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Marketing's REAL Beef with Facebook


Marketing's REAL Beef with Facebook

EDGERANK CONCEPT handwritten with chalk  on a blackboard
EDGERANK CONCEPT handwritten with chalk on a blackboard

Yet another article has come out yesterday on how Facebook is a waste of time for marketers because posts only show up for 8-16% of their followers. As someone who has been in marketing for over 15 years (online marketing for 14 of those), these posts irk me. To me, they show a low understanding of how human beings engage with media and demonstrate that old perceptions of customer ownership persist, even through the Social Era.

General Facebook Stats

First off, here are some basic statistics on how people use Facebook. The average Facebook user has 229 friends and likes 40 brands. They spend an average of 1.5 hours/week on Facebook, accessing it from 7,000 different devices. 58% of Facebook users return daily. And 65% of people who like brands on Facebook do so for the coupons/savings they can access. (source + Facebook Insights 2012) There are 50 million Facebook pages that post 36 times per month - 2.5 million of those that are promoted through Facebook ads. (source) And 40% of people's time spent on Facebook is on their newsfeed, while only 12% of their time is spent on profile and brand pages. (source)

image from PhotoDune
image from PhotoDune

If you haven't figured it out mathematically, Facebook is NOISY for most users. I'm a super user (outlier), so I'm not the best example, but I have 3,233 friends (I try to weed them out to only people I've met from time to time, but it keeps growing), like 898 pages (don't know when THAT happened, oy), am part of 49 Facebook groups (some are SUPER active) and have a public page where I've grown 64,864 followers (who can comment, like and otherwise engage with my profile unless I limit visibility on a post). Facebook's Edgerank helps me a great deal. Sure, I don't see everything and I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of uber important life events and sales and launches, but it makes my experience on Facebook a little more sane.

My Mom, who defines herself as a luddite, has 174 friends on Facebook, 6 likes and is part of 1 group. She doesn't have a public profile, so doesn't have 'followers'. She still finds the amount of posts and news on Facebook to be overwhelming at times, so she created her favorites so she would always see what's happening with her family as we post items. She has created a filter ON TOP OF the Edgerank that Facebook provides to help her manage the posts from all of her friends.

I can understand that a brand who thinks that every like is an undivided attention endorsement would think that 8-16% of their followers seeing their posts means that Facebook is ripping them off. But anyone who thinks a little bit and understands how this works should get that Edgerank IS FOR THE USERS not for the marketers.

How Edgerank Works


Edgerank isn't some plot against brands who don't pay for advertising on Facebook. All it does is favor posts that are popular and relevant, whether it is a personal profile post or a brand page post. It also understands what users have engaged with previously, so if you spend a lot of time liking and commenting on certain friends' posts, those friends (and brands) will show up more often.

Here is a frequently passed around definition of how Edgerank works:

"EdgeRank is an algorithm used by Facebook to determine where and what posts appear on each individual user’s news feed in order to give users relevant and wanted content.

The three variables that make up this algorithm are:

  • Affinity Score - Facebook calculates affinity score by looking at explicit actions that users take, and factoring in, the strength of the action,  how close the person who took the action was to you, and how long ago they took the action.
  • Edge Weight - Facebook changes the edge weights to reflect which type of stories they think user will find most engaging.
  • Time Decay – The determines the time passed, if they’re old they probably don’t appear."


And, yes, a brand page can use advertising to improve their Edgerank. That's how advertising works. You pay for the ability to cheat the system. As the saying goes, "Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product," but I would also add that advertising is the price you pay for an unfair advantage. It's the way of balancing the universe. You can pay to be at the center of it. ;)

Why Marketers Really Hate Edgerank

There are several reasons why marketers* hate Edgerank:

  1. There is no instant gratification - even if you are a content maestro, it takes time to build an audience without advertising. For my clients, I use advertising to underscore great content instead of in place of it.
  2. Retro TV Commercial
  3. They think a 'Like' means the Facebook user is endorsing undivided attention - the truth is, there are all sorts of reasons why people like brands on Facebook and, since the average user likes 40 brands and has 229 friends, there is no such thing as undivided attention (or if there is, it's rare...and a bit odd). The reason your posts aren't showing up on their newsfeeds is because they aren't engaging with them.
  4. Marketing people aren't generally content people and vice versa - I sat down with a journalist friend of mine who has been hired by a big fashion retailer to do their content. She's really brilliant at it, but had very little knowledge as to how to use the tools and how to promote the great content she was producing. They wanted her to do both content AND marketing and didn't understand that those two talents are very different and usually require two roles. People conflate them all too often and though you may find the rare individual that can do both well, it's best that you split the role for maximum oomph.
  5. Most marketers are still stuck in the old one-way paradigm - helloooo! It's the social era! This means that even old one-way mediums (billboards, television, radio, magazines, etc) need to get more multi-way in order to survive. So stop treating the social tools as bullhorns. Seriously. This is why you are failing at them. Facebook should be 50% listening, 25% responding and 25% talking (more or less).
  6. Campaigns should be part of content, not the other way around - content done in brief spurts and ebbs and flows just doesn't work (see #1). It takes time to build an audience, engage them enough to keep them coming back and delight them to the point of wanting to share to their own friends (they have their own audiences and goals). I've talked about how content bursts with long silences between hurt your audience on YouTube, but it works the same way in many social mediums and Facebook's Edgerank is one of them.

Marketers have to learn to work with content people (photographers, videographers, writers, journalists, graphic designers, artists, etc) on their strategy. Creativity and strategy are intertwined. In fact, the strategic process should look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.28.26 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.28.26 PM

...and you should enter this loop at learning. (note: I usually remove the launching/promoting part until a few cycles of learning, planning, implementing, learning, planning, implementing...)

The beauty of Facebook is that it is inexpensive and content rich and sky is the limit when it comes to creating engaging content AND everybody is there, hanging out, looking for great distractions. In addition, I don't believe there are many brands that do it right, so you have every opportunity in the world to raise the bar. Don't blame the tool, especially when it's implemented features that benefit the users you are trying to reach. Take a closer look at your own content. Are you engaging? Are you creating content your fans would be excited to share? Are you creating value? Improving knowledge? Lives? Are you making your customers' lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better? Or are you just adding to the noise?

Abandoning Facebook would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It's a great tool if you understand that it isn't a billboard. And remember, it's much less expensive and gives you all sorts of ways to hear from your audience and understand who you are hearing from (which is very difficult with a billboard).

So stop writing 'woe is me' posts and start respecting the medium and your audience. Trust me, you'll change your tune.


* I really shouldn't lump all of us in the same boat. I love Edgerank and think it's a beautiful and user-centric feature for Facebook. It just makes me work harder to create engaging content and I love a good challenge. I know there are great marketers out there who get this, too.


The Content Marketing Mix

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The Content Marketing Mix

So now that you've been inspired to try your hand at social content marketing, and you understand your audience and what kind of content may appeal, it's time to plan out your content mix. Understanding the content mix that works for your audience is incredibly important and many companies get this very wrong. I break content down to four very general categories:

Content Mix
Content Mix


Product type content is the stuff that most people understand as self-promotional. These are posts about your product itself: the features, the benefits, the comparisons and the contrasts. It's the who, what, when, where and how of what you are selling. If you are doing content for a cosmetic company, it's the scientific study that shows a 25% reduction in crows feet. If you are doing content for a rockband, it's posting the concert dates and new singles. If you are doing content for a dental office, it's posting the specials on cleaning and whitening. If you are doing content for your consulting business, it's posting where you are featured as an expert in the Washington Post.

Product posts are the "me, me, me" posts. They are the ones that most resemble the traditional marketing one-way message, though many companies are trying to create interaction with these by adding a sharing, liking or commenting incentive (share to enter a contest, like to get a coupon, comment to let us know how you would wear this, etc).

These types of posts are essential for communicating what it is you are selling, where people can buy it, how they enjoy/use your product, when it is available or goes on special, who is behind the product (slightly crosses over to brand, which I'll explain next) and why people should buy your product. However, a content schedule made up of too many of these posts will not be interesting to anyone other than already devoted fans - and even they will be less and less interested as time goes on.


Brand type posts still relate to your product, but focus more on the "why" by empathizing with your audience and connecting with them on a more emotional level. Brand posts answer the question, "Why would YOU give a damn about my product?" but they don't list the features and benefits, they talk more about the customer and how they serve the customer's needs. This is where the content gets social. It listens and learns and evolves with the needs of the audience.

Brand type posts are answering how you are making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better. If you are doing content for a fashion retailer, this is where you focus on the outcomes of looking and feeling great wearing the clothes (quite often done visually and in a fantasy setting). If you are doing content for a public figure, this is where you showcase the issues and ideologies that people can connect with in order to support that person. If you are doing content for a sports team, this is where you can connect with the audience's competitive instincts, providing tools to help them show their team colors.

Brand type posts are still product related, but they speak to how the customer connects to the product rather than the awesomeness of the product itself. These posts evolve over time as you interact with the audience and understand what makes their lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and better. They can even help you improve your product. This will give your audience a feeling of personal investment in the product, which will lead to a deeper relationship and long-term loyalty.


Lifestyle type posts don't directly relate to your product, but they do speak to your audience. They are posts that recognize memes, holidays, current events and pop culture. These posts connect to your audience by recognizing what else is going on in their minds and show that your company gets the audience.

The controversial cookie post.
The controversial cookie post.

When Oreo posted the gay pride cookie, the image went viral because of many factors, but the biggest was that they took a risk. Oreo took a risk with a holiday that divides many (as gay rights is widely contested), leading to a wide number of supporters and detractors discussing and sharing the ad. The image itself was fairly innocuous with the rainbow colored filling between the iconic chocolate wafers and the word 'PRIDE'. It didn't say, "support gay rights" or stand up for anything in particular, but a family focused company giving any recognition to the gay community was enough to set the right wing audience off, which led to setting the left wing audience off to counteract the ire. The next thing you know, a cute, sleeper campaign turned into national news and Oreo cookies were top of mind for people again.

Lifestyle type posts are simple to fall back on. There are severalsitesonline that list all sorts of fun holidays (i.e. Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19, or Best Friends Day on June 8) that could tie back to your product easily or creatively or speak to your particular audiences. However, don't overdo these as they could start to look like desperate attempts at content ideas and pandering. Memes can be a clever way to connect with your audience, but make sure the memes are known enough and current. A 'yesterdays' meme will make you look out of date (posting a Harlem Shake video today, for example) and a too obscure meme may go over the heads of your audience and may offend. Many brands do well aligning to pop culture, but be careful with the rights to images.

Unless you can be creative about it like Oreo (without looking like a copy cat), it's probably best you keep these posts a small percentage of your content. Occasional Lifestyle type content posts will pack a good amount of punch if you post them sparingly. They tend to get shared quite widely as people can use them to communicate their endorsement of the holiday or meme by simply posting to their own walls.


Community type posts focus on your customers and audience. These content posts highlight customer stories, ideas, feedback and lifestyles.

The Halloween Face-Off Contest by Mac.
The Halloween Face-Off Contest by Mac.

An example of a community post for a fashion retailer would be street style photographs where their customers talk about what they bought and what they are wearing. When doing the Justin Trudeau leadership campaign, we collected supporter stories on how people came to meet and support Justin. We used these stories in a post, and interviewed and highlighted the really unique ones, posting them to the blog, Facebook and Twitter. These posts weren't the most shared or liked, but they were meaningful and encouraged more people to share their own stories. Many cosmetic brands will hold contests for their audience to do makeup tutorials. Mac did a wonderful 'Face Off' campaign for Halloween in 2012 where they posted some amazing Halloween makeup tutorials and invited budding makeup artists to submit their own. The results were incredible and some of their most popular posts (good example of using lifestyle - Halloween - and combining it with community).

Community type posts are very good at involving your customers in the future of your brand, but don't get too complex. One of my clients was asking for their audience to submit a big design project, which required too much work. When they reduced that ask to a before and after photo, they got many more submissions.

Community type posts most likely won't be your most shared or liked post, but they empower your customers to be involved with your brand, which is important for relationship building.


These four classifications aren't black and white. A product post can have lifestyle and brand type elements. Community posts can also be brand. The mix also varies depending on your audience and your own goals. Oreo Cookies, for instance, do almost exclusively lifestyle posts (that have a brand bend) and people love them, but this approach wouldn't work for everyone.

Some of the popular Oreo campaigns where they dress up the cookie to represent cultural celebrations.
Some of the popular Oreo campaigns where they dress up the cookie to represent cultural celebrations.

And remember, these four classifications I've outlined are very top level and only to be used as a guideline for your initial content planning. As your content evolves, you will break down types of posts even more finitely. Decotheca, a client of mine who provides design inspiration and guidelines for Canadians who are designing or redesigning their rooms and homes, have focused most of their energy on brand type posts, but have broken these posts down to: DIY projects, Design Style Overviews, Color Inspiration, Design Terminology, Accessories, etc. When assessing content, we look at the type of post and the type of content of each post to determine how to adjust and balance going forward. Currently people love the DIY projects the most, but overdoing these would reduce their effectiveness.

But I recognize that sitting down in front of a blank calendar to create engaging content can be daunting and I've found the four types of content to be a good exercise to get started. From there, you should let your audience and their engagement and feedback determine how it evolves. Your content planning will move from a daunting, laborious task to a fun and learning experience.

The overall purpose of content marketing is to build and connect with your audience, get feedback to improve your product, grow loyalty though involving your customers in your evolution and then help your loyal, loving audience spread the word for you, bringing in a larger audience. Ultimately, this leads to you being top of mind and increasing your sales or supporters.

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The Sinners and Saints of Social - Retail Version


The Sinners and Saints of Social - Retail Version


[slideshare id=15039782&doc=socialretailersinnerssaints2-121105181228-phpapp01] This week I gave a presentation on the sinners and saints of social to a room full of retailers. The sad truth is that it's nearing the end of 2012 and it's still really difficult to find brands that are doing a good job of social. There are definitely more and more that are starting to understand that content isn't just something that magically appears, but they are still falling short on the 'doing stuff that puts the customer at the center' bit. The moral of my presentation is, "It's not about you" but I continue to observe and hear time and time again that brands are more focused on their own needs than they are the needs of the customer.

From asking for 'viral videos' when they really mean they want lots of views without concern for whether people really enjoyed or engaged (and counting paid views as engagement) to sacrificing user experience for brand control, there are too many sinners than there should be when there is endless information on how to create a great video, an amazing website and a great overall customer experience. It makes me wonder if I'm living on a different planet than those who are running the strategy for most brands.

If you don't want to thumb through the 114 slides (most of them are really quick btw...I design my presentations to be readable on multiple platforms - in person and web), just skip it and read this bit...which is my favorite section and the one I live by. If you haven't read any of Joseph Campbell's writings on The Hero's Journey, I highly recommend it. It's an oldie, but goodie and the story arch behind pretty much every successful movie, book, adventure and campaign ever launched. Here is my interpretation of it for a beauty brand:


See what I did there? ;)

I watched Justin Kingsley talk about The Art of Storytelling this morning at a conference (no video or slides yet) and couldn't help but think of how much the examples he used follow the Hero's Journey story arch almost perfectly. I love how some fundamentals never change. Human connection may be enabled through new technology, but WHY we connect remains pretty constant.


Brands on YouTube: Hits and Misses


Brands on YouTube: Hits and Misses


Viral videos are still largely a mystery. Why a South Korean music video has been viewed over half a BILLION times in less than 3 months is beyond me. It's a catchy tune, yes. And the parodies have been oodles of fun. But over 500M times? I doubt anyone would have predicted that. Justin Bieber still reigns with his Baby video, which should reach 1 Billion views by the end of this year, but PSY is catching up in record time.

But while viral videos are often a one-hit wonder mystery (Chuck Testa, Double Rainbow Guy, Charlie Bit My Finger, etc) and are largely due to luck (funny/interesting/surprising content + right place + right time + slow news day), there is another realm of YouTube that has more predictable results: content channels.

Content channels are the YouTube producers that provide regular programming with deep, long-term engagement. They have loads of subscribers who tune into their videos on a daily or weekly basis, watching, commenting, liking and sharing videos on a consistent basis. And though some of these channels were jump-started by a single viral video, many of them were built over time by engaging their audience and following some well-publicized best practices on YouTube (highly recommended download).

Though these best practices, tips and tricks are readily available, I've been surprised to find that many brands that are dying to engage in the power of YouTube ignore or avoid this advice altogether, opting instead for big advertising spends and vanity plays. When I say vanity plays, I'm referring to the tendency for brands to invest more in branding than they do in long term engagement. A fully customized YouTube channel page, for instance, has a price: a major advertising investment (in the US, having a vanity page could cost you $200,000 ad spend + the cost of customizing the page). That's a whole lot of money in lieu of engagement.

So, what are some of these best practices? They are pretty simple:

  1. Create great content that's unique, compelling and engaging (informative or entertaining)
  2. Use the first 10 seconds of your video to grab attention: if you are posting a how-to video, show the results before you go into the spiel
  3. Post on a consistent basis: one video won't do it, and uploading a whole whack of videos at once won't do it either.
  4. Post fresh content on a regular basis: record, post, interact, get feedback, use that feedback to improve your next video. Repeat! The most powerful part of YouTube is the interaction. The best video bloggers listen to their audience and incorporate questions and requests regularly.
  5. Use great thumbnails (show the end result or the best snap of the video), tag well, title descriptively and use annotations and information to your advantage


For this analysis I'm focusing on beauty because there are MULTIPLE categories for multiple viewers on YouTube and beauty is not only one of my favorites, but the area in which I have spent most of my analysis. Music, comedy, travel and gaming are areas in which brands and independents are mixing quite well at the moment. Fashion and beauty are still laggards. And, for the purpose of analysis, I've chosen one ostensibly independent channel and two of the top brand channels (meaning that they are well-recognized beauty brands). I also rate by subscribers and not views. You can buy views, but subscribers come organically and are a good sign of engagement.

One of my favorite channels on YouTube is LuxyHair:

Though I'm pretty sure their bedrooms aren't really that spotless, they do a lovely production job of mixing casual and professional. Mimi and Leyla are sweet and generous and friendly. The lighting is perfect. The setting (bedroom) is fun and casual, but lovely. The styles they do are timely (they watch the trends and the comments). And because of this, they have amazing engagement: nearly 600,000 subscribers and nearly 100 MILLION views on their videos. They also get oodles of comments and interactions (video replies, likes and messages).

And guess what? LuxyHair is a brand!

They've been posting videos and slowly improving since a few months before they launched their hair extensions line. They did it right. They started building a community and audience and providing value before they started posting any product at all. And even today, they rarely, if ever, talk directly about their hair extensions. Instead, they show us in the audience how to wear them and look amazing in various styles. Subtly, there is always a link in the comments to the extensions they've used in the know...just in case I need to know.

I actually didn't know that LuxyHair was a brand until I'd been subscribed for a few months. I found one of their hair tutorials as a related video and loved it so much, I subscribed to the channel. I kept watching the videos through my YouTube dashboard and one day Mimi mentioned something off hand about the extensions, so I clicked through and checked them out. I was impressed that they spent so much time building community and offering something for the viewers that I'm likely to order some extensions from them in the near future.

Another brand that does a pretty decent job is Mac Cosmetics:

Normally, I wouldn't think much of their YouTube content as it's sort of all over the map and much of it misses the mark on what I need to get from a beauty channel (personally, I could care less about backstage at FashionWeek), but their really short and snappy tips and tricks are pretty awesome. Like this tip for winged out eye makeup or this one on how to clean up the red pout. Their thumbnails, awful bad titles that aren't descriptive and their general inability to focus drive me a bit nuts, but the content is there. It just needs to be cleaned up.

Plus, I can totally forgive them because they run a full-on integrated, love for the makeup artist community show through multiple platforms, including on their own site (but really? No sharable URLs? C'mon!). They obviously care and it shows. They just need some discipline. But whatever, they are artists. ;)

Mac Cosmetics looks to be the most subscribed to major beauty brand on YouTube, but one of my favorite social brands is catching up fast...Sephora:

Of course Sephora has the advantage that many beauty bloggers have: they have multiple lines of cosmetics to work with. However, they started late in the game and through using many of the YouTube best practices (regular, timely uploads; good thumbnails; great use of playlists; effective titling and tagging; etc), they are taking the beauty world on YouTube by storm. Just a snapshot comparison of Sephora, Mac Cosmetics and Luxy Hair shows that they are growing in leaps and bounds:

They are nowhere near LuxyHair, but are poised to overtake Mac in a few months as the reigning Queen of beauty brand YouTube. I should add, however, that some of the early growth was due to paid advertising, but they've used it pretty sparingly along the way and the majority of their channel growth is organic and due to their use of best practices, attention to details and community interaction. Like Mac, they also have a fully integrated social strategy and use Facebook, their own BeautyTalk community, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and mobile platforms. They interact regularly and produce helpful and fun content on all of their platforms. They also have a robust VIB (Very Important Beauty) program that rewards loyalty, a killer email marketing program, make their stores super DIY and have a really great website and ecommerce platform that makes it easy to search for products by brand, skin issue, categories, trends, specials and expert advice. It's hard to compete with their focus on customer experience...but you should try.


I originally had analyzed a few misses, but I've decided to make this a more general post because, well, it encompasses pretty much every beauty brand on YouTube. Sorry. By now, if you are reading this and you work for a beauty brand, you probably know who you are. Instead, let me point out what you are generally doing wrong.

You are making one or many or all of the following MISTAKES:

1. In a desperate attempt to 'go viral', you are paying for advertising to boost content that is best suited for a one-way medium (ie. an advertisement that has no story, emotion or interactiveness).

2. You are getting a bunch of tutorial videos professionally shot all at once so you can have plenty of content kicking around to upload over time.

3. You are spending a whole bunch of time and money getting your channel landing page branded beautifully (for those rare people that actually land on a channel homepage - less than 1% btw).

4. You are running short-term campaigns on YouTube with no long term planning or thought of how much a community would benefit your brand over the long run

5. You aren't paying any attention to how people really discover your videos...through search, blogs, social networks and other sources where your thumbnails, descriptions and titles really really matter for discoverability.

All-in-all, you are sending the signal that you would rather spend a big sum of money than spend the time building real relationships and community around your brand. Spending money is fine, but it should support, not be in lieu of community building. I've watched many too many brands with short-term visions and I know that part of it is the way that advertising budgets are set out. But if you want to really benefit from social, you need to BE social. You need to look at it through a long-term lens and budget accordingly. Online doesn't work like print worked. It doesn't work like television or outdoor or radio or any of the previous one-way media worked for brands. Social is multi-way conversation between you and your customers, your customers and your customers and your customers and your future customers. Hell it's even a conversation between you and your competitors because even the most loyal customers use multiple brands and working WITH that fact will help you a great deal.

You need to think from a customers point of view. It's not about you and how pretty or authoritative or polished your brand is. It's about how you help make her feel. What does she need? What does she desire? I've said it before, and here I go again:

Social is about making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better.

It costs less money and more time. Instead of spending $200,000 on ads and $50,000 on a fancy brand channel page, spend that money on hiring great people who understand your customers and your brand (maybe even one of your biggest fans!) to build your community. It will cost you less in the short term and have way more benefits in the long term. Use YouTube best practices...learnt from those who have built strong, adoring, amazing communities of devoted viewers.

Everything is social now and your customers expect more from you now. You need to change your thinking if you want to succeed today. And believe me, you will look back and realize how wrong your approach was when you are spending little money on advertising and lots of time really interacting with your customers.


When it Comes to Social, Small is the New Big


When it Comes to Social, Small is the New Big


Actually, big has never really been the way social works.

Big is the way traditional advertising operates. The bigger the bullhorn, the bigger the brand impact, right? Sure it reaches more people, but as the old adage goes, "It's not the size, it's how you use it." And this matters more than ever in the social sphere.

When it comes to social, I don't mean 'social media', either. I prefer removing the media part of that distinction. Why? Because all too often people focus on the tactics and tools rather than figuring out the strategy first. So if I remove 'media' then we focus on the 'social'. Don't lead with the how. Lead with the why.

Vanity of the Big Idea

Clients often want to hear 'The Big Idea' and, in general, marketing teams froth at the mouth when a campaign is bigger than life. Take the most recent Red Bull stunt: a space jump. It's definitely a big idea. And definitely cool. Red Bull funded a world record jump and a human being breaking physical laws. Was it "on brand"? Hell yes. Red Bull has long established it's brand as an edgy,  risk-taking, rebellious brand. Red Bull aligns itself with extreme sports, high adrenaline producing activities and youthful male culture. Will this increase sales for Red Bull? Perhaps, but CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) is probably a little extreme. Personally, I think the best thing that ever happened to Red Bull was the addition of vodka. Dragging your arse on a Friday night out with your friends? No problem. Skip the beer and wine and go for Red Bull and vodka. Cost of that campaign? Next to nothing. Red Bull is prohibited from promoting the combo publicly in many markets.

"But, Tara, there are all sorts of residual benefits of big campaigns!" Yep. I recognize that. And whether it is employee pride, brand favorability, awards, defensive positioning, market saturation and, in general, social capital, there are all sorts of intangible, unmeasurable, but very real outcomes of The Big Idea. However, most all of them are connected to corporate vanity, not to real customer experiences and needs. Real customer experiences and needs are rarely expensive and showy, but doing a good job of executing on this requires three things that are difficult for marketers:

  • thinking about the customer's needs
  • taking the time to serve those needs
  • doing all of this without needing a pat on the back

In other words: "Sure, Tara, it's effective. But it's not very sexy and I won't win an award for it."

Anti-Social Social

Everything is social, but very few people really understand what that means. And companies think about social as a free way to get others to spread the word about their product. This is not social. This is anti-social.

Imagine a company that thinks that way being a human being on a social network. This is roughly how she would behave:

  • only posting things about herself
  • asking you to like and share all of these posts about herself
  • running contests to get more attention and grow an audience so more people will see posts about herself
  • deleting comments that question the quality of her posts about herself
  • thinking that posts about herself are 'giving to the community' because everybody likes the posts about herself
  • when that doesn't work, buy ads to drive more traffic to posts about herself
  • once those ads + contests work, brag on more posts about herself about how many people love her
  • and so on...

Would you continue to follow that person? Probably not. I may follow her if she was super interesting and posted information that was truly engaging and helpful, but most companies don't remember the engaging and helpful part. And when it comes to imagining engaging and helpful content, instead of taking the time and effort to find out what is engaging, many marketers manufacture it. From "inspirational" quotes to lackluster polls to faux-charity to puppies, too many marketers watch what passes as popular amongst friends then try to recreate it. This mimicry misses the point. It's not about a formula, it's about true engagement. And it can't be planned or manufactured.

Nothing I say can say it better than this Facebook Page I came across recently:

Corporate Bullocks on Facebook

The Condescending Corporate Brand Page uses sarcasm to communicate how fed up they are with corporate Facebook pages. In an ironic twist, the likes on this page have gone 'viral' in the few weeks it has existed. Between the 'Hall of Shame' app where users can point out the lame pages and campaigns they've come across and the often brutal back and forth sarcasm on the main wall (they even poke fun at Felix Baumgartner from the Red Bull jump), they've nicely uncovered how consumers really feel about the brands they follow. Similarly, Things Real People Don't Say About Advertising (Tumblr) may sting many brand managers:

These sites aren't aiming to be mean for the sake of being mean. They are merely an outlet for people to speak back to what is happening as brands enter the social space. This is an opportunity for marketers to listen and understand that consumers are savvy. We may be generally irrational when it comes to what we buy, but we can smell a lame campaign when we sniff it. So stop spending money on stuff that makes us roll our eyes and start spending time figuring out what we need and want.

I've said it countless times, but being social means:

…making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?

It's not about accumulating fans or likes or pins or views, it's about how you make your customers feel. The likes, fans, pins, views, etc will follow from there.

What I Mean by Small

Small isn't always in relation to size. Small is about removing yourself from the equation and focusing on your customer and her needs. Does she need to feel confident? Does she need to feel beautiful? Does she need to feel in control? Does she need to feel important?

Anyone who knows me understands how much of a skincare addict I am. I have the need to live a life of enjoyment while continuing to look youthful. Okay...I never want to grow up, I admit it. I like good wine and staying up late talking with friends, but my skin hates me for it. I tend to get severely dehydrated skin that gets blotchy after one of these nights. So I buy products that placate my dermis and allow me the occasional girl's night out. But the choice isn't clear. There are tons of products in skincare and they all claim to fix wrinkles and reduce redness and quench dryness. And I've bought too many of them that don't work to believe their claims. Skincare isn't cheap, so when I find something that works pretty well, I tend to stick with it. Switching is scary and expensive. So what is that small thing a skincare company can do to reach me?

Good old fashioned samples help. That's why I love Kiehl's (and why many people love them). I can go in and get a free consultation - personalized to my needs. I can tell the specialist that I like wine and don't get enough sleep, but want something that will work hard to repair the damage I cause and she will lecture me, but then hand me samples to try. If those don't work, she'll give me others. And if I like a product and it stops working for me, Kiehl's has been known to let me return a partially used product for credit. It feels like they are on my team. And just recently, I was invited to attend a Dermalogica event where they gave me a full skin-analysis and a handful of samples. Within a few weeks, I've fallen in love with their products...and am making a switch.

This won't always work. Dermalogica and Kiehl's take a risk with me because my skin may not respond well to their products, but by trying, they don't hurt my relationship with their brand at all. I am more likely to blame my skin and continue to recommend their products to others.

Small means focusing your attention on the customer, not the glory. To take the time to figure out what works for your customer, not your own vanity. A fancy YouTube channel may match your print ads and feel all on-brand, but the often hundreds of thousands of dollars you spent to create and promote it is lost on your customer, who is discovering videos through search, related videos and recommendations from friends and rarely, if ever, even visits your channel home.

Small means thinking about how easy it is for your customer to use your application or find the information she needs on your product rather than how cool and pretty your website looks.

Small means using the platform that works to interact with your customer, not going for the flashiest, coolest new thing because you want to look cutting edge. Hell, email is still a great option if that is where your customer feels most comfortable.

Small means listening to feedback, listening to it and responding in good time. Sometimes you will find out that you need to change your product, not the way it's spun.

Small means that you focus on quality instead of quantity, building relationships instead of campaigns, your customer instead of yourself, service instead of flashiness, interactions instead of followers or fans and engagement instead of reach.

Think small and the results will be big. Sure, nobody in the industry will talk about what a genius you are, but I guarantee your customers will.


The Hierarchy of What We Buy (and where you want to be)


The Hierarchy of What We Buy (and where you want to be)


Most people will tell you that they only buy necessities and stuff that makes them a better person (books, travel, etc). In fact, this is only an observation, but the types of things people are happy sharing on their Facebook wall tend to be purchases that fit into the SELF-ENLIGHTENMENT box above. It's hard to admit that we often shop to feel better about ourselves and to feel accepted, but we do. Fundamentally, consumer culture feeds into our deepest desires to be recognized and loved. Logically, we all know that buying stuff won't get us real recognition or true love, but the fleeting shots of pseudo recognition and love we receive from being in first class or bonding over having the same Celine bag (we both know we paid $1800 for it even though we don't explicitly say it), etc is often enough to get us through our days.

Don't get me wrong. I do it myself (there is nothing better than feeling treated like a human being while traveling and it really only happens in first class). I'm not making mockery of it. I'm merely calling a spade a spade. We aren't going to change this in our lifetime and I suspect it is deeply rooted in human nature. And as a marketer and an entrepreneur, understanding people's motivations around what they pay for and what they don't is a brilliant insight to have.

So if you are about to embark on creating a product to sell to North American men and/or women, take heed. You want to appear in the upper two or three categories above or else you are going to be struggling for a very long time.

The hierarchy of what people will pay for is as follows:

  1. Status - "I buy to feel better about myself."
  2. Convenience - "I buy to save time."
  3. Self-Enlightenment - "I buy to become a better person."
  4. Necessity - "I buy because I need to."
  5. Obligation - "I buy because I have to."

The hierarchy cuts across income lines, cultures, gender, sexuality and education levels. It is most hyperbolized in the Western world, but exists on some level in every culture around the world. Religions, laws and social pressure have always tried to circumvent it and correct it (do not covet, buddhist minimalism, etc) because left unchecked, this hierarchy can be very unhealthy. And as evidenced in rampant consumerist cultures like America, the desire to curb these tendencies may not be such a bad thing after all. [See: The Story of Stuff]

However, once again, this isn't a post about changing our consumer ways. It's a post about human behavior and rethinking how an entrepreneur would reframe a product in order to make it more desirable to purchase. First, I'll break down the hierarchy a little more so that you understand each category and what products do a good job of communicating their roles. Overall, what I hope you get from this article is the ability to move from the lowest priority on the human desire to buy scale to the highest.


Is business class really worth that much more than economy class? Absolutely. You are paying for more than a better meal and more legroom. You are paying for a higher place in the pecking order. Why do you think they let you board the airplane first? Why do you think they march all of the poor saps from economy past you once you have settled with your prosecco and duvet? Because that's the best damned part.

Paying for STATUS comes in many forms, but what it is communicating more than anything is that the buyer has differentiated him or herself as superior to the unwashed masses. I think the best parable I've ever read is the Dr. Seuss story, "The Sneeches":

Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.  The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars. Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.  You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.

But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.” With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort “We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”

As the story progresses, the Plain-Belly Sneeches get the opportunity to gain status by having stars put on their bellies -which fits into the next category, ACCESS- but the Star-Belly Sneeches decide that the new kind of status will come from being Plain-Bellied. And so it goes, both sets of Sneeches spend their entire fortune on an insignificant symbol to try and gain status over one another until all of their money is gone and they are left to come to realize that Star-Belly or Plain-Belly, they are really no different.

Dr. Seuss was incredibly wise, but our version of having a Star-Belly comes in many forms and, in a dog-eat-dog world, it's incredibly difficult to ignore. From the red sole of the Louboutin shoes to a Birkin Bag with its distinct shape to buying the Lexus instead of a Honda SUV and beyond, we are constantly flaunting our Star-Bellies to others as if to say, "We're the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches." And the awful truth of it all is that, because we are busy and need to make decisions quickly, we will see those shoes, that bag, that car and that first class ticket and make a quick decision about the owner. Don't lie. You've done it.

If not for shoes, for something else. And if your values see designer bags as low status, you have your own symbols. Though STATUS usually corresponds with luxury and expensive, it doesn't always have to be that way. You just have to signal to others that the user of your product is smarter, sexier, handsomer, more beautiful, richer or otherwise better than them in a not so subtle way.

Which is why buying for STATUS isn't such a silly, frivolous thing after all. And if you were smart, your product would be positioned as a STATUS purchase.


CONVENIENCE is the big, dirty secret behind iTunes. There are dozens of ways in which we can download music for free, but iTunes has changed that behavior for many. It's not just guilt, either. It's that they put it right there in front of us so that with a quick click of a button, we have any artist's latest album loaded on all of our devices. It's really brilliant.

And the networks are starting to catch onto this, too. The season premiere of Breaking Bad was Sunday night and we don't have cable in our household, but less than 24 hours later, we were able to watch it on iTunes. $2.99? Sure. We even bought the season's pass so we would know the instance it was available. Could have we downloaded it for free? Absolutely. But it's more convenient to do it this way.

We also pay for CONVENIENCE when we want to jump a line or skip having to watch ads. In gaming, people pay for the ability to skip levels and get more powers to catch up with other players. LinkedIN relies on convenience for their upsell. I can contact people quicker with a pro account. Their details are right there and I can usually google an email address to connect, but if I upgrade, I can save time.

CONVENIENCE allows us to save time, skip lines, avoid annoyances and just have a more seamless experience overall. You can't charge near as much for CONVENIENCE as you can for STATUS, but you can still charge and people will pay for it readily.

It's no secret that during my startup bootstrapping, I took many a Greyhound bus between Montreal and New York. That was über inconvenient, but cheap (see NECESSITY below). My little treat to myself was to buy the 'jump the line' pass. For an extra $15 (the ticket was only $65 return) on each side, I got to board the bus first and not wait in line. Keep in mind that every seat on the bus is equally cramped and there are no 'classes'. But I paid a premium in comparison to the ticket price in order to just board the bus ahead of everyone else. For me it wasn't about STATUS at all. It was about CONVENIENCE. I could arrive at the bus station 5 minutes before the bus left and sit down right away. Totally worth it.

But add STATUS to your CONVENIENCE? You have gold.


The cruel joke behind this one is that the truly self-enlightened don't have to buy anything at all, so often what people often mistake for SELF-ENLIGHTENED spending is actually STATUS spending. Think books, travel, further education, gym memberships, etc. These are all expenditures towards making us better human beings: smarter, better traveled, more fit and more spiritual. But what we choose to read, where we travel, which school we take classes at and what gym membership we buy splits the difference between SELF-ENLIGHTENMENT and STATUS.

Years ago while working a pretty decent job in Toronto, Canada, I joined a gym that cost me $120/month because I knew the cool kids from the ad world worked out there. I had at least 3 gyms in a 5 block radius that cost around $20/month that I could have chosen, but I went for the further, more expensive option. I justified it with the free towel service, but free towel service doesn't cost $100/month. What the extra expense gave me was access -part of STATUS- and an added incentive to go more often to get my money's worth.

But a personal story doesn't make for a generalized statement. There are no studies I could find that spending more money on a gym resulted in higher commitment to getting in shape. Most gyms have the same equipment and similar classes and those $20/month gyms (I'm part of one now) usually gives you access to their entire chain of gyms with classes.

Lots of companies position their products in the realm of SELF-ENLIGHTENMENT, but those who position themselves as SELF-ENLIGHTENMENT with STATUS will do much better. You will get a lot of press for selling something in this category. People will congratulate you and celebrate you, but you probably won't sell much.

One of my favorite new companies is Warby Parker, the online glasses retailer. Glasses could actually be a NECESSITY, but in their case, they move them up a wrung on the hierarchy to SELF-ENLIGHTENMENT by making them one of those Buy-One-Give-One type companies. But even Warby Parker realized that this wasn't ambitious enough of a climb. So they positioned themselves as a fashion company and I've heard them repeat that they are a fashion company first over and over. Why? Because they are learning from the limitations of Tom's Shoes, who got lots of press and love, but their sales stalled at some point. People bought a pair or two when they came out and felt great for doing it, but the next time they went and bought shoes? They went for the STATUS pair. By being a fashion eyewear company, they position themselves with their customers to be the place where they'll go time and time again to buy fashionable, hot glasses that will get all of the right attention. Smart.


This is a pretty solid, yet unsexy category. It includes stuff like rent, toilet paper, toothpaste, gas and the other stuff we need to survive. Lots of people will tell you to build a company or a product that fits into this category. Those people have no clue. Yes, while creating something that people need will generate sales and a steady income, it also puts you in the category of being a commodity. Nobody is excited about buying the necessities. And, if someone comes along and produces that necessity cheaper, you are screwed.

Wal-mart talks about their own hierarchy of customer buying decisions: function, reliability, convenience and price. Does it solve what I need to have solved? Yep. Does it do it reliably? Uh-huh. Can I buy it now? Yes. Is it a good price? Yup. Good. Done. A customer will take all of the options in this category and line them up against one another and, quite often, suffer some sort of paradox of choice before they buy. Unless the product they buy is heads and hands above the competition, there will be very little loyalty in this category. The next time she or he goes to buy a refill, the comparison will be made once again.

It sucks to be in this category, but there IS a way out of it. It's about jumping up the hierarchy and moving from NECESSITY all the way to STATUS if you can. Don't compete on the Wal-mart customer buying hierarchy when you can blow all of the competition away and make a category of your own. Luxury toothpaste?

One of my favorite examples of this in my own kitchen is Olive Oil. I use it in much of my cooking and it comes in a variety of prices and levels of virgin-ness. However, because I display my olive oil and consider myself to be a foodie, I buy the high end brands. Does it taste better? Sure. Nominally. But in most cases, it doesn't make that much of a difference because of how I cook with it. But I'll pay for the fancy olive oil because I get comments.

In the song, "If I Had a Million Dollars" by the Bare Naked Ladies, they allude to buying fancier condiments with their new wealth:

If I had a million dollars We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinner But we would eat Kraft dinner Of course we would, we’d just eat more And buy really expensive ketchups with it That’s right, all the fanciest Dijon ketchups

Whether you are poor or wealthy, certain foods still taste great, but being wealthy affords you the ability to buy that pricy ketchup. That's a luxury. That is taking the necessity and turning into a symbol of STATUS.


Oh OBLIGATION, you poor category, you. Donations fall into this category. So do gifts. The worst part of this category is that most non-profits struggle to get out of it. Between skinny, dying babies with flies on them to photos of abandoned dogs and beyond, these campaigns are meant to tug at our heartstrings so that we feel the urge to give money. And we do, but begrudgingly, and when it comes time to give again? We avoid the people with the clipboards on the street asking, "Do you have time for the environment?" Yes, I always have time for the environment, but I don't have time to stop and commit to donating money to it.

Guilt is not a good method of marketing. It's the worst. It makes people look away and pretend they don't see you. It does the EXACT opposite of STATUS: it makes us feel bad about ourselves. It reminds us that we could have taken the $600 we just spent on a pair of Louboutins we can hardly walk in and made a real difference in someone's life. Of course, we want to convince people to spend money on feeding children and cleaning our air -I agree that is more pressing than adding another pair of pumps to my collection- but doing it through guilt and OBLIGATION is not the right way to approach it.

Move the message up the hierarchy and win. AIDS research did this with aligning itself with fashion and parties and galas and all sorts of sexiness. Breast Cancer research does a pretty decent job with the pink ribbon everything, the runs, the community and the survival stories. If people getting involved in your cause and giving time and money helps them achieve SELF-ENLIGHTENMENT and gives them STATUS, you will achieve your goals and then some.

People want to be altruistic and they do care, but nobody wants to be a downer or feel bad or guilty or in the least bit OBLIGATED to contribute. Involve them in a way that makes them feel better, not worse.


At the end of the day, we all want to believe that we are more self-aware than those status-seeking, shallow, selfish types that spend too much on items that temporarily make them feel good. We vilify the Snookis of this world and point fingers laughing, saying, "So glad that's not me," but face it, we all have an element of that in our nature and that is why we find it funny in the first place.

Yes, we should consider to fight these urges as individuals and vote with our dollars to promote a better, more charitable, more community friendly world, but in the meantime, those who are building products that are doing that should learn from the masters that tapping into the STATUS-seeking human behavior is a darn good way to get your point across. You don't have to mark up your products to achieve it, either. You just need to convey to your potential customers that buying your product or giving money to your charity or being involved in your cause is going to make them feel great and look great to others.

Human nature is human nature. Let's use our knowledge of it for good.


Becoming a Social Retailer


Becoming a Social Retailer


One of the biggest issues with the label “social” is that it often gets misconstrued as the use of social media. So when I hear about an ecommerce site using social, I can almost always bet they’ve done things like putting a ‘pin-it’ button on their product pages and are using Facebook connect on some level to enable their customers to share their purchases. There is no problem with this behavior, of course. It’s par for the course of today’s web. But it is NOT being social.

The general definition of social is the gathering of people for mutual pleasure and benefit, which also translates to how it manifests online. Therefore, marketing activities that push the interests of a company doesn’t fall under the definition of social. There has to be mutual benefit. While the company benefits by selling a product, the customer should benefit as well.

A simple way to think of becoming a social retailer is to ask the following question as part of your overall strategy:

“What is that thing we can do to help make our customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?”

By incorporating this into the core of your strategy, the mutual benefit manifests and the interaction is now social.

However, many companies engage in what I deem is incredibly anti-social strategy, some examples being:

  1. A recent email from a retailer I’m deeply engaged with on a buying and loving level that requested I go to their Facebook page and ‘like’ them.
  2. Asking me to spam my friends and followers for the promise of something free.

I receive and enjoy many emails from my favorite retailers. If done right, they get me to open the email, then click through to their website quite frequently. New products, sales, tutorials and interesting content in general are just some of the things that entice me. But when I received an email from one of my favorite retailers asking me to click on a link to ‘like’ them on Facebook when I’m already a card-carrying, email clicking frequent shopper, I had to unsubscribe.

In my view, this retailer was wasting a perfectly good open of an email to request a pointless behavior. They already have my email address, my purchase history and many other points of information (I have accumulated so many points on my loyalty card at this retailer that I raise eyebrows when I cash out). Why drive me to a Facebook page?

The second example is highly anti-social because it actually works...until it doesn’t. When a retailer asks people to promote an item on a social network in order to win something, many people tend to participate, which ruins everyone else’s experience of that social network. The more it works, the more case studies are shared and the more social network marketing pollution we experience.

Just check out the search results on Pinterest for ‘brown leather tote’:

I like this tote. I may have even pinned it naturally at some point, but now a perfectly cute tote is forever etched in my mind as spam. And the people who are filling up their friends’ feeds with this tote? They are irritating their friends, too, which is not good for their own reputation. This is the ultimate in anti-social. Not only is this retailer using a social tool to get someone else to do their marketing, but they are also creating distrust between their fans and their followers. Can I trust someone’s recommendations going forward if I know they ‘pin to win’?

This practice is a great example of a Tragedy of the Commons: a scenario in which individuals acting out of self interest deplete the value of a shared interest. In this case, the search results are less helpful because there are pages of the same bag to scroll through.

These are only two of the many examples of how retailers act anti-social through the use of social media tools in order to satisfy their own interests, but not necessarily their customers. But then, how can a retailer move from anti-social to social? What is the difference between an anti-social and a social retailer?

The core lies in whether or not you are acting in your self-interest and depleting the value of a network (i.e. spamming a feed) or are you acting in a way to: make your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?

Being a social retailer doesn’t mean you leverage the social networking tools to your maximum ROI outcome. It means you provide value for your customers.

We have a funny saying in the startup world that goes something like, “A successful startup will help others get made, laid or paid (or all of the above).” Though a bit crass, it outlines ways in which we help our customers achieve their dreams and, in return, they help us achieve ours.

Retail and especially fashion is incredibly aspirational at its finest. If people only bought out of necessity, there would be no retail industry. Dressing well leaves a good impression with a potential employer. A sports car can impress a potential mate. A new laptop can unlock better income potential. A pair of Tom’s Shoes or Warby Parker glasses can be a conversation piece just about anywhere. Shopping and style are inherently social. No tweets, pins or likes necessary. But tweets, pins and likes come from people owning, loving and aspiring to own all of this.

Zappos and ASOS were both social companies before they even touched social media. They understood what made their customers’ lives more efficient: free fast shipping both ways and great customer service. Warby Parker and Tom’s Shoes don’t need social media managers in order to be social. They understand what made their customers lives more meaningful: buying products that look good AND give back. Apple has been said to not ‘get’ social. Really? Between the genius bar, Apple Care and a razor focus on creating seamless user experience, they made my life simpler when it came to technology. Even though C Wonder isn't tweeting or facebooking too much, I think of them as a social retailer. Their iPad roaming checkout process made my life way more efficient as I didn’t have to stand in a long line to buy a belt for a girlfriend. I’ll tell the world about that experience.

Social media tools may come and go, but your budgets should always remain focused on the bottom line:

“What is that thing we can do to help make our customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?”

It really is that simple. And that’s how you become a social being social.