The 3 Things This Esurance Ad Will Teach You About Brand Storytelling

An online ad for Esurance caught my attention and got me thinking about brand storytelling.

This commercial perfectly balances good storytelling structure, a simple brand promise, and the perspective of Esurance’s ideal buyer:

Here’s how to apply these 3 elements of brand storytelling to your content:

1) Your content should have an arc and relatable characters, like good fiction

In brand storytelling, your reader relates to and often actually is the character. Of course, the most compelling character in this ad is a thinly-veiled reference to this infamously inarticulate Miss Teen USA contestant.

Miss Teen USA South Carolina

But the compelling character (“sorta Marge”) is not who Esurance wants you to relate to. Rather, this ad implies that you are the protagonist – you’re “real Marge.”

The story arc in this ad is simple: a foreman on a construction site searches for Marge and finds another, less competent version of Marge operating heavy machinery. This is a great outline for brand storytellers: a character’s routine is disrupted by a high-stakes problem the solution to which is your company’s product or service.

A story arc should be easily repeatable structure for future content.  No doubt, we’ll see more Esurance ads in which incompetent imposters make a mess of various high-stakes workplaces.

2) Your content should fulfill your brand promise

As mentioned, this ad’s story arc presents a high-stakes problem that disrupts the protagonist’s routine. It does not present a universal problem, such as “not having insurance” but focuses on one that a select demographic faces. The solution to your specific problem constitutes your brand promise. Esurance solves the “one-sized-fits-all insurance” problem with the promise that their product is customizable.

Coming up with a brand promise is easier when you know your customer. Which leads me to the last element of your brand’s story:

3) Your content should speak to your brand’s buyer persona(s)

You can easily create a brand promise and a story that fulfills it, by drawing up a detailed buyer persona.

Esurance created a brand promise that seems to appeal to first-time insurance buyers with unique employment or finance needs. The irreverent, referential tone of the ad screams millenial, so I’d guess that the persona this ad targets is a young person looking for one-on-one insurance guidance. 

This ad resonated with me and many other viewers because it solved a common problem for viewers like me in an entertaining way.

What kinds of branded content sticks with you? Tell me in the comments!

The 3 Best Design Tips For Highlighting Your Content

The 3 Best Design Tips For Highlighting Your Content

Here’s a truth bomb: website design is as important to SEO as content. Well-designed blogs get the most social shares and inbound links. But, if you’re a content whiz with no design skills, how can you ensure your content gets the attention it deserves?

According to Mark Schaefer of, a well designed site focuses on its readers, amplifies existing content, and makes content easily shareable. Here are the easiest ways to do that without knowing a lick of code:

1) Focus on your readers – studies show that readers scan content in an F-shaped pattern. Keeping your content short, and including the most essential info above the fold will keep your readers interested.

More white space, bullets, and images will also help break up text and make it easier to read.

Lastly, since 55% of cell phone users go online regularly, it’s important to make your site responsive and mobile-friendly.

2) Amplify existing content – keep visitors on the site for longer with a “Related” section that shows up after your post. WordPress and Blogger  both have widgets that generate links to other pages on your site, based on tags and categories.

Another plus about this feature is that it’ll help you generate new content based on what related content people are visiting most.

3) Make content easily shareable – Wordpress also allows you to add share icons to your posts, which means more inbound links for you!

Embedded photos and featured images with clear, relevant titles will also ensure that your posts have great thumbnails that users will want to click.

How do you make your site’s content reader-friendly and shareable? Tell me in the comments section!

What's "Earned Media" Anyway?

What’s “Earned Media” Anyway?

Last week, I discussed how owned media fits into digital marketing’s triad of owned, earned, and paid media. Owned media is cheap, but time-intensive while paid media is a more expensive quick win for digital marketers.  Earned media is often the last or missing piece in a marketer’s digital arsenal, but it’s also the piece over which you have the least control.

Earned media is your owned media’s street cred. Earned media counts as any inbound links to your owned media: from online reviews, to social media shares and mentions. In SEO terms, the more others link to your content, the more authority your site has.

The problem is that not all links are equal. Links from popular, reputable sites boost your page rank. Bought links violate Google’s Quality guidelines and can result in penalties, particularly for small businesses.

Likewise, the context of your inbound links counts. Although all inbound links from reputable sites help SEO, some may hurt your reputation. A link from a positive review or mention is generally going to be better for your brand than a link from a negative one. Unless you can find a clever way to turn some bad publicity into a positive brand story.

In the end, you can only build links and acquire earned media with a great product or service, and great content. If your brand is worth talking about, you’ll be getting social shares, rave reviews, and inbound links in no time!

How long did it take you to get earned media? Did paid or owned media help you gain inbound links? Tell me in the comments section!

The Best Free or Cheap Tools for Creating Content

Best Free or Cheap Tools for Creating Content

Sometimes, a regular old blog post won’t cut it. If your brand is on a budget, there are still great tools out there to help you create and publish infographics, podcasts, quizzes, and surveys. Here are the best free or cheap tools for creating content:

1. For Infographics:

Piktochart is the best free tool for those with little to no graphic design know-how. It’s a cloud-based tool with a smooth, drag and drop interface. You can create a pretty customizable infographic by combining a variety of symbols and diagrams, as well as fonts and color schemes.

The one drawback is that any infographic you produce has a pesky little watermark on it. I guess that’s the trade off for free tools!

2. For Podcasts:

Blubrry is a simple to use hosting platform that’s easily integrated with WordPress and iTunes. It’s got metrics, too! At $12, it’s one of the least expensive options for podcast hosting on the market.

Audacity is a good alternative for podcast editing, for those of us who can’t afford to hire a sound editor. It’s freeware, so it’s a little clunky, but the tools and effects are simple enough that you can pick it up in an afternoon.

3. For Forms, Surveys and Quizzes:

Google Forms is the easiest embeddable form out there. It has many formatting options and a few customizable templates to choose from, but its best feature is that it’s a Google product that allows you to view results in a Google Drive spreadsheet. The one thing to keep in mind is that embedded Google Forms can sometimes have trouble loading, if Google’s server is slow.

Online Quiz Creator also offers an impressive number of quiz and assessment formats.

SurveyMonkey is best for user surveys. It’s also embeddable and compatible with Mailchimp.

Owned Media: If You Build It They Will Come

Owned Media: If You Build It They Will Come

As a digital marketer, there are three types of media at your disposal: Earned, Owned, and Paid media. Each type has its own advantages, so let’s start by exploring what makes owned media so special:

Owned Media boosts visibility and SEO with content that users will find useful or interesting. It’s not the only way to gain visibility online, but not having any content of your own reduces the effectiveness of any paid or earned media that your brand has acquired. It’s easy to lose someone who has landed on a rather skimpy or uninspired blog, after clicking an ad or inbound link.

Basically, if you build it, they will come. Owned media is the content that your brand creates for itself, to attract, entertain, or educate online visitors. This can range from blog posts, to videos, to ebooks or white papers: as long as its relevant or useful to your ideal customer or persona, it’s fit to publish!

The downside to owned media is that it is time-intensive and results are not always immediate. The upshot is that failures can be leveraged: metrics from every piece of content generated can be used to better target your key demographics.

Owned Media is forever. What’s great about owned media is that it’s your brand’s property forever and ever. Unlike paid media (which is limited to your ad sales budget) or earned media (which can be negative or fleeting), owned media exists on your company’s website for as long as you keep it (and I’d suggest keeping it, to avoid dead links that affect your site’s SEO).

Owned Media is your best bet for brand reputation maintenance. You can’t control what others say about your brand online, which makes earned media a bit of a crap shoot. Owned media, on the other hand, allows you to guide the conversation around your brand, and the industry in which your brand operates.

In fact, you can do as one Bay Area restaurant owner did and turn bad earned media into an opportunity to create your own positive brand story.

Speaking of brand story: try not to make your content all about you! A good rule of thumb for creating effective owned media is to avoid the hard sell, and focus on telling your brand’s story. This means avoiding shallow, fragmented, or irrelevant self-promotion and focusing on what matters to your audience. It also means acknowledging where in the buying cycle a particular user may be.

The restaurant owner in the above example probably figured that those who visited his website from Yelp were in the “research” or “consideration” phase of the buying cycle, and used humor and a creative call to action (discounts for a bad review) to get them interested in making a reservation.

Next week, I’ll talk a bit more about how Yelp and other online forums and publications play into the “Earned Media” aspect of the “Owned, Earned, Paid” triad.

Has owned media helped your company or employer reach its goals? I’d love to hear your insights in the comments section!

The Pros and Cons of Pinterest's New "Buyable Pins" Feature

The Pros and Cons of Pinterest’s New “Buyable Pins” Feature

Pinterest recently announced a new  “Buyable Pins” feature for iPhone and iPad users. This feature will allow users to shop without ever leaving Pinterest, but what are the pros and cons of “Buyable Pins”?


  • Seamless integration with existing online stores  – If you’re already using Shopify or Demandware, then it’s as simple as connecting the API.
  • No added fees – Pinterest takes absolutely no cut from your sales.
  • Mobile-friendly design – Good mobile design makes selling and shopping easier.
The Pros and Cons of Pinterest’s New “Buyable Pins” Feature

This person will have to add the Pinterest app, soon.


  • Pinterest’s scrollable layout is competitive – Pinterest is keeping mum on the interface specifics, but so far we know that a little blue price tag indicates a “Buyable Pin.” This means that a “Buyable Pin” item shows up in a sea of others, giving the browser/buyer more options and the pinning business more competition.

For instance: if I find an adorable but pricey custom made navy blue sailor dress on Pinterest, I can lower my price range and scroll through hundreds of cheap corporate copycats.

Luckily for independent sellers with higher price points, a “pin” serves the same function as a traditional “wish list” or “cart,” keeping them top of mind for returning users.

The Pros and Cons of Pinterest's New

Avast, ye! A veritable sea of navy blue sailor dresses!

Is it worth it?

As a consumer? Certainly! But for sellers, it is dependent on how unique your product is, how good your social media strategy is, and how competitively your products are priced.

It also depends on the other features Pinterest offers to seller accounts. If Pinterest were to provide sellers with an analytics dashboard that recorded the data of users who’ve pinned items for later purchase, this would give sellers some data to help nurture leads through email marketing.

Do you plan on using Pinterest’s “Buyable Pins” feature? Tell me why in the comment section!

When to post on social media

When to Post on Social Media: “The Burrito Principle”

If a campaign launches in the Twitterverse, does it make a sound? Even the most dynamic content can get lost in the ether when social media managers don’t post at optimal times. The data varies and sometimes contradicts itself, so how can you post at the right time for your audience?

A common sense approach proposed by Darian Rodriguez Heyman – “The Burrito Principle” – may help you reach your audience when they have down time. My favorite social app, Buffer created an excellent graphic that lays out optimal posting periods:

The Burrito Principle for Posting on Social Media

Of course, these times may vary based on your brand’s target demographic. Your best bet is to create a marketing persona for each potential segment of your audience, and then estimate when each of those personas is likely to have down time.

When does your company or employer usually post on social media? 

What Social Media Channel Should Your Company Use?

What Social Media Channel Should Your Company Use?

There are unique benefits to each social media platform. Here’s a quick breakdown of what each social media site can do for your business:

Twitter is for listening  If your brand is looking to start conversations with new leads or build long lasting relationships with closed ones, Twitter is the way to go.

Segment your Twitter followers and save industry-related keyword searches to listen in on what current and potential followers have to say. Of course, it helps if you have a product or service that people are already talking about!

What Social Media Channel Should Your Company Use?

Facebook is for showing off. Facebook’s dynamic page design options allow for contests, photo albums, videos, events, fan reviews, and location check-ins. Companies leverage Facebook page features, as well as its higher character limit for updates – to show off their company culture and brand identity.

LinkedIn is for thought leadership Whether your company is looking to hire or nurture leads, LinkedIn pages and groups put you in a position to publish original content on your industry.

Ambitious, high level professionals flock to LinkedIn for new resources from their favorite companies. With the right content, your brand can be one of the thought leaders that LinkedIn users follow and engage.

What Social Media Channel Should Your Company Use?

Pinterest is best for B2C… except when its not! If you can identify strong visuals for your content, and create more “infographic” material, then you can master Pinterest for B2B. If your company sells tangible products (especially pretty ones!) or services with tangible results (think, “food porn”), your brand can gain a Pinterest following.

Which social media channels does your business or employer leverage? Tell me in the comment section!

Five Community Management Guidelines For Any Platform

5 Customer Service Based Community Management Guidelines

Community Management isn’t a skill that comes with a manual or strict guidelines. It’s unpredictable because it changes depending on the parties interacting and the platform used.

However, at the core of Community Management are many tried and true tenets of customer service. Here are five Customer Service-based Community Management guidelines for any digital platform:

1. Social Listening

In the old days, listening meant waiting for customers to call you with a problem. Now, it means being relevant to conversations in progress and offering resources before the problem gets bigger.

On Twitter or Facebook, you can search for your brand’s keyword. On Twitter, you can save that search and create a list of folks who talk about you  or your competition.

On Facebook, you can bookmark the search in your browser and go back to monitor it. If you use a social dashboard like Hootsuite, you can save these searches and lists on separate tabs for each social network. There are many social listening tools, but active listening will help your brand address even the smallest of complaints before customers begin publicizing dissatisfaction. Active listening also makes your brand look conscientious.

2. Timeliness

Social networking and live chat capabilities leave no excuse for slow responses to customer queries. Even if you’re not quite sure what the customer is looking for, get the conversation started with a “How can we help you today?”

And don’t forget to leverage…

3. Offline Escalation

Don’t air your dirty laundry, if you can avoid it. After the customer has published a tweet, Facebook post, or forum topic about her experience with your brand, ask for clarification if needed and give her an email address or phone number to call for more assistance. Adding the name of the person she’ll be speaking to (yours, if it’s you!) will make the customer feel that she’s receiving individual attention.

4. Inter-Departmental Communication

No Community Manager is an island!

Maintaining open communication between departments will help you assist customers more efficiently, escalate their concerns to the right resources, and save you from embarrassing or even career-ending mistakes.

5. Transparency 

If you couldn’t bring the customer offline, the problem she’s posting about online may attract others with similar complaints. Publicly denying the customer’s claims is basically like blowing a dog whistle for all unsatisfied customers to share their negative experiences with your brand.

So, before your brand goes viral for all the wrong reasons, stop and think about how you’ll be able to escalate the complaint and/or solve the problem.

In the face of a public snafu, eating a slice of humble pie and making real, visible efforts to right the wrong is more effective than getting defensive. Since brands act as online personalities, so should their Community Managers behave as any sensible person would.

Owning up to a mistake defuses the tension and puts the conversation back in your court. Tell dissatisfied customers the real, tangible ways you’re going about solving their problems then follow guideline #3 and offer the customer an individualized means of following up on the problem, such as a phone extension or email.

What tricks do you use as a Community Manager? Tell me in the comment section!