand positioned itself as a master in the mattress space. To that end, Casper deployed a robust content marketing campaign. The company leveraged social media and retargeting to garner attention and create brand awareness. Once its audience was engaged, Casper established itself as the expert in the space, using product comparisons, customer reviews, and influencer marketing to move the consumer down the funnel toward purchasing a mattress they had never even touched before.

In addition, Casper invested in building a sense of community around its brand. Campaigns like Staycation Story Hacks, unboxing videos, “Waffle Crush Wednesdays,” and the publication Winkle were all geared toward giving consumers many different ways to engage and interact with the brand, and with fellow brand customers. Together, Casper’s marketing efforts have brought in upward of 100,000 video views; 2,000 to 10,000 likes per post; and increased its valuation to $1.1 billion, in just five years.


Revolve, an e-commerce clothing brand geared toward Gen Z, has targeted and engaged these consumers, not with traditional advertising campaigns (like Aerie), but by putting its marketing dollars toward a large group of Instagram influencers — 3,500 of the most successful fashion influencers Instagram has to offer.

When influencer marketing really began to take off, Revolve saw an opportunity to grow its relatively new brand and build buzz. The company established an ongoing relationship with Instagram’s most popular fashion influencers, including Kendall Jenner, and began throwing #RevolveAroundtheWorld events in popular destinations, including Palm Springs, Turks and Caicos, and the ever-important Coachella — a super hub for influencers and Gen Zers, alike.

These lavish trips and events are invite-only and create a space where influencers can come together and do what they do best — advertise Revolve’s products by modeling the clothing and publicizing them all over their Instagram accounts. An event exclusively filled with popular Instagrammers effectively gets the brand name out there and capitalizes on the “wish you were here” mindset that Instagram seeds in its users. Consumers have their attention grabbed by the glamorous photos and then may feel inspired to buy the trendy clothing they see. They both relate to and aspire to be like their favorite influencers. Clearly, this approach is working, as Revolve was recently valued at $1.2 billion.

Final Thoughts on Gen Z Ad Campaigns

In today’s world, it is vital that brands— old and new, alike — continue to evolve in the ever-changing advertising landscape. Brands that target Gen Z have to shape their marketing and advertising strategies to convey authenticity, relatability, consistent engagement, and progressive social values. American Eagle’s Aerie, Casper, and Revolve have each taken a highly distinct and unique approach, and each has succeeded in its own way. There are lessons to be learned from their similarities, and their differences. There are many ways to craft campaigns that resonate with Gen Z, but they won’t look like campaigns of the past.

How to Use Sentiment Analysis to Transform Your Digital Marketing Strategy

The goal of sentiment analysis is to increase customer acquisition, retention, and satisfaction. Moreover, it helps put the right brand messaging in front of the most interested eyes.

Sentiment analysis is a fascinating concept.

Brands use it to better understand customer reactions, behaviors, and opinions toward their products, services, reputation, and more. The goal of sentiment analysis is to increase customer acquisition, retention, and satisfaction. Moreover, it helps put the right brand messaging in front of the most interested eyes.

Before the digital age, gauging and understanding sentiment was an incredibly cumbersome process. It typically involved sending out surveys manually, going to the streets and asking people, or gathering focus groups in one place at one time. The big data-infused model of sentiment analysis we know today hit its stride on the political scene in 2010. Since then, it has morphed into a key tactic in marketing plans. These days, most of the grunt work is automated.

However, even with all of the advances in areas like martech, voice search, conversational commerce on social media, virtual assistants, and big data analytics, understanding how to actually use sentiment analysis to improve the bottom line is a complicated task.

Here are a few key approaches to help you get the value you need.

Know the Terms and Phrases That Indicate Intent

Most businesses today (hopefully) don’t even begin their digital branding and marketing efforts without a list of keywords relevant to their industry and a plan on how to target their audiences. You should have a good idea of the terms and variations that bring you traffic to your website, when used in conjunction with your brand and products. If you run an auto repair shop, people are likely finding you on the web through terms such as: body shop near me, auto repair, replace brake pads, etc.

Google Search Console gives you a great, fairly accurate idea of what’s bringing people to your website:

google search console
Credit: Author’s own

In terms of sentiment analysis, to gain actionable insight, you need to know how people are using these keywords in a way that indicates interest and engagement potential. Now, this is perhaps the biggest gray area in sentiment analysis, because not all positive sentiment equates to sales. Just because there are a lot of positive words around luxury cars doesn’t necessarily mean people are about to buy.

However, there are certain terms and phrases that signal people have entered your buyer’s journey. Let’s say you run an SEO agency and one of the terms you’re tracking for sentiment analysis is “Google update.” If you notice that a lot of people are searching for things like “what to do after a google algorithm update?” or “how to recover from a google penalty?” it’s a good indicator that they might need your services at the moment; you should target them accordingly.

Spot Patterns in Product Reviews

At its core, sentiment analysis is a game of pinpointing patterns and reading between the lines. Simply put, the more genuine and meaningful feedback you get on your product, the better insights you will gain into your customers.

Of course, gathering such high-quality feedback is easier planned than executed; especially for newer or smaller companies. Only 10% of customers will review or rate a business after a purchase, while half of consumers will leave a review only some of the time. However, the number of reviews jump significantly to 68% when a company asks the customer directly to leave one.

In order to find fruitful, up-to-date patterns, you need to make it a marketing process to consistently seek out new reviews. Then, you’ll want to start by searching for common adjectives. These should include words like:

  • great, simple, easy,
  • or awful, difficult, poor, etc.
trustpilot review
Credit: Capterra.com

In the above image, there are a good amount of reviews that include the word “great” for this product. Looking at the context around this term, we notice recurring patterns around components, like features and usability, and “not so” great opinions on customer service.

Finding recurring themes in customer sentiment will give you a better picture into the positive and negative aspects of your business or product. These can indicate the level of trust people have in your brand and how likely they are to give you a recommendation. When you are looking for patterns, try to come up with several adjectives that shed light on both sides of the spectrum.

  • What words are commonly used to describe their experience?
  • Is there an issue that forces multiple people to leave negative reviews?
  • What part delights them the most?
  • What’s preventing you from solving common problems?
  • Which products or solutions are users comparing yours to?

The answers to these important questions can help you understand user sentiment better and build a customer-focused marketing strategy.

Look to Social Media for Unabashed (Unfiltered) Opinions

Oftentimes, social media is one of the best places to get raw opinions, where people don’t hold back —  both in positive and negative lights. Knowing how people feel in an unfiltered environment can be a great way to tell which parts of your business are working very well —  and not so well.

A social listening platform is an important tool to keep in your portfolio for monitoring online mentions and gathering important datasets. Tools like Mention, Talkwalker, and Brand24, not only keep an ear on social mentions, but also turn these comments and hashtags into valuable customer analytics to help your marketing team understand your customers even better.

For instance, the online gaming developer Wargaming used brand monitoring techniques to analyze its customer’s desires and see which products performed best. The company tracked its users’ social media conversations to see what they were looking for, what parts of the games they liked or disliked, and any suggestions they offered for improvements.

Similarly, you can use a social listening tool to combine all your brand mentions into one database, giving your marketing team a bird’s eye view of audience sentiment on social platforms and identify areas to work on.

Credit: Talkwalker.com

While gathering this sentiment is good, the most important thing is knowing what to do with it. About 83% of customers who make a social mention of a brand —  specifically, a negative one —  expect a response within a day, and 18% want one immediately. Unfortunately, a majority of these mentions go unanswered, which can really impact a brand’s image. By utilizing an effective real-time social listening program, you can not only stay on top of social buzz, you can intervene and reply to any negative sentiment right away.

Some of the next steps will be fairly obvious, especially when you’re dealing with negative feedback. For instance, if your customer sentiment from social listening reveals that people are having trouble updating their software or there are issues with the product itself, this indicates that some redesign is necessary. However, don’t get too comfortable when you are getting positive reactions —  these tend to trick companies into thinking that no improvements are needed.

This kind of feedback can support a stronger marketing strategy. Let’s say your business sells pool supplies. While your customers may not be tweeting about your great chlorine chemicals, they are more likely talking about the fun pool floaties and games your website sells. Therefore, it would be helpful to highlight these fun accessories, as well, by listing them more prominently on your page and even including UGC to promote them.

Credit: Instagram

Use Predictive Analysis to Spot Trends and Automate Actions

Now that you have all these valuable insights, you need to know how you can use them to shape your current and future business strategies.

Plugging your sentiment analysis into a predictive model is crucial for spotting trends, getting a feel for how opinions are progressing, and determining your next steps. Predictive analytics use machine learning and AI technology to not only gather, but analyze loads of consumer data and make accurate projections. These systems gauge historical behavioral data to help determine the best plan of action in the future.

In fact, customer segmentation and targeting (which is the logical next step after you analyze your audience’s sentiments) is one of the areas where applying AI and predictive analytics has the highest chance of working well for business.

applications of AI
Credit: Emerj.com

In order to develop an optimal predictive model for sentiment analysis, ask yourself:

  • What do you want to know?
  • What is the expected outcome? What do you think your customers are thinking?
  • What actions will you take to improve overall sentiment when you get the answers? How will you automate these actions?
  • What are the success metrics for these actions?

The Wrap

Chances are, your customers are already telling you what you need to make improvements to your business. By gathering as much data as possible on customer sentiment, your marketing team can understand just what needs to be done to provide a better experience, tweak campaigns accordingly, and acquire and retain more customers in the process.

Be sure you know what to data to collect, how to mine it, and how to apply it to keep raking in the revenue.

The Data-Inspired Big Idea: Why That Matters in the Ad Business

We are amid an age where consumers are royalty — and it’s the brands that serve them. Yes, data science is required to uncover insights and inform the creative strategy, for both prospecting and retention. But that big idea still lies in the creative execution.

I just got schooled this past week at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando, along with 3,000-plus industry colleagues.

You see, I’m a data- and direct marketing- junkie. Advertising is worthless if it’s not accountable and measurable (check and check). As I was reminded repeatedly this week it also must be memorable (not always checked).

What does this mean? That in today’s always-on but distracted consumer marketplace, the ad message must tell a story. It needs compelling creative, a message that resonates, and a big idea that’s transparent and authentic and unique to a brand.

We are amid an age where consumers are royalty and it’s the brands that serve them. Yes, in the customer experience mix, data plays a pivotal role. Yes, data science is required to uncover insights and inform the creative strategy, for both prospecting and retention. But that big idea still lies in the creative execution that’s the clincher. If it doesn’t hook, then it’s not going to stick.

Brand-Building Requires Purpose and Perspective

Consider some of these executions showcased at the conference, and look for how the brand creates an emotional connection:

Disney | The Little Duck

Target | Design for All

Chipotle | Bee For Real

Ally | Banksgiving

Dunkin | Fuel Your Destiny


The Data Play in ‘Brand Crave’

Then ask yourself, what role does data play in these brand stories?

At the conference, there were plenty of CMOs discussing first-party data, customer journey mapping, personas, net promoter scores, operational data, transactional data, and sentiment scoring among other metrics and inputs. Even second- and third-party data were mentioned (albeit briefly here) about how to expand reach, discover new customers, and deepen understanding with existing customers. These data points also inform the creative brief, as well as shape the media strategy.

Researchers still report that consumers still base many of their buying decisions on impulse, and on emotion. According to Kirk Perry, president of global client and agency solutions at Google, as much as 70% of advertising success depends on creative; and Kai Wright, lecturer at Columbia University, reported on how emotion weighs into consumer consideration and purchase behavior (see Image 1).

Image 1:  Emotion & Experiential Data Motivate Consumer Behavior, Perhaps More Than Audience Data

Data-Inspired big idea image
Credit: Kai Wright, Columbia University, ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, 2019.

SAP CMO Alicia Tillman reports that humans experience (and act upon) 27 emotions (Image 2). “Any one can make or break a brand or category.”

Image 2: Lots of Sentiment Scoring

Data-Inspired big idea sentiment scoring
Credit: Alicia Tillman, SAP, at ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, 2019

“Nobody can differentiate on data! It’s data-inspired storytelling that is going to win the future,” said Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer at Publicis Groupe.

We are great at curating audience data. For a next-generation data ecosystem, what are we doing to help create more effective marketing through finding innovative ways to score emotion, at-scale?  What are we doing to include these consumer motivators in our business rules, algorithms and to help enhance creative prowess in authentic ways? You solve for these opportunities and there are many brand leaders and CMOs likely ready to talk to you.

It’s time to help brands tell their data-inspired stories.


Politicians Reveal 3 Important Branding Lessons

Marketers and brand managers can learn useful branding lessons as politicians embark on their political campaigns ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a politically-minded post (however, we should expect that all of you will exercise your voting privileges). All examples used here are from the June Democratic debate for the purpose of timeliness, and ahead of the second debates that will occur at the end of the month.

The recent Democratic Presidential debates that kicked off in June fielded 20 candidates over two nights, and sparked a lot of questions about the people on the stage:

  • Who stands for what?
  • How are these folks really different than one another?
  • Are those major differences major, or just minor?
  • Who spoke to your heart?
  • Who impressed your mind?

With only several minutes for each candidate to speak, did any individual communicate so well that you got clear answers to any of these questions? Did you get a clear sense of who each person really is?

Which candidate would you choose … and more importantly … why?

So, I got curious when I saw those Democratic candidates. What did they do to make themselves different from each other, and relevant to voters?

In politics, the candidate is her/his own brand. It’s clear what the playbook looks like for the most successful candidates, and those plays should sound familiar to consumer brands, too.

There are three important branding lessons that apply well to politicians (and your own brand, too).

1. Have a Clear Plan

The cliche of “the confused mind says no” is absolutely true. If you don’t understand your brand’s plan for transforming your customer, then the customer won’t either. And they won’t engage. Remember that you are the mentor, and that you as mentor need to have both empathy and a plan.

Many politicians state their plans for the economy, social justice, climate policy, immigration, etc. Those plans need to show they understand the issues, care for the people affected by the conditions, and clearly can map a good path forward to a better tomorrow.

Like her or not, Elizabeth Warren has positioned herself as someone who has a plan for everything, including Ashley Nicole Black’s love life.

The plan for Dove Soap is very clear: it offers pro-age formulas that enhance your real beauty. Dove doesn’t promise that their products will make you look younger and sexier. Dove’s plan for you is that — whatever your age and however you look — they will help you love and reveal your own real beauty.

2. Stay on Message

Brands — and candidates — need to do the important job of staying on message. Stay consistent. Maintain the position.

Like him or not, Bernie Sanders stays on message. He has never wavered from his position of Universal Health Care and taxing the wealthiest Americans. Disagree or agree, we all know exactly what he stands for, and what his message is.

When a brand like Coca-Cola stays on the message of “Choose Happy,” then all of their marketing over time can reiterate that message and concept. Look, everyone knows Coke isn’t healthy for you. Coke knows that. But Coke can bring a small spark of joy and delight. So Coke stays on the happiness message in all of their ads.

If you don’t believe me, just go to YouTube and search “Coca-Cola Happiness.”

3. Keep Working and Trust in the Process

The political season is a long slog for these folks! So many events, road trips, questions, prying cameras, the works … and it goes on seemingly forever. Think about it: one of these folks is in the heat of it until election day in November of 2020. That’s almost 500 days of being ON. But honestly, you would think that some part of each person must love this experience. Otherwise, they couldn’t do it.

Joe Biden, like him or not, seems like he has been working political processes since The Dawn of Time. Clearly he must love the engagement, feeds off the energy of his public appearances, and enjoys pursuing the hard negotiations needed to move legislation.

Of course, your team has been working hard, too. It’s a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly process of constantly refining and reinforcing your brand message. The best reward for the constant, consistent effort is that if your team loves it. They must love the process of having a brand message they stick with, or else they’ll get tired and fatigued.

I’m going to be following every step of the political unveiling and see what lessons can be gleaned from these folks. Because in Politics…the Person is the Brand.

As always, I welcome your comments.

A 4-year-old Girl Shows the Power of a Strong Brand

Recently, I was reminded about the power of a strong brand by my 4-year-old granddaughter who told me, “You know how I can tell when there’s a McDonald’s close by? There’s a sign with yellow M on a red background. That means there’s a McDonald’s near here.”

Recently, I was reminded about the power of a strong brand by my 4-year-old granddaughter who told me, “You know how I can tell when there’s a McDonald’s close by? There’s a sign with yellow M on a red background. That means there’s a McDonald’s near here.”

McDonald’s has certainly built the golden arches “M” brand over the course of many years; my earliest remembrance is from the early 1960s. But the fact that a 4-year-old girl learned the symbolism in a much shorter timeframe illustrates how powerful great branding can be.

When I recently Googled “direct marketing and branding,” I was surprised to see that there are a lot of search results positioning the two as separate marketing strategies. I thought that debate was put to rest years ago — you need both.

The Internet has turned everyone into a direct marketer, and those who have built strong brands are the big winners — think Amazon, 1-800-Flowers, Omaha Steaks, Zappos, etc. When I was with Roska Direct, our results showed over and again that when we did direct response marketing using the umbrella of a strong brand, we achieved better response and conversion rates than when we downplayed the brand in an attempt to juice response.

According to Statista, Google enjoyed a 90%-plus share of searches from 2010 through 2013, before it dipped into the high 80s, sneaking over 90 only in October of 2016 and 2018. So what’s Google doing about it? Running a national brand campaign on television, Here to Help, using The Beatles 1965 hit, “Help.”

Interestingly, if you try to find those branding ads by Googling “Google ad campaign,” you won’t. What you’ll find is Google in direct response mode, helping you construct your own online advertising campaign through Google.

Like I said, you need both.

WWTT? IHOP Calls Burgers ‘Pancakes’ and Creates Bancake List

Earlier this month, IHOP decided it was time for another stunt focused on its burger menu, this time referring to burgers as “pancakes” and instituting a Bancake list based off of people who tweeted negatively about the restaurant’s IHOb campaign from 2018.

Earlier this month, IHOP decided it was time for another stunt focused on its burger menu. In 2018, the International House of Pancakes decided a name change was in the cards, and opted to be called IHOb, switching out pancakes for burgers.

I shared my thoughts about this marketing stunt last year, and while the marketing ploy — which wasn’t even a full name change — may have worked, I still think it was pretty lame.

[brightcove videoplayer=”5797280539001″ width=”100%” height=”100%” autostart=”false”]

But now, since so many people gave IHOP “grief” over the IHOb campaign, the restaurant chain has something new up their sleeves.

So …IHOP just continues to double down on weird … and not even the interesting kind.

According to Food Newsfeed, there were over 3.3 million tweets about last year’s stunt, and not all of them were positive. CMO Brad Haley is quoted:

“So, our lead creative agency, Droga5, created a digital experience to engage last year’s naysayers and convert haters into eaters. Those who tweeted something, shall we say, unkind last year may find that they’re on ‘The Bancake List,’ an aggregated list of Twitter users who tweeted at IHOP to stay in its lane.”

Yes that’s right. Not only is IHOP calling burgers pancakes, but they created the website Bancakelist.com. There, you can enter your Twitter handle, and if it comes up that you said something nasty about IHOP and last year’s stunt … well, you can “make it right” by tweeting something nice, and you can receive a “reward.” Because folks, this is how you spend marketing dollars wisely.

IHOP Bancake list IHOP Bancake list

Needless to say … I didn’t send that tweet.

I understand the need to get a customer-base excited about a product, and to market it well. But this continues to be goofy and borderline-dumb. Those burgers look delicious … so why not focus on that? Why call them something they’re not, just to get the public riled up, and institute a Bancake list?

If the response is “Well, it gets people talking?” then my comment is: What’s the ROI of that? Marketers, tell me what you think!

How B2B Marketing Can Make B2B Sales Easy

My headline isn’t going to win any friends across the aisle in the land of sales teams, and I’ll admit there’s a bit of attention-seeking there. But, even though I won’t suggest that sales is by definition easier than marketing, I do feel that strong marketing can have an outsize impact on sales results and sales efficiency.

My headline isn’t going to win any friends across the aisle in the land of sales teams, and I’ll admit there’s a bit of attention-seeking there. But, even though I won’t suggest that sales is by definition easier than marketing, I do feel that strong marketing can have an outsize impact on sales results and sales efficiency.

Marketing can only have that impact on sales when there is a progression of thoughtful activity from a firm’s earliest contact with a prospect to converting the sale, and beyond.

So the real headline should perhaps be, “Sales Is Easier When Marketing Is Done Well,” but that’s a mouthful. Let’s take a closer look at how marketing can make sales easier, if not truly easy.

B2B marketing

Who Really Wants a Super Bowl Ad?

Most of us in B2B sales and marketing are not seeking the mass audiences of, say, a Super Bowl ad. Our prospects can be much more tightly defined and more pointedly targeted. Rather than wading through a stadium full of people to find those few who might be interested in what we’re offering, we want to talk to the few hundred — maybe even few dozen — without all the additional noise. We want to connect with those who are likely to be a good fit for what we’re offering.

If our marketing can target our prospects tightly, we make the sales process more efficient; we don’t need to put 1,000 salespeople in the field, because we don’t have a stadium full of “prospects” to follow up with. A smaller team can communicate with the more select group who marketing has identified as qualified candidates.

Of course, if those candidates aren’t truly qualified — ever the sales team’s lament — the process breaks down. Which is why we need a strong marketing team to support the more focused sales team.

What Does Marketing Need to Do

Marketing then, needs to focus on content and other tools that appeal to the target audience and that are able to get a brand-relevant and useful message in front of them. When that happens, sales is a much more efficient task — less wasted time, fewer never-really-interested prospects, and a higher close rate. In other words, sales is easier because marketing is strong. (Thought, I’ll admit, sales is never easy, my headline notwithstanding.)

What About Branding?

It’s worth applying this concept to branding, as well, because the same things we can say about sales in relationship to marketing can be said about marketing in relationship to branding. Good branding makes marketing much, much more effective. Easier, even.

So now our headline should read: “Sales Is Easier When Marketing Is Done Well (And Marketing Is Easier When Branding Is Done Well)” Which is even more of a mouthful …

Of course, all of this well-planned activity will be for nothing if you don’t have a fantastic product to sell. And “fantastic” doesn’t have to mean a groundbreaking technological advancement. (Though clearly, the product has to provide a strong benefit to the client.) “Fantastic” means a product that is conceived and positioned to be better than any other available option for a particular audience segment.

So there is a bit of a circle here with product leading to positioning/branding, branding leading to marketing, and marketing leading to sales. There’s also a two-way connection between strategic thinking and tactical implementation that have to feed on one another. (Virtuously, we hope.)

All of this means that while sales isn’t really easier than marketing, when you do more of the hard work in the earlier steps, the later steps get easier. And because this is all quite circular, everything gets easier when you focus on strategy before tactics and seek ways to improve incrementally with each prospect interaction.

3 Types of Brand Stories: Functional, Emotional, Moral

There are three types of storytelling for brands: Functional, Emotional and Moral. Every brand should have a functional story, but the best ones find an emotional and moral story that rings true to their own culture and mission, as well as to their audience.

What an interesting Academy Awards season. So many different kinds of stories that were told! From Roma to Black Panther to The Favourite, the scale, story arcs, and scopes of the stories were remarkably different.

And that same variety applies to brands — there’s a unique kind of brand storytelling for each.

When you think about the kind of story your brand wants to tell, not only should it definitely be different than other competitors in your space, it should also be a different kind of story. I’m not talking about stories being funny or dramatic, I’m thinking about something much broader.

In my class I ask each student to give a “Tour of Brand.” This is a 20+ minute presentation about a brand they love, and talk about the history, the aspects of the competition, and most importantly why that brand speaks to them. Now that I’ve been teaching for about 10 years, I’ve probably seen about 400 of these “Tours of Brands.” So many brand presentations!

From those, I’ve learned that there are three types of brand stories that are being told. For your brand, think about which story you’re telling. And, it could be more than one. I’ve included links to videos to illustrate these stories.

The Functional Story: ‘Help My Life Easier’

Functional stories help make things a lot easier in life. There might be some emotion tied to that (I feel better when things are easier), but basically these stories show how they make the customer’s life is just a whole lot easier to manage. Stuff gets cleaner, takes less time, etc. A great example of this kind of storytelling is from Lemonade, an insurance company. Their whole pitch is to make insurance simple, clean, easy, modern and accessible — especially for Generation Z. Does it make me feel better? Sure, it could. But the emotions are borne out of things just being a simpler and more understandable way of getting insurance.

Emotional Story: ‘Help Me Feel Something Real’

These are powerful stories. Emotional marketing is, of course, something we all respond to and remember. The hippocampus and amygdala are two centers in the brain responsible for memory and emotion, and they are physically right next to each other. Emotional reactions link us together across culture and time, and bind us together as humans. The better brands convey their emotional marketing messages with authenticity and a realness that aligns the purpose of the brand with the tactics, images, and words.

And with videos as the primary mover of emotional storytelling, brands have no excuses to not find those good, emotionally real stories. One of my favorite is the P&G Thank You Mom Campaign. Give yourself a treat and spend 2+ minutes watching this.

They have built an entire collection of these kinds of stories, and the first one debuted in the 2012 Olympics:

And if after watching it, you’re not crying, I can’t help you.

Moral Story: ‘Help Me Become More Than Myself’

The Moral Stories are the most powerful ones a brand can tell. They reign supreme by connecting you and the brand to something larger and more meaningful in life. They show you that you — as a consumer — can be a part of a movement and massive social change that has real impact in the world. These brands empower you to be a force of good, and to be the change you want to see in the world.

My favorite recent example is Always. They finally understand that they’re not just selling tampons. A girl’s confidence plummets during puberty, and they realize that they can be a part of this story. They can help girls who are going through a brand new and somewhat scary experience understand that it’s a step towards empowerment and strong life-stage. Always can be a big part of this message, and they fully embraced it with #likeagirl campaign. They rode the wake started by the Dove Evolution Campaign, and have done a strong job of creating awareness that an entire generation of confident girls can make major change across the planet in the next 10-20 years and beyond.

And in this one caption, you can sense the large macro-drama that Always is asking users to be a part of. They asked the same questions to girls who were in their late teens & early twenties and to girls who haven’t yet hit puberty:

Interviewer: “What does it mean to run like a girl?”

Older Girl: [Flailing and prancing weakly] “Uhnnnnn …”

8-year old girl: “It means … run as fast as you can.”

Here are two of their solid Moral Storytelling videos.


When it comes to your brand, I guarantee you each have a functional story to tell. My hunch is that you have an emotional story to tell. And for those brave souls willing to put it out there, think deeply about a moral story. The world needs more of those.

So, go ask yourself and your team: What kind of story are you telling?

As always, I’d enjoy your feedback.