The Motivational Foundations of Sharing Brand Experiences

Posted on June 17, 2011 by Comments Off

Earlier today, David Aaker published a great post on Harvard Business Review’s The Conversation blog that looks at the factors that motivate people to pass on information to their friends, family and colleagues. Beyond the spot-on nature of the findings, an interesting side note (actually, it was the story’s hook) was the fact that the study discussed at length was first reported by Harvard Business Review in 1966. Remarkably, the key findings from Ernest Dichter, who is widely considered to be “the father of motivation research,” appear to be just as applicable in today’s always-on, hyper-connected world as they were nearly 50 years ago.

As Friday winds down, I recommend Aaker’s post as excellent weekend reading for everyone interested in the foundations of what motivates one to recommend a product, service or brand on either a personal or professional level. In the meantime, take a look through Dichter’s key findings as summarized by Aaker below, and think back to times over the past week when you’ve either recommended a brand or been on the receiving end of a brand recommendation.

A major Dichter finding, very relevant today, was the identification of four motivations for a person to communicate about brands.

The first (about 33 percent of the cases) is because of product-involvement. The experience is so novel and pleasurable that it must be shared.

The second (about 24 percent) is self-involvement. Sharing knowledge or opinions is a way to gain attention, show connoisseurship, feel like a pioneer, have inside information, seek confirmation of a person’s own judgment or assert superiority.

The third (around 20 percent) is other-involvement. The speaker wants to reach out and help to express neighborliness, caring and friendship.

The fourth (around 20 percent) is message-involvement. The message is so humorous or informative that it deserves sharing.

Beyond these four motivations, what other factors dictate what you and your friends are sharing on Twitter, Facebook, with you in person or through other channels?

Image by ohtheclevernessofme.

Back to the Basics: Using Back Stories to Move Beyond Transactions

Posted on April 25, 2011 by Comments Off

Almost a year ago I wrote a short blog post titled “Hey, What Do You Know? Speaking Like a Human Actually Helps You Better Connect With … Humans.” The post focused on Woot’s incredibly effective and surprising approach to communications that relies on humor and personality, and it also encouraged companies to humanize their interactions.

This morning, I watched an informative video from Social Media Examiner in a post titled “How to Humanize Your Company and Get People to Share Your Story.” The post features an interview with Oglivy’s Rohit Bhargava, who offers tips on the importance of the human factor, as discussed in greater detail in his book “Personality Not Included.”

Not surprisingly, the opportunity to tap into often-untold, compelling back stories, one action that we regularly recommend here at Studio D, is also a key point Rohit offers in his video interview.

As the stars aligned, this morning was also the launch of Amazon’s content hub that focuses on stories behind the stories, appropriately titled The Backstory. The new page cleanly catalogs interviews and additional supplemental content from featured authors that ties Amazon more closely to the “why” rather than just the “what,” “where” and “how” of book buying.

As more and more companies are looking to produce compelling content as a way to move beyond purely transactional relationships, this move looks to  be a smart one in our books.

It will be interesting to see how the company continues to improve and promote The Backstory as a differentiator in the future.

Photo by Chris Devers.

Quick Thoughts: Two Twitter Tips to Ensure You’re Not Inadvertently Restricting Your Reach

Posted on April 20, 2011 by Comments Off

Now that most communications professionals have been on Twitter for a few years and have likely been advising clients on the service for nearly as long, there’s the tendency to think everyone has the basics pretty much covered.

A quick scan through personal and professional accounts, however, will point out that now’s as good a time as any to post a couple of quick reminders.

Just as with my last “quick thoughts” post on blogging, the following is a brief post calling out some actions to keep in mind as you’re going about your personal and/or professional business on Twitter.

Starting a tweet with an @ will severely limit your potential audience.

Twitter treats tweets that start with an @ followed directly by a username as a reply. This means that only that account and people who follow both your account and the account that leads your tweet will see your update. If you want your tweet to reach a much wider potential audience, put any character in front of the username. Starting with .@username or  ‘@username are most common.

Manual RTs are the only way to guarantee a retweet reaches all your followers.

A lot of people simply click on the automatic retweet button to pass a tweet onto their followers. This is fine a lot of the time but to ensure you’re reaching all of your followers, you’re best served with a manual RT. (A manual RT simply means actually copying and pasting the tweet and adding RT @username to the beginning.) The downsides with manual RTs can be summed up by three points:

  • Some users block all automatic retweets from entering their stream, which is as easy as just unchecking “Use Twitter Web retweets” from a Twitter management tool like HootSuite. People can also block automatic RTs that are being sent by specific accounts by unchecking the green circle next to the following button of that particular account profile page.
  • If one of your followers is already following an account that you would like to RT, that follower will not see your automatic retweet come through, thus missing your additional amplification efforts, as well as your “validation” of that tweet.
  • Clicking Twitter’s automatic RT button will not allow you to add any additional text to the message your followers will see. Manual RTs will guarantee you can make the most room for your commentary, usually around why you found the particular tweet interesting.

Are you seeing other basics being overlooked on a regular or semi-regular basis? If so, share your thoughts on the offenses below.

Image by keiyac.

Quick Thoughts: Unbury Your Blog

Posted on April 7, 2011 by 3 Comments

Through personal and professional experiences, I’ve come to learn that many people approach content creation (and blogging, in particular, for the purpose of this post) with a “Field of Dreams”-esque, “if you build it, they will come” outlook.

While content may be king, the Internet is littered with millions of good, if not great, blog posts, videos, photos, sites and other pieces of content that don’t receive the royal audiences they deserve.

Efforts to generate awareness are often underdeveloped if not completely overlooked. Now that everyone has platforms to publish content, flagging down potential readers is more important than ever.

If people aren’t able to find your blog in the first place, obviously, you have no chance of getting them to read it.

While I’ve watched many colleagues and clients get frustrated with the lack of inherent interest in their blogs, I always ask them to consider whether they’ve given a particular project the attention to amplification it needs to even show up on the radars of their potential readers.

Being associated with a well-known brand, company or cause will make the going easier, but getting readers is often incredibly hard work regardless of what your built-in audience might look like.

Before getting too discouraged by low view counts, think about what you can do to raise awareness.

Whether it’s as simple as pointing to your posts through your personal social media accounts (and possibly setting up dedicated profiles), or leaving comments on relevant blogs, or playing with ad buys on Facebook or SEO tweaks on Google and Bing, or one of countless other actions, make sure you’re thoughtfully attracting the right kind of attention to your blog.

Great content is a critical starting point but, ultimately, it is that extra effort spent on generating awareness that will ensure a wider audience (beyond just your coworkers and immediate family) will actually be able to find and enjoy the fruits of your blogging labors.

Image by John Bollwitt.

Facebook’s Adams Discusses the Foundation of (Online) Motivation

Posted on March 23, 2011 by Comments Off

Last Friday, O’Reilly Radar published a great interview with Paul Adams, global experience manager at Facebook, about the very simple yet often overlooked idea that everything we, as humans, do ultimately ties back to — well, human motivations.

In the interview, Adams does a good job talking about the importance of ultimately tapping into human behavior at the core, rather than using a new digital tactic as the starting point for designing social media campaigns and other activities designed to elicit action.Social media

I wholeheartedly recommend you click on over to O’Reilly Radar to read the full article, but if you’ll indulge me, I’ll take a few moments of your time pulling out the key quotes that really stood out in my mind.

Although part of my job as a digital consultant at WE Studio D is to stay on top of the latest trends and developments in the digital space, the much more important part of my job is to encourage strategic, holistic thinking that drives real action.

In every interaction, it is my goal to get account partners and clients to take a step back and think about the overarching goal of a campaign and whether our strategies are aligned with what would actually motivate people to change their behavior in the first place. Whether the desired change is as small as clicking like on a Facebook post or if it’s something larger like actually putting money down for a product or service, the “why” that motivates the change is infinitely more important than the “how” or “what.”

Here’s what Adams had to say on the subject:

It’s problematic that many businesses focus on existing and emerging technology, and not on social behavior. Thinking about platform integration first, like Twitter or Facebook, or technologies first, like what could be enabled by ‘mobile location’ or ‘real-time updates,’ is the wrong place to start. Often, businesses need to step back and consider what will motivate people to use what they are developing, above and beyond what exists today. Something that I’ve been saying for a while is that human behavior changes slowly, much slower than technology. By focusing on human behavior, not only are you much more likely to create something that people value and use, but you’re more likely to protect yourself from sudden changes in technology.

Similarly, when it comes to interactions and generating true value online, Adams rightfully asserts far too many companies are focused on the wrong things. The “what” and “how” again here need to be secondary to the “why.”

We’re still seeing the fans and followers arms race — businesses trying to gather as many fans as possible. But I think that’s fundamentally wrong. It’s more important to focus on quality, not quantity, of connections.

For example, many brands run competitions on social media platforms. You have to ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ that business to enter. So the question is whether they are making connections with advocates of their brand, or with people who simply love competitions. If it’s the latter, then they’re filling their social media interactions and data with noise.

As I mentioned earlier, people are often most influenced by their closest friends. So only make connections with true advocates of your brand, and market to the friends of those fans.

One of the latter interesting points Adams makes is around the unknown — in this case, the future of the mobile space. Further fodder for the simple idea that the “what” and “how” will change, but the “why” should anchor your decisions.

Mobile is going to be a very disruptive space, and I’m not sure how it will evolve. Rather than try and predict which technologies will be dominant, I think the safer bet for businesses is to understand how these technologies will support human behavior and how they will help people do things they are struggling to do today. 

Image by Daniel Slaughter.

The Sincerest Forms of Coattail Riding

Posted on July 20, 2010 by Comments Off

As we all learned in grade school, plagiarism is a serious offense and certainly no one likes a copycat. Being an original and speaking with your unique voice is the ultimate goal to which we were told to all aspire.

Although countless classrooms are plastered with Oscar Wilde’s proclamation “be yourself; everyone else is already taken,” anyone who can recall class elections in high school will surely remember how many candidates attempt to win the good graces of the student populace by hitching their campaign on the popular trends and celebrities of the day.

Originality is always a worthy goal; however, those looking to promote any cause, product, service or individual have seen the benefits of aligning themselves with something that has already gained popularity.

With that in mind, I present you five creative ways brands and individuals have garnered attention through some clever re-imagining. The following are all recent, or at least somewhat recent, highly successful imitations, parodies and other creative retakes. As is the case with most creative efforts getting attention for the right reasons, timing, execution and creativity are essential.


Apes the style and tone of an existing work to win attention

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Uses recognizable elements of the original content with the usual purpose of skewering the original message [Note: Remixes often fall into this category]

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Uses an official avenue to get attention that accompanies a particular brand or individual

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Other popular categories include: Commentary, which focuses on a highly discussed topic to amplify a point of view lacking in most conversations [Example: The iPhone Antenna  song],  and Inspiration, which attracts attention because of the popular reference but usually lacks any deeper connection [Example: Parry Gripp’s iPad Song].

Have other examples of successful coattail-riding tactics? Leave a comment below.

Hey, What Do You Know? Speaking Like a Human Actually Helps You Better Connect With … Humans

Posted on July 1, 2010 by 2 Comments

As anyone who’s worked with any of us at WE Studio D can attest, we’re not the biggest fans of jargon appearing in any sort of communications fit for human consumption. To be honest, we’re not huge fans of jargon in general, but some will argue that if it’s internal, acronyms and shorthand can certainly speed up certain transactions. And in that limited scope, we’d possibly agree.

It’s when corporate-speak creeps into a company’s outside communications through press releases — and yes, shudder to think, even blogs — that we begin to climb atop our soap boxes. It will come as no surprise then that we were thrilled to see’s distinctively human approach to communicating its news of an Amazon acquisition. Well, actually, there was a rapping monkey in the official announcement video, so I guess it’s about being a highly functional primate with more than a fair share of creativity.

OK, these guys have taken it to the (near) extreme, but they’re staying true to themselves. Given the positive response that’s resulted from this use of decidedly noncorporate speak, I sincerely hope communications professionals everywhere are taking notice. Speaking like a nonhuman drone isn’t going to win you any friends in the media, is quite likely to outright confuse your customers and will overall alienate most everyone else. With that, I recommend you skim through an excerpt from CEO Matt Rutledge’s acquisition letter below, watch the aforementioned rapping monkey video and, for bonus points, add “Fight the Bull — Why Business People Speak like Idiots” to your business books archive.

I know I say this every time I find a picture of an adorable kitten, but please set aside 20 minutes to carefully read this entire email. Today is a big day in Woot history. This morning, I woke up to find Jeff Bezos the Mighty had seized our magic sword. Using the Arthurian model as a corporate structure was something our CFO had warned against from the very beginning, but now that’s water under the bridge. What is important is that our company is on the verge of becoming a part of the dynasty. And our plans for Grail.Woot are on indefinite hold.

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Seeing the Bad in Badges

Posted on April 30, 2010 by Comments Off

Sad Badges

Remember those gold stars your elementary school teacher used to award you if your penmanship was especially legible? Well, this week, extrinsic motivation just made a major comeback. Badges, the virtual and, yes, sometimes even real-world equivalent of gold stars, will now be showing up in a few more places.

Foursquare has long enticed users to check into locations by the lure of badges, but this week, another major badge announcement came from The Huffington Post. The world’s most read blog is jumping on the badgewagon by offering those active on the site the chance brag to their friends, virtual or otherwise, that they’ve been bestowed the high honor of becoming a HuffPost certified networker, superuser and/or moderator.

While I can certainly see merit in HuffPo’s colorful new merit system to help the site stave off trolls and other online deviants, I must say that I’m a bit concerned about the overarching trend of badges and the like on society as a whole.

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about psychological principles learned through years of classroom study, social psychology lab research and educational psychology policy work, I can’t help but think about the overjustification effort. Essentially, the principle asserts that if you give someone an extrinsic reward to do something, depending on the activity, there is an increased likelihood that that person will assign more weight to the external factor than his own desire to actually perform the task.

In between leafing through my old Social Psychology textbooks and newer business psychology paperbacks, I came across an article from Josh Lovison at’s Gaming Insider called “The Hidden Dangers of Life Gaming” that hits on this very issue.

The problem with “life as a game” is that we are motivated to do many things in life simply for their own sake. Making a game out of those actions endangers our very willingness to do them.

There’s a psychological effect at play here called the “Overjustification effect.” A classic example of this effect was two groups of students, both asked to solve puzzles. One group was paid, and the other was not. The first group was then told they would no longer be paid, but was given the option of continuing to solve puzzles for free. Members of that group then showed a marked decrease in puzzle-solving interest, below the level of interest shown by the non-paid group.

When we take a task we actually enjoy doing, or decide to do for certain external reasons, and then are given a new reason to participate in that activity, if the new reason is compelling enough, it can replace the original reasons. So the idea of creating a “game” out of brushing one’s teeth, or even buying a particular product, endangers the reasoning behind why we do that in the first place.

What do you think? Maybe this week’s announcement that the Boy Scouts are adding a “Video Game” badge shouldn’t be so feared by parents as it might just result in more screen-free quality time with the family after all…

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3 Tips for Customer Engagement Indirectly Inspired by Harry Potter

Posted on April 6, 2010 by 2 Comments

Over the weekend, for reasons related to my appreciation of both Brad Neely comics and “Watch Instantly” features on Netflix, I ended up watching an absolutely fascinating documentary about various creative projects inspired by the world of Harry Potter called “We Are Wizards.” Though HP is no doubt one of the most extreme crazes of modern times, it got me thinking about fan appreciation and customer involvement more broadly.

No matter what industry you’re in, there’s an extremely good chance that someone is crazy about the product(s) or service(s) you offer. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying everyone will become your brand spokesperson or company evangelist.  What I am saying is that there’s a tremendous opportunity to tap into the excitement that your customers have toward your brand if done thoughtfully.

The key is to give those customers who are excited about your product or service an avenue to share their positive experience in an organic way. And it bears repeating, this needs to be done thoughtfully.

Even if your efforts to engage your consumers may be well-intentioned, people rarely jump on opportunities to share their enthusiasm about your service or product if the guidelines for engagement are too rigid or disingenuous.

Instead, here’s a list of three simple ways to tap into your customers’ passion:

  • Seeing is believing. In the right circumstances, your customers/fans will gladly upload photos that show them interacting with your product and/or brand in some way. The Bing photo booth at SXSW was a clever way to encourage fans to add their own personalized take on the “decision engine” as part of the Bing Photo for Good promotion. Encourage your customers to share their “Kodak” moments including unboxings, showing products “in the wild,” event photos, etc.
  • Call and response. Though “engagement” has become one of the more clichéd words in the world of social influence, actually engaging with your customers/fans/followers on a consistent and sincere basis continues to yield significant benefits. Have dialogues with your customers. Ask them questions and get their point of view. More often than not, brands on Facebook and Twitter fall on the side of underengaging, and very few push it to the other end of the spectrum.
  • Creative connection. All too often, we see companies attempting to herd their customers’ responses into a predetermined narrative by asking narrow questions or dictating the appropriate medium for responses. Don’t undermine the creativity of your customers. Encourage them to respond in ways that have the most meaning to them, whether that means uploading a photo, posting a comment, writing a song or anything in between.

While it’s rare that a brand will give life to a whole subculture of fan projects including bands, a music genre, podcasts, blogs, and other works of creativity as was the case with J.K. Rowling’s empire, you might just be surprised by the inspired tricks your customers have up their sleeves.

Image by Greg Westfall

The Kids Don’t Like It [Blogging]

Posted on February 4, 2010 by 6 Comments

WritingTo be honest, I’m more than a bit worried when it comes to kids and their communication skills. I’ll take it multiple steps further and say I’m concerned about the current trends around how we all get and share information.

While Idiocracy was an absolutely terrible movie, it did paint what many fear may just be the future of mankind. For those who have avoided wasting 84 minutes of your life on the film, allow me to summarize the concept briefly. In the movie, survival of the fittest has been replaced by survival of the dumbest as laziness and an obsession with mindlessness has rotted our species’ brains over time. We in turn are left with societies that can’t think for themselves and spend days on end watching trash TV, contributing nothing and rapidly devolving.

Results from a recent survey by the Pew Research Center underscore what may be construed as a similar, though far less exaggerated decline. The study, which was released on Wednesday, indicates that the percentage of teens and young adults who actively blog has dropped off by about 50 percent when comparing 2009 with 2006. As was predicted, the other main trend of the study revolved around the meteoric rise in the popularity of social networks.

As long(er) form methods of communication drop off in favor of status updates and wall posts, where will the future content creators of tomorrow hone their writing skills? Will uploading mobile photos and clicking “like” displace thoughtful discourse and ultimately lead to a dumbed-down society? Before LiveJournal there were journals but what comes after them both?

Image credit: Marind

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