Brand storytelling requires a human lens. Several sessions across various topics – social strategy, business building, corporate social, content marketing – all addressed the theme of storytelling, with speakers insisting that brands must find the human anchor to all of their communications. Kathy Klotz-Guest, comic improviser and founder of Keeping It Human, explained that companies must identify the human need and address it with how their business or product can make their customers’ lives better.

“Your company is Robin,” Klotz-Guest said, “and your customer is Batman. Companies can’t be protagonists. People can.”

She noted the legal hurdles, but emphasized that getting out of “transactional endings” is extremely important for brands, especially in appealing to younger generations. She gave the actionable takeaway of collecting brand stories and saving them in a “story bank” or database. An especially effective way to do this is to enlist your customers and partners to tell the company’s or product’s story in their own way. Tim Washer -- comedy writer on SNL, Conan O'Brien, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – added that companies must connect emotionally and make people feel something. He explained that stories of failure really connect.

“We’ve all screwed up,” he elaborated. “We are all a wreck inside. So we have a strong appreciation for company admissions of failure and shame because those are deep. Audiences will feel that emotion.”

He suggested attendees measure the success of their storytelling efforts by if they hit a nerve – positive or negative. The point is to emote your brand messaging. Park Howell, whose approach to storytelling I described here, also encouraged companies to embrace vulnerability because that’s something everyone can relate to. All of these approaches echo PulsePoint Group’s belief in getting to the “human element” and including both emotional and rational appeals to achieve desired net impact.


Influencers save the day in a world of decreasing organic reach. Organic reach is tumbling down on every monetized platform. Several speakers at the conference stressed that in order to reliably reach audiences long-term, we need to leverage advocates and influencers. Conference attendees learned that 185 advocates for your brand have even greater reach than 1 million Facebook fans. Furthermore, an influencer doesn’t have to have 100K fans to make an impact. Local, micro influencers are often overlooked.

“A brandividual is popular,” TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden described. “A true influencer is effective at creating popularity.”

That means that even lesser known individuals can be effective at marketing your brand as long as they have a quality, captive following comprised of your target audience. They don’t need to have a large following, they need to have the right following.

“Brands confuse influence with audience,” Convince Founder Jay Baer explained. “’Reaching’ 5K people doesn’t mean anything. You need people to care and click.”

Rather than looking for a celebrity, look for someone who is talking in your brand voice who will resonate with your target audience. “It’s better to have a thousand people love you than tens of thousands who kind of like you,” Blab Co-Founder Shaan Puri argued. In justifying this approach to executives, it’s important that everyone understand that influencer content is not going to be an advertisement. It needs to be organic, not overt.

Matthew See, Director of Social and Games for HSN, advised: “Don’t sell the influencer program. Sell what influencers DO.”

Speakers reminded attendees not to put too many parameters on influencers. Allow influencers to be creative and don’t put up boundaries that would stifle their freedom to express your brand. Also, be ready to explore new terrain with influencers. Snapchat has tremendous potential for influencer marketing, especially once the metrics advance. Industry mavens are also suggesting that the theme of next year’s conference will include discussions of influencer play in chatbots, becoming more and more important as Gen Z comes into brands’ focus.


Achieving executive buy-in doesn’t need to be so hard. Several SMMW speakers outlined strategies for getting executive approval of their digital initiatives. Gary Vaynerchuk, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author, challenged the audience at his keynote address.

“Management and senior leadership do get it,” he said. “Marketers can be tone deaf to business needs.”

He explained candidly how very few marketers have built a business from the ground up and can therefore not understand every business objective that leadership is trying to address. That’s why it’s important to craft a careful, considerate argument for buy-in. IBM’s Sandy Carter summed it up well: “Revenue is the language. Showcase how small projects led to something to gradually get approval for larger projects.” Other speakers agreed, using even more colorful language and approaches.

“Risk aversion goes too far at many companies,” Tim Washer explained. “It may as well be a mannequin if you’re going to be a talking head. Start internally with low risk to prove it works. Find a competitor that’s done it well to irk executives.”

“We do not have the Beyoncé budget,” Live Nation’s Social Media Marketer Mikey Kilun added. “So everything is small scale testing. It’s critical to track and measure everything to report to executives and achieve buy in.”

How to present it? James Moat, Director of Global Digital Communications at Avery Dennison, suggested that for every campaign, you serve up a one pager to upper management to show the return in more ways than just dollars.

“That has been a game changer and allowed us to secure budget for the big, crazy things we are doing this year,” he explained.

I’m in full agreement with these strategies and would add that having KPIs established in advance will be extremely important in measuring the success of your initiatives’ efforts. Determine what metrics are important to your company’s business objectives and build reports around them. Generally speaking, a one pager or double-sided placemat is all that executives will have time to read, so make your findings concise and your recommendations actionable.


With SXSW and SMMW behind us, we feel even more well-versed on digital best practices and thought leadership. We hope that you’ll join us at one or both of the conferences next year. Also, stay tuned for insights from Tableau and Brandwatch conferences, which encompass much more than tool-specific learnings.


What would a social media blog post be without Twitter takeaways? Here are our Top 5 Tweet-Worthy Quotes from SMMW16–

1)    Brands confuse influence with audience. “Reaching” 5K people doesn’t mean anything. – Jay Baer, President of @Convince #socialmedia

2)    #SocialMedia’s biggest ROI is to attract & maintain employees who want to work for a digitally engaged enterprise. - @bernieborges

3)    Think about the last time you had a great brand experience. What was so great? Now, bring it to life for someone else. – @BrianSolis

4)    By the time you hear about "what works," it won't work anymore. Social changes the fastest. - Shaan Puri, Co-founder of @Blab #socialmedia

5)    The game we are in is trust – Marcus Sheridan, Founder of @TheSalesLion #socialmedia #marketing