Category: Marketing Tips & Strategies

Researching the Chief Executive Challenger

Our clients are wired to break the status quo. So, it naturally follows that the most important audience to our clients is often the c-suite. In order to be effective, we know upfront that a research commitment to tracking the strategies, mindsets and motivations of business leaders today is vital.

A key priority of our Strategy & Research department is to keep close tabs on the c-suite, and the decentralization of power that’s occurring across it. To us, this is the elusive “Chief Executive Challenger” (CEC). These individuals represent the most influential game-changers in business today. They operate from the inside out, and every organization has at least one.

Through Captains’ own qualitative research sessions across clients, (plus studies from Quartz and PWC) we found that the CEC’s ability to extract valuable information from all the noise online is a daily challenge, and advantage. Their methods to discover and exchange insights through curated knowledge networks are critical to success. And that’s where organizations have a real opportunity: shape conversation with purpose and collaborate with extreme precision.

Over the past year Captains has done a significant amount of research with CEC’s, so we created this infographic on the Chief Executive Challenger to aggregate some of our favorite data-points from our cross-category research. Enjoy! View Larger Resolution.

Doing Good Is Good For Your Business: Communications Tips for Framing Sustainability to Consumers

sustainable marketing campaign tips

“Tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century (and it’s also the right thing to do.)”

The above statement was from a different time—five years ago, to be exact. BICEP, Ceres’ business division, was working on a campaign* to rally the private sector to influence public sector action on climate change. BICEP opted for a no-nonsense sustainability marketing campaign and message about the economic benefits of sustainable business (of which the above sentence was the opener) and a shareable medium (a digital Declaration of beliefs). Within months of launching, hundreds of CEOs of companies from Mars to Starbucks to GM signed, shared, and even replicated the Declaration. It made it to Washington and into President Obama’s speech at Georgetown University, ultimately providing the President with ample political cover for pushing through legislation to limit fossil fuels and consequently supporting businesses with responsible agendas.

I’ll say it again—what a different time we live in today.

The good news is that this statement is no less true than it was five years ago, and that sustainability commitments—of the environmental, social, and economic varieties—have become embedded into modern business practices. The bad news is that the rift between the public and private spheres means that receptivity to a sustainability-centered agenda at the national level is unlikely. Now, it’s imperative that business leaders double down on talking the talk as well as they are walking the CSR walk to influence the ultimate power player: the American consumer. After all, the conditions are perfect. 63% of Americans are looking to the private sector to take the lead on sustainability going forward, and 87% are ready to support the businesses that step up.1

Borrowing from our work with Challenger brands in the clean energy and social sectors as well as best practices from the consumer brands that we admire, here are some high-level tips for furthering your sustainability-driven value proposition with communications.

The best way to talk about sustainability may be to not talk about sustainability at all.

64% of consumers who would otherwise be your evangelists will ignore the entirety of your communications if they include difficult-to-understand terms.2 After decades of overuse and misuse, “sustainability” is one of those terms. While basic education can help to fill the understanding gap, showing what sustainability means to the consumer speaks even louder than the word. For example, GE and Unilever are two heavyweights that integrate impactful proof-points around their sustainable innovation and food waste reduction programs directly into product communications and packaging.

Prioritize your sustainability marketing campaign around the top 10 emotional triggers.

A recent Harvard Business Review study3 surfaced hundreds of motivations that drive purchasing behavior across industries. In particular, 10 “high impact” motivators significantly affected customer value across all categories—and all are emotional triggers. Communications around corporate sustainability efforts don’t need to be ‘corporate’ to convert. Case in point: our recent work with MIT to market their sustainability initiative took an intellectual argument—capitalism as the engine for sustainability—and brought it to life in a conversational, power word4-filled narrative that conjured a cleaner, fairer world and compelled our audience to buy into MIT’s solution to get there.

Be okay with being real in communications.

Most Americans today just want a reality check—in fact, 90% of them say that it is okay if a company is not a perfect, as long as it is honest. Patagonia has long been heralded for a brand-level commitment to “radical transparency” and nowhere is this clearer than in the Footprint Chronicles. Launched in 2007, the multi-year campaign reveals stories of the company’s work to create a sustainable supply chain, and the practices—good and bad—that go into each of their products. Today, the Chronicles are woven into the shopping experience, inform product improvements, and fuel customer engagement. Proof that being real has business benefits (and it really IS the right thing to do).

Speaking of, there has never been a better time to be committed—as a business leader—to doing what’s right. And there’s never been a more important time to keep the conversation around sustainability going. Here’s hoping that this provides a bit of inspiration to keep moving in the right direction.

*Captains served as marketing partner to BICEP on the Climate Change Declaration.

Keep Your Marketing Campaign Messaging Simple

(#5. The messaging tips series)

“To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion.”
-Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is often cited as a great example of brevity that resulted in extraordinary memorability; especially when compared with the speech given by another orator that day, who ran on for hours (I forget his name). Lincoln’s address was two hundred seventy eight words. But what if his speech was boiled down to 10 words or less—the length of most 21st century messages and taglines? This is not an academic exercise. The need for simplicity is central to all great messaging, borne out by research that shows that too much information overloads audiences. I’m not saying that we should do away with longer narratives. There is a place for depth. But in an age when people pay attention in short bursts, if at all, they need a short message that pulls them in. Once they’re with you and paying attention, they’ll be more receptive to hearing your whole story.

Nike says Just Do It. Apple says Think Different. Coke says Open Happiness. None of these brands have the luxury to give a speech to customers. Even relatively brief company names end up being shortened by their customers (Dunkin’s, McD’s).

While most marketers recognize the need for short messages, not everyone understands how to pack a lot of meaning into a few words. The Heath brothers, authors of great books on messaging such as Made to Stick, say that we need to be “masters of exclusion.” That means cutting out anything that doesn’t get right to the core of the message. The core is the heart of it. The thing that is absolutely essential.

As just one example, I had the opportunity to create the brand for a company called Deepwater Wind. They’re an American offshore wind energy developer. At the time we were building their brand, Cape Wind was struggling to gain acceptance for their offshore project (still are, actually). The Captains team saw that the main objection to Cape Wind was from shoreline residents who did not want to look at the wind turbines. What Deepwater Wind brought to the table was offshore wind turbines that could be located far out to sea where they couldn’t be seen by beachfront homeowners. This helped us form the core of the message for the Deepwater Wind brand: that people would not object to their offshore wind projects because they wouldn’t have to look at the turbines. So our umbrella message (in their case, a tagline) became “Clean energy is just over the horizon”. We also designed their logomark so that it didn’t feature a wind turbine. It’s not a coincidence that Deepwater Wind will be the first company to build a wind farm off an American coast.

So, here’s your assignment. Below is the full text for the Gettysburg address. Today, you are Abraham Lincoln’s Director of Communications, and your job is to first write down what the core idea of his speech is. You can start with one sentence, even a long one. When you think you have it right, work on coming up with one short message that has all the meaning of the core message baked in. Remember, I’m not asking you to ditch the Gettysburg address. It’s one of the greatest pieces of writing of all time. But if you only had a few words, what would you say? If you get it right, the Civil War will be won by the Union. If you get it wrong, the Confederacy wins. No pressure.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Check out the fourth post in the series: Messaging Tip #4, the Power of Surprise, or Messaging Tip #3.

Harness the power of surprise for your messaging

Marketing Messaging Tips Series #4

“We can use surprise — an emotion whose functions is to increase alertness and cause focus – to grab people’s attention.”
-Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

Picture for a moment a scene from your ancestor’s distant past. Let’s call him Grug, an early human living in a cave in France. Suddenly a giant bear leaps into Grug’s cave, rising on its hind legs and baring its razor sharp fangs. Grug sprints out of the cave immediately. The others don’t respond as fast. They have become bear lunch. But Grug goes on to lead a full life, living to the ripe old age of 29—long enough to sire many children. All of us in the modern world are descendants of Grug and others who were wired to sit up and pay attention when surprised. This trait is common in all modern human behavior.

In books such as Made to Stick, the Heath Brothers describe the process of surprising people as “breaking the schema.” A schema is simply the expected normality of something. An orange looks like an orange. If an orange had antlers it would break the schema.

Messaging – Tofu of the Written Word

Considering that the tendency to be surprised by unusual things is so ingrained in us, it’s amazing how many companies launch marketing campaigns with messaging that is downright dull. In fact, most messages are the tofu of the written word, a kind of bland background noise. For you and your company, this represents a big opportunity to leap out of the background and bare your claws.

Most advertisers are pretty good at this. Which is why commercials tend to feature something surprising in the first second – a talking baby, a giant jug of Kool Aid crashing through a wall. Or Donald Trump saying, well, anything.

But unexpectedness can also be used to make a simple message—a few words—wake people up. Coke had a successful seven year run with a campaign theme that consisted of two words that don’t ordinarily go together: Open Happiness.

Try Simple Messages

Surprising messages can also rely on simple statements of fact. A campaign to end gun violence in America ran an ad with this shocking headline: “Last year, handguns killed 48 people in Japan. 8 in Great Britain. 34 in Switzerland. 52 in Canada. 58 in Israel. 21 in Sweden. 42 in West Germany. 10,728 in the United States.”

To introduce the Rolls-Royce in the United States in 1959, classic ad man David Ogilvy didn’t need a flashy commercial. He simply did his homework and discovered a startling fact, which became this headline: “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” In its own understatedly British way, this message is just as unexpected as a talking baby. Thousands of new Rolls-Royce owners agreed.

Later in my series of marketing messaging tips, I’ll share some insights into the creation of another surprising message: “Climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century”. But first things first. In my next post, I’ll talk about the need for simplicity and clarity in your messaging.

Want to hear more about our content and copywriting experience? Reach out for a conversation.  We’re recognized as a top content marketing & copywriting company on DesignRush.

Remember, you’re always talking to one little buckaroo.

Messaging Tip Series #3

When Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers” fame was starting out, he asked children’s TV cowboy show personality Gabby Hayes how he managed to create a personal connection with children even when he was speaking to millions of them at the same time. He responded by saying that he always remembered that he was really just talking to one little buckaroo.

Think about this. Too often, when people speak in public, they say things like “I’m sure all of you are wondering…” But there is no all of me, there is only me.

So we have to start by understanding that while our message may have to appeal to millions of people, it does so one person at a time. Which means your message needs to be very direct and tailored to a specific audience mindset.

Part of achieving this kind of directness is stylistic. In a speech, or TV appearance, looking directly at the person you’re addressing (like Mr. Rogers did) goes a long way towards building trust and establishing a personal connection. It’s not a coincidence that the idea of “being evasive” is used to describe someone who’s hiding the truth—they’re literally looking away, or using complicated phrases that evade understanding.

Another way to talk with just one buckaroo is to speak and write to them based on a deep understanding of where they are. Usually the “where they are” aspect is about someone’s belief system,which I’ll address in detail in a later post. But it can even be where they are physically. For example, this billboard Captains made for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, with the headline “If you were homeless you’d be home by now,” stopped people in their tracks because they felt, in a visceral way, what it must be like to live out on the streets.


In this case the second person pronoun—YOU—lent an added level of directness to the message. Of course, talking with one little buckaroo is only effective when it’s combined with other key aspects of the messaging craft—like the power of surprise. For more on this, stay tuned for my next post.

How to write good copy and great messaging

Before I can begin to describe how to gain more of a Jedi Voice in your marketing, I have to start at the beginning (a long time ago in a galaxy far far away) by defining what messaging actually is.

Messaging is all about Words Crafted to Convince.

A message can take the form of an ad headline, campaign tagline, or an umbrella message for a brand that sets the stage for all its marketing. Great messages that may come to mind are Apple’s famous “Think Different.” Or Nike’s “Just do it.” Or the ad theme that launched Federal Express on its path to global domination in shipping, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

There are also less obvious messages from marketers that perhaps are all the more powerful because they don’t take the form of ads. If something is part of an ad, our defenses may go up; it’s another thing to block out. But Amazon’s subversive, brilliant message of “people who bought this book also bought these other related titles” has done more to drain my bank account than any ad campaign.

All of these messages came about because teams of people thought very deeply about how to craft them in ways to quickly convince their audience of their unique value. Once you know the secrets, of course, you can not only create your own great messages, but easily decode messages you see on a daily basis. A popular brand’s tagline is “no soap gets you cleaner.” Translation: every other soap gets you just as clean.

The need to craft words that convince is vast. In fact, if you added up every industry where convincing was central to success, it would be the largest industry ever. Here’s a short list of the top industries that rely on messaging to convince people:

  • Advertising
  • PR
  • Law
  • Politics
  • Sales
  • Consumer product retail (online and brick and mortar stores)
  • Lobbying
  • Telemarketing
  • Religion
  • Dating sites

In my next post, I’ll share the first of my messaging tips, brought to you complete with a brown cardigan sweater. None other than Mr. Rogers, one of the greatest TV personalities of all time and a master storyteller. If it works with King Friday, it will work to sell your global brand.

This is the second post in a series. You can read the first post—Messaging can give you the jedi voice, also by Ted Page.

Messaging can give you the Jedi Voice

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
brand messaging tips from Obiwan and the Jedi voice

One of my favorite things about Star Wars has nothing to do with light sabers or death stars. It’s the Jedi voice. How the fully trained Jedi can use The Force to get others to do anything they want. It seemed so cool and powerful. The Jedi didn’t need to pull out his light saber, at least not so frequently. He just had to speak, a sci-fi special ops technique if there ever was one. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that in real life?

This amazing power has nothing to do with science fiction and everything to do with the words and images we choose when crafting our messaging. In other words, how we tell a story about a particular product, service or cause will mean the difference between success and being obliterated by the Death Star. And make no mistake, the Jedi voice has been perfected by the Dark Side, making it all the more vital that we use it for good. As just one example, Frank Luntz, author of Words That Work and other tomes on messaging, advised George W. Bush to stop talking about “Global Warming” – which sounded threatening, and instead call it “Climate Change.” What, me worry?

Messaging from the Heath Brothers

The great news is that there has been a tremendous amount of research done that shines a light on why some messages work and others do not. The Heath brothers, Dan and Chip, have done us communicators a great service by unlocking the DNA of great messages. Their books, including “Switch” and “Made to Stick” provide actionable learning on the power of messaging.

But the Heath brothers are not the only ones who hold the secrets to effective storytelling. In my twenty years of helping companies create messaging, I’ve discovered these secrets in sometimes unexpected places, and from remarkable people – like Mr. Rogers, T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), and John Cleese.

The Messaging Tips Series

This series of blog posts is all about sharing these secrets with you in ways that will help you grow your business, champion a cause, or even convince your spouse to buy a particular car (“Honey, this is the car we’ve been looking for”).

It’s all up to you. But I do hope you do something good with it; the world could sure use your help right about now.

In order to make this knowledge easy to use, I’ve structured the posts in two parts. The first series of posts will highlight some of the key insights into the science and art of messaging. This will be followed by a real world example of how this knowledge was put to use effectively ­­– an umbrella message platform that successfully rallied over 1,400 corporations, including Apple, Nike, GM, Intel, and Starbucks, to urge Washington to finally tackle climate change. What if you could put your words in the mouth of the President of the United States? Is knowing how we did that worth your time?

Stay tuned.

Delivering Content Through Enchanted Objects

When we (or anyone in the space) talks about content marketing or delivering content to your audience, there’s an implicit assumption that the vast majority of that content will be served up and consumed on a screen—PC, laptop, tablet, phone. But what about via the Internet of Things?

Okay, you say. I’ve heard of this “Internet of Things” thing.  But what the heck is it? David Rose can tell you. See his interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show:

David coined the term “enchanted objects” a couple of years back to encapsulate any device that uses technology to communicate with us in a less computer-y way. Need a reminder to take your medication? How about an Internet-enabled cap on the bottle that glows, then beeps, and if you still forget, texts you—or a family member? It’s called GloCaps and it’s been around for 5+ years. Certainly devices from Nest and others fall under this category.

And by the way—it’s all content. Content that is designed to be effective, meet us where we are, seamlessly integrate into our existing lives, encourage action. In a way that feels natural, organic, not techy. And especially not spammy. Which should be the goal of any good content marketer. Delivering content via the appropriate platform or channel is important here.

The more we fit content seamlessly into our audience’s lives, the better it is for everyone. Are my laptop, tablet, and smartphone part of my life? Absolutely. But those are three objects out of the hundreds (or more) I interact with every day. Content beyond-the-screen is something we’re starting to think about, and I am fascinated to see what others are beginning to do out there. A lot of this, I suspect, will initially be translations of traditional content applied to new media (that “media” being objects of all kinds). Yep, we’ll probably be seeing screens on everything for a while. But then the innovations will come. And I think there is a huge opportunity for marketers (and communicators of all kinds) to deliver content that will be appreciated via these enchanted objects.

At the end of the day, of course, it’s about telling a great story, being relevant, being welcomed because your content is desirable. When I chatted with David this morning (via text of course) we talked about the delicious irony that the enchanted object that brought him to Jon Stewart was a book. Printed on paper. Somewhere up there, Gutenberg is smiling.

The Beauty of a Simple Idea

We’ve all seen Super Bowl commercials with amazing productions that cost millions to make. The actors, set design, props, locations, and a thousand other things can get very expensive very fast, but many big name marketers have forked over that money in the hopes that their spot will break through the clutter and interrupt their audience enough so they get noticed. There is another path. Having a simple, beautiful idea means you can strip away the artifice and tell your story intimately. A couple recent cases of this  – one emotional and one comedic – demonstrate just how far an approach can go.


The Always #Like a Girl video from Procter & Gamble has stacked up over 20 million views on YouTube. Watch it and you’ll see why. It’s all shot on one set, and the people are real. They’re asked, if you were throwing a ball ‘like a girl’ what would you do? Each person (men, women, girls) acts out throwing a ball in an overly affected and stereotypical girlish fashion.  We learn that women’s self-confidence plummets during puberty as these stereotypes chip away at their perceptions of themselves. The video builds as we see a new, confident image of women emerge, until doing anything ‘like a girl’ is a badge of honor. Simple.

And then there’s Stephen Merchant for Newcastle Brown Ale. All the actor does is sit down and talk to the camera, and riff on how great America would be if England had won the Revolutionary War. Merchant channels a bit of John Cleese here and it’s great fun.


No stunt work, car crashes or special effects could improve on these beautifully simple ideas. They cost money to make, but not Super Bowl spot money, and they’re getting seen by lots of people – without the ridiculous cost of the media buy. For marketers, the lesson is as simple as this new brand of video. Invest in your creative ideas first and foremost. If more extensive production is required to tell the story, then you can go there. But if you can tell a great story without moving the camera, you’ll move your audience instead.

Good news: your ads are getting lots of views. Bad news: robots are watching them

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports some interesting statistics on video ad viewership. And by “interesting” I mean “holy $#@t.”  Apparently companies will go to very great lengths to convince advertisers that their ads are being seen. But many of the views are on sites such as (and you can’t make this stuff up), a company that displays ads smaller than a needlepoint, hence invisible. That’s one of the better case scenarios. Another bit of data eye-candy comes from audience research firm ComScore, who found that 36% of online ad views are generated by nonhumans (i.e. bots, i.e. robots/machines/ i.e not your customers).

robby[1]So, in my post today, I’m going to break down the Wall Street Journal’s “Moving Targets” sample scenario of online fraud, and provide a content marketing alternative from Captains of Industry.


  1. Car brand X asks its ad agency to place an online video spot targeted to men aged 25-54 who are likely World Cup fans.
  2. The agency often goes to an ad network, which in turn sells ads across the web.
  3. If the network doesn’t think it can reach enough World Cup fans, it may turn to an ad exchange to find more ad space for the video campaigns.
  4. Fraudsters can exploit this system by setting up bogus sites who’s fake viewers look attractive to Car Brand X.


  1. Car brand X asks a content marketing agency to build engagement with men aged 25-54 who are likely World Cup fans.
  2. A good content agency will first look at what kind of meaningful, valuable, educational and entertaining web content will appeal to car buyers aged 25-54 who are likely World cup fans. What content would these people seek out, and then share?
  3. The agency develops a strategy for not only the kind of content to be used (i.e. video, podcasts, etc), but what the most effective platform should be for the content (new website, or existing social media platforms such as YouTube, for example)
  4. In tandem, the agency develops a distribution strategy for the content. This may include a publishing calendar, with different kinds of content deployed over time on different platforms and with different forms of social media outreach.
  5. The agency develops a creative concept from the strategy. If the research uncovers that male world cup soccer fans are hungry for information on a particular kind of car, and wary of superficial glitz, the agency might then create a series of entertaining but educational videos about the car, all hosted by a soccer celebrity.
  6. The web video series is then deployed on the kind of platform the strategy has determined will allow the video to be seen by the largest number of potential customers. Not videos that interrupt these people, mind you. These would be videos that the customer would seek out because THEY WANT TO SEE THEM. Because the videos are genuinely interesting, with a depth of information that helps the customer understand the features and benefits of this car – with the story tailored from a soccer fan’s perspective. The trunk space, for example, could be measured not in cubic feet, but by how many soccer balls and other gear it can hold.
  7. Social media is used to get the world out, including targeted outreach to soccer blogs frequented by men aged 25-54.
  8. Success is measured not just by views but by the number of people – actual people – who click through to request more information on the cars being showcased by our soccer star.

The result is that FEWER views may be recorded, but the quality of those interactions will be far greater, with actions and influence measured on a human scale. And here’s the kicker: If large advertisers took half the cost of the 36% of their media spend wasted on views by robots, they could fund a Captains content marketing campaign start to finish.

To quote the HAL 9000 computer from 2001 A Space Odyssey, “Dave, I really think we should talk about this.”