Hypocrisy and Brand Purpose

The more I help large enterprises with the design of their marketing (or content marketing, which is the same thing) strategies, the more I’m concerned about the race to find – sometimes to invigorate – new socially-acceptable, ethically-sustainable brand purposes. Enterprises that have done business, more or less ethically, more or less successfully, in the last decades, are now discovering that having a brand purpose might boost revenue, especially within the new generations of consumers – Millennials and GenZ.

I cannot hold back a smile every single time I hear words like: “Our audience has to understand our new brand purpose” or “It’s time to rethink our North Star”. If you had no brand purpose until today – and still run a successful business – why should you think about a new brand purpose NOW?

Maybe because, as Hanneke Faber, President for Europe at Univelver, points out, brand with brand purpose are destined to grow at much faster rate that brands without a noble promise. I might argue that all analysis presented by Ms. Faber are vague and without analytic foundations. Mark Ritson does a better job, here.

But let’s assume for a moment that the Unilever’s exec is right; still, the journey to an genuine brand purpose is full of dangers:

  1. By definition, brand purpose should be authentic; which means the purpose is supposed to have preceded the products and should represent the center of gravity of that enterprise’s activities; this is far from happening, in 99% of the cases;
  2. The reality is that most consumers (yeah, even young generations) don’t give a shit about brands, and as a consequence, about their purposes;
  3. Finally, we/consumers are not idiots; we can still feel the hypocrisy of selecting a purpose while ultimately pushing it for pure financial benefit.

Yet, there are some brands that are genuinely purpose-driven. Think at Patagonia, for example, where the purpose has always preceded the products, since its foundation – I will spend some time on Patagonia at the end of the post. Mark Ritson estimates “they (brand-purpose led companies) consist of about 0.2% of the world’s brands. The rest are commercially driven operations that are not necessarily evil, and often take a responsible approach to packaging and other business challenges, but are not in a position to intervene on major societal issues”. A sad scenario.

And so, let’s have a look at these authentic brands. My list is definitively not comprehensive. Still, it provides a good overview about enterprises who are embracing the brand purpose mantra; and all the lies they are telling us.

Starbucks, inspiring human spirit?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: Inspire and nurture the human spirit. One person, one cup and one neighbour at a time. 
  • The reality: Starbucks tells us its brand purpose is to build community, while doing everything it can to minimise its tax payments. Last year Starbucks paid 2.8% of taxes: exactly £ 4.5m on £ 162m profit. And we all know the the best way to inspire the human spirit one neighbour at a time is paying local taxes, right? Actuall, we’re just happy with a good coffee experience, too.

Volkswagen, environmentally sound?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: the Group’s goal is to offer attractive, safe and environmentally sound vehicles which can compete in an increasingly tough market and set world standards in their respective class.
  • The reality: Volkswagen intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing which caused the vehicles’ output to meet US standards during regulatory testing, but emit up to 40 times more poisonous toxins in real-world driving. The folks at Volkswagen deployed this programming software in about eleven million cars worldwide, including 500,000 in the United States, in model years 2009 through 2015.These toxins which were partially responsible for the death or disability of hundreds of people. 
  • The reality/2: Volkswagen itself continues to insist that although eight million cars sold in Europe were also fitted with defeat devices, they were not needed to pass more lenient EU emissions tests and therefore it has committed no crime in the EU. Weren’t environmentally sound vehicles???

Siemens, ethical and responsible?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: Being Responsible – Excellent – Innovative, with responsible meaning that the company is committed to ethical and responsible actions.
  • The reality: Really? Siemens ended one of the biggest corporate corruption probes in history when it agreed in 2008 to pay about 1 billion euros in fines and penalties after investigations by U.S. and German authorities into bribes it paid to win contracts.

State Street and the diversity?

Google and accessible data?

Cadbury and the generous principles?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: Cadbury launched a new purpose-filled positioning in 2018, to “shine a light on the kindness and generosity that we see in society”; it re-launched its global brand positioning as a “family brand founded on generous principles”.
  • The reality: Cadbury manages to pay zero corporation tax, for the seventh consecutive year. The company, which is a subsidiary of US giant Mondelez International, recorded a 740% jump in profit for the year to 31 December 2017, with turnover rising to £1.66bn from £1.65bn. Yes, very generous principles behind Cadbury’s actions.

Audi and the equal pay?

  • Mission statement/brand purpose: Spent millions on a feminist Super Bowl spot last year, which proclaimed: “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work.”. In the ad, a father watches his daughter in a downhill cart race and thinks about whether she is being judged based on her gender. At the core of the ad is whether she will be paid less than a man, despite her talents.
  • The reality: No women sit on Audi’s Management Board and its 14 person American executive team only has two women. In the press release for the Super Bowl ad, the car company said it was publicly committed to supporting women’s pay equality and pointed out that half of the candidates for its graduate internship program must be female. Rather than avoiding the conflict Audi has responded to negative commentsgenerating even more criticisms.

Yet, there are some brands that are genuinely purpose-driven, as I mentioned already.  Take Patagonia: it helped create a national park, its supply chain boasts fair trade certified wages, organic cotton, traceable down, and responsibly sourced merino wool. What is absolutely clear is that Patagonia’s CEO Yvon Chouinard’s experiment – an experiment that may be possible only because Patagonia is not publically traded – is like nothing that has come before, and therefore deserves our closest attention.

But beside individual cases like Patagonia, what is generating this recent proliferation in term of brand purpose? Are we marketers overestimating our roles in our audience’s life? Is this the reason why we’re creating so many cases of disgraceful brand promises?

While we might do not discuss company’s rights to (legally) reduce tax bills we still suggest to not associate it with brand purpose exercises and pretend that consumers believe in its genuineness.

It’s just a way to boost your profits, and we all know it.

Reference list

When did marketers become so ashamed of managing brands? https://www.marketingweek.com/2018/09/21/mark-ritson-marketers-ashamed-managing-brands/

Interbrand 2018 top brand list https://www.interbrand.com/best-brands/best-global-brands/2018/ranking/

Stop propping up brand purpose with contrived data and hypocrisy https://www.marketingweek.com/2018/07/25/mark-ritson-brand-purpose-contrived-data-hypocrisy/

I’ll have my lamb without the lecture on the side, thanks https://www.theage.com.au/opinion/ill-have-my-lamb-without-the-lecture-on-the-side-thanks-20170117-gtt0hl.html

Obsess over your brand conviction, not brand purposehttps://mumbrella.com.au/obsess-over-your-brand-conviction-not-brand-purpose-517471

How millennials’ taste for authenticity is disrupting powerful brands https://www.ft.com/content/09271178-6f29-11e8-92d3-6c13e5c92914

The Long and the Short of it. And the implications for Content and Storytelling

If I think about the brands I’ve been working with or consulting in the last few years, the majority of them in the B2B tech space, short-term sales activation (or leadgen, as we B2B marketers are used to call it) has always been first priority. Enterprises invested most of the money in short-term, bottom of the funnel, campaigns – and related content – in the hope to lift sales for the next few quarters. I had a similar priority when I led marketing for division of a large enterprise in the field of Energy. Brand was not a focus. Short-term activation campaigns and sales programs were successful in most of the cases. At least, this is what I (and most marketers) thought.

The latest research of Les Binet and Peter FieldEffectiveness in Context, analyses hundreds campaigns of the IPA Databank, with a focus on marketing effectiveness.

According to Binet and Field, marketing effectiveness is in decline and “short-termism” is, in many ways, the mother of all marketing problem. What exactly happened? As I have mentioned, marketers are increasingly short-term in their focus. They spend money on immediate sales activation rather than longer-term brand building. They opt for bottom-of-the-funnel tactics because in a one-year time period that will pay better in the majority of the cases. But in one of the most important sections of their research, Field and Binet demonstrate that over the longer term this short-termism will rapidly deteriorate the overall impact of marketing. Too much time spent picking the low-hanging fruit means less time watering the tree. Eventually the tree stops growing.

Also, distracted by a continuous flow of short-term data, marketers won’t realise that something eventually will go wrong. And when they will, it could be too late.

Field and Binet demonstrate that over the longer term this short-termism will rapidly deteriorate the overall impact of marketing.

There are additional notable discoveries mentioned on the latest research:

  • Online brands tend to pursue short-term sales activation effects more than offline brands because of the availability of clients
  • Brands in high online research categories (financial services, durables, etc.) tend to follow online brands and pursue short-term sales activation effects because it’s easier to activate responses
  • Marketers in subscription-based selling brands (eg. mobile network operators, software brands) have diverted expenditure away from brand-building comms

Based on my experience I would add: most of the B2B tech brands tend to prioritise short-term strategies too, because of the easier availability of clients online.

“The digital revolution tends to leading to increased activation efficiency and so a higher proportion should go to brand. It seems paradoxical, but what’s happening in the digital world means you need to build that brand even more,” Binet says. “Online brands that sell or reach online need a higher percentage of their spend going to brand building because they already have direct channels to conversion. Digital realisation is leading to increased distribution efficiency, so more emphasis needs to be on brand.”

B2B tech brands tend to prioritise short-term strategies because of the easier availability of clients online.

Same for brands in high online search categories, same for tech brands, same for financial subscription-based brands, same for all enterprises that have neglected long-term brand awareness strategies.

As a consequence, content creation has focused mainly on bottom-of-the-funnel and product (or service)-focused content to support short-term sales activation programs. In most of the cases a solid and documented content strategy was even not requested and not in place. You don’t necessarily need a content strategy for executing short-term sales activation campaigns.

Now, Field and Binet advise a combined brand awareness and sales activation strategy, in order to reach the maximum of marketing effectiveness. They advise a 60/40 split for optimum impact across many different categories, which means you are supposed to invest at least 60% of your budget in long-term brand awareness and 40% on more immediate sales activation. And there may be variance in this balance from sector to sector; for instance the financial sector is the one where brand building looks being more important. 

You don’t necessarily need a content strategy for executing sort-term sales activation campaigns.

Brand communications create enduring memory structures that increase the base level of demand and reduce price sensitivity. Sales activation triggers these memories and converts them efficiently into immediate sales.” Binet says. 

Brand building and sales activation are not choices or alternatives – they are mutually interdependent and both are essential to long-term success. The authors explain that sales activation style marketing is about growing physical availability, and is best served by tight targeting and relevant messages. In contrast, brand building is about increasing a consumer’s mental availability for your brand, and is driven by broad reach, stories, emotions and associations.

The ideal scenario would be executing integrated brand awareness and sales activation programs. And here is where content strategy and tactics as storytelling will come into play. Top-of-the-funnel content and storytelling will fuel brand awareness and its need to build enduring memories; medium and bottom-of-the-funnel content will feed the immediate need for sales activation programs. The money is in the memories – and content is at the core of them.

How Visual Design Can Improve Content Marketing

Visual Design

Technology and consumer preferences are continuously evolving but we often forget that some core principles of visual perception and human psychology remain always the same. After all, humans are visual creatures: half of the human brain is directly or indirectly devoted to processing visual information and have a remarkable ability to remember pictures.

But, how do users scan a website or a content hub and on which page location do they spend the majority of time while visiting them? Also, how can we secure that our site structure and layout facilitate content consumption? 

This is the third post of my series about psychology and design: so far, I have written about how to use the principles of psychology to better understand your audience and improve design & content marketing and how colors psychology can affect human behavior. This time we will focus on core principles of visual perception and how we view and process visual information. Understanding these core principles will represent an unquestionable benefit for content marketers.

Nielsen Norman Group’s F pattern

Regardless of geographies and cultural background, most of the users generally consumes content from the top down, and the majority reads from left to right. Readers will rarely commit to reading every word on a website; they typically scan web content as quickly as they can to determine if they want to dive deeper.

Understanding core principles of visual design will represent an unquestionable benefit for content marketers.

In 2006, a study conducted by Nielsen Norman Group examined eye-tracking visualizations on different types of web pages: an ‘about’ page, product pages on eCommerce websites and Google search results page. They found that the human brain commonly scans content in two distinct patterns; users typically read web pages following two full horizontal stripes followed by a vertical movement. For text-heavy pages such as blog posts, or pages with consistent blocks of images, such as product listings, scanning behavior consistently happens in an F pattern. The implications of this reading behavior have been written about and have extensively influenced website design.

‘F’ Pattern

The F-shaped pattern is characterized by many elements concentrated at the top and the left side of the page. Specifically:

  1. Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top horizontal bar.
  2. Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower horizontal bar.
  3. Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eye-tracking heatmap. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.

The F-shaped pattern describes people’s behavior when they visit a web page and assess its content, not their behavior when they are in a new section of the website and inspect the navigation bars (typically at the top and/or left of the page) to decide where to go next. 

Throughout the years, because of the increased prevalence of mobile apps as well as mobile web browsing, changes in content formats, innovative use of CTAs, and a relevant transformation in the display of search engine results, Neil Patel has argued that the F-shaped pattern “isn’t a commonality anymore”. Patel states that there are a couple of major mistakes in accepting the F-shaped pattern from 2006:

  • Our reading habits, search engines and technology have tremendously evolved in the last 12 years. Mobile and social media are now the core means of content consumption
  • The “F-shape” wasn’t really pixel-perfect behavior. In the study itself, it was found that users also read in an E or inverted L shape. 

NNGroup’s recently conducted a new eye tracking research showing that the F-shaped scanning pattern is alive and well in today’s world – both on desktop and on mobile. In addition to the F-shaped pattern, there are many other possible scanning patterns, including spotted pattern (consisting of skipping big chunks of text and scanning as if looking for something specific, such as a link, digits, a particular word or a set of words with a distinctive shape) or marking pattern (which involves keeping the eyes focused in one place as the mouse scrolls or finger swipes the page, like a dancer fixates on an object to keep balance as she twirls). Marking happens more on mobile than on desktop.

How can you incorporate this concept into your website or product to improve UX and gain conversions?

It’s common practice for web designers to craft their pages explicitly around these psychological behaviors. As both patterns begin the same way, it’s a smart choice to position your most important information in the top left

You’ll notice that logos are usually placed at the top-left corner of the page. On the opposite side, there are sign-up/sign-in options. Then, as eyes make their way to the middle, visitors are directed to look at products. The end points typically warrant a CTA for further action. Using these psychologic tendencies and scanning patterns to your advantage will not only help you entice users to explore your platform, but also effectively guide their subconscious decision-making process down the sales funnel toward a conversion.

When writers and designers have not taken any steps to direct the user to the most relevant, interesting, or helpful information, users will then find their own path. In the absence of any signals to guide the eye, they will choose the path of minimum effort and will spend most of their focus close to where they start reading – which again is usually the most top left word on a page of text. It’s not that people will always scan the page in the shape of an F. Although years of reading have likely trained people into thinking that more important content comes before less important content, no user really feels that the content has been arranged so the most important things appear in an F shape. The F-pattern becomes the default pattern when there are no strong cues to attract the eyes towards meaningful information.

It’s hard to control people’s motivation or their goals, but you can optimize content and presentation so that users can find what they need quickly. In particular, use good web-formatting techniques to draw attention to the most important information instead of relying on the arbitrary words that people may fixate on when they scan in an F-shape.

Mobile users

Reading web content on the smaller screen is an altogether different experience than reading on desktops. A mobile user also has the chance to physically interact with your web content by touching and tapping the screen – which, for example, is one of the reasons that make social media so engaging on mobile.

The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (GRCAI) conducted a study to find out how users read text passages on a mobile touchscreen device. They found the following reading pattern among the participants. It’s clear that the left side of the screen still gets major attention. Also, they classified the readers into three categories (and this categorization was confirmed by other studies, e.g. the iPhone reading eye-tracking investigation that was conducted by SensoMotoric Instruments to find out how users read and navigate mobile news applications and websites):

  • Scanners – the majority. Almost 58% of users scanned content
  • Navigators – 38% only read the headlines,
  • Reader – Only 5% actually read the content

As an implication, if a majority of your audience visits your digital proprieties from mobile, then it is suggested to rethink your web content strategy.


As a data-driven marketer, you should know there are many tools at your disposal to discover your site’s particular viewing patterns.

These include software solutions for eye trackingrecording user behaviorheat maps, click maps, scroll maps, and funnel visualizations

Regardless of the screen size, what appears at the top of a web page will always influence user experience. The difference in how users treat information above vs. below the fold is 84%.

I don’t encourage you to place a call-to-action (CTA) above-the-fold if your value proposition is complex. Your CTA placement should depend on your product complexity, among other factors. Instead, use compelling content and visuals to encourage users to scroll. Interesting information, at the top of the page, that builds a story gives users a good reason to navigate to the bottom of your website.

In case the majority of your audience visits your blog from mobile, here are some tips for crafting engaging content for the smaller screen:

  • Stick with essential info – It’s 108% harder to understand content when reading on mobile. So don’t overload your posts with irrelevant information. Mobile users have little patience and lesser visible context. 
  • Make your writing tighter, well-formatted and entertaining. And, prioritize your information with progressive disclosure, using accordions.
  • Above-the-fold (the top section of the screen) is the most precious piece – On the mobile screen, it’s extremely important to keep the user’s attention from the beginning. The immediately visible part of the screen, including your headline and introductory paragraph, should be compelling. Shorter headlines work better, as they would be clearly visible above-the-fold and can be viewed in a snap.

So, a good mobile user experience and nailing user intent are critical for gaining visibility in mobile search results. 

I hope that you can use this information to better design your content marketing strategy.

Featured Image by Harpal Singh

How to Make Video a Better Part of Your Content Strategy

Branded video

Note: this post has been originally published on MarTech Series online mag.

By all accounts, video is the future of content marketing. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, it will account for 80 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2019. But just because video is popular doesn’t mean brands know how to do it well. Branded video can only be as great as the strategy behind it.

Video content is simply one tactic that has to be part of a wider marketing strategy. Regardless of what tactics you choose, a strong strategy starts with your audience. Do you want to reach people in a particular industry? A certain title? Does geography matter? Your team should also grapple with audience data including surfing habits, time spent on-site and preferred devices, long before anyone takes the lens cap off a camera. When brands reach that point, then video can be an effective way to engage people through emotion and narrative.

As a tool, video is optimal for specific objectives like brand awareness and lead generation. These goals translate well to quick explainer videos and short interviews or profiles. But the format does have several weaknesses. For example, it’s not an ideal tool for conveying a lot of complex or detailed information, especially in technical B2B fields.

As long as your strategy is balanced, that’s OK. It’s become commonplace for companies to “pivot” to video at the expense of all other content programs, but a valuable idea can live across different formats. A finance company can create a top-of-funnel video about people saving for retirement and then drill down on different retirement options in a more detailed e-book. That approach will also prevent Scope Creep from draining time and talent away from the rest of your marketing content.

Once an audience is defined and a strategy has been designed, marketers can turn to distribution. If you’re going to spend a considerable amount of money and dozens of hours on a creative video project, you can’t just post it on your blog and expect everyone to find it. Video has started to dominate social platforms and mobile engagement. Per comScore, the average user watches more than 40 minutes of YouTube videos a day on mobile devices. So, whether you’re using Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter or a combination, there’s a growing audience for your clips. The trick is that each platform draws different people with different desires and expectations. You have to study the algorithms to learn what kind of videos get prioritized.

Finally, if you want to stay one step ahead for the future of video, revisit that audience you outlined in your original strategy. The way we consume content is moving more and more toward video, GIFs, animation, motion graphics and audio. The growing sophistication of technologies like virtual reality, voice recognition, and artificial intelligence means we will soon interact with screens very differently than we once did. For marketers to keep being successful with video content, they must continue to adapt to the changing landscape.

Featured Image by Kushagra Kevat

Psychology, Design and Content Marketing

Psychology of Colors

My second post about #Psychology, #Design and #ContentMarketing is now live.  

After the study of behaviors – Elaboration Likeliwood Model, Fogg Behavior Model – and Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, I investigate here psychology of colors and the impact they have on branding and content marketing across different geographies.

How to apply psychology to design and content marketing (and attract audience’s attention)


As a content marketer, I have always considered design as the best friend of content. Can better design bring more conversions and content consumption? The simple answer is yes.

In the past, when working on the creation of hubs, blogs, newsletters and content destinations of known international firms, I discovered though that design principles were not as simple and straightforward as I imagined; I realized I was going beyond the boundaries of content marketing, touching a new ‘undiscovered’ domain.

Why do web visitors and content consumers behave the way they do? What can drive readers’ behavior and facilitate content consumption? I realized soon enough that the domain I was investigating was no longer content strategy: it was psychology. Even better, it was psychology applied to content and design with the objective to facilitate and attract visitors’ attention.

Other questions came soon to my mind. How can I apply psychology to content and design? Isn’t persuasion a bad word, or even a dark art? And what does it look like to design without considering users’ psychology? Continue reading “How to apply psychology to design and content marketing (and attract audience’s attention)”

Global Content Marketing and Localisation: 3 Business Strategy Frameworks

Global Content Marketing Strategy

Original post has been published here by Maël Roth. Maël is a Global Content Marketing Strategist and this is his blog.

Going global with content marketing sounds easy (just translate it, right?) but it actually takes a lot more preparation than you might expect. In this post, we’ll have a look at three frameworks with which you’ll be better prepared if you want to conquer a foreign market with your content. Continue reading “Global Content Marketing and Localisation: 3 Business Strategy Frameworks”

The Global Marketer’s Guide to User-Generated Content

Modern buyers are more educated and connected than ever before—making it increasingly difficult for marketers to capture their attention. As such, the traditional content marketing strategies of the past just won’t cut it anymore. So, what’s a marketer to do? Enter user-generated content.

User-generated content—or UGC—is exactly what it sounds like: content created by users. For brands, users are people who interact with your brand or products in some capacity but aren’t professionally affiliated with your company.

The difference between UGC and more traditional marketing tactics is that UGC relies on your customers to promote your brand, rather than doing it yourself.

Why Are Global Marketers Turning to User-Generated Content?

For global marketers it’s difficult to find one type of content that performs across all demographics, locations, and markets. This is largely due to the fact that each audience has a different set of buying habits, pain points, motivators, and other contributing factors.

The beauty of UGC is that it’s created by the customer for the customer. It naturally transcends the barriers that stand in the way of traditional content types—think language, cultural differences, and more.   Consider these statistics:

  • 41% of consumers only need to see between 1 and 4 pieces of UGC to be influenced to purchase (source) whereas 47% of consumers need to see 3 to 5 pieces of traditional content to even speak with a sales rep (source).
  • UGC is 35% more memorable than any other media and 50% more trusted (source).
  • UGC results in 29% higher web conversions than campaigns or websites without it (source).

Looking for more reasons to jump on the UGC bandwagon? Keep reading.

Continue reading “The Global Marketer’s Guide to User-Generated Content”