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Is your advertising slowly killing your business?

Digital advertising is expected to grow to $107 billion in 2019, accounting for over half of all media spending in the U.S. (Source). All the while, one in four internet users block ads online-- that’s 70 million people and growing! (Source)

Part of the lure is just how easy it is to buy and track digital media, thanks to programmatic media buying algorithms and self-directed platforms like Google and Facebook. A few clicks on their dashboards and voila, you’ve pushed an ad to thousands of people. No wonder marketers believe they’re doing their job well.

However, by pushing these digital ads, marketers may be unintentionally causing lasting harm to their brands. As digital advertising budgets grow, the pressure to show results and ROI has meant more spammy marketing practices to chase that next sale. It is no surprise that only 48% of the general population trusts businesses and brands, an all-time low (Source).

With digital approaches becoming increasingly intrusive and annoying, it comes to no surprise that consumers are seeking information from other avenues. Consumers are opting to rely on sources like user-generated content, internet reviews, social media conversations, and word-of-mouth recommendations from more trustworthy peers and digital influencers.

With two-thirds of your brand’s “marketing” occurring without you, it's no surprise why so many marketers are seeing their digital advertising ROI fall at a steep rate these past few years.

We now understand why the same Facebook campaigns that used to pull in results are now seeing new lows in engagement. Luckily, we have solutions.

To be successful, brands should be devoting their efforts and limited resources to the bigger slice of the cake-- the two-thirds of marketing happening beyond ad campaigns, press releases, and promotional social media posts. But how?

1. Develop a captivating brand story

Brands can be quietly confident by crafting a compelling brand story that reflects their higher purposes, whether it’s a social purpose, values they stand for, or a vision for the world.

A brand story should align with customers’ common values (which brands can identify through strategic qualitative and quantitative research), making it meaningful, believable, and relevant. By providing customers with a memorable story that is quickly resonated and evokes emotion, they can clearly articulate what your company means to them and passionately share it with their peers. When customers find companies that stand up for what they believe in, loyalty and trust will follow.

The key to a memorable story is consistency. It doesn’t mean saying the same thing repeatedly, but having words, visuals, and perspectives form a core brand personality aligned across platforms. Instead of chasing after the next marketing trend and having a confusing brand presence, focus on the narrative flow that makes it most simple for customers to understand your story.

2. Be genuine and helpful on social media

No more treating social media as another channel to blast promotional, clickbaity, self-serving content with CTAs. It’s time to use social media the way it was designed for-- to engage in conversations directly with customers and build a community of fans who will come back for more.

Realness is key here. Customers can easily spot brands that feel superficial or desperate. For example, too many brands use memes for the sake of using memes, which often backfires when millennials and Gen Z-ers call them out for being unfunny and fake. It’s critical to go beyond fluffy or pandering messaging and have a sincere and transparent identity that humanizes your brand. Brands can achieve this by developing a personality that shines through the language and creating content that feels personable, such as by featuring real experiences from customers or giving a behind-the-scenes peek of the company.

But having a relatable presence on social media is not enough. Brands need to show they can add value to followers’ lives, whether it’s through providing quick customer service or merely sharing useful content beyond product information. Too often, we see brands offering quid pro quo exchanges on social media-- “tag 3 friends to participate in this giveaway” or “you must like our Facebook page to unlock the content”-- which is tiresome and irritating to customers. Comparatively, brands that provide information freely and transparently without expecting something in return seem more friendly and trustworthy.

When you look beyond potential sales and prioritize creating a human-centered social media presence with valuable content that customers actively seek out, you will earn their trust.

3. Make meaningful, human connections

The creation of two-way relationships with your customers is powerful, as it goes beyond the traditional buyer-seller transaction. By combining trust, shared values, and history of experiences, your brand can have a connection that verges on a friendship with customers. And friends are loyal.

We cannot overemphasize the effectiveness of face-to-face human interactions with your customers in terms of elevating them to become brand champions. Whether it’s a community workshop, behind-the-scenes tour, or exclusive party for your VIP customers, on-the-ground events will cement your brand’s humanity and values. If you have a brick and mortar store, take the opportunity to engage in community issues and give back to the neighborhood by inviting them into your space. By being more local and creating genuine connections with people in their everyday lives, no longer will your brand be a faceless corporation. Not only will these activations provide stories for your customers to share with others, but it also serves as a reminder that your company cares about its customers beyond sales.

A great example of a brand that does this well is SoFi, a finance company. SoFi regularly hosts networking community experiences and career workshops around the country, demonstrating how they go beyond being a financial advisor and selling products. Instead, they are genuinely invested in their customers’ success and lives.


Since two-thirds of marketing is done by customers and is out of marketers’ hands, it’s about time we focus our efforts on customers’ experiences with your brand. By developing trusted, genuine connections, they will happily become your most prominent marketers by positively introducing your brand to future customers.

So, I challenge you to pivot away from wasting your precious resources, time, and energy on strategies that will slowly kill your business. Instead, re-strategize and tweak your marketing to beyond branded messaging. It’s time to refocus your efforts on meaningful conversations about your brand and target the two-thirds of customer-driven journeys that will yield actual results.

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