It’s easy to get caught up in the next platform, content format, and piece of technology. Oftentimes these platforms create a lot of distractions and its difficult to separate the signal from the noise.

However, people are all really the same.  The biggest challenge is zeroing in on these fundamental principals and understanding out to apply them today.

I was recently invited to go speak at a brand innovation summit and discussed these psychological principals and tactics that work in driving excitement around something offline and online. You can see the entire presentation below, but I’ve outlined the major points here in this post.

Today, all advertisers need to recognize that the biggest obstacle they face is the overwhelming amount of content and distractions we face today. There is more content be produced than ever before. Time is finite – content is endless.

Coined by Thomas H. Davenport, this is called the attention economy:

As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes the limiting factor in the consumption of information. Attention economics applies insights from other areas of economic theory to enable content consumers, producers, and intermediaries to better mediate and manage the flow of information in light of the scarcity of consumer attention

Moore’s law states that, “over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years”.

Essentially, technology is speeding up. Everything is faster, smaller, cheaper as a result. This allows for a proliferation of content platforms and cheap production. You don’t need millions of dollars and start a TV network to have anyone see your video these days. Instead an iphone and YouTube will suffice.

The impact this has been having on media has been profound. YouTubers are generating millions of views. They’re celebrities to young people in a way that is often more meaningful than ‘traditional’ celebs. They have a direct line to audiences.

In advertising we’re often judged by KPI’s (key performance indicators), or metrics. Having benchmarks to meet and exceed in order to judge quality of work is imperative in most anything we do. However, oftentimes, we as advertisers place an emphasis on the wrong metrics, and as a result we warp what the original intent of those goals really were.

Campbell’s law succinctly describes this warping of goals and metrics–

The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

Oftentimes in advertising we’re asked how many people we reached, how many views we got, how many impressions we generated. As a result, we may focus on reaching a lot of people, but not in a meaningful/impactful way. We’ll buy views, but not quality ones to get a big number. We’ll buy display ads to get reach but no engagement. This is a problem. We need to focus on what resonates with people and focus on driving memorable consumer engagement vs ads no one will ever really see just to get a big number.

Whether offline or online there are a few things we know works well in driving engagement.
1. Emotions are engaging
2. Invite an audience along
3. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd

Multiple studies have been done studying what type of content gets shared or goes ‘viral’. The two that stand out for me come from Jonah Berger and Karen Nelson Field. Content that evokes high-arousal emotions are more likely to go viral. This means that content that performs best doesn’t just make you smile it makes you laugh out loud, it doesn’t make you sad it makes you cry. According to Berger’s study:

Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral.

People love acknowledgement and being a part of something. Cater to specific niche communities in order to focus your efforts and get a community to rally around content. Start small to help identify what makes them tick. Engaging real communities to be unstoppable for three reasons – built in distribution, they’re credible, fans are highly engaged

You have to provide value and get them invested – either emotionally or physically.

Emotional – love it or hate it, they have to talk about it involves them
Physically – build them into the content production so they’re invested in its success

People tend to follow the crowd when it comes to assigning value to anything. If there’s a restaurant with a long line it must be good, same goes for clubs, bars, movie premieres, etc. The perception that something is popular breeds more popularity.

The same is true online. The more likes, views, comments, blog pickup that something gets the more it is perceived as valuable. In focusing these efforts you can create a snowball effect of additional sharing and engagement around your content.