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Emotional Connections

Lucas Donat
Emotional Connections Lucas Donat

Emotion. It's what drives human action. Advertising 101: hook consumers emotionally and then give them a reason to validate their desire to purchase. Emotion first. Intellect second.

In fact, new scientific research being conducted at the HeartMath Institute is validating what advertisers have known forever: our emotional responses to inputs are faster than our cognitive responses. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you're angry before your intellect can talk your emotions down. Emotion governs our actions more than we realize, and good advertising appeals to our emotions. 

Emotional associations also are critical building blocks of brand development. But it's a real challenge to make those kinds of emotional connections through online advertising. That's why so many online brands -- like Progressive.com, Geico.com, Priceline.com and Lendingtree.com -- are turning to offline advertising to build brand and drive online sales.

eHarmony.com is perhaps the ultimate example of this because the benefit of eHarmony, in its most basic form, is love. The TV and Radio ads use testimonials telling highly emotional stories of eHarmony members finding their soul-mates. eHarmony founder, Dr. Neil Clark Warren, is inter-cut with these testimonials to build credibility and establish the scientific basis for the reason to believe. In the two and a half years that eHarmony.com has been advertising on television it has become one of the fastest-growing brands in America.

But what makes the eHarmony story so special from an advertising standpoint is that the company has harnessed a fusion of brand-building advertising and direct response. This hybrid is called "brand-building direct response" and it is the secret weapon of the new generation of dot coms that want the branding power of offline and the accountability of ROI positive advertising. In this new hybrid, brand advertising and DR are no longer mutually exclusive, rather, they are inextricably linked.

How ROI positive DR advertising drives brand
If for every advertising dollar spent you are receiving $3 to $5 in return, your budget is limited only by the amount of media that you can purchase that delivers that yield. This means that you can out-spend competitors who are limited to a finite branding budget where there is no revenue stream directly attributable to the advertising. With more media budget available through ROI positive advertising, your brand gains greater exposure -- therefore DR is driving brand growth.

Conversely, emotionally authentic advertising that connects the brand with trust and credibility makes the media more effective and reduces customer acquisition costs, resulting in a positive ROI. If given a choice, consumers will go with the brand they trust. As an example, eHarmony published the findings of a recent brand awareness study that shows eHarmony is preferred by a substantial margin over its closest competitor in terms of "site I trust to match compatible singles." And eHarmony is the preferred brand in its category in terms of "a highly credible site" -- an incredible feat, especially considering the name recognition already enjoyed by eHarmony's competitors prior to the launch of its own advertising. And this was all achieved using brand-building direct response.

It's the successful use of emotion that makes eHarmony's advertising pay out. "Brand," in this example, is one of the key drivers of response. "Brand" is driving positive ROI through the use of emotionally engaging advertising that fosters consumer trust and higher response rates.

Ultimately it all boils down to the numbers in any business. Whatever the means, the lower the customer acquisition cost, the higher the margin. That's why so many online companies are turning to this hybrid of offline advertising to connect emotionally with consumers, while generating very tangible and measurable ROI -- precisely the winning combination that was missing before the supposed dot-com bubble burst.

Indeed, what the success of eHarmony's television campaign demonstrates is that advertising that seeks to build a brand does not have to abandon the concept of accountability and numbers-driven advertising. Traditional wisdom might dictate that the more immediate form of accountability in advertising is to be found online. Online ads can drive click-throughs to a website, instantaneous sales, and site registrations, for example. But it's a myth that accountability only exists online -- and can't exist alongside brand-building advertising campaigns.

A thorough advertising strategy will embrace both online and offline tactics -- adapting each approach to its particular strengths. But nothing drives trust and credibility like an authentic emotional connection between brand and consumer -- and nothing accomplishes that like offline television and radio advertising. And when you can figure out how to make that offline advertising have a 5 to 1 ROI directly attributable to your advertising, you'll have a very positive emotional response indeed. And that is my wish for any advertiser (as long as they're not directly competitive with one of my clients!).

Lucas Donat is a founding partner of Donat/Wald, a leader in direct response advertising. The agency has helped move more than a billion dollars through the economy while building nationally known brands using DRTV, with campaigns for eHarmony.com, Register.com, Stamps.com, eDiets.com, Mattel Toys, Columbia, MGM/UA and more.


As mentioned previously, social media and behavioral targeting are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, social media should be a significant component of the range of behaviors catalogued by behavioral targeting vendors. Social activities are part of the universe of networks such as Tacoda and Revenue Science, but they are one part of the larger tapestry that inform patterns of consumer behavior.

There are companies, such as Lotame, that understand the need to overlay behavioral attributes and social media activities to create a compelling marketing solution. Traditional behavioral targeting tends to track passive consumption of media -- it's based on what consumers are looking at. A more comprehensive behavioral targeting solution will need to gather new types of data sets that track participation, engagement and involvement in ways that are unique to social media.

Similarly, the metrics used to evaluate success will need to evolve. For years now, the industry has been clamoring for better metrics than clickthrough and conversion rates. At the same time, engagement metrics are trumpeted as more relevant to marketers. The unique advertising environment of social media means marketers need to gauge success based on consumer intensity, interest level and duration, particularly as ads become richer.

There is a chicken-and-egg component to social media. Marketers and publishers have a vague sense that there is value to be mined from the information that can be gleaned from blogs, personal profiles, consumer-generated media, comments, product reviews, podcasts, social bookmarking and wikis. But no one has moved beyond that to convincingly productize that information.

Unlike social media, behavioral targeting is a marketing platform created expressly for advertisers. It is a solution generated to solve a problem and meet a market demand. Essentially, consumers do not generate enough premium contextual targeting opportunities. As a result, behavioral targeting is able to exploit additional inventory that might have been deemed less valuable to advertisers. In comparison to social media and consumer-generated content, behavioral targeting is a relatively mature marketplace.

The problem with monetizing social media doesn't just rest with advertisers' lack of demand. Part of the problem is that there simply isn't a compelling social media marketing solution available yet. Social media, as a consumer-generated platform, doesn't have a sales force or a repping firm; at least not in the same way that behavioral targeting does with TACODA or Revenue Science. The world of social media consists essentially of an enormous scatter market. It is huge, unwieldy and difficult to productize as an advertising platform. 

The large media companies with vast reserves of social media inventory, such as FOX Interactive Media, are still selling social media by channel or vertical, or by run-of-site or by dumping the remnant inventory into ad networks. For a company possibly valued at $10 billion, Facebook's revenue is still estimated to be just $150 million for 2007. Google, with social media properties such as YouTube and Blogger, could potentially mine social media as a marketing platform, yet the company is still selling most of its inventory as contextually targeted.

In some ways, social media is grappling with the same issues free web-based email and chat sites faced a decade ago. Sites such as Hotmail also had registration data, an almost unlimited number of impressions, significant reach and a strong brand name. Yet the value of the inventory was questionable. No one was signing up to refinance their mortgage while they were reading their email. Similarly, advertisers on social media sites today face the quandary of reaching a highly dedicated, highly desirable audience that generally refuses to be distracted by advertiser entreaties. Social media sites were created to meet the social, cultural and intellectual needs of consumers, not to meet the demands of marketers. The very thing that makes social media a success is the same thing that hampers it from becoming an effective marketing platform.

Social media are not commerce plays from the consumer perspective, and only a small part of the spectrum of social media is directed toward purchasing research. There is no natural affinity between advertiser and content on most social media sites, (and this is particularly true for social networks) since consumers, quite simply, are busy doing other things. Additionally, advertising on these platforms tends to be justifiably non-intrusive. The solution to this problem is behavioral targeting.

It's no secret that social media holds potential as an advertising platform but is also fraught with difficulty. Social media such as blogs, social networking sites, social news and bookmarking sites have struggled to find a successful advertising-supported model. Much of the problem is related to advertiser reluctance to relinquish control. If most (or all) social media is consumer-generated, advertisers fear abdicating control to consumers, lest they appear with "offensive" content or, even worse, brand critics. Until advertisers become more comfortable with less control, or believe the assurances social media companies are making, demand for social media impressions will remain anemic. The biggest barrier to transforming social media into a marketing platform is its newness. Put simply, advertisers are risk-averse with new marketing platforms.

The Champion: Your ultimate "liker." This poster believes in everything about your brand and supports all your brand initiatives. Be sure to "like" this poster as much as this poster likes you.

The Orator: This is your loudest brand advocate. A worthy poster, but feed them wisely. While their enthusiasm is appreciated, being the loudest online is a magnet for starting "flame wars." Providing Orators with good information can go a long way toward keeping their posts positive and entertaining.

The Torchbearer: This poster will carry your brand messages and initiatives across the internet. Rich connections with this poster can lead to great opportunities, such as sending a brand message viral.

The Connoisseur: This is a brand "collector" of sorts. This poster appreciates your initiatives and always kept tabs on you well before social media. As a loyal brand enthusiast, the Connoisseur has been buying your products for years, so be gracious and appreciative in your interactions.

The Orbiter: Orbiters are posters who like you and your brand -- from a distance. They are always hovering around your brand, keeping tabs on what your brand is up to, but they never closely engage. Interactions with this poster are usually initiated by the posters themselves, as they value their distance.

The Reposter: These posters fill their posts with others' posts, again and again. If you post it, so will they. If someone else posts it, so will they. While this can be good for re-populating messaging and spreading awareness, it is a double-edged sword, as this poster is indifferent to reposting positives or negatives about your brand.

The Researcher: This sharp-minded poster is knowledgeable about your brand and products, including the most obscure information. Not only do you need to dot your "I"s and cross your "T"s with this poster, but you also need to make sure every fact you post is 100 percent correct. If you don't, this poster will put you on the defensive.

The Opportunist: You'll get to know this poster very well if you're running any kind of contest or promotion. The Opportunist smells out opportunity from all over, and definitely likes you -- if you have something to give. Be aware: The Opportunist does not like to feel jaded, and if your offers are vague or insufficient, the Opportunist will go on the attack.

The Runner: Be prepared to have your posts examined, cross-examined, and possibly taken well out of context by this poster. Runners will run with what you post and take your words farther than you ever intended them to travel. They attach new meaning to words that you might never have meant and are experts at grabbing, manipulating, and repurposing sound bites to fit their needs.

This category is otherwise known as "the reason the delete feature was invented."

The Oppressor: The Oppressor does not like your messaging. The Oppressor does not like others liking your messaging. The Oppressor does not want to hear opinions contrary to his or her own. The Oppressor will not sit idly by and let others post that which is offensive.

The Antagonist: Your brand's foil exists in the form of the Antagonists. The yin to your brand's yang. If you announce something new with a red background, they'll instantly prefer that background to be blue. If you announce 10 winners for a contest, they'll counter that there are 10 losers. The Antagonist lives to attack your brand.

The Propagandist: It might be your brand's page, but to the Propagandist, it is simply an opportunity to spread his or her own messages. These posters will actively use your platform as their own. Their symbiotic behavior includes posting link after link, posting promotion after promotion, and "hijacking" threads in order to drive traffic to another site or brand message. You can often find these remoras of the social media sea in comment threads.

The Color Commentator: It was once famously said there are seven words you can't say on TV. This poster has trouble posting seven words without using one of those, or a host of others in the poster's "colorful" repertoire of foul phrases. Specializing in the kind of responses that would make an old sailor proud, the Color Commentator can turn any positive thread or initiative into a PR nightmare.

The Instigator: These posters present the ultimate in lose-lose scenarios with their posting style. Nothing you ever say or do will be right, and any responses to try to rectify a situation with them will only further bury your brand and your message. With a love for tinkering with your brand's supporters, these posters will needle positive posts with sharp barbs. The best you can do to combat them is to drown them out with quality information without addressing them directly.

Evangelists. Moderates. Distracters. While this is not a definitive list, and in fact is quite subjective, this list does give insight into some of the more "interesting" types of posters. Knowing this, your efforts to manage them can become more focused. How you communicate with the posters, however, is often dependent upon the state of your brand, as certain companies tend to attract certain types of posters. Let's check out a few real-life examples.

A brand in good standing
Kaplan University (KU) is a well-regarded online university. Being a positive brand, its followers are primarily Evangelists who "like" the brand because they have expectations of receiving valuable information from KU. So KU can implement a strategy to "elevate and build" upon these Evangelists. KU is in the position where it can dispense information and simply answer questions, and be "liked" for this, which produces positive threads filled with feedback from Evangelists. This action alone can end up populating much of its page.

Kaplan University's challenge is to provide the proper response to queries within the allotted social media time (quickly), otherwise Evangelists can quickly lose faith. To avoid this, KU must maintain correspondences or risk creating Moderates and Distracters through real or perceived negligence.
A brand that's seen good and bad
Microsoft Office has had its share of criticism and success in the social space. Its page reflects that, with a mix of Evangelists, Moderates, and Distracters. Microsoft Office's reaction to these posters can easily tip the scale of public opinion, so it's important for the brand to positively engage all posters.

Microsoft Office needs to strategically "evolve" its page to help win over posters by continuing to populate the page with rich content. This includes posting relevant news, updates, links to upgrades, contests, facts, and initiatives to engage consumers with threads calling for feedback. It also means constantly monitoring the page so that it can efficiently respond to questions, issues, and concerns. By engaging in these actions, Microsoft Office will be able to dictate content, as well as "bump" off Distracters without necessarily having to delete them.
A lightning rod of a brand
General Motors (GM) has seen better days as a result of the bailout, the sale of Hummer, and some poorly perceived product lines. And its Facebook page mirrors this, as it's a magnet for Distracters, despite a loyal group of Evangelists. Thus, GM is in need of "shifting" its audience through intelligent communication strategies.

When last checked, the default view of the wall only shows GM posts. Brands that have adversity tend to resort to this view. It needs to positively engage Distracters, welcome different viewpoints, and support its Evangelists. GM should also consider highlighting third parties on the page, such as sponsored charities, causes, events, etc. This will help build positive sentiment and drown out the Distracters. Deleting inflammatory comments is necessary; however, removing negative comments would be further weakened virally, and would provide fresh ammunition for Distracters.
Whatever position your brand might be in on Facebook, in the end posters are still people. And people, after all, ultimately make your brand strong and drive your business. So "like" them in some form or another -- because even the worst Distracter could be a potential customer.

David Clarke is founder and managing partner of BGT Partners.

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