You’ve Cat to be Kitten Me: A Quick Lesson on Cats in the Media

I recently switched desks, moving to another section of the office.

As I broke a sweat hauling a bookshelf, client folders, pictures and knick-knacks to my new space, I realized how much of my stuff is cat-related.

Cat butt magnets.
My day-by-day tear-off calendar.
A sticky note dispenser.

(Mind you, these things were given to me. Okay, except the cat butt magnets.) But it isn’t just the tangible “stuff” that’s cat related, it’s also my social media feeds, news sites, emails, TV news segments, GIFs and more.

We all know that dogs are America’s favorite pet. But, IMHO, cats are the ones that are dominating digital media… search algorithms and Google crawlers aside. Nearly two million cat videos were posted to YouTube in 2014 alone, resulting in almost 26 billion views. That year, cat videos received more views per video than any other content category.

For example, since being posted in 2007, Keyboard Cat has received more than 48 million views (and counting) on YouTube. These countless hours of watching cat videos have led to some interesting research.

In a survey of nearly 7,000 people, the Indiana University Media School measured the relationship between watching cat videos and mood. Overall, participants reported fewer negative emotions such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness after watching cat-related online media than before. They also felt more energetic, and the pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed the guilt they felt about procrastinating (#preach).

These views, videos and memes eventually led to the world’ first CatCon, held in Los Angeles in June 2015. Modeled after ComicCon, the “cat convention” attracted 12,000 people that year. This year, the crowd topped 30,000, plus 162 cats.

In the media, cat-related stories tend to go viral. Per BuzzFeed’s “Beastmaster,” the average feline story gets almost four times the viral views as canine. That’s not even going into the social media behind it.

Hashtagify reports #cat having a popularity score of 76.2 (never fear, #dog is right up there at 75) on Twitter. However, it looks like cats aren’t spending as much time on Instagram. On the platform, #cat has a mere 124 million posts, compared to #dog’s 147 million.

hashtags data by

So, what’s a marketer to do with all of this information?

  1. Cat content works – well, really anything furry and cute works. Users can’t resist liking and sharing animals on the internet. Even in terms of B2B social media, don’t be afraid to break through the clutter with furry content. A cat GIF is sure to spark more engagement and produce more smiles.

  1. Cats are your competition – there are thousands of memes, GIFs and videos out there competing for attention. Use this as a way to challenge yourself to think outside the box when it comes to your strategy. At EMA Boston, we do our best to surprise people. This GIF was sent agency-wide to express this idea… it’s the perfect example.
    1. Animals trigger the emotional appeal of your brand and there is a direct connection between sales volume and the emotional connection your consumers have toward a brand. Build a friendship with your audience by using good humor or a soft story – remember this Super Bowl commercial?



    1. Millennials love cats (or cat content). If your brand is looking for a way to reach millennials, a good cat-themed campaign may do the trick. According to a survey by Mintel, 51 percent of Americans in their 20s and 30s have cats. Just sayin’.


    1. Marketing can be fun, people. Do we need another super-serious graphic filled with stats about the user journey or decline in white paper consumption? If you enjoy your own company’s marketing, guess what? Others probably will too.


    1. As the winter grows darker and colder, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder – Google it) begins to kick in, start watching cat videos. It’s cheap therapy. In the meantime, enjoy this cute picture of my feline friend.


4 Thought Leaders on Thought Leadership

“Thought Leadership.” What do you think of when you hear this term? If you’d asked me this a few years ago, I would have envisioned CEOs on stage at a big conference, or maybe a nice profile piece in a trade or business publication. But over the past year or two I’ve been rethinking how we define a “thought leader,” in part thanks to the work that Mitchell Levy is doing over at his Thought Leader Life blog and podcast.

So when I heard Mitchell’s voice (which I recognized because I’m a regular listener of the FIR Podcast Network) at the AMPlify conference before he got up to speak, I knew I had to connect with him. That connection turned into me co-hosting Thought Leader Life for the month of June (which stretched well into July if you’re really going to get technical).

Mitchell has argued for a long time now that everyone inside your organization can and should be a thought leader. I’ve come around to something very close to that same conclusion, and was able to put our arguments to the test through chats with four well-known thought leaders (in anyone’s book).

I was able to get some great insights on the topic from Mitchell and our four guests: Scott Monty, Paul Gillin, Emily Reichert and Ann Handley. The conversations involved mostly — but not entirely — B2B brands, and focused specifically on how to develop individual #ThoughtLeadership brands alongside the corporate brand. The primary question I wanted to answer was how organizations can strike a balance between individual and corporate brands.

In this first video, Mitchell and I set the stage for our interview series.

In this second video, you can hear our interview with Scott Monty, who argues that organizations are missing a huge opportunity by not taking advantage of the employee’s natural proclivity to be social. Companies that fail to appreciate the value of personal brands are more likely to disappear, he argues. All three of us agree that that CMOs face greater technological responsibilities than any other C-Level executive. Scott also made an interesting observation on our claim that all employees should be thought leaders: he differentiates “thought leaders” from “thought doers” and wonders aloud who will be responsible for carrying out the vision communicated by these leaders.

The third video is our interview with Paul Gillin, and we discuss why organizations need to take advantage of their employees and advocates and support their individual brands in order to advance the business. Paul argues that one of the most seemingly obvious but oft overlooked people to spread the message are employees — especially digital natives. Then the topic of money comes up. Paul explains that monetizing in the traditional sense has become very difficult, especially with interactions between the thought leader and the audience becoming more direct — see the disintermediation happening in the music industry for a prime example.

The fourth video — my personal favorite — is our interview with Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert, in which we delve into the tradeoffs in balancing your personal and corporate brands in depth. Emily argues that CEOs should always be thinking about how to use their personal brands to help build the corporate brand. They are two separate identities, but they must work together to grow together. Greentown Labs provides opportunities for member companies to become thought leaders in their own space. Emily also explains why she appreciates companies that actually outshine Greentown Labs in terms of marketing, because that means that Greentown has been successful in getting its member companies’ brands out.

The final video captures our conversation with renowned author and marketing content expert Ann Handley of MarketingProfs. Ann, a big fan of employee advocacy, encourages all 40 employees at MarketingProfs to build their own brand, and even provides training and content they can personally share to their own audience. In the interview, she elaborates on her recent article about establishing your “voice,” whether corporate or personal: to find your voice, think about three adjectives that best describe who you are. Her best advice for corporate CEOs is to sit down and discuss your voice and how to amplify it through your employees using social. We also chat about fear — why some corporations are fearful of letting their employees talk on social. Mitchell notes that it’s ironic how you trust employees to do work for you, and then not trust them to talk about what they do.

All in all these are five great conversations that add a lot of insight into how to succeed with both your personal brands and your corporate brands. I hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed putting them together for you.

Why I hate it when you like it!

How we love to “like.”Like2

We use the word constantly and with little thought. Like has become the milk-toast of affection. Not that it ever meant much; I remember using it when a high-school girlfriend asked what I thought of her brother who consistently threatened to beat me up. “I like him,” I cautiously said.  Meaning, “I could live without him.”

Today Facebook allows you to “like” the photo of a firefighter emerging from a burning building with a swaddled baby in his arms. Moments later, you can use the exact same like to show your amusement at a waste-of-time video about a kitten sheltered between a Golden Retriever’s paws. Sometimes you even like things that you dislike, because someone you like posted it (or worse, asked you to like it) and you don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings. He or she will see that you liked it, like that you liked it, and like the next thing you post for your “friends” to “like.” In making “like” the currency of approval for billions of people sharing trillions of pieces of content, Facebook has utterly devalued a word that already struggled for significance.


Must I really like, comment or share?


But the thing I like least about liking is far more insidious: the term’s over-use is among the clearest indicators of our utter self-absorption as we participate in public conversations. Because liking is all about ourselves—the overfed consumer of information wandering the digital landscape in search of the next like. This self-absorbed bottom-feeding impacts much more than our personal lives. It has crept into the professional arena, which I personally find even more depressing. Walk into any meeting where people are evaluating creative concepts, and you’ll hear more likes than you can count. Why? Because if given the opportunity, we default to thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe. Faced with any situation, our instinct is to react to what we like and don’t like.

Our education and professional training should save us from our thoughtless judgements as we strive to do great work. We should never evaluate work with our own likes and dislikes, but rather put ourselves in the target audience’s position. At HB, we deliberately remind ourselves and our clients to ask not whether we like something, but instead ask if it works according to the criteria we set for the audience. But despite these reminders, we easily fall into the trap of evaluating work based on personal preferences.

This individual, center-of-the-universe perspective is one of the reasons why crowdsourcing produces mediocre work. A friend recently invited me to evaluate designs that he crowdsourced with 99designs, a company that glibly notes “Make 850k+ designers work for you.” (I’ll leave ethics aside for this discussion… but really??) My friend also crowdsourced the design evaluation to an informal team of friends and colleagues. I participated in the process, and the web site asked me to rate each design option on a five-star scale and include a comment. I was invited to do this several times as my friend went through design iterations.
I assume that, like me, each committee member had varying degrees of knowledge specific to the business: its personality, voice, goals, stakeholders, priorities, industries served, etc. in addition to any other success criteria for the design. But none of this was included in the presentation of designs, so it would be difficult for anyone to remember such details while evaluating. Those details and decision-making criteria would have enabled us to bring intellectual rigor to a process that was quickly becoming about liking or not liking.
The designs I saw, a handful among the 187 that my friend received, revealed that the designers created visual representations of the entity’s name instead of relying on background information and criteria for success. I figured this was because the crowd-sourcing business model encourages designers who want to get paid to play a numbers game—submitting as many designs as possible as quickly as possible. They have little incentive to invest time and energy into the story that should inform a great design, and they probably know that the people coming to them aren’t that discerning; many will probably ignore much of the preliminary work they did, if they did any, the minute they see pretty things and default to liking or disliking.
The crowdsourced evaluation committee is in the same boat as the designers: we’re all busy professionals, wondering, “how little time can I spend on this to honor my friend’s request but not sacrifice too much of my scarce personal time?”  The quickest solution is to avoid deep thinking, focus on what I like, and add a comment or two to show that I took it seriously. I noticed the other evaluators were doing just that, most often speaking of their personal reactions to the designs rather than trying to rate them against established criteria.

Does any of this matter? As it turns out, my friend is happy with the design he selected. He likes it and likes the fact that it cost $10,000 to $20,000 less than a local agency would have charged him. The costs are probably there in the time he invested, the time that numerous designers who weren’t the winners invested, and the time his group of friends and colleagues invested—but those costs stay with those groups and do not hit my friend’s P&L. In the old days, my friend would have gotten Cousin Joe’s niece, who just graduated from college with a degree in graphic design, to do something for a few bucks oFedexn the side or for free. The crowdsourcing model gives him much more choice of selection. What bothers me is that the designs he got, like so many designs I’ve seen from crowdsourcing models or Cousin Joe’s niece, suffer from rookie mistakes that experienced designers would not make.
I don’t want you to like designs that HB creates. I want you to feel they work. Sometimes you might even fall in love with them because they’re so much more than a pretty face. If you’re hoping your brand moves beyond your local sphere and want your visual identity to tell a lasting and layered story over time, liking it is not enough, no matter how many people like it, especially if those people are uncompensated friends taking time away from activities they value more to chime in for your project.
Imagine if the Fedex logo had been crowdsourced by designers trying to get clients to like something they did as quickly as possible before moving on to the next opportunity to make a few bucks. Based on what I’ve seen in crowdsourcing, the logo would most likely have included a plane or a truck, and an envelope. Many people would have liked it, the way they like a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Read about the Fedex logo here and get a glimpse into what sophisticated design can offer.
Perhaps I’m living in the wrong age. The world is moving quickly, we all have too much to do, and liking might be the pinnacle of what we give and get. Even if that’s the case, I believe we each want to discover more meaning, make the greatest impression, have the longest impact… and liking doesn’t help achieve such goals.

As Matthew May concludes in his piece on the Fedex logo: “Lindon Leader’s design is considered by many to be one of the most creative logos ever designed. Not because of what’s there but because of what isn’t.” I don’t “like” the Fedex logo. I think it works according to what I imagine the company set out as success criteria. I love it.

Adapting Our Behavior


A poison dart frog in Peru is evolving before our eyes. These frogs are showing a strong resemblance of two different species and researchers have reported that these frogs might be the first vertebrates ever observed splitting into two species because of distinct mimicry.

In the world of integrated marketing we are adapting every day. At HB, we are taking a new approach to how we present, concept, utilize modern technology and reach our audiences. Adapting behavior and looking for new inspiration, helps us focus in on new ideas. It keeps us on our toes and elicits friendly competition amongst ourselves.

Transforming the way we think about creative and how the end user will interact with our development opens a world of endless possibility.

Brand Lessons from Tom Brady’s Resume

tom-brady-best-pictureOn Thursday, Tom Brady found and posted an old resume.

Yes, that Tom Brady. The one with 3 Superbowl Rings, a model for a wife, great looking kids and always in need of a real High 5.

But what’s most interesting about the resume is how distant it is from his current brand. The image we have of him today is as #12, the stalwart quarterback, the guy we all want to be. But back in 1999 he thought he would be just another college student looking for a job. So he put together the same thing we all do: a resume. I’m sure the college career office guided him through this, teaching him how to dutifully outline his “experience” in the traditional resume format. I’m sure this was sent to a few recruiters who probably never equated the Merrill Lynch intern “Thomas E. Brady, Jr.” with the quarterback who came into a Pats/ Jets game after Drew Bledsoe went down, only to lead his team to a Championship.

Resume for Thomas E. Brady, Jr.

Resume for Thomas E. Brady, Jr.

That’s because these aren’t the same people. Look at the bottom of the resume and you’ll see those “Additional” activities we all have on our resume. Only in this case, the “additional” IS the story. That’s his brand and how he’s known. But we’re taught to drop that down to the bottom.

From a brand perspective I’ve seen companies that try to fit the mold. They don’t want to be too brash or too far afield from their competitors. They want to be safe so they’re taken seriously. It’s certainly a tactic. But to become a brand we need to embrace our true identities. We need to stop thinking about our essence as “additional” and embrace it as our “experience.”

Who would you rather be, Thomas. E. Brady Jr. or Tom Brady?