The New Rules of Using Feminism in Marketing


The New Rules of Using Feminism in Marketing

This post originally appeared at

The international movement against sexual harassment and assault, #MeToo, has increased visibility for the challenges women face around the world. It’s also raised the stakes for brands who want to engage female consumers.


In the past two decades, the use of “femvertising,” marketing to women with themes of feminism has risen sharply as the modern-day women’s rights movement gains huge popularity. Watershed moments like the Women’s March have left brands eager to capitalize on the supercharged consumer sentiment surrounding this topic.


However, feminism (the belief that women should be treated equally to men) isn’t a tagline. It’s a mindset that has sustained an ongoing, and very real battle for women’s equality since the first-wave feminists of the 19th and early 20th century.


Profiting from these ideals while embodying the opposite is not clever, it’s exploitation.


An early example of femvertising is Dove’s Evolution spot, which earned millions of views for the provocative and unexpected way it used advertising to question society’s standards of beauty. The sentiment became the basis for Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, garnering buzz that provided 30X the exposure compared to the paid-for media space, and helping to sharply increase sales at Dove in the decade after the campaign launched.


Perhaps hoping for a similar outcome, many brands have since jumped on the femvertising bandwagon, seeking to attract not only female buyers, but millennial consumers (and their $30T of spending power). More than nine in ten millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause, according to research conducted at the HaaS School of Business at Berkeley. 


Brands also seek the added exposure offered by these feel-good campaigns, which have the right formula to be shared widely on social channels (they’re often highly emotional and contain messages and stories empowering to women.)


The sobering side of femvertising


To-date, many brands have pumped millions of marketing budget dollars into femvertising campaigns. On the positive side, they’ve helped to insert positive, empowering messages into the public narrative. Whereas historically, many ads have created new insecurities, these reflect ideals of equality.


However, these story arcs are often only used when convenient, and are too frequently only deployed as lip-service by companies who exhibit less-than-ideal behavior internally.


Some examples:


Dove’s parent company, Unilever, also owns Axe body spray, a brand known for a history of wildly misogynistic campaigns. The disconnect between intention and action becomes clear when a consumer considers brands with such conflicting messages (Dove and Axe) side by side.


Fearless Girl, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, was intended to raise awareness about gender diversity in corporate leadership. A noble cause! However, State Street recently settled allegations to the tune of $5M that it paid female and black executives at the firm less than their white, male counterparts.


KPMG’s uplifting video spot about women breaking the glass ceiling stands in stark contrast to its $400M class-action lawsuit alleging a pattern of gender discrimination, including denying promotions to women and penalizing them for taking maternity leave.


On the surface, Pantene’s ad encouraging women to stop apologizing should be celebrated for its empowering message. However, in context, there’s inherent conflict in a beauty product’s use of femvertising: women spend $426B a year on beauty products designed to conceal blemishes, stop aging, lighten their skin tone, and in so many ways change appearances to fit ideals. And, in a business context, they spend $141B more than their male colleagues, while earning less - an average of 79 cents to their dollar (if they’re white.)


Audi’s Superbowl ad focused on daughters (an expensive bet on femvertising) centered on the importance of gender equality as it relates to our daughters. But, consumers responded with criticism, many arguing that this was a disingenuous move as the brand hadn’t taken a public stance on the issue of gender equality previously in its marketing. In addition, Audi has no female board members to stand behind its rallying cry.


All this is not to say that these organizations must be perfect examples of gender equality in order to continue to be successful, however they invite criticism when they leverage ideals of feminism to profit without consideration for the responsibility they adopt by doing so.


When their own behavior does not stand up to feminism’s ideals, it creates a disconnect between a brand’s intentions, and its actions – and consumers are increasingly wary of that gap. It’s lip service, and nothing more.


High-risk of exploiting the women’s rights movement


Perhaps most importantly, when brands claim to be stewards of feminist ideals in their advertising, but do not live up to those ideals in practice, it has a direct impact on the women’s rights movement. There is a very real danger in companies exploiting feminism’s message without taking action to further the movement by diminishing feminism to a tagline, or a hashtag, instead of a mechanism to engage in the real, hard work of promoting true equality.


I call this trend in marketing to women “faux-feminism” and it contributes to an illusion of progress. It allows the millions of consumers who see these ads to believe equality is closer than it actually is, creating a diversity blind spot and obstructing the progress being made.

When those who have not experienced sexism see these ads, they mistakenly believe the challenges facing women in the workplace are fixed (or not real in the first place.) A study by McKinsey & Company found that men are more likely to think the workplace is equitable; women see a workplace that is less fair and offers less support.  We cannot solve problems we cannot see clearly.


The new rules of marketing to women on a feminist platform


So, in this new era of #metoo and femvertising, there are new rules for marketing to women using the ideals of feminism.


The reasons are two-fold: first, to avoid creating disillusioned consumers who will react strongly against a brand for acts of faux-feminism, and second, to protect the progress made to-date in the feminist movement, in a time when women’s rights remain under attack.


I’m not an advocate for all brands to use feminism in their advertising. But, if you’re going to capitalize on the movement, consider your responsibility first. There are three preliminary guidelines:


1.     Think twice – Taking any stance as an organization on a politically charged or hot button issue is a risk, which will invite criticism from both supporters and opponents of the issue. But, it’s more common than ever, as many CEOs are adopting their platform as activists.

As content marketing expert Doug Kessler said, “Think hard about attaching your brand to things that matter way more than your brand ever could.” There are many avenues your marketing can take. Think twice, maybe three times, as to whether gender equality is the direction that makes the most sense for you.

Is your product is truly prepared to be a steward for the message you’re promoting? One recent example is Lean Cuisine, whose campaign surrounding women “having it all” invited loads of social media backlash due to the history of the brand’s low-fat frozen meal products perpetuating beauty standards. Ironically, it’s those standards that contribute to the pressure on women to, indeed, “have it all” in the first place.


2.     Practice what you preach – don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Ask the hard questions about how your organization manifests feminism’s ideals before you stand on this platform. That means transparently pay women equally to men, demonstrate women leadership at the highest levels of the organization and throughout the ranks, mandate supplier diversity, make unconscious bias training available to employees, provide strong family leave programs, deploy inclusive hiring practices, and most importantly, stop objectifying women in the marketing of other product lines or business units.

Before you approve this risky move to join the red-hot topic of women’s rights, honestly hold your company up to the ideals of feminism for scrutiny before you exploit the narrative for your own publicity.

3.     Think beyond the hashtag – If you determine that your organization practices what it preaches, consider what else you can do to support women beyond the feel-good message of your hashtag. One recent example is Jane Walker, a campaign from Diageo on International Women’s Day that temporarily changed the Johnnie Walker icon to a female version (Jane).

On the surface it first seemed like lip-service (like McDonalds flipping its Golden Arches,) but digging deeper, the company’s dedication to women went far beyond Jane. The company donated portions of the sales to organizations supporting women’s progress, they joined the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, they boast a vocal, female CFO who is clear about the importance of inclusion at the organization, and the makeup of both their board and blenders is nearly half female.


Final word to marketers –

 The onslaught of femvertising has created a sense of disillusionment among consumers who are rightfully holding brands up to the standards of the feminism movement they claim to be part of.


If we can’t hold our organizations up to the scrutiny of true equality, we should never cheapen the movement by exploiting the narrative. It’s too reckless and there are real consequences. Our society, and our consumers, deserve more.


We can and must do better. Marketing is a powerful force: one with the potential to change ideas and create positive action. Use that power thoughtfully.




I will be discussing this topic at the June 19th event “Marketing to Women in the #MeToo Era” in NYC with ChiefMarketer. Join us live as I walk through a new framework for evaluating whether a campaign is exploiting the women’s rights movement, or truly supporting women. I can’t wait for the dialogue and the conversation. Hope to see you there.




Broken At the Seams - The Road Ahead for Marketers from ModernCX 2018


Broken At the Seams - The Road Ahead for Marketers from ModernCX 2018

“Digital marketing is now simply marketing in a digital world”

This line from Oracle Marketing Cloud’s Steve Earl is a reminder of the shift occurring under the feet of many marketers. Last week, it was consistently in the back of my mind as I attended and spoke at the Modern Customer Experience event from Oracle in Chicago. 

Here’s what I saw:

CX is Marketing, Marketing is CX

One question posed to me during a live interview with Carla Johnson and Mia McPherson of SmarterCX, was how ModernCX has evolved since the days it was called “Eloqua Experience” (this was prior to Oracle’s acquisition of the marketing automation pioneer.)

As last year showed, some core elements remain, like the semantic emphasis on “modern” and the Markie Awards celebrating its 12th consecutive year of recognizing real-world success.

Some things were new:

  • The Female Quotient lounge featuring panels about women in tech and free headshots
  • A CX Hero program recognizing outstanding individuals in customer experience
  • Chilly 33 degree weather (This Bostonian stills prefers Chicago to Vegas)

Overall, the biggest change is - of course - the rise of CX. 

This event is now Modern Customer Experience (formerly known as Modern Marketing Experience) and to me what it indicates is another major shift in how the industry defines marketing. 

In many ways, CX has become a kind of catch-all of sales, customer support, and marketing - but it’s more than that.

Oracle calls it the “experience revolution” - others describe CX as your customer’s perception of how the company treats them. It’s critical to customer retention, satisfaction, cross/upsell. It’s “the new battlefield.” 

It’s marketing. Only, different. 

The groundswell is here:

  • B2B companies believe CX is the most exciting business opportunity in 2018 (Econsultancy)
  • By the year 2020 CX will overtake price/product as a key brand differentiator (Walker2020)
  • By 2018, more than 50% of organizations will redirect their investments to customer experience innovations. (Gartner)

Charlie Herrin, Comcast’s Chief Customer Officer, shared some perspective on stage at ModernCX about the pace at which this shift is moving: 

“The customer experience I thought was good two years ago isn’t good anymore. It’s now tablestakes.” 


Big Data for CX - New Tech from Oracle

Charlie also articulated a major hurdle faced by companies who seek to improve CX. (Captured nicely by John Bruno of Forrester Research.)

“Most customer experiences break at the seams.”

John added, “They break at the journey handoffs like self-service to agent or e-commerce to sales rep.”

To address this break at the seams, Oracle Marketing Cloud made a new announcement - Oracle Infinity. 

The number of channels has grown (IoT is on the horizon), the need for contextual experiences has driven the importance of relevance at the individual level, and data privacy is part of the customer’s expectation. 

These shifts were cited as some of the core reasons behind the company’s announcement of a Hadoop-based data platform for working with large amounts of unstructured behavioral data. It’s next-gen analytics, in real-time, and it’s got some real-world implications for teams as laid out in this infographic:



That resource also noted that by 2020, more than 40% of all data analytics projects will relate to an aspect of customer experience (Gartner).

I was excited to see this announcement from the OMC team - especially considering the paralysis that occurs from a having multiple elements of data about known users scattered across channels. 

Per Oracle, “data activation can occur in areas such as high precision lead scoring models and triggers for specific campaign events for better conversion rates.” This announcement essentially centralizes customer data, enables teams to segment in real-time, and use that data in other OMC technologies (like Responsys.)

Like many things in life, a few stars have to align for big, transformative changes to occur in a business. Creating the ideal customer experience externally requires a foundation of data and technology behind the scenes. For most organizations, that’s easier said than done. 

As noted by Sashi Seth, SVP of OMC:

“Data is at the core of marketing. It lets you get personal with your customers. The more data you have on your customers, the better you are able to build precise marketing campaigns. You can customize your conversations with your best customers.”

This announcement from Oracle addresses one of the most practical, and important stars - the uber valuable cross-channel data about individuals that drives each customer touchpoint. This is big data for the customer experience, and it’ll be exciting to see what brands do with the capability - or if they decide to jump on the fast-moving train towards CX nirvana at all.

Read more about their new data analytics platform, Oracle Infinity. 

Further reading:

- Shep Hyken “Oracle's Modern Customer Conference Provides Plenty Of CX Lessons” 

- Carla Johnson “Defining Modern Customer Experience

- Jeff Davis “Oracle Taught Me Customer Service Can Help Align Sales and Marketing” 


How Should We React to Jane Walker? A Scorecard for Marketing to Women


How Should We React to Jane Walker? A Scorecard for Marketing to Women

How should we evaluate "femvertising" like Jane Walker? Here, I propose a new framework to identify whether campaigns are merely gimmicks, or supporting the very real fight for equality.

Regarding Jane Walker, Diageo is a company prepared to back up its campaign with real action. That should be celebrated.


There it was.

Another email – another friend sending me the news of “Jane Walker,” a special edition of Johnnie Walker's Black Label scotch.

If you’ve spent any time with me at a bar, you know my drink of choice is Johnnie Walker Black - on the rocks.

(Note: If images below will not load on mobile, try opening in Chrome.)

Exhibit A: My signature blue aviators next to that beautiful drink.




Exhibit B: My desk when I cofounded a startup – black and blue at the ready.




Exhibit C: When I got married, my sister’s thoughtful gift; an engraved bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label




I love the taste, the brand, the history, and the variety of their blends.

At the same time, I'm also an on-the-record critic of gimmicky marketing meant to ride the bandwagon of the current women’s rights movement, so it was no surprise that MANY people reached out to say – what do you think of Jane Walker?


Johnnie Walker Black Label, The Jane Walker Edition

Context - for Women’s History Month, liquor maker Diageo announced they would be introducing a limited time special edition of their Johnnie Walker Black Label scotch, replacing the iconic Striding Man with a quite dapper female version.



To quote Diageo:

 Jane Walker is the celebration of the many achievements of women and a symbol of empowerment for all those on the journey towards progress in gender equality.”

Another day, another femvertising campaign

This move from Diageo is part of a larger trend in marketing and advertising known as “femvertising,” when marketers use the ideals of feminism in a campaign.

To remind you, feminism is simply the notion that women should be treated equal to menin every facet of our society – from how we’re paid to how we’re represented in ads.

The femvertising trend is growing – brought about by changing consumer expectations. 50% of Millennials (18-34) want brands to take a public stance on social issues, compared to only about 25% of Baby Boomers (55+). Across all generations, 6 in 10 will not make a purchase if they don’t believe what the company stands for.

Femvertising gives a boost to brands given the popularity of the current women’s rights movement. Dove received 30X more exposure than their paid media space thanks to the buzz around it’s Real Women, Real Beauty campaign years ago. It helped sales at Dove grow from $2.5B - $4B in the decade after the campaign launched.


However, I am a proponent for discernment when it comes to femvertising campaigns, especially those we celebrate with industry awards, kudos on social media, additional press coverage, or our dollars.

As I pointed out recently, many companies using feminist messaging in their ads are poor examples of these ideals internally - for example, paying millions in lawsuits for pay inequality and discrimination against women, or by perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards.

Related: Calling BS on Faux Feminism

This not only creates an illusion of progress, it cheapens the movement for equal rights. It's lip service. There is a real and present danger to decades of progress in the feminist movement if we accept this trend of faux-feminism without holding companies accountable.

It’s also starting to get old. Younger generations prize brands that actively work for social change, participating to improve the causes they claim to support, and leveraging their organizations’ clout as a force for good.

So all of this begs a larger question…


How should we evaluate femvertising?

I’ve spent the majority of my career marketing to marketers, giving me an opportunity to study this discipline, its history, its flaws, and its potential. This stuff fascinates me.

I’ve found there to be a very clear spectrum to femvertising:



To help consumers and marketers alike evaluate a femvertising campaign, like Jane Walker, on this spectrum, I propose the following litmus test, inspired by the Bechdel test.



A framework for evaluating whether a femvertising campaign is simply exploitation, or deserves praise for supporting women’s rights in the real world.

(Want to share? View on Twitter.)


Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 3.07.23 PM.png


If mostly “no’s” – This company is paying lip service to feminism. This is “faux-feminism” and a gimmicky marketing campaign meant to cash in on the women’s rights movement by earning free press. If you’re evaluating your own firm against this checklist, and reach mostly “no,” it’s likely best to pursue another narrative in your campaign.

If mostly’s “yes’s” – First bumps all around. This is a champion of women’s rights, a company putting their money where their mouth is and creating real change in the world through their actions. They deserve to be celebrated for using femvertising to grow their brand equity and awareness.


So, where does Jane Walker land on this spectrum?

On the scale of exploitation > champion of women’s rights, Jane Walker is not nearly as bad as some others (I have many examples in this deck of hypocrisy.)

This campaign goes beyond the bottle and the logo update.

1. For every Jane Walker Edition bottle produced, Johnnie Walker will donate $1 to organizations supporting women’s progress, up to $250,000, including:

  • Monumental Women, an effort to create a monument in Central Park to pay tribute to suffrage leaders.
  • She Should Run, dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of women in public leadership by eliminating barriers to success.

2. Diageo announced they would be the first beverage alcohol company to join the CEO Action for Diversity & InclusionTM, a movement of 350+ CEOs aimed at advancing D&I within the workplace with initiatives like:


3. Deidre Mahlan, President of Diageo North America and their former CFO, is vocal and clear about the importance of inclusion at the organization.




“Inclusion is a core value at Diageo. It is also a choice. Our efforts toward inclusion and diversity have a direct impact on our performance”


4. The company boasts impressive gender equality and representation of women. Half of Diageo’s board will be comprised of women come April, while 40% of its global executive team is female (including the president of Diageo North America, as well as the global chief marketing officer and chief financial officer), according to Forbes.

5. Women make up nearly half of its 12 blenders –progressive compared to other producers.


This is a company prepared to back up its campaign with real action. That should be celebrated.


Various perspectives

My bourbon-loving marketing colleague Jess Marble agrees with me. Her first reaction to this campaign was “oh no…another Lady Dorito.” But then she read more about the “walk on” slogan and their support of “organizations championing women’s causes” and decided it wasn’t that bad. 

I also love the way Jess defines whisky:

Whisk(e)y /ˈ(h)wiskē/


A magical distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash with history that would make your 5th grade textbook green with envy. 

She says “I think this a small step in elevating whiskey to the preferred choice of women. Tour any distillery in Kentucky and they will tell you about the whiskey boom and how women play a role in that.

For me, whiskey is not just a beverage. It’s a hobby, a collection and a piece of history.

When I weave whiskey into my work life, I have a new seat at the table with my male colleagues. They turn to me for menu advice and listen to me tell stories about whiskey."


Holly Seidewand, founder of HerWhiskyLove, is an expert in whisky, and a pioneering champion of getting more women educated about, and interested in the drink. At first, Holly felt the Jane Walker campaign screamed:

“...whisky is not normally for women.”

(I agreed - that’s certainly an unintended message being delivered against the company’s good intentions, here.)

As a whisky expert, Holly was initially worried that the product itself had been altered “for women” (you know, and our fragile palates * eye roll *)

Luckily, Jane Edition isn’t a special blend for women, according to Johnnie Walker vice president Stephanie Jacoby. It’s just an updated look to the existing best-selling Black Label blend.

“This wasn’t about making a whisky for women,” Jacoby says. “We would never make anything that’s ‘for women’s palates.’ Taste buds have no gender.”

(Someone should put that last sentence on a t-shirt...)

Holly agrees:

“At the end of the day, every whisky is for everyone. That’s what I’m fighting for. If [the campaign] gets more women to take that first taste of whisky, very cool.”

I asked Holly how companies like Diageo could help get more women into whisky. She advised giving them the basic tools to understanding the drink – through education, classes, and more. In her work, she helps consumers learn where each drink comes from, the difference between scotch, bourbon, and rye, and helps them understand why they prefer certain types. According to Holly, many women just avoid it altogether, rather than ask for help.

Brands – target women, but don’t patronize us.

Femvertising is a more recent name for an old practice. In my TEDx talk, I share how Edward Bernays intentionally changed the perception of cigarettes in the 1920’s among women to double the market in an age where it was considered improper for women to smoke.

Johnnie Walker for decades marketed its scotch mainly to men, and has been working hard for years to make its products more attractive to women. It’s working. The share of U.S. whiskey drinkers who are women is on the rise.

But, there’s a way to market to women without resorting to tired old gender tropes. (Just read the angry comments section of this article announcing Heavin Hill’s flavored whisky aimed at female customers.)

“The way we do that is not by making things pink. It is by being very inclusive in our communications, targeting women and men with our communications,” said Syl Saller, Diageo’s CMO.

Unfortunately, Diageo’s Jane Walker logo change on its own has been widely categorized as pandering in backlash online by consumers and the press alike. The reaction “not again” is a defensive response from an increasingly wary audience. Who can blame them… bad behavior from brands has made consumers suspicious of femvertising.


Progress is never a straightforward line, but rather comes with fits and spurts and twists and turns. Jane Walker is, in many ways, progress. It’s another indication of a brand making an effort, making great strides within the limitations of big-brand marketing decisions – the many signoffs and checks and balances that get a campaign out the door.

For Jane Walker’s creators, the logo change is merely the tip of the iceberg, and I hope more attention is paid to the rest of the campaign. According to my proposed scorecard above, Diageo is working to make a real impact, and highlighting it through this Jane Walker campaign.

I hope this framework is helpful way we can make decisions as to what campaigns we run, and how we as consumers react to them.

So, kudos to Diageo. To other brands targeting women please keep walking – in this direction.



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The Marketing Trend that We Should Leave Behind in 2018


The Marketing Trend that We Should Leave Behind in 2018

Hypocritical Femvertising and Faux Feminism


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

If 2017 proved one thing, it’s that the narrative surrounding women in our world is changing.

This year featured some remarkable progress for feminism – that pesky notion that women should be treated equal to men in every facet of our society:

  • Sexual assault allegations within the institutions of media and government are being exposed to the sunlight, forcing real consequences.
  • The highly visible Women’s March (largest single-day protest in US history) and related protests drew millions to the streets (and to the polls) to represent women’s advocacy.
  • The challenges facing women in the workplace (such as equal pay or, low representation in computer science jobs, and you know, guys like this) has earned more consistent exposure thanks to a slew of celebrities and high-profile corporate strumbles (Uber, etc) keeping them in the public eye.
  • Women’s magazines like Teen Vogue have become an unexpected source to expose political news and world events to a younger generation – no longer contained to the matters of lip gloss and boy bands.
  • Terms like “intersectional feminism” have entered the larger discourse as many seek to understand the complicated nuances of the movement (and others retreat back to their echo chambers).
  • More women are running for public office than ever before due to grassroots organizations like EMILY's List and She Should Run (the latter setting an amazing goal to achieve gender parity among America’s elected officials by the year 2030. That’s 250,000 elected positions!)


What a year. It’s a kind of silver lining within our current, divisive climate.


The rise of femvertising.

But, in the world of marketing, there continues to be a disturbing trend related to feminism that is moving us in the wrong direction. As we (marketers) are prone to do, we’re trying to capitalize on something while, in effect, ruining it.

How unfortunate.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to discuss this topic on stage at the 2017 Women in Digital event. This fantastic organization provides support for women in business, akin to the advantages of the "boys club" in major cities around the US.

Note: For organizations who want to make this available to their employees, there are corporate group packages available.

My talk was “Calling Bulls%*t on Faux Feminism in Marketing” and it featured a number of ads that are part of the femvertising movement.



You can read a great summary in Business First.

I’ve covered this topic before in previous articles, but below, I've put together a comprehensive look at the hypocrisy of femvertising - and the danger:


TL;DR: Many companies using feminist messaging in their ads are poor examples of these ideals internally - for example, paying millions in lawsuits for pay inequality and discrimination against women, or by perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards.

This not only creates an illusion of progress, it cheapens the movement for equal rights. It's lip service. There is a real and present danger to decades of progress in the feminist movement if we accept this trend of faux-feminism without holding companies accountable.


To my business leader colleagues (especially marketers) – we can and must do better. If we can’t hold our organizations up to the scrutiny of true equality, we should never cheapen the movement by exploiting the narrative. It’s too reckless and there are real consequences.

To really support women:

  • Hire a lot of them.
  • Demand diversity in hiring.
  • Prove equal pay.
  • Support working parents.
  • Train employees about bias.
  • Support all women, not only those who fit your pattern bias.

To my fellow consumers – we must expect better from companies, especially before we laud them with praise (or industry awards) for what amounts to nothing more than lip service to the fight for women’s equality.

Please, let the end of 2017 be the end of this disturbing rise in faux feminism and hypocritical femvertising.

And please, don't be a troll in the comments.


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You Wrote a Research Report! Now What? 15 Ideas to Maximize Promotion

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You Wrote a Research Report! Now What? 15 Ideas to Maximize Promotion

This post is in response to a great question from my good friend, and B2B content marketing expert Stephanie Tilton. 

Congratulations on your bundle of original research! It’s so cute, all swaddled up in that new report template. It even has that new research smell everybody talks about. I’m sure you’re very proud of all the work it took to get to this point. It was nine long months of crunching the numbers, issuing surveys, mining and wrangling data, all resulting in a pioneering piece of original thought leadership for your organization. 

But this is only day one of a very long life for your new bundle of joy. 

How can you get maximum exposure for your important new report? You’ve done a lot of work, how can you create some buzz? 

Here are my top 14 ways to make the most of this new report. 


1. Announce the findings


This is not just another eBook… this is a major moment in your company’s history. It’s a rare opportunity to issue content into the world that is truly original. Don’t just send out a tweet and call it a day. 


Make sure you treat this launch like a major announcement - a press release on the wire if you’re into that kind of thing, with a short summary of key findings and a quote from an industry analyst or customer on the implications of the findings. 


2. Tell the media


Original research affords you a wonderful opportunity to provide practical insight and an interesting perspective on the state of your industry. You can tell a story informed and backed by statistically sound data - and this is perfect fodder for industry trade publications and the business press (if they cover your space.) 


Reach out to reporters with 3-4 key findings (don’t make them read the full report), offering a byline or an interview with your company spokesperson. Remember: why should their readers care? Try drafting the ideal headline and leading your pitch with that. 


PS: Podcasts count as media! Pitch your way onto a show to discuss the findings! 


3. Walk through the findings on a live webinar event


Allow your customers, partners, and prospects to experience the research with you on a guided, live webinar event. Take an opportunity to walk through the key takeaways of the report, and explain the controversial, unexpected, or critical findings. 


Most importantly, allow your audience to ask questions about the research in real-time. 


4. Create a mini self-assessment


What’s the first thing your audience thinks when reading benchmarking statistics about their industry?


“How do I stack up? How are we doing compared to our peers?”


Help your buyers make sense of your data by putting it into context for them. Create an easy self-assessment using a tool like Qzzr, or more complex logic with tools like Ion Interactive and Snapapp. Be sure to offer actionable ways for low scores to improve, and congratulate the high scores for their good work.  


5. Lights… camera… action!


Create a short video of a company spokesperson discussing the report, the top 3-4 findings, and why they matter. This is a great opportunity to make your company leaders sound smart, don’t waste it. 


6. Centralize everything on a microsite


Your study should be treated with an additional level of attention - consider hosting it on its own dedicated microsite featuring the key findings and major takeaways. This makes a great place to host the mini self assessment, the video, and a form by which to download the full report. 


7. Repurpose into multiple blog posts


Each finding in the report is an occasion by itself to give your point of view. Group like findings together for individual blog posts where you dig into the “how” the “what” and the “why” behind your data points. This is a great chance to tell customer stories in the context of these data points. 


Offer guest posts for other well-read blogs in your space, and be sure to include a link back to the original research (their audience is, of course, net-new to you.) Ensure your spokespeople are blogging on platforms like Medium and LinkedIn, where content reaches new audiences organically. 


8. Infographic gold


Research findings make the best infographic fodder, giving readers a chance to get your key takeaways without making the time investment of reading through the full report. 


9. Break the findings into sharable social posts


Social posts with images perform one-quadrillion times better than those without. I made up that stat, but we all know this to be true. Use a tool like Canva to create social-sized posts featuring the most important or surprising facts. People love to share this stuff. 


10. Bake it into your presentations - both live and virtual


Beyond your live webinar event, create a version of the report that is ideal for Slideshare - something that someone can click through slide-by-slide and still get the full story. (This is not the same deck as your webinar, but something with more text and storytelling baked in.) A great example from my friend Ben Grossman.


These findings also make great content for speaking engagements at key industry events (especially your own customer conference.) Send in a proposal that discusses your findings (with a great customer) and you’ve got a winning conference speaking submission! 


11. Work it into other people’s presentations


Check out the speakers for a few industry events in your space. Reach out to a few who are speaking about the topic your report covers. Email them a couple of stats that may be useful, and ask them to include it in their presentation. Nikki Nixon from Terminus recently did this to me preceding a recent speaking session I did at INBOUND, and I thought it was so brilliant. 


12. Incorporate findings into sales decks


I’m sure your sales presentations have plenty about your product features. Why not incorporate a couple of slides demonstrating the key challenges in the industry - using your own research to illustrate them? If your team is savvy in the challenger sale methodology, this type of research can be used by sales to guide prospects through a new way of thinking about their problems. 


13. Mail a physical copy of the report to key accounts


Research findings make great ABM touchpoints as it offers a very tangible, valuable asset to hold in their hands. Get your report printed, professionally, and mail it out to a few key customer/prospect accounts with a handwritten note. For an added touch, put a post-it note on the pages/sections that most apply to that specific account. Engagement guaranteed. 


14. Hold a lunch and learn


Invite key prospects and customers in a specific geo to lunch, where you present the findings and talk about recommended strategies to address them. Be sure to include a physical copy of the report, and pick somewhere nice for lunch. 


15. Add some paid promotion to the mix


Money talks. This report is a great candidate for content syndication, targeted LinkedIn ads, and Facebook ads (yes to a B2B audience.) Time is money, and you’ve already spent plenty of time bringing this asset to life. Give it the promotion it deserves. 



Remember, your new bundle of joy is just a baby. It needs care and nurturing to become the well-read, oft-quoted, compelling piece of industry thought leadership it’s meant to be. The golden rule of content repurposing is to write less, and promote more -  helping to reinforce your messages, reach new audiences, and improve visibility. 


Congratulations on your new asset. Go make the most of it. 



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Find an Enemy - On Demand Webcast


Find an Enemy - On Demand Webcast

As part of BrightTALK's Content Strategy & Distribution Summit

What do Salesforce, Apple, and the South Beach Diet have in common? They motivate others to action against an enemy - and it isn't the competition. 

While your buyers are certainly motivated by benefits, they are more likely to be truly galvanized when called to rally against a common foe. This is what creates movements that build momentum for brands. 

The right enemy can also be a powerful way to focus our marketing team and improve our content marketing. Join this session, and find your antagonist.


Who Will We Trust in 2018?


Who Will We Trust in 2018?

Marketers and politicians alike rely on trust to do our work; to persuade.

That trust is entirely dependent on the vehicle used to deliver it - a brand, a media platform, an institution, an evangelist, or an advocate.

And in 2017, these vehicles of information are changing faster than ever. Buyers and citizens are faced with a challenging junction as they figure out who to trust, and who to discredit.

I recently presented a keynote at Bentley University during a conference on social media strategy. My presentation leaned heavily on the current state of trust - and the reason so many of us are now relying on each other for information.

It got me thinking...

The Inversion of Trust

Influence and authority today, in stark contrast to history, has moved to the masses, whereas both were "owned" by establishments like media, government, and businesses.


ource: Edelmen's Trust Barometer Report


Today, we don't trust the media.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.07 PM.png



Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


We don't trust businesses.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.29 PM.png


Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


And we certainly don't trust CEOs.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.45 PM.png


Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


Who do we trust, these days?

No surprise here... but we trust each other.

Specifically, Edelmen's research overwhelmingly found that we trust "people like me" as much as we trust technical / academic experts.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.13.06 PM.png

Source: Edelmen's Trust Barometer Report

Peers, above all.

This power shift has many implications, but it has certainly impacted the world of B2B marketing, forever.

This is illustrated in's recent series "How I Buy" from Steve Woods (you may recognize him from his Eloqua days, evangelizing Digital Body Language and setting the bar for enterprise SaaS technology.)

The series features in-depth interviews with executives discussing their personal buying process - where trust matters most. I love this content for the extremely valuable perspective it provides straight from discerning executive buyers. Thanks to the team at for pulling it together.

  • Jocelyn Brown, VP of Customer Success at Allocadia, says about her buying process, "within an hour I can have opinions from 5 or 6 trusted peers on something I am struggling with."
  • Jay Hedges, SVP Revenue at Uberflip says, "If we're on the fence we will ask around. References and case studies from the vendors are not really all that important."
  • Cheryl Kerrigan, VP of People at BlueCat explained in her interview, "I have access to a wide community of HR professionals in similar environments where we are constantly sharing our experiences with vendors and solutions... We have a Slack channel set up so we can ask questions and get responses in real time. I wouldn’t make a decision without asking them first."
  • Megan Eisenberg, CMO of MongoDB puts it succinctly with "...there's no hiding." She continues, "with access to a network of peers, the business world is becoming so much more transparent... Customer experience matters, and your ability to deliver to other CMOs like me matters."

Satisfying the herd mentality

In a way, this reliance on peers in an age of institutional distrust goes back to our most basic instincts.

"Conformity is inevitable" says psychologists, who argue that pressure to conform may not be experienced as pressure, but relief. Human beings survive only in highly coordinated groups.

Disapproval provokes the brain's danger circuits. Conformity soothes.

Using others to figure out what's going on can be a good thing. "Consultation, compromise, education, and information exchange are the levers of civilization."

But misinformation - look at the effect of propaganda - has obvious implications.

What this means for B2B

I know, drawing parallels from war propaganda to business is such a cliche, and a bit trite, but great marketing undeniably persuades in a similar way.

But here's the rub; what works today is drastically different because of this increase in mistrust. Marketers have shot ourselves in the foot by publishing volumes of our own "fake news" - hyperbole, exaggerations, and other bullsh*t.

No wonder buyers don't trust us.

We've conditioned buyers not to, meaning that today we all operate at a disadvantage when we work on behalf of any brand - that's simply the truth.

And this is the crux of our biggest challenge as marketers. As I wrote in a recent post, buyers don’t do business with companies they’ve never heard of, and brands they do not trust. 

Deciding who to trust.

Yet Peterson, the Robert L. Joss Consulting Professor of Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, wrote a book on this topic, The 10 Laws of Trust.

He provides three tests for deciding who to trust.

  1. Character “We can’t trust a leader without integrity, who we can’t count on to do what he or she says,” he explains.
  2. Competence. "You trust your mom, for example, but would you trust her to fly a 747 to London?"
  3. Authority to deliver. "There’s no point in trusting a pilot to fly to London if she doesn’t have permission to take off."

“It’s folly to trust anybody if all three aren’t present,” Peterson says.

Can we trust you?

I believe thought leadership is a powerful piece of our toolkit in an age of distrust. Done right, real thought leadership can increase faith in a company. 82% of execs say so according to a recent study.

But, the majority of companies are wildly missing the boat, as 56% of decision-makers say they do not gain valuable insights from what companies are purporting to be "thought leadership."

What a missed opportunity - and, frankly, inexcusable in an age of distrust.

Carlos Hidalgo and I recently had a conversation about what constitutes real thought leadership. He had just returned from an industry conference where he was disappointed in what he saw on stage. Read his full post on LinkedIn.

Carlos literally looked up "thought leadership" and found this from the Thought Leadership Lab:

"Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success." 

Carlos: "I believe sometimes innovation is simply doing it the right way. It is not all glitz and glamour. It is not always sexy, sometimes innovation is pretty boring, but it is what works and can truly create better results."

I couldn't help but agree with this sentiment -- I like to think of myself as a bit of realist about the true impact of marketing. Yes, it's powerful and persuasive, but it's also... still just marketing. The best I think we can do, as we present a better world for our buyers, is to remain firmly grounded in reality.

Distrust is a serious reality in our world that marketers all must be sober about, and willing to tackle head-on. 77% of consumers do not want a relationship with a brand. When they do have one, 64% say it's primarily because of shared values. Kind of like a marriage.

This, to me, is what our ultimate goal should be. To show buyers we can be trusted, that we share a common outlook, that we are fighting a common foe.

Anything else isn't trustworthy - it's just more of the same BS that got us into this mess in the first place.


Hear me speak more on this topic next week at INBOUND in my session "Find an Enemy: How the Right Foe Can Motivate Your Buyers to Action."



Every week I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me. Get on the list.


Great Marketing Can Transform the Aftermarket Service Industry; Here's Why


Great Marketing Can Transform the Aftermarket Service Industry; Here's Why

I believe great marketing can transform aftermarket service products.

This past week in Chicago, I had the chance to speak at The Service Council’s Smarter Services Symposium (whose eponym pays no respect to anyone with a lisp), a gathering of executives responsible for service products - aftermarket purchases - such as service warranties, contracts, parts, and more. 

My discussion focused on addressing one of the biggest challenges facing service executives - service marketing.

The emerging role of aftermarket services.

This service function is facing a period of immense change (what department isn’t?) 

The days of field service, parts operations, call centers etc. as a cost center which is solely the result of a product sale are nearing their end. Today, there’s a growing idea that there should be revenue driven from a service business. 

This department no doubt faces a perception problem - something we can empathize with in marketing - one that limits it to a “cost center” vs “profit driver.” 

The reality is, this function can drive tremendous strategic value within the organizations it serves. (TSC found this year that 92% of Champion organizations consider service to be a competitive differentiator compared to 42% of the entire community.) 

Sure, NPS will increase and CSAT scores will improve, but I’m talking about cold, hard cash. 

Training, installation, and consulting offer another method by which to exceed customer expectations and differentiate the organization. With many companies now looking for an advantage in competitive markets, aftermarket services can offer an edge - one that is sustainable, high-margin, and low-risk. 

One McKinsey analysis across 30 industries showed that average earnings-before-interest-and-taxes (EBIT) margin for aftermarket services was 25 percent, compared to 10 percent for new equipment.

Summarized succinctly in One HBR article

“Being on par with your rivals in performance, price, and quality gets you into the game; after-sales services can win you the game.” 


A massive opportunity to shift perception.

Historically, these after-sales services have been seen as a burden, not an opportunity.

I recently spoke to the fabulous Claudine Bianchi, CMO of ClickSoftware, who markets to service executives. She described this perception challenge, saying, "many executives still don’t look at customer satisfaction in terms of the valuation it can have on a company."

In the aforementioned HBR article, its authors revealed many “perceive after-sales services to be a necessary evil… like taxes.” 


This problem of reputation is due in part to the legacy of services businesses. Seen as a reactive team, many demonstrate their success on the basis of solving a customer's problem - historically measuring (if at all) impact in terms of customer satisfaction. 

That’s a really limiting way of demonstrating value, when the true potential of this team lies in a term well-adopted by marketers - Customer Lifetime Value. In this case, Service Executives should focus on the aftermarket lifetime value of their customers. 

For some industries (gas turbines, helicopters, data storage) the aftermarket lifetime value of a customer can be 40-75% of the initial sales price of the product. In others, it can be 5x more. See more in this detailed benchmarking study by McKinsey.

Talk about leaving money on the table. 

A fundamental switch from reactive to proactive.

To achieve these kinds of growth potentials, Service Executives need to switch from their reactive nature to a proactive culture. 

This was the crux of my recommendations at TSC's event, and I leveraged their own data to make this point.

  • 58% of champions frequently educate customers on products/services compared to 17% of the entire community. 
  • 91% of champions consider it a priority to increase the coverage of their installed based, compared to only 50% of the community. 

Proactive Services Marketing is an enormous opportunity for services teams to dramatically improve their perception by unlocking the value of their aftermarket services.

ServiceMax (another vendor in this space) found that proactive selling can increase revenues by up to 160% within a year.


Does the future of aftermarket services depend on marketing?


I think the way to look at it is that we are in this together. 

Marketing is increasingly responsible for the customer experience, of which post-sale is certainly part. We are seeking differentiation in competitive markets, and are held accountable for more and more revenue. The insights gleaned from the front lines of field service technicians can be a gold mine for improving our customer understanding and intelligence. A feedback loop between our teams can help us to tailor products and messaging accordingly.

Marketing needs the aftermarket services function. 

Services, on the flip side, should consider marketing to be an important ally in the business. We can drive growth with engagement marketing that earns trust and compels buyers to take part in services programs. We can leverage your incredible amount of data coming from IoT and connected devices to better segment and personalize our efforts. We can help build the foundation for a cohesive customer experience by helping to integrate service data with sales and marketing systems so that each touchpoint is… the magic word... consistent. We can help to segment customers by their role in the buying committee, or by their specific need based on their usage or product history. 

Marketing can maximize the potential of services, and in turn, drive more impact in our organizations. This is truly a win win. 

And, while we can be your best ally, we can be your worst enemy. “The best service intentions can be derailed by poor sales and marketing activities.” (TSC).

Now is the time to invest in proactive service marketing.

In an informal poll of the room this week in Chicago, 50% of the audience had a dedicated team of service marketers on staff. The other half, did not. 

One attendee from an electronics company followed up with me after the show, sharing that he was the very first product marketing manager for their services department in the organization’s history. That’s 84 years without one.

The need for marketing services is here - and while many organizations aren’t there quite yet, those that win are waking up to this reality. 

Champion organizations are 2X as likely as others to have dedicated service marketers in place to support commercial business growth - TSC.


Thank you to Sumair Datta and Aly Pinder for inviting me to this year's event, and to Claudine Bianchi of ClickSoftware for her insights.


Every week I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me. Get on the list.


4 Essentials of Startup Branding from The Ad Club’s 2017 Brandathon


4 Essentials of Startup Branding from The Ad Club’s 2017 Brandathon

What happens when ten Boston-area startups meet ten of Boston’s best creative agencies?


Brandathon, that’s what.


The Ad Club President Kathy Kiely admitted in her opening, “we’re not supposed to pick favorites… but this is our favorite event.”


And I totally get it.


This event checks every box. It’s a pure celebration of the sheer work that goes into brand building, the creativity behind well-loved marketing ideas, and the strategy and research required to deliver a message that is both relevant and remarkable.


But, perhaps the most entertaining piece of this evening is the art of the agency pitch.


Imagine if Don Draper had access to Photoshop and embedded .gifs in PowerPoint slides. Then, add puns. Brandathon’s audience is given front-row access to see the type of performances that win these agencies global name-brand accounts. A truly remarkable experience.


This annual Ad Club event (now in its fourth year) includes 10 marketing teams who work for 72 hours to develop a new brand for 10 of Boston’s most promising startups.


It’s a coveted position to be in, as evidenced by the swell of applicants this year. 150 companies applied for ten spots. These startups, many lacking dedicated marketing resources of their own, know the competitive advantage of a strong and well-conceived brand.


For example, a 2016 Brandathon startup Tranquilo took the new branding work developed by 36creative all the way to Shark Tank, ending up with a deal from Robert Herjavec, and going on to grow “from 5 figures to 7 figures in less than a year” according to CEO and founder Melissa Gersin.


This year, Arnold took the top spot for a hilarious rebrand of Kulisha chicken feed. (Yes, really, chicken feed.) In second place was 36creative for their work with OatShop, and finally, Genuine Interactive secured third place for their meaningful revival of CommonWealth Kitchen.




Other participating startups this year included WA11.ST, HipChip, Janji, Nomsly, Sheprd, and Solstice, receiving new brand design and ideas from creative teams including Forge Worldwide, GPJ Experience Marketing, Racepoint Global, SapientRazorfish, Small Army, and W-9.


This was a night of creativity and humor, but also a reminder of startup branding basics:


1. Branding goes beyond packaging


When you think of branding, you may consider a website, logo, business cards, and of course the packaging a product may come in. But, we were reminded this evening that a brand is truly comprised of all the touchpoints a customer may have with an organization.


Agencies tonight presented each startup with ideas to bring their brand recommendations to life far beyond the initial website or package design, well into the lifecycle of a customer. Many entrepreneurs forget to consider that their brand is the sum of an experience a buyer has from before the purchase to after the sale, not only the wrapper to their product.


2. Customer-centric branding wins


Many startups describe what it is that they do in terms of the products or technology they provide.


But, as each brand makeover demonstrated, product-centric branding is only so effective. When a startup is ready to for real growth, their brand must reflect customer-centric ideals.


This begins with the audience being served, and working backwards to design an identity and a message that speaks directly to them - in their language, and addressing their problems, first.


3. Simple and approachable is best


For many of these startups, the biggest change to their original messaging came in the form of simplification.


These agencies know through their work with consumer brands worldwide that less is often more, especially when a consumer is faced with a new brand for the first time. Buyers (and all humans for that matter) make a split-second judgement call. That moment of truth is where the power of a good brand comes into play - and where the danger of complex, confusing branding creates problems.


Throughout the evening we saw taglines shortened, websites streamlined, and jargon/buzzwords banished. Each agency helped to make their startup clients more approachable, their mission and value clear, and their relevance to the buyer easy to understand.


4. Startups need a cohesive brand narrative


Many startups will cobble together their initial attempts at branding using an affordably-made logo, accessible Wordpress template, and whatever free stock imagery they can access. (Resourcefulness is the name of the game for early-stage businesses, right?) But for those companies seeking to grow, a cohesive brand narrative is a paramount component of building a business.


Each pitch tonight featured a narrative that reflected the brand’s founding story, values, personality, beliefs, and identity. The art of articulating all of this in a set of imagery, colors, and copy is exactly what makes this profession so difficult - and what made each pitch so impressive.




Brandathon 2017 was special - the energy and passion of both brands and agencies were on full display. Nearly every startup here knew the biggest problem they faced in this nascent stage of their businesses was creating awareness, and for each of them, a cohesive brand is an invaluable gift, as it serves as a launch pad for all future growth.


Diane Hessan, Brandathon Committee Chairperson summarized it best, sharing in her introduction, "when I founded my own company, the idea that I could have this level of access to the great, creative agencies of Boston was simply incomprehensible.”


This was an event that really could have only happened here in Boston, reflecting this city’s unique mix of entrepreneurial strength and world-class marketing fortitude.

See you in 2018.



Being Heard in a World of B2B Kardashian Brands

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Being Heard in a World of B2B Kardashian Brands

You know them - the “Kardashian brands" of the business world.

These are tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Tesla, Slack and Apple that make headlines anytime an intern sneezes.

At least it feels that way.





It’s the power of the name. Publishers know if they put “Kardashian” in an Instagram post or article headline they’ll see an increase in traffic, clicks, follows, likes, shares, comments, and all the other things modern media needs to stay viable and earn ad revenue today.

In business press, these aforementioned "Kardashian brands" seem to carry the same clout as America’s royal family, nearly guaranteeing traffic and boosting view counts. What’s old Zuck up to this week?

Despite the obvious fact that their tech impacts billions of people every day, another contributing factor may just be that former Google PR leaders now work at Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, Square, Uber, Lyft, Yahoo, Pinterest and Snapchat -- a fascinating diaspora. Read more here.


There is value where there is attention and buzz.

... especially if you’re operating a media business. Facebook has cracked this code, making $9.16B in ad revenue last quarter alone based on its ability to serve up the kind of timely, instant news and content cycle that users crave.

Pubs that cover politics are reaping the benefits of a highly-engaged readership now more than ever as readers share their content as a way of defining belief systems and political leanings.

Please, some empathy for the journalist in 2017.

I don’t mean to knock the newsroom workers or journalists who cover these brands.

My friend, the brilliant communications strategist Katelyn Holbrook recently spoke at a General Assembly event on PR.




She explained what it’s like to be a journalist in 2017. (A little empathy goes a long way in understanding what’s going on here.)

Many newsrooms are shrinking, with fewer staff and yet more responsibilities than ever to create enough content to keep up with traffic demands (huh, sounds a lot like marketing.)

The news cycle is constant, yet fleeting, with events happening in 24/7 real-time. Our trade press is declining (RIP) as brands have become content hubs of their own, and trust in the media varies by source.

It’s a difficult time to be writing for the press. The institution of “media” has given way a bit to other platforms for discovering news and discussing ideas and opinions. This is one of the major shifts that’s rocked the world of communications, PR, and B2B digital marketing, and created an opening for a new role - buzz builder.

Buzz - the evolution of PR.

In my POV, PR has evolved to a more ambiguous discipline of buzz-building, which involves a highly orchestrated combination of tactics (like anything else, any tactic that exists in a silo doesn't work.)

“Buzz” just may be the evolution of PR in an age of digital marketing.

You could consider buzz-building as the new intersection of thought leadership, content marketing, social media, awards, speaking, influencer and media engagement, and events. But to be honest, every company features a different application of these tactics depending on their industry, staffing, budget, experience, and expertise.



As I wrote in Samantha Stone’s Unleash Possible (named a top 25 must-read marketing book this summer!):

"Creating buzz is a continuous and very intentional,strategic act of positioning your brand as a trusted resource in your industry, of raising the profile of your executives and brand stewards to a position ofauthority, and of earning air cover while your business does what it needs to do - grow. It takes into account who matters in your space, what they’re talking about, and works with timely precision to insert your brand message into that narrative."

And when it works, it amplifies.

Great buzz commands attention, changes narratives, and creates a platform upon which to build relationships, drive sales, secure funding, or hire great talent. Buyers don’t do business with companies they’ve never heard of, and with those they do not trust. Creating the right kind of buzz impacts both.

The challenge for B2B brands.

Ok coming back down to Earth for a minute… Kardashian brands like Google fueling traffic for ad-revenue-dependent media companies has created a paradox for smaller organizations.

Brands need attention to grow, but it’s never been harder to break through.

This has been true for every team I’ve been part of. In my career I’ve worked primarily with B2B companies from 2 to 200 people. I like startups. I’m drawn to their pace of growth. These companies are full of ambiguity and ambition rolled into one ugly beautiful mess of a job.

The ones that have broken through all the Kardashian clutter look similar.

They want to grow, create change, and punch above their weight.

They’re ascending brands.




You’re an ascending B2B brand if you demonstrate continued growth and momentum, punch above your weight against often larger competition or bigger ideas, and operate with a sense of ambition that is reflected in the thoughts you put into the world.

Ascending brands are those who earn buzz.

As I wrote recently in Chief Marketer Magazine, “Merit alone does not a market leader make.”

Some still believe that a remarkable product alone is enough to earn customers and grow over time. That's simply not the case, not even for a tool touted as a model for modern-day organic SaaS growth, Slack.

This company's very famous founder, Stewart Butterfield (who once founded Flickr), brought strong media contacts to his new role at Slack. The company invested heavily in content and social (see their Medium posts.) Combine this with their strong product/market fit, smart and pervasive integration strategy with hundreds of tools (my favorite is /giphy), and boom... The holy grail of buzz that results in awareness, word of mouth, 1.25M paid users, 4M active daily users, and a casual $4B valuation. Read more about Slack's journey in this excellent post.

But, we’re not all Slack, and we’re all not likely benefitting from the diaspora of Google’s PR team infiltrating our ranks.

Maybe that’s why the majority of our B2B buyers are disappointed in the quality of insights produced by companies. 56% of executives in a LinkedIn / Edelmen study said they do not gain valuable insights from the “thought leadership” they consume. When it’s good, it works. 45% of these execs report that thought leadership has directly led them to decide to do business with a company.

If you’re not a "Kardashian brand," your best chance at breaking through, earning attention, and convincing buyers to trust you is to become really really good at creating the right kind of buzz.

Get people talking about your ideas, start to change how others see their own world. Act like an ascending brand.

When I worked for a PR industry luminary, Maura Fitzgerald, one of the most consistent pieces of advice I heard her give to marketing leaders, CEOs, and founders was that they needed to behave like the kind of company they wanted to become.

The late poet Leonard Cohen (RIP) said it another way “Act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act.”

If you want to be a market leader, act like a market leader.

If you want to disrupt the market, act like a disruptive brand.

Market leaders and disruptive brands set the agenda of their space – not only in what features they build, but how the market thinks and talks about their category. These brands have the ability to influence the overall narrative because they are confident in their point of view, and highly strategic in how they make that POV heard.

"Displacement technologies compete with incumbents on the same buying parameters. Disruptive companies change the way a buyer thinks about solving their need. Most SaaS products today are displacers."
Tomasz Tunguz, VC at Redpoint


In spaces that are fast-moving and full of confusion (hello, MarTech) – ascending brands are those who continuously lead with assurance in their world view. They are relentless in their ability to publish opinions, thought leadership, and guidance that create a kind of crescendo effect as their ideas take hold.

Important note: Ascending brands don’t achieve continued momentum without a killer, solid, remarkable product. Nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing, as the saying goes.

In contrast, descending brands sit still, off the radar. They stagnate. To stakeholders like prospective buyers, investors, and partners, if you’re not seen to be growing or otherwise moving in the right direction, you’re doomed.

Momentum, in business, is everything. Descending brands are dangerous.

To compete for attention with "Kardashian brands," make sure the world knows you’re an ascending brand.


Let’s talk about this -  Join me at Connect to Convert, August 21-23 in New York Cityor the upcoming MarketingProfs B2B Forum, October 3-6 in Boston. I'll be discussing this paradox for ascending B2B brands, and sharing some ideas that have worked in the past.

I’m continually fascinated by the concept of authority, leadership, and attention. What gets people talking about an idea? What earns a buyer’s very limited focus and head space? Who shapes their opinions and informs their point of view? It’s a very powerful position to be in - and I welcome a conversation (or, you know, a non-troll comment here) on this topic if you’ve got something to share.

Feel free to reach out at


Every week I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me. Get on the list.

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