PR Agency – Time for Change

As a marketing exec for over 25 years, I have worked with numerous PR agencies from large, well-known ones to smaller boutique ones. In all cases, I experienced the same results – overpromises and under performance. I cannot think of any other instance where the outcome is not in line with the cost.

As I have started a new position in corporate marketing I am looking to increase brand awareness for the company I represent. Earned media is one of the best ways to achieve this and thus, I have started my search for a PR agency to help in this effort. 

I put out a message on two private marketing networking groups I am a member of stating, “I am looking for a PR person (or agency) that is willing to work on contingency (as opposed to retainer). I am willing to pay per interview and additionally per publication.” The company I work for has a very promising future as we have a solution that truly delivers value and solves real issues in cannabis supply chain operations and marketing to consumers. While we have a strong future ahead of us, we run as a lean company with limited, but adequate funds. Given my experience with PR agencies, I decided I would only pay a PR agency for performance.

The responses I got to my request from various people on the private marketing networks were not a surprise ….

“Pay for pay on interviews doesn’t work and if I’m being honest, undervalues the role of a PR professional.”

“If I had a dollar for every time I heard this, Steve, I’d own a yacht! When working with a PR agency, my suggestion is to find one that’s already immersed in the industry. I turn down clients all the time simply because I am not as invested in the industry.”

My response – “maybe there is some truth behind what I said given you hear it so much. Maybe the PR industry (as a whole – not you) over promises and under delivers. Maybe it is time to rethink a model that has been around for decades and is challenging for potential clients. Not saying that I nailed what the model should be. In any event – thanks for the conversation.”

“I’d be very leery to work with an agency that works on contingency. It’s asking someone to work on the hopes of success and payment based on that success. I’d be curious to see what sort of responses/results you get with this type of arrangement.”

My response: “But how is ‘asking someone to work on the hopes of success and payment based on that success’ worse than paying someone on a retainer in hopes of success? This is the exact challenge I have found in working with numerous PR agencies – over-promise and under-delivery.”

“This kind of arrangement diminishes the PR team and can lead to contention. Perhaps you haven’t worked with the right PR team in the past. There has to be a foundation of mutual trust.”

“Most good agencies tend to not work on contingency. The risk factor is too high and it’s not like a pay-per-lead business as it must include very specific factors. I would be careful on working with an agency that works on contingency as they might try to get quick but weak wins and ask for a payment … ”

My response: “what constitutes a ‘good agency?’ Like I said, I have worked with agencies that on paper are ‘good’ or are well known that people would say ‘are good’ but they have under delivered. Most of the comments on this thread have come from PR Agency people that have told me I should beware. Maybe I am suggesting something that is radical. It is worth continuing conversations. This email trail reminds me of the commercial that I often see on TV from the investment firm that highlights they only get paid when their customers do well.”

One person did respond to me, “if you find anyone regarding your PR request- feel free to pass them on to me as well…thanks in advance.” I asked this person to follow up and let me know about their experience, to which they replied, “Same – 5-10k monthly retainer, and let’s go…I sometimes look at it the other way – if you are really good at getting desired press – charge more and change the model.”

I have worked in the marketing profession in many different industries. Many companies in these various industries have had to morph based upon consumers and clients changing perspectives and needs. Companies that do not change with the times get left behind and no longer succeed. 

I believe that PR agencies are now facing this fork in the road. Too many companies feel exactly the way I do – what did we actually get for a retainer of $5-10K per month for the past six months?

Don’t you think it is time for PR agencies to hold a greater responsibility for the outcome of a paid contract with them? If yes, I see no other alternative than a contingency contract.

Your turn – chime in.

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Marketing Approach for the Cannabis Industry

As I recently started a new marketing position in the cannabis industry, I am reminded of key marketing fundamentals that are paramount for all industries. I have been in marketing for 30 years and I continue to examine and learn with the same passion I had in the beginning of my career. I am a perpetual student, but there are two marketing principles that have shaped my marketing approach – 1) target market methodology, and 2) understanding of the target audience and deep empathy for that audience. I will explain shortly.

As I start my career in marketing in the cannabis industry, I will be transparent when I say marketing cannabis is challenging. Marketing of cannabis faces many state and advertising platform limitations. “Marketing and advertising restrictions vary at the city, county and state levels. The regulations are similar to those for alcohol, but each jurisdiction is different,” says Lisa Buffo, Founder and CEO, Cannabis Marketing Association. For example, consider paid media limitations on social media. “According to Instagram, it doesn’t allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana. The policy also prohibits any marijuana seller from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, or by using the “Contact Us” tab in the Instagram business accounts. This is incredibly restrictive.” (Source)

Yes – tactics must be altered for cannabis marketers, but winning strategy and approach remain the same as in any other industry. Let’s return to the two marketing principles I stated in my introduction. I will first address target marketing methodology. I learned target marketing methodology when I was in a marketing leadership program early in the 2000’s. The general premise of target marketing methodology is knowing your target audience deeply, and crafting your marketing communication to solve their problems. Understand the “compelling reason to buy” from the customer/client perspective. Understand your value proposition as compared to your competition. At a high level, target marketing methodology (TMM) includes the following steps:

I. Setting Marketing Strategy

A. Pre-Work – Brand Marketing Definitions

1. Brand Target Audience

2. Brand Value Proposition

3. Brand Position Statement

B. Competitor Audit

C. Marketing Objectives

1. Communication/Campaign Goal

2. Target Audience Definition

3. Target Audience Perceptions

4. Defined Offering

5. Call to Action

D. Identify Influencers in the Clients Space

II. Marketing Definitions 

A. Target Audience Definition

B. Messaging Strategy

C. Content Strategy

D. Influencer Strategy

E. Engagement Strategy

F. Measurement Strategy

III. Marketing Execution

A. Marketing Campaigns

B. Content Management

C. Community Management

D. Reporting metrics.

E. Digital PR and Outreach

It is ironic: I was trained in target marketing methodology at the same company where my boss at the time said to me, “You will never make it in marketing – you are too honest.” Ha! Marketing is not BS strategy and execution. It is not about putting spin on your product or service. If you want to be successful, you must have an offering that truly provides rich value to your target audience, but that is not enough. You need to be able to position and communicate that offering to your target audience on their terms, in words and images that resonate with them. Which brings me to my second key fundamental of marketing success – understanding of the target audience and deep empathy for that audience. This really is a part of target marketing methodology, but I do believe it is imperative to address it as a separate and equal mission of successful marketing.

If you understand your audience’s subjectivity, you will have a much greater appreciation of what they are willing to believe and how much trust they will give to your brand. If you have a strong degree of empathy established, you are much more likely to develop a communication and engagement plan that resonates with your audience. All your marketing should be formulated with greater sensitivity to your audience’s needs and values as opposed to your brand’s/company’s rhetoric.

As I enter my new position as Corporate Marketing Director for Lucid Green, I am not discouraged by the challenges of marketing in the cannabis industry. I am thrilled that cannabis can finally be solid as a legal product in many States and many more to come. I accept the realities that cannabis is a controlled substance and must be brought to market in a constrained manner. I see great opportunities in cannabis marketing. One’s marketing approach and strategy should be led by the sound fundamentals I have outlined, but the marketing execution requires alternative approaches due to governmental and advertising regulations.

Everyone in marketing should be led by the two principles I outlined – no matter what industry you are part of. If you are marketing in the cannabis industry, consider the two leading principles highlighted. Then understand what can and cannot be executed. Determine what your audience values. Determine ways and tactics to listen, communicate, and engage with your audience. Establish relationships with people that will advocate for your brand. No one ever said it was easy. But if you are a talented marketer, you will not rely on a recipe for success. You will be driven by sound fundamentals and understanding and empathy for the audience you serve.

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Social Media – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It has been 14 years since I first got started in social media marketing. I had deep experience in traditional marketing, and in 2007, I saw that marketing was going to take a dramatic change – brands could no longer just put up slogans and marketing material and expect their target audience to simply accept their communication. Social media allowed a democracy where anyone could share their perspective and views on brands. If brands put out BS, they could be called out on it from people that had a voice to be heard. Conversely, social media created an opportunity for brands to develop advocates that provide word-of-mouth objective recommendations and marketing of the brand.

I believe in the early tenants of social media – connect and engage with your audience, build an emotional bond with your target audience, and give them something they value, as opposed to pushing your drug. I still believe this is the way to build a strong emotional connection to your target audience, but changes in social media platforms and the way people use social media hamper these brand-building possibilities. Social media has changed from true connection and real information to an algorithmic exercise, bait play, maneuvers to create unhealthy addictive behavior, and a platform that promotes lies, conspiracies, and bullying people. As an individual that got involved in social media early, helped shape positive uses for brands, and provided thought leadership, this is extremely disheartening. Just watch the documentary, The Social Delimma, if you want the deep ugliness of what social media has turned into.

But I do not believe all should be that bleak if one uses social media with the true commitment of offering your audience value, by their perception, and truly looking for target audience building, listening, and engagement. Let’s start from the beginning.

Early in social media, brands won following by creating target audience value. They provided edutainment (education and/or entertainment) for their audience. Their audience recommended that others follow the brand because they saw true value in what the brand was delivering on social media. In the beginning, people that followed brands had all the brands’ post show up on their feed. As time moved forward, the algorithm changed ultimately to 1-5% of organic visibility of brands’ posts in their follower’s newsfeed. This was driven by two factors – 1) social media platforms focus on revenue and paid ads on social media, and 2) the degree to which followers engaged in brands’ posts.

This highlights one extremely important factor – a brand’s presence on any social media platform is NOT THEIR COMMUNITY platform. The brand does not own their followers. In most cases they do not even have their email addresses. The social media platform makes all the rules, can change the rules at any time, and owns all the follower’s information without providing valuable details to the brand. If a brand truly wants to build their own community, they need to build it themselves via a software package for a social platform. This is the first imperative aspect one must consider with regards to brand social media presence.

The second most important aspect you must consider is who is managing your brand’s social media presence. Far too many organizations rely on a “digital millennial” to run their social media platform. Organizations think that someone that lives on social media as part of their existence knows exactly how to “market” a brand properly on social media. I am not knocking digital millennials, but I am raising an alert that the person that runs your social media brand presence must be a marketer, first, and then a social media expert, second. If one does not understand the fundamentals of marketing (brand, product, communication, lead generation, etc.) there is no way they can drive winning results from their brand’s social media presence. This decision is often driven by the pay rate of an experienced marketer that has deep social media experience compared to a younger “social media expert.” Too often, companies look to allocate a junior salary for social media management. There is a better solution to this issue – hire a “fractional” social media leader that develops the entire social media playbook as a consultant and then may be retained for monthly coaching and advising, as opposed to hiring full-time. If you want an example of what a social media fractional leader should develop for your brand, check out the guidance here. Social media marketing is part of marketing. It fits under the marketing umbrella and is not a separate endeavor. It must follow the brand, product, and communication marketing strategy and plan.

The third issue for managing a brand’s social media presence is the issue of organic and paid social. These efforts MUST be managed in unison and I highly suggest that they be managed by the same person (if not deep, deep coordination of separate individuals). I have seen “hacks” manage paid social media way too often. They play an algorithmic game (which is extremely important), but lack the sensitivity of what it means to have a social presence and what people expect from brands on social. Paid media implementers must follow brand guidelines and social media optimization principles. Given how today’s social media platforms govern post visibility, there must be both an organic and paid posting to optimize audience growth, engagement, and overall positive social media results.

The last issue to raise with regards to social media is the fact that many platforms have become a vehicle for promoting BS, “alternative facts,” and outright lies. Avoid participating in any such behavior. Your social media presence should be a place to build trust and transparency.

So I have raised a number of issues and concerns regarding social media. It is not the great marketing vehicle that I was once so bullish on, BUT the foundations that started social media marketing – connecting brands and their target audience are still paramount. The practices developed by brands such as Ford, Dove, Dell, and Red Bull early on in social media, are still most relevant. Social platform changes and audience behavior have shrunk the brand marketing results on social media.

That said, I am still bullish on social media marketing and see good – just do not fall into the traps that so many do. Work to build a true connection with your target audience. Be more sensitive to their needs, wants, and motivations, as opposed to pushing your drug.

Your turn – keep the conversation going. What is the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media?

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The Two Most Powerful Outcomes of Marketing

If your marketing efforts are working, there are two characteristics you want from a target audience reaction – NEED and LOVE. You want your audience to feel they NEED your product/service and you want them to LOVE your brand.

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Understanding “The Takeaway” is Key to Great Content

When you write a blog post, do a podcast, record a video, what is your purpose? Are you trying to provoke “a feeling?” Is there a desired “call-to-action” you want individuals to take? Do you actually think about this before you start writing/recording?

These are key questions that must be answered as you decide to invest time and effort into content marketing.

A key question I always ask people as I coach them in content marketing strategy and execution is, “What is the takeaway of the content?” Takeaway being a key fact, point, or idea to be remembered.

At the same time, it is most important to realize that your content marketing “takeaway” should not be explicitly stated. Why? Because we hate people telling us what to do. There is even a psychological term used to describe this scenario – reactance. “Psychological reactance is our brain’s response to a threat to our freedom. Threats to freedom include any time someone suggests or makes you do something.

This is very similar to my approach on raising my children – I don’t want to tell them what to do. I want them to realize what to do.

So every piece of content you produce should start with two questions: 

  1. “What am I looking to accomplish?” – gain brand awareness; reinforce brand or product value; get the target audience to sign up; etc.
  2. “How do I want people to feel after they have consumed my content?” – motivated, inquisitive, empowered; etc.

Now use your creativity to drive the takeaway objective without explicitly stating it. This reminds me of my days in B2B technology marketing. We would write “white papers.” The format of a white paper is 1) state a problem, 2) state the solution, and 3) softly imply your product/service provides the solution with a differentiation from that of your competitors. 95% of the white paper content is objective formulating of the problem and solution. 5% is subjective and recommends “we have the best solution for you.” The content is compelling to your target audience because it is very soft and subtle on pushing your agenda.

So whether you are a marketing strategist, a content producer, or hybrid of both, approach content production as a three step process:

  1. Explicitly state your desired content takeaway.
  2. Use your creativity to imply (as opposed to explicitly stating) your desired outcome.
  3. Once your first draft of content is complete, review steps 1 and 2 to make sure the content has a high likelihood of being compelling to your audience and successful from a business perspective. 

Let your audience have that aha moment because they came to the realization!

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Brand Communication Methodology That Drives Success

Brand communication is “the combination of activities that influence customers’ opinions of a company and its products,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary.

Proper brand communication requires a process that truly aims at the stated objective – “to influence customers’ (or potential customers’) opinions.” Are your company’s content producers, social media managers, and performance markets really accomplishing that? Do they even know what the brand stands for? What the brand’s voice is? And do they reflect that in the blogs, posts, and ads for your brand?


In the past decade, marketers have been too shortsighted and many have had an over-focus on “growth hacking” in lieu of a solid long-term marketing strategy that yields successful results in good and bad economies and over a life-time-value provided by their target audiences. As stated in the article, “Is Growth Hacking Dead? The Truth About Growth Hacking in 2020:”

Today, it is the role of a marketer to find the right channel, place, and platform to target people in the most cost-effective ways. If short-term growth is the business goal, it’s the marketer’s job to help strategically recommend the most effective way to get there.

Marketing is no longer just a revenue tactic. It’s not just about reach and frequency — and it’s not just about click through rates either. Modern marketers are interested in tactics like lifetime value (LTV), customer acquisition costs, net promoter scores, and much more. 

Today, the concept of marketing is more holistic, where marketing, sales, support, and product teams need to be aligned. Modern marketers need to be proactive learners, quickly adapting to new tools, methods, and market trends. 

It is not that growth hacking is a bad activity, but in most cases the growth hacker efforts are not integrated with the overall marketing strategies. I have witnessed far too many companies that have a “paid media specialist” that posts ads without the guidance or collaboration with brand, product, or content managers. 


So let’s dive into the holistic brand communication strategy and plan that WILL yield sustainable, long-term success for companies/brands.

Brand Strategy

What is a brand strategy? 

A brand strategy can be hard to define but encompasses:

  • What your brand stands for.
  • What promises your brand makes to customers.
  • What personality your brand conveys through its marketing.

Here are three things every brand needs to define:

  • What is your brand’s objective?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How does your brand define long-term success?


The brand is at the core of it all. You cannot have a successful product/service, content plan, and communication execution without a solid brand definition and position. “The goal of brand marketing is to link your identity, values, and personality with communications to your audience. Essentially, your brand is the bridge between your product and your customer. Brand marketing is not just about putting your logo and business name in as many places as possible and expecting to generate sales. Many times, the importance of brand marketing gets overlooked, as it takes time. Many marketing departments are focused on short-term goals, rather than nurturing long-term goals that impact the entire business, like building a brand.” (Source:

Product Strategy

So you believe you have a strong product or service for a defined target market. Your next step is that you need a positioning statement that succinctly defines your offering. Here is the product positioning statement:

  • For …………….………… [target customer]
  • Who ……………….……. [key qualifier – form]
  • Our product is a ….. [product category]
  • That provides ………. [key benefit]
  • Unlike ………………….. [main competitor]
  • Our product ……….… [key point of differentiation]

This positioning statement is for internal use only. It is not explicitly communicated. The positioning statement should drive your content and communication plan. All content and communication should support and reinforce the product/service positioning statement.

Content Strategy

Your content strategy is the intersection of the brand and product strategy coupled with your target audience behaviors, needs, wants, and motivations. You should lean more to what is compelling to your audience than pushing your own brand agenda. Your content strategy objective is to get your target audience emotionally attached to your brand. 

I have written an extremely detailed content strategy playbook that can be found here:

The series provides the following:

  • Content Marketing Goals and Objectives
  • Determining your Target Audience for Content
  • Leveraging Your Brand Position to Produce Compelling Content
  • Social Audits to Drive Content Marketing
  • Messaging Strategy Before Content Strategy
  • Developing a Content Marketing Strategy
  • How Do You Know Your Content Will Pay Dividends
  • Content Marketing Metrics
  • The Power of Orchestrated UGC – (User Generated Content)
  • Earned Media – Finding Influencers to Distribute your Content
  • What Does It Mean to Produce Data Driven Content?
  • How to Determine Which Content is Driving Success for Your Brand

Communication Strategy

How many articles do you read that tell you that you need to have social media presence, to blog, to produce videos, to do podcasts, etc? Yes, it may be beneficial to do these things, but I strongly suggest you have a communication strategy that points to the types of communication and platforms you need to participate in. The communication strategy should be driven by your target audience behaviors – the platforms they are active on and how they are influenced. Understanding your audience behavior will drive you to a communication plan. Your communication methodology must include a plan that utilizes owned, earned, and paid media. It also needs to address the use of original, curated, user-generated, and influencer content.


Not sure this makes sense? I would like to provide you a number of supporting statistics (Source: 42 Interesting Stats about Customer Loyalty You May Not Know):

  • Customers with an emotional relationship with a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value and will recommend the company at a rate of 71%, rather than the average rate of 45%. (Motista
  • 80% of customers gradually gained loyalty for a brand over time, due to experiences with excellent products, service, reviews, advice, etc. (InMoment)
  • About 50% of loyal customers have left a company for a competitor who was able to stay more relevant and better satisfy their needs. (InMoment)
  • 82% of customers feel more positive about a brand after engaging with personalized content. (Demand Metric)
  • 60% of loyal customers will purchase more frequently from their preferred companies. (InMoment)
  • Emotionally-connected customers will spend an annual sum of about $699 with a company, versus regular, satisfied customers who will spend an annual sum of only about $275. (Motista)
  • Loyal customers spend 67% more with a business than new ones. (Thanx)


Brand communication is key to audience development and gaining an emotional attachment from that audience – work through all the upfront work and see results.

If you would like further guidance on brand communication, checkout how I can help you and your company/brand – read this one-pager, and reach out to me.

Make It Happen!


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Key to Successful Lead Generation

Lead generation requires a couple of prerequisite steps in order to yield winning results. Are your conversion campaigns driving the results you are looking for? If not, maybe you are missing a key element.

This past week I had a call with a prospective client. She wanted to run a paid ad promo to get people to purchase her “service” for Mother’s Day – 1 month away. She shared with me that she ran a similar paid ad promo for Valentine’s Day and needless to say it bombed. Her expectation was that she would run targeted paid media ads on Facebook and get people to sign up for a monthly subscription. I basically told her there was little chance of success because she was missing two key elements.

When was the last time you saw a sponsored ad, did not know anything about the brand, and followed through on the brand’s CTA (call to action)? If you have never acted in this manner, how can you expect others to do it when you run your marketing campaigns?

Brand Building is key to successful lead generation success. There are two elements of brand building that must be in place before you run lead generation campaigns.

Brand Strategy

Brand Building starts with brand strategy.

A brand strategy can be hard to define but encompasses:

  • What your brand stands for.
  • What promises your brand makes to customers.
  • What personality your brand conveys through its marketing.

Here are three things every brand needs to define:

  • What is your brand’s objective?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How does your brand define long-term success?


Audience Development

Audience Development is part of brand building and is a key prerequisite of lead generation. You can Google “touch points before purchase” and find various reports that indicate numerous touch points are required before a purchase is made. One source states that it takes 5 to 20 touch points. Granted, this is quite a wide spread that really does not zero in on the exact number, but suffice it to say, it is not one ad that will lead to a conversion. You need to communicate your brand story and product positioning to your target audience before hitting them with a CTA ad.

“Audience development is all about: building and nurturing a crowd of loyal people and customers around your brand who constantly engage with you and keep coming back for more.” (Source) You might ask, “how can you use audience development to generate leads if audience development conditions existing customers?”

I will give you an example of an approach that I am using with a current client. The client is a start up with minimal following and awareness of their service. 

Step 1 – define brand strategy and product position. (Info here)

Step 2 – Build a content plan. (Info here)

Step 3 – Publish content on your blog and social media channels.

Step 4 – Boost your post to your targeted audience using a set audience definition on social platforms driven by behaviors and demographics.

Step 5 – When people “like” your post, invite them to follow your brand.

These five steps result in increased awareness for your product/brand and increase your audience following. This means that subsequent posts and paid media will increase your audience reach. Thus you are building an audience prior to producing CTA ads. If you work on brand building (brand strategy and audience development) prior to lead generation activities, I guarantee you that your lead generation will yield higher measurable results.

While brand building is not a short term objective, it makes your short term lead generation more successful. 

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Brand Marketing at its Best and Worst

(Image credit: Austin Chan)

“Branding is a concept that extends far beyond the marketing of ‘brand name’ designer jeans and other products. A company’s brand represents their market identity—who they are, what they do, what kind of quality they provide, their reputation for trustworthiness, and more.” (Source)

Brand Marketing at Its Worst

This past week, I was reminded of foolish brand marketing. Vice President, Analyst and Gartner Fellow, Augie Ray published a spot-on LinkedIn post this week. Augie was questioning how brands change their persona for April Fools Day and in part, he stated:

“… A brand can’t be colorless and provide mediocre customer experiences 364 days a year, then change people’s minds with a tweeted joke. No one’s ever said, “I’ve been disappointed with that brand’s products and hate their customer service, but dammit, I just have to stay loyal because their social media April Fools posts rock.”

… Brands have personalities, but successful ones are crafted with consistency. You don’t change minds with an uncharacteristic joke posted on the same day every other brand is posting its uncharacteristic jokes. If your comms, ads, and engagement are otherwise dry, commercial, brand-focused, and sales-oriented, focus less on your April Fools strategy and more on your brand personality the rest of the year.”

Trying to be funny and snarky is likely “off-brand.” Go back to the original definition of brand marketing at the top of this article. Off-brand is the opposite of that description and is a marketing failure. I would predict that 99 times out of 100, attempts by brands at April Fools posts fail. If they do create product awareness, they are introducing their audience to an erroneous persona. April Fools posts do not increase brand reputation and they do not yield deeper product consideration or conversion. 

Brand Marketing at Its Best

Conversely, I saw a great example of brand marketing while watching the NCAA Final Four. Google nailed it with their “Get Back to What you Love”. Watch this commercial:

Why do I feel Google nailed it? The commercial is pretty simple. It lacks star power both in the way of celebrity cameos and aesthetics. But the commercial displays the three imperative ingredients that bring a brand to life to increase an audience’s interest to use your product/service. They are:

  1. The ability to make a point(s) via storytelling
  2. Creating an emotional response from your audience
  3. Subtly demonstrating product value

Storytelling is important because it is the most natural way to get points across. Psychology Today explains why people embrace stories in their article, “The Psychological Power of Storytelling.” They state, “Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience … Stories are authentic human experiences.”

One of the best ways to win over an audience is to create an emotional bond with them. The Google ad starts out with “words” we all understand. Each of us have experienced what they talk about in the past year. That draws us in emotionally, but then they continue to take a “challenging” experience and provide an uplifting message of hope. How can your brand express a reality and then make others feel better about the future?

And the last piece of bringing a brand to life is likely the most difficult. After all, most companies are for-profit companies and their objective is to sell their goods. So if we need to use marketing to sell, how can we do so without being overly aggressive? I go back to the days when I would write “whitepapers” for technology companies. A whitepaper should state a problem, provide a solution to the problem, and then quietly state, “our product provides you the solution.” 95% of the paper is about the problem and solution, and only about 5% is about your brand.

While the entire Google commercial “shows” their product, the focus is overshadowed by the story they tell. I cannot emphasize enough how well this is done.

So how does one go about creating pinnacle brand marketing as opposed to mediocre brand marketing. The answer to that is Killer Creative Briefs, which is the subject of my previous article on this blog. There is a method to great marketing. 

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Killer Creative Briefs

Right to the point – killer creative briefs make the difference between a great marketing campaign and anything less than that.

Rhetorical question – are you satisfied with anything less than great?

Let’s first get some simple definitions on the table. 

“A creative brief is a document that informs the creative approach and delivery of new marketing or advertising campaigns. It connects the requested creative work to the broader business goals by clearly outlining the strategy of the campaign.” (Source)

Guidance from HubSpot suggests a creative brief has 7 simple steps:

  1. Write about the brand and its background.
  2. Highlight challenges and objectives.
  3. Describe the target audience.
  4. Walk through the competitive landscape.
  5. Offer a brief distribution plan.
  6. Organize with a template.
  7. Share the brief.

These 7 steps give you the foundation for writing a creative brief, but what does it mean to have a killer creative brief. I would say all these steps are important but there are three key elements.

First and foremost, it is imperative that you have a deep understanding of your target audience. This means understanding their desires, motivations, and needs. Highlight these areas when you describe the target audience. Give your creative team a detailed description so they can truly envision who they are speaking to. 

The next key element of a killer creative brief is having a clear definition of the objective of the campaign and potential challenges to accomplish this objective. Explicitly state what you want the takeaway to be from the creative output. Understand there is a difference between a “takeaway” and what is explicitly communicated. (See Understanding “The Takeaway” is Key to Great Content for further information.) The takeaway should detail how you want the target audience to feel; what actions you want them to take. 

The third element is truly understanding your brand. By this I mean the “Why” of your brand as Simon Sinek so keenly emphasizes. Also, understand your brand’s voice – specifically the brand’s persona, language, tone, and subject matter. Here are some examples as they apply to the brand voice:

In summary, there are three imperative elements to killer creative briefs. 

  1. Deep understanding of the audience the marketing campaign is meant for – provide knowledgeable detail to your creative team.
  2. Define the objective of the marketing campaign – do not try to write the copy for the objective, but rather detail the takeaway of the objective.
  3. Understand and stay true to your brand – continually reinforcing your brand identity, values, and voice will build long-term success. Switching these characteristics for a specific marketing endeavor will cause confession and mistrust from the intended target audience.

Yes, all of the seven steps from HubSpot’s guidance as mentioned above need to be included, but the stellar definition of the three key elements will definitely be the difference between a killer creative brief and one that is just OK.

You can find a number of Creative Brief Templates here.


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Rethinking Marketing and the Psychology of Business

I have often stated that marketing is the psychology of business. If I want you to buy a widget from my company, I would be best equipped to understand you. Understand what turns you on. Turns you off. Your wants, needs, and concerns. What are your motivations? That is why empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another) is so important.

For many years, the psychology of marketing has been broken down into five principles to help us better understand human behavior to attract an audience to brands or products/services.

  1. Reciprocity Principle. The belief that if a brand does something good for you, you are more likely to return the favor, and have increased commitment in the future.
  2. Information-Gap Theory. When someone has a gap in their knowledge in a topic that interests them, they will take action to find out what they want to know.
  3. The Scarcity Theory. Humans place more value on the things that they believe to be rare, and place a lower value on what can easily be accessed.
  4. Social Proof Theory. People trust products more when they know others who can validate their value.
  5. Loss Aversion Marketing. Most people would prefer to avoid losses compared to acquiring gains.

Now these five theories are well documented to help us better understand how to get people interested and emotionally attached to a brand. But it is time to reassess how to effectively market your brand.

Think back over the past year of COVID and the impact that the virus has had on our mental state. (I do not mean to ignore the tragic losses many people have suffered as a result of the virus.) The CDC states, “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children.” )  If we look at the baseline of everyone’s mental health prior to COVID compared to COVID one-year in, almost everyone’s mental health has diminished due to an increase of stress and anxiety. Just about all of us are facing challenges and struggles. 

Behavioral psychology is the study of how people act when they’re limited in the ability to interpret the world around them. How do we interpret the world around us these days? How well have we all interpreted the past year. We are tired of the current condition and crave a different mindset, looking to a return to a more “normal” lifestyle.

Brand leaders must be cognizant of this human condition and tailor their brand communication accordingly if they want to be successful in these challenging times. Look at the theories above. How many actual people do you think you can emotionally draw into your brand following these theories?

I would argue, people are looking for hope and happiness, and if they can find it, they will follow that path. Brands need to communicate hope and happiness. This is not a new approach. After all, Coca-Cola has focused on “delivering happiness” for as long as I can remember. Two of the hallmarks of Coca-Cola marketing is “Brand over Product,” and “Remaining Relevant.” (Source:

“Brand over product” and “remaining relevant” – I would suggest these brand qualities are pinnacle as all brands’ audiences are suffering mentally. While I would not suggest changing your brand story (as consistency is king, another Coca-Cola marketing staple), I do encourage that brand communication offers messages of hope and happiness for one reason and one reason only – that is what people crave today. Another approach to make people feel good can be accomplished showing humor in these challenging times as M&Ms has done.

You will create emotional ties to your brand if you provide reasons to love the brand – specific to what your target audience needs given their mindset. And I would say that EVERYONE needs more hope and happiness in their life after the past year. Are you inspiring positivity in your brand communication?

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