Monthly Archives: June 2016

Facebook to Change News Feed to Focus on Friends and Family: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

The goal of Facebook’s News Feed is to show people the stories that are most relevant to them. That’s no small task when you have over 1.65 billion people to keep happy and over 1,500 stories per day to prioritize for each of those individual users. Now, Facebook has announced one of their most significant News Feed shuffles.

On Wednesday, Facebook shared that the News Feed algorithm is going to shift so that it will more favorably promote content posted by the friends and family of users.

These changes are likely to mean that content posted by brands and publishers will show up less prominently in News Feeds. In the announcement, the company explained their priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to – starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook.

Back in April 2015, Facebook made a similar algorithm update trying to ensure that stories posted directly by the friends you care about will be higher up in News Feed, so you are less likely to miss them. But based on feedback, Facebook understands that people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends.

This update is likely to affect all types of content posted by brands and publishers, including links, videos, live videos and photos. Facebook said it anticipates that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for many Pages who’s traffic comes directly through Page posts.

The update will have less of an impact, however, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it. Links or Page content shared by friends or content your friends interact with frequently will still appear higher in the feed.

For example, the post from my personal Facebook account (on the right below) would be more likely to appear above the post from Buffer’s Page (on the left) in the News Feed:


What do users expect from the News Feed?

Facebook’s success is built on getting people the stories that matter to them most.

To help make sure you don’t miss the friends and family posts you are likely to care about, Facebook try to put those posts toward the top of your News Feed. The News Feed learns and adapts over time based on the content you interact with the most, too. For example, if you tend to like photos from your sister, they’ll start putting her posts closer to the top of your feed so you won’t miss what she posted while you were away.

Facebook research has also shown that, after friends and family, people have two other strong expectations when they come to News Feed:

  • The News Feed should inform. People expect the stories in their feed to be meaningful to them – and we have learned over time that people value stories that they consider informative. Something that one person finds informative or interesting may be different from what another person finds informative or interesting – this could be a post about a current event, a story about your favorite celebrity, a piece of local news, or a recipe. Facebook’s algorithm is always trying to better understand what is interesting and informative to you personally, so those stories appear higher up in your feed.
  • The News Feed should entertain. Facebook also found that people enjoy their feeds as a source of entertainment. For some people, that’s following a celebrity or athlete; for others,  it’s watching Live videos and sharing funny photos with their friends. Again, the company’s News Feed algorithm tries to understand and predict what posts on Facebook you find entertaining to make sure you don’t miss out on those.

The makeup of a successful social network (and why this update is essential for Facebook)

Despite its venture into publishing and partnerships with large news and entertainment brands, at its heart, Facebook is still a place for friends. And without solidifying our connections with those closest to us, Facebook could face struggles to keep its 1.65 billion monthly active users coming back.

To understand the inner-workings of social networks and what makes us keep using them, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology studied networks like Friendster and Myspace with the goal of figuring out what factors can be detrimental to a social network.

As explained over at Wired:

They found that when the time and effort (the costs) associated with being a member of a social network outweigh the benefits, then a decline in users becomes likely. If one person leaves, their friends become more likely to leave and as more people leave, this can lead to a cascading collapse in membership.

Networks like Friendster and Myspace were the Facebook of their day. Both had tens, and eventually hundreds, of millions of registered users, but what the study found is that the bonds between users weren’t particularly strong. Many users had very few close connections, and it appears there’s a direct correlation between how connected we feel to our friends and family and our affiliation with each network.

If Facebook users are worried about missing important updates from the people they care about most, then their affiliation with the network could begin to decline as they find other ways to stay connected. And once user begins to leave, or become un-engaged, it could have a waterfall effect on the network. David Garcia, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, explains:

“First the users in the outer cores start to leave, lowering the benefits of inner cores, cascading through the network towards the core users, and thus unraveling.”

You can see how a social network unravels in the below graphic (Friendster is used in the image):


For Facebook, the News Feed is the most integral part of their product to make us feel connected with those we care about. And as such, it’s important for Facebook to keep the content we want to see the most at the top of the feed.

How will this update impact business Pages?

The changes will affect all types of content posted by Pages, including links, videos, live videos and photos.

In their “News Feed Values” shared alongside this announcement, Facebook made it clear that content from friends and family will come first. And the company also highlighted the importance of authentic communication and being inclusive of all perspectives and view points without favoring specific kinds of sources – or ideas.

We expect that this update may cause organic post reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The impact will vary for every page and will greatly depend on the composition of your audience or the way in which your content is shared on Facebook. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts.

As with all Facebook algorithm updates, it may take a little time to determine exactly what will continue to work and how to increase organic reach (though Facebook feels like it’s shifting more towards a pay-to-play market for businesses). 

One tactic that could become increasingly important is the amplification of brand content. With Facebook favoring content shared by users rather than Pages, it feels essential to find new and innovative ways to encourage your audience to share your content directly to Facebook. Ensuring your content is discoverable away for the Facebook News Feed could be another key play as well.

It also feels important to keep a focus on what people are looking for from the News Feed. As mentioned earlier, aside from friends and family, Facebook users turn to the News Feed to be informed and entertained. With those goals in mind, it’s worth thinking about how the content you create for Facebook can satisfy those desires.

Over to you

In their announcement, Facebook says their work is “only 1 percent finished” so it feels like there are plenty more twists and turns ahead for the News Feed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this update and how it may affect the way you use Facebook and the types of content your share? Please feel free to leave a comment below and I’m excited to continue the conversation with you. 


Facebook News Feed update: how #Friendmageddon will affect publishers

Facebook has announced a new change to its News Feed algorithm, favouring personal posts over news stories, in an attempt to maintain its personal element. What does this *really* mean for publishers though?

Facebook is all about connecting people with their friends and family and despite attempts to divert from its original concept, it’s not ready yet to leave it aside. That’s why it decided to downplay stories from publishers on users’ news feed, in order to promote more personal stories from their favourite people.

This announcement was not warmly welcomed by publishers, as it means that organic reach will probably drop even more (as if it wasn’t already low) and it will be even more challenging from now on to make it to a user’s news feed.

RIP organic reach?

Organic reach was already on decline over the past few years and even before the latest algorithm change, SocialFlow observed a drop of 42% from January to May, which was alarming for Page managers.

It’s apparent that organic reach was becoming more challenging and only engagement and relevance could improve it. However, if there was already a drop of 42% in posts’ reach from January to May, what could we expect from now on?

SocialFlow organic reach Facebook drop

Image source: SocialFlow

If Facebook is further promoting personal stories over news and brand posts, will we even able to talk about organic reach anymore?

Facebook confirmed in its announcement the possibility of seeing a reduced organic traffic:

“Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts. We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.”

Publishers are starting to worry about the recent change and this brings about the need to re-evaluate their content strategy, in an attempt to maintain a successful Facebook presence.

Aiming for value and relevance

In Facebook’s own words:

“The goal of News Feed is to show people the stories that are most relevant to them.”

It’s not just about promoting personal stories then, but it’s also about highlighting the content that is relevant for every user. This means that Pages may still maintain their organic reach, provided they understand their audience.

It is becoming more important than ever for a publisher (and any Facebook Page) to post informative and relevant content for its audience, in a way that it will maintain engagement and ensure posts are still visible on News Feeds.

More over, shareable content, what we also call ‘viral’, will still be important, as this is the organic way to ensure that a page’s reach is increased. Creative, unique and authentic content is always appreciated and this is the only way to maintain the organic reach in the post-algorithm era.

This may require a more extensive analysis of the Page and each post’s performance, although we assume that native videos will still be more important than other types of content. Facebook was quite clear on its preference of native content so this might be a good start for your experimentation over the forthcoming months.

Buzzfeed Pound data

Source: Buzzfeed Pound data

Pay for traffic

It is inevitable that publishers will follow marketers in the ‘pay to play’ game on Facebook, in order to maintain their reach, but is every publisher able to do so? And what does this mean for smaller sites?

It won’t be an easy task for a small publication to maintain a Facebook presence without paying to promote (or boost) a post. This doesn’t mean that every small publisher should abandon Facebook, but it may become more challenging and there’ll be a need for more creative solutions.

Maybe it’s the right time for every publisher to understand that heavily depending on Facebook for traffic is not working anymore and it might be a good idea to consider further options, or simply to focus on other aspects of content marketing.

A change in news consumption?

A recent survey by Pew Research Center indicated that 62% of US adults are using social media to keep up with the news and Facebook is by far their first choice, with 67% of them using it for their news updates.


Image source: Pew Research Center

After the News Feed update, people won’t see the same amount of news stories on their feed and will ultimately affect the success of publishers’ posts.

Beware, this is not the end for publishers on Facebook, but it does call for more authentic, interesting, appealing, engaging content, rather than circulating the same old story across all publications.

Once again, big publishers will probably be less affected by this update, due to the authority, the budget and the engagement they already have.

People will not stop consuming content through Facebook, all publishers need to do is find is the right way to ‘get access’ to their users’ feeds.

(Hopefully the focus on engagement and virality will not lead to posts of lower quality, simply seeking to grab the audience’s attention)

Boosting the “echo chamber”

Another issue to consider is the filter bubble that Facebook has built over the year and how it only grows bigger with all the updates.

People are exposed to people, posts, stories that are relevant to their interests, their beliefs, their experiences and this ultimately affects their broader perception of the world.

Eli Pariser mentioned in his book ‘The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You‘ back in 2011:

“Your computer monitor is a kind a one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click.”

Meanwhile, Facebook published a post on its News Feed Values and mentions among others:

“Our aim is to deliver the types of stories we’ve gotten feedback that an individual person most wants to see. We do this not only because we believe it’s the right thing but also because it’s good for our business. When people see content they are interested in, they are more likely to spend time on News Feed and enjoy their experience.”

This sums up its concept, the news feed updates and how our news consumption is changing. As more and more people use the platform to keep up with the news, and as Facebook keeps pushing personal and relevant stories, publishers are also becoming part of a changing reality, which affects both the creation, but also the distribution of their future stories.

What’s the next step for publishers on Facebook?

There’s no need to panic (yet) regarding Facebook’s new update, but it may be a good idea to start examining your audience and the reactions your posts trigger, in order to be ready to deal with the new #Friendmageddon.

Every site will feel the need to analyse its current marketing practices, in order to spot the opportunities for further development to maintain the referral traffic that Facebook may offer.

Whether you already have an engaged audience or not, Facebook kindly reminded us once again that nothing is for granted. Time to adjust our social practices once again then.

giphy (69)

Google’s Joris Merks on the importance of leadership for digital transformation

Joris Merks is Head of Digital Transformation, Northern Europe at Google, and works with companies to embed digital-first thinking into their strategies.

He’ll be participating in a Google Squared webinar tomorrow (June 30), looking at how to drive a culture of innovation in your company.

Can you tell us a little about your role at Google?

I am EMEA Head of Curriculum design in the Google Digital Academy team. That means I work with a team and vendors to build workshops and education initiatives that help Google’s advertisers understand what the impact of digital is on their business and help the feel equipped for digital transformation.

What does digital transformation mean to you?

I look at digital transformation as a chain reaction of experiments that continuously helps companies to understand how to make the best use of new technology.

In this way they stay in tune with their customers, who are also using digital technology, keeping their businesses ready for the future.

What should the first steps be in a process of digital transformation?

It starts with a clear vision from company leaders of where technology is going and how that could affect the business.

Then these leaders need to give strong signals to people in the company about which challenges need to be fixed and a culture that rewards experimentation and entrepreneurship needs to be created.

Without this culture, people aren’t very likely to invest in new experiments. This is because any experiment with new technology is always more work and more risk compared to just doing what you always did. People won’t be wiling to pick up more work and risk if there is nothing in it for them or if they might even risk losing their job or bonus when an experiment fails.

Should companies centralise digital functions, or should these be distributed across various teams/departments? What are the pros and cons?

I think it depends on the stage of development a company is in and on the type and size of company. Companies with a digital-focused business model obviously should have centralised digital functions.

Smaller companies tend to have functions where digital and traditional marketing are embedded in the same teams.

Large companies that have heritage in the offline world and are in transformation tend to start out with specialized digital teams, which is good to make sure you ramp up fast enough. However, at some point in the digital transformation new and old teams must break through their silos because they are in the end serving the same customer and should provide a seamless journey across channels.

I believe eventually the differentiation between the two worlds will go away and all marketers will have a digital mindset. For the sake of ramping up fast it can however make sense to have a period where digital is a separate skill set in the organization.

How much of digital transformation is about technology and how much is about culture?

I’d say it is equally important and next to technology and culture there are also factors such as creativity, knowledge, organisational structure and strategic processes.

For example, if new technology arises, creative people are needed to find out what cool and useful things you can do with that technology.

The people that are our creatives and the people that understand tech are however often not the same type of people, so the art is bringing them together to come up with new ideas to experiment with.

The big trap with digital is that it can be treated too much as a technological development and that focus is a lot on data. With that focus digital will always stay a specialism in the company and the company will never have a fully digital mindset.

There are many obstacles facing brands as they examine new digital tactics and technology (e.g. legacy systems). How do you drive digital transformation in such an environment?

I think sometimes big tough decisions need to be made in many areas at the same time. That is definitely true for legacy systems.

For instance brand and digital departments might be using different tools to manage their campaigns. That means you can never have a single view on the customer, which again means you can never be customer friendly in your advertising.

Someone then needs to make the decision to go for one holistic approach. That will require short term investments of time and money but is a crucial decision in order to be ready for the future and not lose your business in the long run.

Those decisions typically require strong leadership and vision. Without that it is very easy to keep focusing on those things that deliver you short term business without making the efforts needed to keep your long term business.

Which companies do you see as great examples of businesses which have embraced digital? What are the common factors in their approaches?

There are many of such examples. I think the key thing they all have in common is strong visionary leaders.

If people we work with find it get stuck in digital transformation, that is almost always because the way they are incentivised, their targets, their bonuses and career opportunities are driven too much by short term business results.

Those are the companies that will one day get an extreme wake up call because a new competitor will come out of nowhere with a new business model using new digital technology in smart ways and winning customers at high speed.

Where does data fit into digital transformation?

Despite the fact that I think the focus has been too much on technology and data, data definitely is becoming more important. I think no one can deny that.

I always advocate the balance between data, mind and heart. Data to measure everything you can measure, mostly the proven successes so you can optimise them further.

Mind is needed to look ahead into the future, assess how your business may be affected by new developments and craft the right experiments to be ready for that future.

Data isn’t very good at helping you with that because data is always based on the past. Even when models make predictions they are always based on past data.  The heart is needed to recognise the moments when someone comes up with a great creative idea of something cool you can do with new technology.

On those moments you shouldn’t ask how much money you will earn from it. If the idea is fundamentally different from anything you tried, you can’t know. If, however, your heart starts pounding, that probably means it is a great idea worth exploring. You can bring the measurement in afterwards, but don’t kill the idea upfront due to lack of good data.

Joris will be taking part in a Google Squared webinar tomorrow, looking at the five fundamental limitations of data that create challenges in digital transformation. You can sign up for the webinar here


17 inspirational examples of data visualization

We can all collect masses of data, but it only becomes genuinely useful when we use it to make a clear point.

This is where data visualization comes in. Showing data in context and using creativity to make that same data tell a story can truly bring the numbers to life.

There are a whole bunch of data visualization tools out there to help create your own, but here are some existing examples for inspiration.

A day in the life of Americans

This excellent visualization from Flowing data uses information from the American Time Use Survey to show what Americans are up to at any time of day.


What streaming services pay artists

This from the wonderful information is beautiful website, looks at how the major online streaming music services compare in terms of paying the musicians.

streaming pay

Two centuries of US immigration

This fantastic visualization from metrocosm shows the various waves of immigration into the United States from the 19th century to the present day.

us immigration

US population trends over time

This gif from the Pew Research Center is a great example of how movement can be used to convey shifts and trends over time.

pew gif

Why you should take the bus

The German town of Münster produced this series of images back in 1991 to encourage bus use. It’s beautifully simple showing the relative impact of the same number of people (72) on bicycles, in cars, or on a bus.


What happens in an internet minute?

This infographic from excelacom presents what happens online in 60 seconds, including:

  • 150 million emails are sent.
  • 1,389 Uber rides.
  • 527,760 photos shared on Snapchat.
  • 51,000 app downloads on Apple’s App Store.
  • $203,596 in sales on


US wind map

This moving visualization shows wind speed and direction in real time.

It looks great and is easy to understand, which is key to effect data visualization. This one comes from

wind map

Daily routines of creative people

I’ve always been pretty cynical about this ‘X things successful people do before breakfast’ stuff – as if by following this, people are suddenly going to become Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein.

However, this one from podio showing daily routines of creative people is very interesting. It won’t turn you into a great composer, but it’s a fascinating insight nonetheless.


The impact of vaccines

This is a series of visualizations from the Wall Street Journal, which shows the impact of vaccines on various infectious diseases.

It’s striking stuff, which clearly demonstrates the incredible positive impact of vaccination programs in the US.

vaccine impact

London food hygeine

This is a great use of freely available data to provide useful information for the public.

london hygeine

The one million tweet map

This uses tweet data to present a geographical representation of where people tweet about topics. The example below is for ‘Brexit‘.

1m tweet map

The fallen of WW2

This, from Neil Halloran is a cross between data visualization and documentary.


There are two versions of this. The video version you can see embedded below, and an interactive version.

People living on earth

A simple but very effective visualization of the world’s population, and the speed at which it increases.


The ultimate data dog

This, again from Information is Beautiful, uses data on the intelligence and other characteristics of dog breeds, plotting this against data on the popularity of various breeds from the American Kennel Club.

data dog

How much did band members contribute to each Beatles album? 

This from Mike Moore, shows the relative writing percentage for each Beatles album, as well as the contribution over time.

The Beatles

A day on the London Underground

From Will Gallia, who used data from a single day’s use of the London underground to produce this timelapse visualization.

Fish Pharm

This is from way back in 2010, and illustrates the fact that antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals are now showing up in fish tissue.


55% of Visitors Read Your Articles For 15 Seconds or Less: Why We Should Focus on Attention Not Clicks

Millions of blog posts are published every day.

A small percentage gain traction and attract readers.

And among those readers, 55% will read the blog post for 15 seconds or less.

(If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with this one!)

The internet is a daily battle for attention. Everywhere you turn, people are trying to share the latest marketing hacks with many of the same points echoed repeatedly.

I’m guilty of it myself, and I completely understand why many of us write articles that are a little similar and repetitive. It’s because they work. You could argue that content is becoming less art and more science. There are formulas to it – if you find the best keywords and write the correct content, you can build a high-traffic blog (that’s almost a guarantee).

But is traffic the goal of content? Or can there be some new and unusual ways of measuring content success? I have some ideas I’d love to share.


Do the surface metrics really matter?

Why pageviews and sessions might be the wrong numbers to chase

Often (and, I’m guilty of this too) you’ll hear someone talk about the success of their content by saying something like: “10,000 people read my post” or “60,000 people saw my video on Facebook.”

But I’ve started to wonder if this is really an accurate measure of successful content?

Even if someone clicks on your article, the likelihood of them taking it all in is very slim. The internet has changed many of our habits. But one thing that hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years is the way we consume content online. Most of us still skim and rarely read a full post.

Many publishers have now started to focus on “attention metrics” alongside more traditional measurements like pageviews. Medium’s Ev Williams explains their stance on which numbers are meaningful:

We pay more attention to time spent reading than number of visitors at Medium because, in a world of infinite content – where there are a million shiny attention-grabbing objects a touch away and notifications coming in constantly – it’s meaningful when someone is actually spending time.

Maybe we need to stop focusing on how we can hack and grow the number of views our content gets. And instead, focus on how we can make each reader care about what we’re saying.

I’d argue that you don’t build a successful blog by accumulating a huge number of page views. Rather, you build a successful blog by creating something of value.

The only way content will drive results for any business is if it provides value to someone else. It’s not necessarily about how many people you reach; it’s how many you connect with. Because when people connect with us, they remember us, come back for more, trust what we have to say, and may eventually buy from us.

When you’re creating great content, you don’t need to live or die by your analytics. Maybe we should let go of our desire to write for everyone in order to skyrocket our pageviews, and instead hone in on sharing what’s unusual, valuable, and unique?


How to measure the value of your content

3 under-used metrics to tell you just how valuable your content is

Value is quite subjective and can be hard to measure. In this section, I’d love to share a few ways we’re starting to measure the value of our content here at Buffer.

1. Run an NPS survey

A Net Promoter Score (NPS) is commonly used to measure loyalty between a brand and a consumer. It can also be a great way to measure the value that your blog is delivering to readers.

You calculate NPS by asking a simple question: How likely is it that you would recommend our blog to a friend or colleague? (Using a 0-10 scale to answer.)

Respondents to the question are then grouped as follows:

  • Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth
  • Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings.
  • Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.

Subtracting the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters yields the Net Promoter Score, which can range from a low of -100 (if every customer is a Detractor) to a high of 100 (if every customer is a Promoter).

This handy graphic from the Net Promoter Network highlights the formula:


By running an NPS survey on your blog you can begin to understand how many of your readers truly value the content you’re creating and whether they would be happy to share it with their networks.

How to run an NPS Survey

There are plenty of great tools out there to help you run an NPS Survey on your blog and I’d love to share a few below:

You can also create your own survey using a tool like Typeform and distribute it to your readers. One thing that feels important to be mindful of is ensuring you reach all kinds of readers with your survey. For example, sending it only to your email subscribers could slightly skew results as they’re likely to already be your most engaged readers.

2. Pay attention to the comments

There has been a lot of debate about the state of blog comments. With the rise of social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, readers have a multitude of ways to engage with your content:

  • They can share a link to your post on Twitter, Facebook (or any network of their choice)
  • They can interact with a post where you’ve shared a link back to the blog (favoriting a tweet, sending a reply, liking on Facebook)
  • They can retweet your tweet sharing the post or share your Facebook post
  • And much, much more…

With all these options and ways to interact with content, you could argue that a blog comment is losing its relevancy – or on the contrary, you could see it that the value of a blog comment is rising.

Knowing that people can share and comment on your post anywhere, the fact they’re taking the time to respond directly within the post itself could be perceived as the highest form of engagement.

For us, comments are an increasingly important metric and one we’re focused on measuring. In Q2 2016, we’ve had a focus on increasing the average comments on each blog post by 100% from Q1 and here’s how we’re getting on:


Comments feel like a great measure of the value your content creates. If someone takes the time to spark a discussion on reply to us through a comment then we feel the post must have been useful to them in some way or sparked some curiosity.  A great example is our recent social media study post. This one generated over 70 comments with readers sharing their thoughts on the study and also how our findings compare to their own.

3. Monitor mentions and shares

Whenever I publish a post on the Buffer blog, I’ll get a few mentions on Twitter or LinkedIn when people share it. As a result of this, I’ve started to build a slight intuition around how much value each post is generating based on shares and mentions.

When a post really delivers value and goes above and beyond reader expectations, I’ll notice a distinct spike in the number of shares it receives and the number of mentions we receive both via the @buffer accounts and my own personal social media accounts.

It’s super easy to keep tabs on how many times your content has been shared. Sharing plugins like SumoMe and Social Warfare can provide share counts on your posts and PostReach (full disclosure: this is a tool a few friends and I have built) and Buzzsumo can pull in data about who is sharing each of your posts on Twitter. I also like to pay extra close attention to my mentions on Twitter after a new post goes live so I can gauge how it’s doing and see what people are saying.

A quick tip: Promise value in your headline

Headlines are amazingly important to the success of a piece of content. Before we publish a post, we spend a bit of time focusing on how we can craft a headline that gives the content the best chance of being seen. Amazing content behind a weak headline probably won’t get seen.

Sometimes we’ll create between 20-30 headlines for each post and choose the one that feels best and other times we’ll have a quick chat and riff on how we can make the headline stand out. Here are some extracts from a recent conversation between Leo and I:


The original headline we had was:

53 Graphic Design Terms and Definitions for Non-Designers

And the title we decided on when we hit publish is:

Why Every Marketer in 2016 Needs to Be a (Part-Time) Designer: 53 Design Terms and Tips to Level-Up

This post has generated plenty of shares so far and 18 comments (at the time of writing). By focusing on the headline, we were able to promise value: 53 Design Terms and Tips to Level-Up. And also spark a discussion about the role of a marketer: Why Every Marketer in 2016 Needs to Be a (Part-Time) Designer. Without the time spent tweaking this headline, I’m not sure we would have had such success with this post.


What makes an idea worth writing about?

Every blog post begins as an idea, but what makes an idea stand out and how do you know which ideas to act on and publish?

Before choosing a post to write, I tend to ask myself three questions:

  1. Is this actionable?
  2. Who will amplify this?
  3. What makes it unique?

And I’d love to go into detail on each of the three questions below:

1. Is it actionable?

On the Buffer blog, we strive to deliver content that helps readers solve a problem or challenge they face in their every-day work environment. This means we like them to be able to read a post and directly action something they’ve learned from it.

We focus on making content actionable because we believe that if someone learns something from one of our posts they’re likely to remember us and even share the post with their network as a New York Times study found that content that is practically useful gets shared more than any other content:


2. Who will amplify it? 

When creating content, it’s important to hone in on your audience and think about who you’re writing for. One way I like to frame this is to ask myself “who will amplify this post?” If I can’t answer this question then I won’t write the post. Normally, this question forces me to focus on a specific area of marketing or a specific role.

(h/t to Rand Fishkin for this one)

3. What makes it unique?

We’re surrounded by content nowadays and if you want to stand out, you need to craft content that’s unique.

What makes a piece of content unique can vary from post to post. Sometimes it can be timing that makes a post unique, for example, when we published our post on Twitter Polls it was launched shorty after Polls were publicly announced and was one of the first guides on how to use the feature.

Other ways to make your content unique include:

  • Sharing your unique perspective: One of the best ways to make a piece of content unique is to create something that only you can by adding in your own perspective and point of view. As Jory McKay explains on the Crew blog: “Everything has been said before, but it’s never been said by you.” 
  • Going deeper on a topic that anyone else: There might be a ton of posts out there about Facebook Ads, for example, but you can create a unique post on this subject by going more in-depth than anyone else has.


Over to you

I believe we can create more value if we pay closer attention to depth than breadth. It’s not so much how many people click on our content, it’s how many people pay attention to our content. It’s how many people we can make an impression on and connect with that really matters.

Measuring the success of blog content is an interesting topic and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Do you feel we put too much focus on the metrics like page views and sessions? How do you measure the quality and value provided by a blog post? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

When will responsive websites respond to user context?

Terms like “mobile first” and “responsive web design” sound dynamic and user-centric, but the reality is most mobile-first responsive websites are simply reformatting ubiquitous content to suit different devices.

  • Goal of web (or app) advertising: right message, right person, right place, right time.
  • Goal of website (or app) content: whoever, wherever, whatever, whenever… eh… same content.

Is that unfair? A gross generalization?

OK, a lot of web advertising is still woefully untargeted or inaccurately targeted, but sometimes it can be freakily accurate.

Ad targeting relies on the processing of real-time information from a variety of data sources – let’s call these “signals” or “cues” – about the mobile user and their behavior, in order to determine:

  • Who they are.
  • Where they are.
  • What they are doing.
  • What they like.
  • What they want.

What makes this more stunning, is the amazing speeds at which adtech (advertising technology) works.

Between the user clicking/tapping the link and the page rendering with the ad, the system has to analyze the signals and show the most appropriate ad, without causing a noticeable delay to the speed that the page loads.

With programmatic advertising, in the same timeframe of nanoseconds (or at least microseconds), the advertising space is actually bought and sold in an online auction.

Meanwhile on the website where these targeted ads are being served, the content remains largely the same, regardless of the user, their context and their intention. Similarly the content on the website where these dynamic ads are sending people, if they tap/click on them, remain largely the same, regardless of the user, their context and their intention.

This is senseless.

If targeted ads deliver better conversions than untargeted ads, then surely being shown more personalized, contextually relevant content, offers and services on the websites people elect to visit must also deliver better user experience (UX) and more conversions?

As Mike Phillips, commercial director, McLaren Applied Technologies recently said (in an entirely different context) at London Technology Week:

It’s not about big data, it is about using small data within the context of the person.

Mobile first or mobile only?

Announcing the retailer’s new website on June 2, 2016, Jason Goldberger, Target’s chief digital officer, said (in a corporate statement):

People rely more than ever on their phones for everything in life, from interactions with friends to scheduling to shopping.

We’ve talked for years about being a mobile-first retailer. This move takes us from mobile first to mobile only.


What does this actually mean for, according to the before and after picture (Geographic redirects, prevent overseas people viewing the site, see below), the result is Target’s desktop and mobile site are now much the same, give or take some reformatting for different screen sizes.

The web design style is more mobile-friendly more images, less words, and far less clutter. And it means visitors can more easily shift between screens, even mid-shop.

But is this sort of homogeneity a good thing? Yes… and no. Yes people want a seamless cross-platform experience, but do they want a generic experience across all platforms?

Being mobile first or mobile only isn’t just about screen size, page load times, tap zones, click-to-call and so on (though that is all very important) it should also be about context.

Cross platform homogeneity forgets two massive thing:

  • The requirements of the desktop and mobile user are often different
  • The requirements of the same mobile user (more importantly) vary depending on whether they are at home, at work, commuting, on route to the location, on site, in a rival’s location and so on.

And that’s just the start of it. Now consider:

  • How context varies by time of day, day of week, time of year.
  • What about the trigger that causes the visit to the site e.g. something on TV, snapping QR code in a print ad, tapping through from an email, social media etc.?

This isn’t just about retail, it applies to numerous sectors: restaurants, events (music, sports etc.), airlines/airports, films/cinema, transport, financial services and so on. Use cases vary when you are at home, nearby or onsite and when the “thing” is: in the future, soon, now or past.

Contextual relevance: the untapped opportunity

Ronan Cremin, CTO, DeviceAtlas (a device detection tool, from Afilias Technologies):

In my experience very few sites do anything meaningful with mobile contextual information. There are a couple of exceptions e.g. Yelp and Google, but for the most part sites do almost nothing with it.

Apart from the really obvious one (location) there are other possibilities like detecting if user is literally on the move or not (accelerometer), is the battery low etc. etc.

One important point about all of these contextual cues is to use them as hints rather hard deciding factors because the cost of getting things wrong based on an incorrect assumption is high.

It’s really dangerous to make assumptions about what a user wants so I think that the best thing to do is make prioritization decisions over ordering of features rather than adding/removing features entirely.

Mobile signals

Mobile users give off a considerable amount of signals/cues – data from the device use, digital behavior – which, when visible to the web destination, collectively allows you to make an educated guess about who they are; where they are and what they are doing; and what they want. I.e. identity, context and intention.

These signals include:

  • Profile data – information that has been volunteered e.g. delivery address.
  • Profile data – data that has been collected through behavior on previous visits e.g. pages viewed, shared.
  • Device used.
  • Geolocation – if shared.
  • Mobile network.
  • WIFI network – e.g. home, office, on-site.
  • Motion and direction – walking, commuting.
  • Time of day – e.g. lunch time, following a TV ad.
  • Search terms used if arriving from a web search.
  • Referral site (or app) – where did they arrive from today (and previous visits).
  • QR codes scanned (particularly if unique to a product or place).
  • Interaction with web ads (what, where, when).
  • Click though from email newsletter.
  • Click though from social media post.

Contextual relevance today: basics

Where relevant, a website, should deliver an experience based on the user:

  1. Device – i.e. fits the screen, appropriate page size, appropriate features e.g. use of camera, click-to-call. But always with the option to revert to a different version (e.g. desktop).
  2. Country – e.g. appropriate currency, language, terminology (e.g. postcode v zip code), local phone numbers, office addresses, maps, observance of local rules and regulations. But with the option to revert. There is no excuse for forms that require scrolling through every country until the user reaches UK or USA.
  3. Intention – i.e. if a user clicks/taps on an ad, link, QR (quick response) code or performs a web search for a particular item or type of content, then ensure the content on the landing page is appropriate.
  4. Basic preferences – specified or inferred. Where one has been selected on a previous visit, default to the same local restaurant, store, station etc. – with option for “other”. Similarly log negative behavior – if a visitor has ignored or closed your download-our-app or subscribe to email message three times, move on, they’re not interested.
  5. Opt-in preferences – if a visitor has elected to share location, subscribed (or refused to subscribe) to email, accepted cookies; remember the next time they visit.

However geographical redirects don’t always deliver the optimum results. Accessing from the UK redirects to, which is not mobile friendly. From overseas delivers an “access denied” page (which is hardly a good message to potential business partners from overseas).


Contextual relevance today: more advanced

1. Location awareness

If users are prepared to share location, websites can make search results more relevant to where they are.

The search engines and the directories, such of Yelp in the US and Yell in the UK, are very acute to mobile users desire for local results – typified by the rapid growth (according to Google)  in popularity of “near me” searches (e.g. Pizza, plumber near me).

This local contextual search results is just as significant on the website of the retail, restaurant, cinema etc. chain. Customers don’t just the need to find the nearest location, but the nearest store where the desired product is available in the correct size and color; the nearest cinema with seats to see the film tonight; the nearest restaurant with a table for six at 8pm.

2. Recall of behavior (or preferences)

When a returning visitor is recognized, websites should personalize based on previous behavior.

If only male clothing (or e.g. sports items) were viewed on previous visits, retailers, such as ASOS, will default to the men’s (or sports) store.

Leading retailers will also allow customers to pick up where they left off with “save for later” or recall products left unpurchased in the shopping basket.

In the same way, restaurants should recall favorite meals or indications of vegetarianism; auto mechanics the make and model of the client’s car; sports and betting sites favorite teams and so on.

3. Time relevance

Time context manifests itself in several ways online. For example, Google local search results tell you when the store opens (not just the opening times).

Retailers will give you a countdown to place orders for next-day delivery. Events will count down until the tickets go on sale, announcements are made or the event commences.


Contextual relevance tomorrow

The epiphany of a personalized experience is a website that adapts fully to the user context, based on the signals outlined above. Let’s just focus on three contexts:

  • At home
  • Nearby
  • Onsite

For the same user, on the same device, the goals in these contexts can be quite different and this happens across many types of businesses.

  • Retail – at home: research/m-commerce at home; Nearby: find store/opening times/check product availability/reserve; in store: find products/check details/compare prices/pay/find product elsewhere.
  • Airline travel – at home: research/purchase ticket at home; on route: find airport/parking; at airport: check-in/navigate airport/ find shops/restaurant when.
  • Music festival – at home: research/purchase ticket/check info at home; on route: find way/traffic details/park/gain entry with ticket/ID on route; onsite: check schedule/navigate site/research bands/share.

And so on… restaurant, sports event, museum, hotel.

The imperative is to balance personalization with the danger of misunderstanding the context and the preference of the user.

While it is difficult to find any good examples of anything like this on the web, it is not so farfetched. Some companies have already started to experiment with contextually aware native apps.

According to a 2015 report by digital agency DMI a handful of US retailers – Walgreens, Home Depot, Nordstrom, Walmart and Target – now have apps that will switch to “Store mode” when on site, triggered by geo-technologies.

Store mode include functions that are irrelevant outside the store, for example in-store mapping and navigation.

Similarly, the BA App recognizes you’re in some airports and provides a tailored experience (thanks to Daniel Rosen, Global Director of Advertising at Telefónica for recommending this).

The app also sends alerts if you’ve not left enough time to make it to the gate.


  • Please notify Andy Favell with any examples of websites that use contextual relevancy in innovative ways.
  • The origin of the mobile marketing mantra “Right message, right person, right place, right time” is uncertain, but I first heard it used by Paul Berney, mCordis.
  • Disclaimer: Andy Favell has undertaken contractual work for both Afilias and mCordis, in the past.

Facebook announces four new mobile ad formats

Facebook the most mobile engagement of any platform, seeing more than 1 billion daily mobile users.

With that in mind, Facebook made four announcements at Cannes this week:

1. Creative Hub

With a simple interface and a guide to Facebook and Instagram ad formats, Creative Hub is designed to make it easy for users to sample different tools and features, and work together and experiment.

For instance, there’s a collaborative area for marketers to preview, evaluate and showcase their creative. There are also options to create and preview mocks on mobile, as well as create preview URLs to share with stakeholders.

Built with the guidance of several agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather, McCann and Droga5, Creative Hub is currently testing and should be available to Facebook advertisers in the next few months.

2. Upgrading Canvas

We’re sensing a pattern with Facebook, which initially announced its Canvas ads, immersive mobile experiences that load 10 times faster than typical mobile sites, in Cannes last year.

The product was launched globally in February and since then, people in more than 180 countries have spent about 52.5 million minutes – otherwise known as a century – viewing Canvas.

New updates will make it easier for marketers to design, create, share and learn from these ads. Canvas will have a new feed unit designed to increase engagement, while marketers will have more detailed metrics, such as clicks-per-component and dwell time (the average is about 31 seconds).

The option to create Canvases for organic page posts has already rolled out.

3. Adding Audience Insights API

Audience Insights API will give advertisers better insights into the audience they’re serving, using aggregated and anonymous demographics, psychographics, topic data and reports from Facebook IQ. Currently in beta, the feature is testing with brands like Mondelez and Anheuser-Busch InBev, and will be widely available early next year.

Mondelez used Audience Insights for Cadbury’s “Taste Like Joy Feels” campaign, analyzing people’s feelings toward chocolate at various times throughout the day. Brand recall was improved by 40 percent, according to Cadbury.

 4. Improving slideshow ads

Another popular Facebook ad format is the slideshow, which allows businesses to create videos from static images. However, they load significantly faster than traditional videos, on account of using five times less data.

New features include the ability to create slideshow ads from mobile devices, audio and text overlay, and integration with Facebook’s Pages and Shutterstock photo libraries.

That focus on video isn’t to say photos aren’t doing well on Facebook. Instagram announced yesterday that its user base has doubled over the past two years.

The platform now has more than 500 million monthly active users around the world, 300 million of whom use the app on a daily basis.

This is an abbreviated post, as originally featured on our sister site ClickZ.

How to keep the ‘person’ in ‘personalization’ without being a creep

Some brands don’t target well enough, while others go way too far, creeping people out. With personalized marketing, striking a delicate balance is the key. 

Personalization is an important skill for any marketer to master, but it’s also quite a difficult one. There are just so many different ways it can go wrong.

If your ads don’t have any personalized components, people perceive them as not being relevant enough, making them that much more likely to use an ad blocker (provided they’ve heard of ad blockers).

But on the flip side, it is possible to go overboard with personalization. If people perceive your brand to be like Big Brother, they’ll be just as turned off.

As with many things, the answer is somewhere in the middle. If you’re looking to personalize your ads, the most important thing to remember is that the root of that word is “person.”

The pitfalls of getting too computerized

Jan Jensen, chief marketing officer (CMO) of Cxense, points out that as marketing gets more complicated, the sophistication of automation technology makes it easier for advertisers to get away from the person.

“In this day and age, where we have more moving pieces, it’s very complex. Being able to know the challenges, pain points, grievances and profiles of your audience is 20 times more important than it was five years ago,” says Jensen. “Depending on what people do, the data we have, their interest and intent around the content they consume and the profile we have on them, we can predict what they want next.”

A businessman is consulting a crystal ball to foretell the future.

As a result, things can get a bit too automated. Marketers often create a journey for customers, automate it, and move onto the next thing. But in the process, they’re assuming too much. There should be a balance.

For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) lacks the human emotions to realize it’s doing something insensitive. A robot would serve someone tons of ads for diet products, whereas a person could see how doing that constantly could hurt the customer’s feelings.

Jensen believes this extends to all the brands who have been using chatbots as customer service tools.

“I think chatbots have their place somewhere extremely straightforward, but human beings aren’t very straightforward,” says Jensen. “I think they need to be much more aware of who you are; it needs to know more than that I’m a male and my name is Jan.”

… as well as too creepy

On the flip side, tech companies like Amazon and Facebook know far more about us than our names and gender. They may even know us better than some of our loved ones; does your mom know what you Google? (Ew, she does? Gross.)

But you have to be careful about showing your cards. If you let people know just how much you know about them, more than being simply freaked out, they can hurt your ROI. Richard Sharp, chief technology officer at Yieldify, points to a concept called psychological reactance that will be familiar to anyone who’s raised – or been – a teenager.


“If people feel their behavioral freedom is being restricted or manipulated, they will explicitly react against that in order to restore their freedom,” explains Sharp. “A lot of research shows that when people perceive creepiness online, it results in this feeling of, ‘You’re trying to manipulate me and force me to take this cause of action,’ which causes people to react against the brand, which decreases purchase intent by 5 percent.”

The way around that, according to Sharp, is to be very upfront about the value proposition. If an email from Bloomingdale’s is highly personalized, people may be a bit taken aback. But if the email has information about a sale at the nearest Bloomingdale’s location, they may perceive it differently.

“If you trigger a really well-designed campaign at the point when someone is about to leave the site or stop browsing, it catches people’s eyes and draws them back to the site,” adds Sharp. “It converts really well without interrupting the customer journey or annoying people.”

In order to keep the person and personalization, Sharp recommends user-centric research.

“A lot of marketers like looking at numbers and click-through rates and conversions and cost-per-acquisitions, which is a view that takes the human out,” he says. “Get some qualitative data to back up this quantitative data so the human side doesn’t get lost behind a wall of numbers.”

Why are we so bad at social media customer service?

While social media marketing campaigns have always grabbed the lion’s share of the headlines, customer service is the area where the real battles for market dominance are being waged.

Providing good customer service is not just about differentiation, it is business-critical.

So… why is everyone so awful at it?

There are a lot of reasons customer service isn’t up to scratch. It’s a new discipline. In many cases it’s grown organically. A majority of businesses still file social under the marketing banner, rather than as a service department, which means that there are conflicting interests vying for channel space.

This means that the market is under-serviced in many cases. According to 2015 data, the majority of businesses using social media are only able to respond to two-thirds (66%) of the social media interactions they receive.

This issue is actually compounded in businesses where social customer service is part of the wider customer service function.

Channel expertise is at a premium, meaning there is often a lack of structure between the people running the Twitter account and the people on the phone. What should be a beautiful, frictionless experience for a customer becomes a hell of multiple calls, and explaining issues over and over again.

It’s worth remembering that by the time someone is complaining about your business online, it is probably because your other channels have already failed them. You are starting with a customer who is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

No amount of brand-building is going to counteract that. And just so we’re clear on the impact, 40% of US consumers have taken their business to a competitor brand based purely on superior customer service.

How do we start providing good service through social?

It would be remiss of me not to mention that I’ve recently finished writing an enormous social media customer service best practice guide on just this subject, which you can access through ClickZ Intelligence, but just like customer service, it would also be bad of me not to at least try to solve the issue in this post.

The most forward thinking organisations have begun to address these issues by creating posts that are designed to completely own customer experience. Rather than separating touchpoints by channel, a Chief Experience Officer or Chief Customer Officer is primarily charged with making sure that the customer has a good time, all of the time.

On the face of it this seems straightforward (It’s not), and there is definitely a school of thought that says it is as much about mindset and culture as it is systems and processes. The realisation that every department is on the same P&L is, perhaps surprisingly, not a common one in business.

Different channels, different metrics

I mentioned channel expertise earlier. The ability to understand how interactions occur on different platforms is key to successful implantation, because it will fundamentally affect how you measure success.

In the case of email or telephone, it was historically common practice to base reporting on ‘number of closed cases’. This obviously does not always motivate the service representative to supply customers with the best answer to an issue. Merely the quickest.

This is again compounded by social, where it is not a linear conversation. A phone call may take ten minutes to complete. A contact through Twitter may be answered immediately, but the customer may not respond for several hours. Time-to-resolution is not a fair or useful metric here.

Also, while it is strategically possible to remove customer satisfaction from channels, it is not as easy to separate it from departments. If your marketing team is providing customer service, then you can bet they’ll want that value reflected in their monthly reports.

The fact that at least a third of social media questions go unanswered is also an issue bought on by a failure to apply considered metrics to social customer service. Marketing has often been guilty in the past of ‘everything, everywhere’ approaches to social. We have to be on Snapchat and Pinterest and Twitter and YouTube and…

Hold your horses.

Success in any form of social media is dictated by the quality of service you can provide. Whether that’s an interesting Facebook page or a raft of multimedia omnichannel responses. If you cannot resource for these channels, then the most valuable thing a business can do is work out which channel is most used by their customer base, and concentrate on responding on that channel.

As businesses become more complex, so too does customer service. Monitoring tools are extremely advanced, but if they do not have a native language speaker setting up initial Boolean search terms, then they will miss a huge number of interactions (If you’d like to see this in action, try typing ‘SEO’ into and see how many returns you get from Korea that have nothing to do with Search Marketing).

Although these systems are still developing, many use tracking and logging processes designed for traditional CRM. Where ‘traditional’ CRM provides a customer persona based on their interactions with a business by phone, email, through a website or in person. Social CRM data includes every interaction that customer makes with any business, so can be far more valuable if collected and utilised properly, but it requires a more comprehensive tracking and response process.

There is no simple way to provide great customer service through social, but it is achievable, and perhaps more importantly, it has clear commercial value. Forrester found that 45% of users will abandon an online purchase if they can’t quickly find answers to their questions.

The trick is to find out where that customer is online and be ready to provide that information.

40 Core Philosophies From the Most Famous Marketers in History

I believe you can learn something from everyone-as long as you’re listening. We’re always building on the legacy and lessons of those who have come before us.

For marketers, this is quite a legacy indeed. Although the discipline of marketing only emerged in the 1900s, it builds on a foundation of sales, advertising, copywriting and relationship-building that is much older.

Some of its wisest teachings are hundreds of years old. Some of its big lessons happened only months ago. And for every brilliant marketer and thinker mentioned here, there are likely 10 more I haven’t thought of. (Would love to hear your picks in the comments!)

Nonetheless, I hope there’s some wisdom for the ages below. I loved learning about each personality and philosophy, and hope you will too. Here are 40 essential lessons from some of the most famous marketers in history.

1. ‘A brand is a contract’

simon clift

Who: Simon Clift

What: The former Chief Marketing Officer of Unilever likes to say “a brand is the contract between a company and consumers.” The consumer has choices, and can simply choose to enter a contract with another brand if they find a company “in breach” of the contract. Are you holding up your end of the bargain with consumers?

2. ‘Always be closing’

glengarry glen ross

Who: Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross

What: This line became famous from Glengarry Glen Ross but is a also well known sales mantra expressing that everything you say and do should ideally be done with only one goal in mind: closing the deal.A more modern, less ruthless take for today’s world? The customer is always listening and evaluating. Even if you’re not consciously selling, everything you do is part of your marketing.

3. ‘Appeal to the reader’s self-interest’

John Caples

Who: John Caples

What: One of the most famous copywriters of all time, Caples hit on a winning formula early with this ad:


The ad works because it doesn’t sell piano lessons, it sells self-esteem. (And who doesn’t want that?) Caples would repeat this formula again and again, each time appealing to a reader’s deepest self-interest. How can you go deeper in your marketing to know your customers’ self-interest motivation?

4. ‘Become interested’

Dale Carnegie

Who: Dale Carnegie

What: We are pretty big Dale Carnegie fans at Buffer, and his advice to truly be interested in others is no small part of why.  One of his famous quotes on the topic: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

5. ‘Break the internet’


Who: The Kardashians

What: Media pundits thought Kim Kardashian would break the internet when she bared all for Paper magazine, but the Kardashians’ real power move is to make sure they’re offering a multi-platform experience-much more than you see on social media, including custom emoji and a branded content portal.  “I see what we do on social media as the appetizer,” Khloe Kardashian told the New York Times. “Not everything we do can be captured in an Instagram shot.”

6. ‘Cash from chaos’

malcolm mclaren

Who: Malcolm McLaren

What: The man who largely initiated the punk movement, managing the infamous Sex Pistols, made “cash from chaos” his motto. He bore it out in stunts like getting arrested outside the Houses of Parliament, spreading rumors about the band and intentionally canceling gigs. What can we learn from this bad behavior? Today more than ever, controversy gets people talking (case in point: Kanye West). Hey, no publicity is bad publicity, right?

7. Details matter

walt disney

Who: Walt Disney

What: At Walt Disney’s Disneyland, every detail is thought through-to the point that the Disney team has planted “hidden Mickeys” throughout the park, which dedicated fans spend decades discovering and cataloging. When you pay attention to every detail of an experience, you can make fans for life.


8. ‘Eat your own dog food’

paul maritz

Who: Paul Maritz of Microsoft

What: This colorful colloquialism describes the idea that a company should be the biggest user and proponent its own products or services. The first recorded usage was in 1988, when Microsoft executive Paul Maritz e-mailed a colleague, “We are going to have to eat our own dogfood and test the product ourselves.” Are you your product’s biggest fan?

9. Educate your audience

john deere

Who: John Deere

What: John Deere may be best known for farm equipment, but he also has another distinction: He may very well have created content marketing. In 1895, he launched the magazine The Furrow, providing information to farmers on how to become more profitable. The magazine is still in circulation today, reaching 1.5 million readers in 40 countries in 12 different languages. Helping your audience grow and improve is always in fashion.

10. Find a star slogan

mary frances

Who: Mary Frances Gerety

What: Charged with kickstarting the sales of diamonds following the Great Depression, copywriter Mary Frances Gerety came up with the timeless gem “A diamond is forever” in the middle of the night. The slogan has since been used in every De Beers ad and in 1999 was named the slogan of the 20th century by Advertising Age. Today, more than 80% of women in the U.S. receive diamond rings when they get engaged. Think her campaign was effective?

11. Get people talking

conrad gessner

Who: Conrad Gessner

What: This botanist “invented” word of mouth marketing in 1559 with his passion for tulips. To familiarize Europeans with the then-foreign flower, he penned an easy-to-repeat poem that eventually spurred “Tulipmania”-some bulbs sold for what would be several million dollars today. What can you do to get people talking and create more demand?

12. ‘Give them quality’


Who: Milton Hershey

What: The founder of Hershey’s had a simple marketing philosophy: As long as consumers saw the high quality of Hershey’s’ chocolate, the product would practically sell itself. He’s know to have said: “Give them quality. That’s the best kind of advertising in the world.”

13. Harness your haters


Who: Beyoncé

What: When the world gives you lemons, just turn to Beyoncé to figure out how to turn them into lemonade. After getting negative feedback for her 2016 Super Bowl performance, including boycott calls, Queen Bey hatched a canny plan to turn the furor into a boon: She sold her own “Boycott Beyoncé” T-shirts on tour.


14. Headlines are everything

helen gurley brown

Who: Helen Gurley Brown

What: In 1965, Hearst hired Helen Gurley Brown to take over a flagging magazine called Cosmopolitan. Her revamp was heavy on sensational headline and earned millions of devoted readers, kickstarting the sexual revolution in the process. Today you can still get plenty of tips on writing great headlines right from the magazine racks.

15. Influencers make the brand

estee lauder

Who: Estee Lauder

What: The co-founder of Estée Lauder Companies, Lauder was the only woman on Time magazine’s 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century. Her marketing genius? Lauder gave her famous friends and acquaintances small samples of her products for their handbags; she wanted her brand in the hands of people who were known for having the best.

16. Issue a challenge

ernest shackleton

Who: Ernest Shackleton

What: Although its veracity isn’t certain, it’s still one of the most famous ads of all time. Explorer Ernest Shackleton supposedly sought to recruit men for a new expedition with this newspaper ad:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Whether or not it’s true, can we all agree it’s awesome? Don’t you wonder how you’d fare on this trip? To me, this taps the same impulse as modern-day hidden bars and speakeasies. We like a challenge, and tend to share it with others when it creates social currency for us.

17. ‘The job is not the work’

seth godin

Who: Seth Godin

What: Marketers get pulled in a lot of directions throughout the course of a day-and a career. When this happens, maybe this philosophy from Seth Godin might help. In Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, he defines the difference between the job and the work:

“The job is what you do when you are told what to do….Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. I call the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin….The job is not the work.”

When you’re doing the job, remember to do the work, too. You’re the only one who can.

18. ‘Listeners will end up the smartest’

yi and bernoff

Who: Charlene Yi and Josh Bernoff

What: In an ever-changing media world, how do you keep up and stay relevant? The answer Yi and Bernoff proposed in their book Groundswell is a simple one: Keep learning, keep listening.  “We’re all learning here,” they write; “the best listeners will end up the smartest.”

19. ‘Make the customer the hero of your story’

Ann Handley

Who: Ann Handley

What: Everyone wants to be a hero. That’s the central idea of marketer Ann Handley’s contribution to our list, “make the customer the hero of your story.” Her suggestions to do this including content curation, user-generated content and using social media to tell bigger stories.

20. ‘Markets are conversations’

cluetrain manifesto

Who: The Cluetrain Manifesto authors Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger

What: In 2001, social media barely existed. But The Cluetrain Manifesto predicted a future of connectivity that would change the face of business, media, and culture.

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter-and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

What we learned then is still relevant today: We want a conversation, not a one-way ad barrage. Meet your audience where they are and get real with them.

21. Market what people want

creflo dollar

Who: Creflo Dollar

What: You don’t have to believe in televangelist Creflo Dollar’s controversial prosperity gospel (I don’t) to learn from the astounding growth of his World Changers Church International, which started with 8 people in an elementary school and now has a reported 30,000 members. If you ask me, the not-so-secret to his success is selling something lots of people want: to be wealthy without the guilt. Lesson? Before you start marketing, be sure your product is what people want.

22. ‘The medium is the message’

Marshall McLuhan

Who: Marshall McLuhan

What: When you communicate with someone, what’s more important: what’s actually said, or the method in which it’s communicated? McLuhan’s famous argument is that the medium is the message-that the two are so inextricably combined as to be one and the same. Now social media has proved him more prescient than ever. The reason we know when something is a Tweet vs. a Snap and understand the importance of choosing the right medium for each message? That’s McLuhan.

23. ‘Most ideas are a bit scary’

Lee Clow

Who: Lee Clow

What: The healthy fear of hitting the ‘publish’ button is something that comes up a lot on the blog. Feeling uncomfortable is often a sign you’re on to something big, as legendary advertiser and art director Lee Clow puts so beautifully: “Most ideas are a bit scary, and if an idea isn’t scary, it’s not an idea at all.”

24. Name your audience

Mel Martin

Who: Mel Martin

What: Hey, you! Yes, you right there. Media these days is fast-paced and confusing. Does your audience know you’re talking to them, specifically? If not, borrow a trick from copywriter Mel Martin and name them right in your message. Martin wrote headlines like “For golfers who are almost (but not quite) satisfied with their game – and can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong” and the above similar variation (hey, that means it must have worked, right?)

25. ‘Never stop testing’

david ogilvy

Who: David Ogilvy

What: Considered “The Father of Advertising,” Ogilvy was among the first to perfect the split test for marketing, where two versions of an ad were published at the same time with a unique way for consumers to respond so the winning ad could be identified. One of his most famous quotes: “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”

26. ‘On fleek’

peaches monroee

Who: Peaches Monroee

What: Never heard of Peaches Monroee? You might know the phrase she coined that’s been appropriated by everyone from Ariana Grande to Anderson Cooper to IHOP: “on fleek.” She tossed off the catchphrase in a June 2014 Vine video that now has more than 40 million loops (views, for non-Viners). “I gave the world a word,” she has said. “I can’t explain the feeling.” These days, it’s not high-paid marketing execs who are creating the taglines of the future. It’s more often young people, particularly people of color. Embrace it and learn from it, but don’t misappropriate it.

27. Power up your network

Mary kay Ash

Who: Mary Kay Ash

What: Mary Kay cosmetics became a pioneer of multi-level marketing by tapping a great underutilized workforce: housewives. Her marketing innovations included expensive gifts (the famous pink Cadillacs) that extended the brand, offering incentives for recruiting others, and an emphasis on direct sales through friends and family. Learn from her: Your network can be a powerful tool.

28. Quarter-inch holes (vs. quarter-inch drill bits)

Theodore Levitt

Who: Theodore Levitt

What: Why do people buy quarter-inch drill bits? It might not be the reason you think. In The Marketing Imagination,  Theodore Levitt says:

“They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.”

The quarter-inch bit is only a means to an end. Marketing the drill bit based on its features (it fits into your drill) wouldn’t be as successful in this case as marketing it based on the benefits (you can create a quarter-inch hole). In other words, a feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.

29. Reinvent your medium


Who: Lin-Manuel Miranda

What: Chances are, you didn’t think much about Broadway until this year. What changed? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smashHamilton.” It’s the world’s first (as far as I know) hip-hop musical, it’s about one of the least exciting people imaginable, and it’s cast of mostly people of color. It’s truly something new, and audiences can’t get enough of it. Lesson for marketers? Whatever medium you’re working in, stretch it, bend it in new directions and reinvent it. Then you can own it.

30. Sex sells

helen lansdowne

Who: Helen Lansdowne

What: Could this be the first example of “sex sells” marketing in the Western world?

skin you love to touch

In 1911, Helen Lansdowne changed the face of advertising forever by being the first to harness sex appeal in an ad. Her Woodbury soap “Skin You Love to Touch” campaign focused not on the product but its effects-“the attention of dashing young gentlemen.” Then as now, a hint of the sensual both scandalized and worked-the campaign increased Woodbury sales by 1,000 percent.

31. Surprise and delight

Taylor Swift

Who: Taylor Swift

What: There seems to be no consensus as to who came up with the phrase “surprise and delight,” so I’m going to give the title to the modern-day master, Taylor Swift. “Surprise and delight” experiences focus on randomly selecting an individual or group to receive a unique gift or experience, and Swift is the queen. She’s popped up at bridal showers and weddings, and her Swiftmas gift-giving is legendary. “Fans are my favorite thing in the world,”she has said. Her fans seem to feel the same about her. Do yours feel that way about you?

32. Tell a (real) story

P. T. Barnum

Who: P.T. Barnum

What: Hmm, this is a tough one. Creator of Barnum & Bailey P.T. Barnum is undoubtedly one of history’s greatest marketers, but what can the man of infinite hoaxes teach us today? Maybe that storytelling is powerful, but also that the story has to be authentic and real. Barnum proudly played a bit fast and loose with this, but then Twitter hadn’t quite been invented yet to fact check him.

33. ‘Think different’

Steve Jobs

Who: Steve Jobs

What: Why is Steve Jobs an enduring icon? Because he didn’t just sell us a phone; he sold us an experience. A way to live. An ideal to aspire to. Through him we learned to think different and to sell the dream as well as the product.

34. ‘Tune your message to them’

nancy duarte

Who: Nancy Duarte

What: The writer, speaker, and CEO best known for working with Al Gore on An Inconvenient Truth has a simple message for would-be presenters: It’s not about you. As she writes in Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences“The audience does not need to tune themselves to you-you need to tune your message to them. Skilled presenting requires you to understand their hearts and minds and create a message to resonate with what’s already there.”

35. Unique selling proposition

 rosser reeves

Who: Rosser Reeves

What: A “unique selling proposition “is the idea that successful advertising campaigns focus on a single, unique element that can nudge customers to switch brands. And advertising exec Rosser Reeves was the one to usher it into our vocabulary. Reeves’ ad is for Anacin, a headache medicine, was considered grating and annoying by many viewers but it also tripled the product’s sales. Another great Reeves example? M&M’s “melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”

36. Vulnerability connects

Tavi Gevinson

Who: Tavi Gevinson

What: How does a teenage girl create a media empire before she’s out of high school? For blogger, author and Rookie editor-in-chief Gevinson, the secret is relating deeply through vulnerability. “I think that when you make yourself vulnerable, the thing that you do next is better….The thing that bonds you to a new friend isn’t that you went to a fun party; it’s ’cause you had a really weird, sad conversation.” Can you dig deeper and be more human with your community?

37. Write for someone specific

Tim Ferriss

Who: Tim Ferriss

What: How did Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week become such a huge hit (besides promising copious leisure time)? He focuses on trust, the kind that comes only when you know your audience deeply. It may feel like you have to write for everyone, but Ferriss says the opposite is true. “Write for two of your closest friends who have this problem that you have now solved for yourself.”


38. ‘Write something worth reading or do something worth writing’

Ben Franklin

Who: Benjamin Franklin

What: Instructions for creating a legacy, whether you’re a human or a brand: Listen to Benjamin Franklin. His quote is the end-all on the topic of getting attention: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.”

39. 10x content

Rand Fishkin

Who: Rand Fishkin

What: Moz’s Rand Fishkin coined the term “10x content,” which is content that stands out in our busy streams because it’s just 10x times better than anything else out there on that topic.

40. ‘Your culture is your brand’

tony hsieh

Who: Tony Hsieh

What: “What’s a company to do if you can’t just buy your way into building the brand you want?,” the Zappos founder wrote in a pivotal blog post. “What’s the best way to build a brand for the long term? In a word: culture. We believe that your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin…Your culture is your brand.”

Over to you!

Whose wisdom is missing here? I can’t wait to hear the lessons you’ve picked up from famous and up-and-coming marketers alike! Share your picks in the comments to add to our list.