Author: RJ Licata

close up of a typewriter with text that reads stories matter

How to Tell a Captivating Brand Story (With Examples)

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • A brand story is a consumer-facing narrative that tells the story of a brand’s origin, values, vision, goals, and more.
  • A strong brand story, told with clarity and intention, highlights what you stand for and helps authentically connect with your audience in ways that resonate the most.
  • Successful brands with the best brand stories connect on a deeper level and almost every example achieves billion dollar valuations. That’s the power of storytelling.

What is a brand story?


Brand Story

A brand story is a marketing strategy and compelling narrative that tells the story of your brand’s roots, its purpose for existing, its goals, and more.

The brand story takes many forms and has many components that, together, help your audience understand your values in order to build authentic consumer connections.

Successfully executing your brand story creates consumer engagement opportunities that allow for consistent storytelling.

A brand story also helps emphasize your brand’s personality and steers your smaller brand messaging efforts. When your personality is well defined, and your messaging flows from that central point, reaching potential customers and fostering brand loyalty are just a few benefits.

Why brand storytelling matters

Brand storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in the pursuit of authentic consumer connection. It comprises all aspects of the brand story communication process and helps guide the creation of a compelling story. It’s an essential part of a modern brand.

If you consider all a brand story contains — your brand’s origin story and the reason it exists — the value is self-evident. Telling that tale consistently across all your assets is the key to reaching audiences with the right message at the right time. 

Brands that fail to tell their story lose the opportunity to connect and provide unique value. These brands cannot stand out from the crowd of competitors or be industry leaders.

Key elements of a great brand story

Not all brand stories hit the mark and, even worse, can cause damage when misaligned. That’s why building the most relevant and compelling brand story is a minimum requirement.

A brand story needs to explain your brand values in a powerful and evocative way so your audience can relate to and identify with them. Here are some goals to hit:

It’s relevant and meaningful

Brand storytelling is all about your audience — carefully crafting the through-line and positioning with your audience at the center.

The right positioning leads to audience alignment and brand trust, serving the right message to the correct audience at the ideal time. Creating something relevant and meaningful requires a sophisticated understanding of the audience. 

All the traditional audience research methods apply here but a thorough search intent analysis will ensure your story is built on the best foundation. Knowing exactly what your audience wants unlocks better consumer behavior insight, which empowers the story you tell and how you tell it.

It creates empathy

Brand storytelling that tells the human story of the brand — what its people believe in, the future it dreams of, and how these values will positively impact the consumer — humanizes your brand.

This creates the opportunity to build empathy between your audience and your brand, opening the door to deeper connections.

It’s rooted in emotion

Brand storytelling also needs to resonate with the group you’re targeting. The tried and true method to get this done is an appeal to emotion. That emotion — the overall vibe of the brand —  must be strong, identifiable, and developed.

Is it rooted in a commitment to sustainability? An inspiring call to adventure? An invitation to a personal journey? These are just a few examples of emotion-rooted narratives.

Another aspect of emotional connection is positioning your brand as a resource. Consumers are seeking solutions to their problems, likely an offering that negates a negative emotion. Use brand storytelling to demonstrate how your brand will solve the problem and bring about that emotional shift. 

It’s simple

Brand stories are most effective when they’re simply stated and relatable. Think elevator pitch but even snappier and easier to explain. The overall statement of a brand story should be straight to the point. 

Telling the actual expanded story, on the other hand, happens over dozens of assets, through hundreds of consumer touchpoints, in a diverse set of ways. That infrastructure works in concert to create that simple story.

How to write a compelling brand story

Stand-out brands need a highly compelling story, and they should tell it consistently across their consumer touchpoints. Here are seven steps to craft a brand story with impact:

1. Define your brand purpose

At the highest level, you must have a carefully defined brand purpose to guide your story. Brands don’t exist just to make money, they exist to solve a problem, evolve the market, and lead industries.

Brand purpose is the overarching framework that explains your reason for existing. Typically brand purpose aims to elicit emotion in order to create alignment and connection with a particular audience.

Brands generally have preexisting purposes and while the brand purpose is tied up in the brand’s history, it’s possible to refine, better express, and better connect it to the day-to-day operations.

Your brand purpose should express the company’s founding values, be crystal clear and rooted in the brand’s evolution, and must always center the consumer audience. The brand must commit to this purpose in outward, meaningful ways.

  • What does your audience value or believe in?
  • What problems do they face?
  • How can my brand uniquely deliver for the audience, solve their problems, and align with their values?

Answer these questions to refine your brand purpose.

2. Research the market

Competitors take the form of “offering competitors” and “attention competitors.” Often they’re both.

Each competitor has its own unique point of view, positioning, and brand purpose. This means that from the attention standpoint, you’re fighting for the most compelling narrative among a sea of other narratives.

In order to create a more compelling story you must have a solid grasp of what’s out there product-wise, but also consider how each brand talks about itself and tells its story. Deeply analyzing the market reveals opportunities to stand out from the competition with a great narrative. Consider:

  • How does everyone else talk?
  • How do their offering and story align?
  • How do they live their brand story?

3. Research your audience

You know your competitors and understand how they tell their overarching story in relation to their offerings. That’s half the battle, but who exactly are they talking to?

The next step is to research and deeply understand your target audience and consumers in the space. A great narrative means nothing unless it actually creates consumer empathy, evokes a reaction, and directly resonates with your audience.

There are many methods and tools for audience research but at a high level it comes down to an analysis of the demographics, customer needs, and the problems they want to solve.

Things that fall into the category include:

  • Developing personas
  • Existing audience data
  • Data from market intelligence firms
  • Classic surveys
  • Behavioral analysis

The most important consumer behavior insights come from an analysis of search intent — what your target audience is seeking from search engines. Search intent data gives you a unique, unfiltered and honest look at your audience’s search for solutions.

Knowing what people need lets you speak to their motivations and values. In this way, search intent is incredibly important when creating value-driven storytelling about your brand, ensuring alignment with the needs of your audience.

4. Determine your brand story format

You can think of a brand story as the big-picture talking points and brand storytelling as the actual format or medium for communicating that story. There isn’t one format — telling a compelling brand story happens in different ways across hundreds of consumer touchpoints. 

For example, say you’re a small-batch organic probiotic brand trying to stand apart from the crowd with a brand story about rethinking the gut biome as the key to better overall health. That’s compelling, but how do you tell that story? Like this:

  • Use content marketing to create a gastric health-related content hub packed with useful articles on probiotics
  • Sponsor GI health-related events and conferences
  • Build substantial wellness resources across your corporate sites
  • Utilize social media to spread your knowledge about GI wellness
  • Develop rich content that shares the ups and downs of founding the company
  • Brand partnerships with gastro-intestinal illness organizations and outreach
  • Produce a podcast centered on gut health
  • Provide diet-related coaching via YouTube videos
  • Any other method of telling the story of the impact of GI wellness on overall health

5. Leverage emotion

As we said, emotion is perhaps the most powerful rhetorical tool at your disposal when building or refining your brand story. Evoking a clear, consistent, and strong emotion across your storytelling efforts is important because emotion is powerfully attached to human memory. 

If your brand story can elicit an emotional response — inspiration, a feeling of support, or even anger at the status quo — people will not forget you.

Think about popular streaming shows, the ones with the most intricate, winding plots, dramatic turns, and unexpected events — those twists and turns are purpose-built to elicit emotion. Your brand story can and should produce the same results. 

6. Be clear, concise, and consistent

Clarity is king when developing your brand story and storytelling. Your message should be legible and easily understood by your entire audience, but also parallel audiences that might represent future customers.

Clarity is achieved with concise, to-the-point, and jargon-free language. Brand voice speaks to this as well because it’s another aspect of how your story is told. Clear language in a tone that is relevant and appropriate for your target audience is a must.

Consistency is also vital, especially when telling a story across hundreds of assets, efforts, events, social platforms, and more. Unique messaging is ideal, but each piece of the storytelling process must relate back to the big story, or at least achieve wins in service of that story. 

Brands need consistency because you can’t expect each audience member to engage at every single storytelling touchpoint. You may only get a few opportunities to connect, so make sure to get the core of your message across — everywhere.

7. Be authentic and relatable

Evoking emotion is important, but being wholly authentic, open, and relatable with your story and as a brand as a whole ensures that emotion has a solid core.

Authenticity is acting in accordance with your brand story in real ways your audience can see. It’s living up to that noble narrative about why you exist, not just rhetorically, but also when no one is looking.

Relatability means being vulnerable, not shirking the difficulties in your story, and generally communicating on a human level that all of us respond to.

5 powerful brand story examples

Here are some quick examples of powerful storytelling:

GT’s Living Foods

The story: Founder GT Dave didn’t start with a business plan, he began with one goal — supporting his mother’s recovery during and after her treatment for an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer — with kombucha. The company started at Dave’s home with the family kombucha recipe, a spiritual focus, and the brand’s mission to transform people’s health.

“I started making Kombucha based on the belief that it could improve people’s lives—and make the world a better place. Every batch I brew is a living reminder of this purpose.” – GT Dave

Why it’s a winner: The GT’s Living Foods ($1 billion valuation) story has everything you could ask for. Tragedy, resolution, emotional weight, a purpose-driven founder, a powerful point of view, authenticity, honesty, and truly living out the values they print on their site and labels. This brand story played no small role in GT’s beverage industry dominance.


The story: Patagonia, founded by entrepreneur Yvon Chouinard in 1973, began operations as an experiment in responsible business. The brand offers high-quality outdoor clothing but instead of just enriching shareholders, it centers all its activities around conservation and sustainability. Not just a purveyor of buzzwords, Patagonia started several major initiatives and funds to protect the environment — including 1% for the Planet, Patagonia Action Works, Common Threads Partnership, and more.  

Why it’s a winner: What stands out here, more than the actual brand story itself, is the level of truth behind the story. We can all get behind protecting the environment and that resonates with a broad audience. But when a brand has a strong story and actually does what it claims to believe in, people see that and respond. At this point Patagonia ($3 billion valuation) isn’t really seen as a retailer — it’s seen as an environmental activism organization that happens to sell clothing.


The story: Everything Apple does is built on Steve Jobs’ exacting, even controversial, commitment to unparalleled design before everything else. That design includes UI/UX, aesthetics, premium materials, cutting-edge technology, a beautiful finish, and attention to detail. Apple makes high design accessible for consumers everywhere.

Why it’s a winner: When it comes to luxury tech items grounded in minimalist, purpose-driven design Apple ($394.3 billion 2022 revenue) stands out in the minds of consumers in a way few other brands have managed. Non-Apple smartphones and PCs may have substantially better hardware, but the likes of Android and Dell, for instance, simply cannot bridge the brand story gap. Apple’s superior brand story created a competitive moat around the company.


The story: Bose’s unrivaled technical prowess and goal of creating exceptional listening experiences guides the company’s innovation and design. The brand was founded by electrical engineer Dr. Amar Bose in 1965 because he felt that stereo systems had terrible audio. Over the next nearly 60 years, Bose’s patented inventions and innovations (noise-canceling headphones in 1986) basically created the way we enjoy music today.

“Innovation is more than what we do. It’s who we are — constantly learning and constantly curious.” – Bose About Us.

Why it’s a winner: Rooting your entire existence in innovation and the “power of sound” is wise because music, as an emotional medium, is compelling and personal. By positioning itself as a friend of the discerning, audiophile listener but designing for active lifestyles, the story hits on multiple levels — personal enjoyment and aspiration. Bose ($5.28 billion valuation) has carved out a niche for itself at the top of the consumer audio market, not just by offering good headphones, but by enhancing the lives of music lovers.

Final thoughts

Digital marketing should elevate telling great stories on the priority list. Nailing brand identity and brand narrative with an authentic brand story pays dividends through long-term connection and loyalty. Would-be industry leaders know that narratives are important. But instead of making the narrative just another part of your brand, make it the centerpiece — amazing stories turn basic core values into real consumer connections.

Be like Apple, GT, Bose, and Patagonia. Tell your authentic story and make sure all your efforts and practices demonstrate that your brand really lives by its compelling narrative.

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OAO vs Digital Marketing

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Owned asset optimization (OAO) generates demand in a lower cost way than channel-driven traditional marketing strategies.
  • OAO turns a brand’s owned and controlled assets into a new, scalable growth channel.
  • OAO optimizes all digital efforts, improving brand equity and ROI.

OAO and Digital Marketing, Compared

Brands are facing a customer connection crisis. Consumers are empowered, and have access to more options than ever before. They can pick and choose the brands they trust and do business with.

Meanwhile, the traditional marketing landscape is characterized largely by interruption and permission marketing strategies that no longer resonate with this consumer base.

To maximize returns and insulate against risk, brands should consider new and alternative reception marketing methods like owned asset optimization (OAO) that go beyond awareness and forced conversions and focus on authentic connection.

What traditional digital marketing strategies get wrong

Traditional marketing tactics are channel-driven and most put paid advertising first — and they have been successful. But ads are inherently transient — when the spend dries up, so do the results. 

Display and paid search advertising promised clear attribution, but the results are actually opaque, rife with fraud, and built upon inaccurate data. 

To address these shortcomings, brands lean on affiliates and third-party publishers. But these non-traditional competitors end up stealing revenue and online market share, and diluting impact from the brands they work with.

Over-reliance on dollar-in-dollar-out channels has created a fragile ecosystem where brands miss out on conversions without ever realizing it.

Owned asset optimization vs digital marketing tactics

Owned asset optimization differs from other marketing approaches because it puts the strategic focus back on a brand’s owned assets — and how to optimize those assets according to consumer behavior — rather than creating content catered to a specific channel. 

MACH 6 asset control hierarchy

Leveraging what’s known as the 6-Level Marketing Asset Control Hierarchy (Mach-6), OAO requires marketers to evaluate consumer intent data in order to understand audience problems and desires in a way that channel-first campaigns can’t.

OAO prioritizes an investment in the assets a brand owns and controls, then layers on more traditional marketing tactics, like paid advertising and affiliate campaigns, to further amplify reach and push competitors out of the online market. 

This “virtuous cycle” of optimizing owned assets earns market share directly for the brand, and lays the foundation for less-controllable assets to build on — improving the performance of all marketing channels. 


With OAO, we’ve seen a 70-90% reduction in our partners’ customer acquisition costs, while strengthening and growing their online presence.


Let’s take a closer look at how OAO strategies differ from the following traditional marketing tactics.

OAO vs. Pay Per Click (PPC)

OAO doesn’t replace paid advertising, instead it reprioritizes your marketing budget to improve campaign results and right-size your investment.

Brands often fall into the trap of trying to expand reach by “buying clicks,” without first understanding what their audience is asking for, and without building the critical content they need to connect. 

In OAO, brands prioritize investment in the assets they own and control, building equity in a network of assets that actually reach and provide value to consumers. 

Strategically layering targeted paid advertising over this foundation helps to increase reach even further — connecting (and often, re-connecting) with consumers who now know and trust your brand, and are more primed to take action.

Traditionally, when a paid ad spend runs out or budget is shifted, the brand loses traffic, attention and transactions. With OAO, the time, money, and effort you’ve invested in optimizing your owned assets continues to provide value beyond your initial spend. 

OAO vs. Enterprise SEO

OAO uses search and optimizes content in ways that go beyond traditional search engine optimization (SEO) strategies

A brand with a well-implemented and effective OAO strategy can use search engines to discover honest and critical consumer search intent data. That data is used to develop content that is purpose-built to deliver real value to consumers by answering the questions they ask.

SEO is only one aspect in the “optimization” of owned assets. Well-optimized assets don’t just appear more in search, they increase a brand’s overall marketing ROI, optimizing the efficiency and conversion rates of paid advertising and social media.

OAO vs Online Reputation Management (ORM)

Managing your online reputation is critical for large brands and the executives who lead them. The holistic nature of OAO fuses a brand’s growth marketing efforts with their brand reputation protection strategy.

Building a foundation of optimized owned assets strengthens a brand’s control over their online presence. It ensures that a brand has an outsized level of knowledge, control, and influence over what assets show up in search results.

By giving brands greater control over the online narrative that search results and third-party websites tell, OAO proactively insulates brands from negative news cycles. Brands are then free to tell their stories on their own terms.

OAO vs Omnichannel

OAO strategies are omnichannel strategies because they focus on connecting with consumers across channels. But not all omnichannel strategies are OAO strategies in that they don’t prioritize a brand’s asset stack. 

A foundation of owned assets optimized using consumer behavior data helps brands build a consistent omnichannel presence. Each owned asset is a potential consumer touchpoint where the consumer can solve their challenges and have a unique and positive brand interaction.

Omnichannel marketing strategies also typically focus on ensuring a path to transaction no matter what channel consumers spend time on. For example, allowing consumers to “add to cart” directly from Instagram.

OAO strategies go beyond the transaction focus to create assets that address the entire customer journey — aligning messaging, consumer experience, and connection, no matter the channel. 

The value of OAO in today’s marketplace

Unlike traditional marketing, OAO helps brands simultaneously expand their reach and control over the digital landscape. Employing an “owned asset first” strategy helps brands consistently connect with motivated consumers who are ready to take action. 

When deciding whether or not to invest in building an OAO strategy, it’s important to understand the business value it can drive.

Discover untapped competition

OAO gives brands a unique opportunity to discover and expand into what is called the “competitive grey area.” This is an area of the market where brands that aren’t traditionally competitors compete for online attention.

For example, you may not typically consider an online magazine such as Architectural Digest a direct product competitor to a leading home loan lender. However publishers like AD often control large portions of industry market share and attention because of their ability to reach consumers along an array of journey points.

Turn attention into connection

Consumers searching for answers online are by definition, motivated. They pulled up Google and are looking for information to help them solve a problem.

OAO naturally targets these motivated consumers by providing the answers they are seeking, without trying to force transactions too soon.

It positions brands as fonts of knowledge, providing solutions and up-front value to consumers in an effort to build relationships and long-lasting, mutually beneficial value.

Increase existing ROI

With an OAO strategy, the assets a brand creates will continue to drive revenue and ROI for years after initial creation, essentially turning them into a controlled performance channel of their own.

With an OAO strategy, a brand’s assets become a controlled performance channel.


As long as the assets continue to provide value for consumers, they will provide measurable results for the brand.

Should you invest in OAO?

An OAO investment helps large brands optimize their entire digital presence for consumer connection, creating tens of thousands of touch points and interactions that support and guide their audience. 

OAO generates demand in a different, and lower-cost way than traditional marketing models, creating a new, adjacent growth channel that can be forecasted and scaled. 

When done well, OAO unlocks a predictable performance engine that brands can activate to drive traffic and revenue from their digital properties.

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What Is Reception Marketing?

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Reception marketing is an approach to marketing that connects consumers to the information they will find most valuable according to where they are in the customer journey.
  • Reception marketing challenges the efficacy of traditional PESO models in today’s marketing landscape.
  • Owned asset optimization is one example of a reception marketing strategy that prioritizes a brand’s owned assets.

“Sell me this pen.”

In this statement-turned-tactic, we see a reflection of modern marketing, which is characterized by interruptive strategies that are primarily aimed at selling, any time and all the time. And yes — a strategy can still be considered disruptive when consumers are given a choice to opt in or out.

More often than not, today’s consumer just isn’t ready nor are they willing to transact without establishing some form of a relationship first. And it has to be a meaningful one.

So, connecting with consumers today requires a different approach. This becomes even more true when taking into account the evolving, winding buyer’s journey, which makes it that much more difficult for brands to know and keep a pulse on where they need to show up.

Defining reception marketing


Reception Marketing

Reception marketing is an approach to marketing that meets consumers in their moment of need — regardless of channel — with the information they’d find most valuable based on where they are in the customer journey.

Using consumer signals to derive insights, reception marketing tunes into the ebbing and flowing frequencies of consumers.

Brands can use these signals to understand unique consumer needs and pain points in a given moment of time — then strategically connect with them through content optimized to solve their problems.

A brief history of marketing strategy

Over time, marketing shifted from interruption to permission-based marketing, which focuses on customer choice. But this approach is often still very disruptive, leaving much to be desired when it comes to connecting with today’s consumers.

Interruption Marketing – Brands interrupt customers’ experience to promote products and services.

Permission Marketing – Audiences are given the choice to opt-in to promotional messages.

Reception Marketing – Brands provide solutions to consumers when and where they ask for them.

This is the gap reception marketing aims to fill.

Reception Marketing Timeline

How reception marketing works

Reception marketing puts consumer connection at the forefront by aligning a brand’s marketing assets directly with consumer needs, even if the need isn’t a transactional one.

This means that, if consumers are looking to better understand a concept in your industry, you shouldn’t jump to selling them on how your product can help. Not yet. This will only serve to annoy at best and break trust at worst.

Consumer signals inform strategy

In reception marketing, brands need to be responsive to consumer behavior data in order to build a successful strategy. Reception marketing strategies focus on quality sourcing and analysis of that data to generate insights that are then used in asset optimization. 

This method makes the assets brands create more consistent, discoverable, and aligned with real consumer needs.

The strategy becomes a cycle — first focused on consumer behavior data, then on your asset stack:

  1. A consumer begins a search for a solution to a specific need across a number of different platforms, leaving signals behind about the problems they’re facing.
  2. Marketers intentionally listen to and analyze those signals in order to develop insights into the intent of the consumer.
  3. Content is then developed and optimized according to those consumer insights.
  4. Consumers are met with valuable content that aligns with their needs, and that provides a memorably positive experience.
  5. Brands create a strong connection that generates equity and trust, laying the foundation for future conversions.

In this way, reception marketing begins to flip the traditional PESO model on its head.

OAO: A reception marketing strategy

One way to execute reception marketing is by starting with the brand assets you own and control in a strategy called owned asset optimization (OAO). Through OAO, a brand’s entire asset stack is evaluated for opportunities to gain more control over consumer experiences with your brand. 

By prioritizing owned assets, brands maintain creative and technical control of their content and can build experiences tailored to customer needs. Brands can also manage and influence assets through this approach, keeping messages aligned across platforms and channels.

Reception marketing vs. traditional digital marketing

In traditional forms of digital marketing, it’s common practice to largely disregard the target audience in an attempt to be for and speak to everyone. As a result, brands push products and services before consumers are ready to make a decision.

Traditional approaches also often skew channel-first. Content strategies are built around the channel or business goal at hand rather than around the information or experiences consumers are asking for.

In reception marketing, the consumer becomes the strategic focus as they embark on their winding journey and leave valuable behavior data behind.

This move from channel to consumer-first allows brands to better identify and understand when, where, and how to connect with them.

Read our article about OAO vs digital marketing for more.

The value of reception marketing

Understanding the importance of real consumer connections is critical for brands that want to get the most impact and ROI out of their marketing efforts. 

An approach that prioritizes providing value to an audience when they’re in need before they make a purchase earns the trust necessary to make this kind of connection.

Reception marketing positions brands as trusted, reliable guides for consumers as they navigate their modern journeys in real time, no matter the direction they might take.

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The MACH-6 Explained

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • The MACH-6, or 6-Level Marketing Asset Control Hierarchy, is our framework to guide your owned asset optimization strategy.
  • The MACH-6 stacks assets according to the degree of control your brand has over them, starting with owned (full control), then managed (some control), and finally leveraged (influence). 
  • All brand assets create opportunities for consumer connection, but optimizing your owned assets builds added control over those you don’t own.

What is the 6-Level Marketing Asset Control Hierarchy (MACH-6)?

The MACH-6, or 6-Level Marketing Asset Control Hierarchy, is Terakeet’s framework and organizational tool for understanding the relationship between all of a brand’s assets (the asset stack). It’s the foundation of your owned asset optimization (OAO) strategy.

Assets are the digital properties, platforms, pieces of content, and media that communicate something to consumers — something about your brand, new industry ideas, and more. 

The MACH-6 organizes these assets into three categories based on how much control a brand has over them. These categories are: owned, managed, and leveraged.

Brands have the most control over owned assets — they can decide what, when and where their message gets published.

They have some control over managed assets. Usually they control the message, but not the platform the message is published on.

Brands can only influence leveraged assets — things like reviews or user-generated content where brands have little to no control.

Starting with owned assets —  those a brand has full control over — the MACH-6 guides the development of strategies for optimizing all of the assets a brand has in its stack.

Why we developed the MACH-6

In order to optimize a brand’s assets, it is vital to understand the brand’s asset stack — all of the potential consumer connection points at its disposal. It starts with assessing the entire network of assets to understand which category each asset belongs in. 

What matters most is that brands have a clear picture of not just the assets as they exist, but the relationship between them. This highlights opportunities to create and optimize new assets that can strategically strengthen the entire network. 

Your brand’s unique MACH-6 identifies gaps and helps you optimize the assets you fully control in order to influence the assets you can’t fully control.

Investment in your brand’s owned and managed assets works to create a strong brand presence. It creates better outcomes across the otherwise uncontrollable leveraged assets.

By prioritizing owned assets first, brands can better facilitate how their stories get told and where they connect with target audiences. Starting with this foundation, brands increase their control across all marketing assets and channels. 

Degree of control

Degree of control is how much you can control the message, content, and experience associated with your brand.

The MACH-6 is organized based on a scale of controllability — the closer an asset or channel is to the base of the Mach-6, the more control a brand has over it. 

  • Leveraged: Brands can influence
  • Managed: Brands have some control
  • Owned: Brands have full control
Leveraged: Brands can influence
Managed: Brands have some control
Owned: Brands have full control

Control and reach

Each asset, regardless of its category on the MACH-6, is an opportunity to grow brand reach and a touchpoint to connect with consumers.

The magnitude of reach differs by asset type but the more you develop, optimize, and influence, the more reach you achieve.

As you travel up the MACH-6 framework, reach increases but your ability to control your message and the platforms diminishes.  

An example

Your brand’s corporate site can generate major reach on your terms because you totally control it.

If we move up to a managed asset in Tier 3, an ally website — typically an external partner — you can request new content or updates but actually getting it done is up to the ally, not your brand.

Move up to Tier 4 and you get even more potential reach, but even less control.

Balancing reach with control

Brands must maximize their reach with their audience, but reach without control loses its value and can cause damage.

By starting with the fundamental assets your brand owns, and optimizing them to reflect what consumers are looking for, you gain reach AND control. Then, you can move your focus up the MACH-6 to your managed assets and, using the messages in your owned assets, optimize them to the extent possible.

These optimized owned and managed assets then help you influence the narrative told by your leveraged Tier 4 assets.  

OAO prioritizes high reach, high control assets because, through them, brands control both the narrative and the platform. They can take immediate action and have the creative and technical freedom to tell their story in a way that will connect with their target audience.

Powered by consumer needs

From top to bottom, the MACH-6 depends on consumer needs as its guiding principle. No asset works without delivering what consumers want.

It’s a prerequisite for optimization that brands actually know what their audience is seeking. What makes Terakeet’s approach to the MACH-6 different is our utilization of consumer search intent data. It’s one of the most accurate indicators of audience desire.

Understanding what people are searching for on search engines, turning that information into consumer needs insights, mapping those insights to the customer journey, and strategically optimizing your assets to deliver value at every consumer touchpoint.

That’s why OAO and the MACH-6 are revolutionary for brands.

The digital battleground

The online digital marketplace is the battleground where the MACH-6 is deployed. Everywhere online brands and other entities are fighting an attention war — vying for engaged consumer audiences.

The MACH-6 framework and owned asset optimization, rooted in real-time consumer needs data, identifies critical opportunities to turn attention into authentic customer relationships.

Asset categories of the MACH-6

As previously touched on, assets are divided into three categories, from the least to greatest degree of control — owned, managed, and leveraged.

Below we dive deeper into each category, to explain the nuance of each category and tier.

Leveraged assets

Leveraged assets are not brand-controlled, and include user-generated content and third-party content.

While brands don’t control leveraged assets, an investment in highly optimized managed and owned assets positions brands to influence the narrative and conversations happening between leveraged assets.

Leveraged assets, deployed correctly, can amplify brand reach.

Tier 4

In the MACH-6, leveraged assets land in Tier 4, the least controllable asset tier. Examples include:

  • Affiliates — Content sites that inspire visitors to click through to an online retailer, make a purchase, and generate fees.
  • Influencers — Individuals with followings and clout who sell the attention they generate from their sites, blogs, and social media accounts.
  • Reviews — Reviews of brand offerings by customers.
  • Word-of-mouth — The narrative around your brand among consumers online. 
  • User-generated content — Content created by individuals outside of the brand that can be used to promote the brand.
  • News — Media coverage of brand-related stories.

Managed assets

Managed assets land between owned and leveraged on the controllability spectrum. Brands have some, but not full, control over them.

These assets often live on third-party websites and platforms that brands don’t own, but can use to connect with consumers. Brands can generally control the messaging of managed assets but don’t control the platforms themselves or their algorithms.

Optimized managed assets help connect with new audiences and strengthen brand equity and trust.

Tier 3

Less controllable managed assets, including:

  • Organic search — The all-important channel consumers rely upon to ask for help or access the critical information they need. This is where consumers reach out, ask questions, and access other brand assets.
  • Company profiles — Company listings on various corporate profile sites like Crunchbase, Bloomberg, etc. 
  • Ally websites — Sites of brand partners, associated brands, connected organizations, philanthropic organizations, and other brand allies.
  • Content syndication — Republishing the same piece of content on one or more different third-party websites.
  • Wikipedia — The free online encyclopedia that lists many major brands and brand leadership.

Tier 2

More controllable managed assets, including:

  • Social media — Brand-controlled social profiles on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.
  • PR, events, and comms — Events, public relations, and related communications and marketing.
  • Bylines — Articles written by brand representatives, published on third-party platforms.
  • Advertisements — The portfolio of digital ads a brand utilizes.
  • Email — Email lists, newsletters, and other email-powered assets.

Owned assets

Owned assets are the most controllable assets. These are digital brand properties and platforms that are truly owned by the brand. Brands can assert full technical and creative control over owned assets. This makes them the most powerful assets in a brand’s asset stack. 

Optimized owned assets let brands tell their story consistently and publish content that connects with consumers. They can also mine even more consumer insights from the ways consumers interact and respond to their owned assets.

Tier 1

Owned assets including: 

  • Pillar content — Corporate website pages that contain substantial content that can be broken down into many different, smaller pieces of content.
  • Blog posts — Anything published on a brand’s blog to reach and connect with consumers
  • Tools and downloads — Lead magnets, white papers, one pagers, free tools, and other resources brands offer to their audience
  • Corporate communications — Any communication from the brand like announcements, press releases, and financial statements.

Ground level

Corporate websites — This is your crown jewel, the vehicle that brings your brand story to the right people and gives you the platform to connect with them.

Your website is also where a majority of conversions happen. OAO optimizes your website to reach, connect and convert more of the right people. 


The core business documents that define all brand messaging. This includes:

  • Brand language and visual identity — The core elements of brand identity from visuals to language and everything in between
  • Customer personas — The brand’s unique personas that define the ideal customer
  • Proprietary data and intellectual property — The unique assets that define a brand’s competitive edge.
  • Market positioning — How the brand articulates its identity in the marketplace.
  • Company values and purpose — The guiding principles of the brand.
  • Executives and employee ambassadors — Leaders who can speak on behalf of the brand.

The MACH-6 visualized

MACH 6 (marketing asset control hierarchy)

Getting started with the MACH-6

The MACH-6 helps you fully understand and visualize what assets your brand has, and how you prioritize your investment in assets at different degrees of controllability. 

First, use the MACH-6 to visualize and understand what assets you have, where they fall between categories, and how they function together as a network. This helps identify gaps in your network of assets and uncover opportunities to optimize.

Then, consider your entire marketing spend and what is being prioritized. Your owned assets can unify all of your other marketing efforts, and should therefore be a top priority.

For example, if you’re spending big on ads, but don’t have fully optimized owned assets as your foundation, the effectiveness and ROI of the ads is much lower. Once your owned assets are optimized to deliver value to and authentically connect with consumers, you can point ads toward those assets to reduce CAC and increase conversions.

With your unique MACH-6 outlining your asset stack, you gain critical insight into your asset network. Your MACH-6 will uncover optimization opportunities, and is the start of developing a powerful OAO strategy.

It’s the first step to building more authentic, trust-based customer relationships.

A transformational tool

The MACH-6 is a visualization tool and organizational framework to help brands realize the massive opportunity of owned asset optimization.

OAO represents a seismic shift for the marketing industry, to a “reception marketing” model. The new model maximizes trust, builds authentic consumer connections, and increases ROI across the board.

Brands that prioritize the optimization and development of a network of owned assets aren’t just spending marketing dollars, they’re actually making long-term investments that will create major value in the future. 

Once a brand has optimized assets meeting real consumer needs, and delivering value to its audience, building customer relationships becomes all but guaranteed. The MACH-6 is where your transformational strategy begins.

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network of wires representing a network of owned assets

What Are Owned Assets?

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Owned assets are the digital properties that a brand has complete creative and technical control over.
  • Owned asset optimization uses rich consumer behavioral data to reveal what your audience wants and create assets that deliver that value.
  • Owned assets are used to control your narrative, capture attention, solve consumer problems, and ultimately create lasting, authentic customer relationships.

Owned asset optimization (OAO), is a strategy that maximizes the impact of digital assets that brands own. The process uses consumer behavior data to align messaging across a brand’s network of assets.

Insights from consumer behavior data reveal what your audience wants, and guide the creation of owned assets that are purpose-built to develop authentic customer relationships.

What are owned assets?

Owned assets are the digital properties, platforms, and resources that a brand owns and has complete technical and creative control over. 

Brands have complete control over what, when, and where owned assets get published. They are where brands most directly connect with, and support, consumers and where they ultimately convert them into customers.

A brand’s most valuable owned assets — the crown jewels — are its corporate websites. 

Owned assets build the foundation of a brand’s presence in the digital marketplace. They present the opportunity for brands to directly connect with consumers, building trust, equity, and authentic relationships without any middleman.

what are owned assets graphic

Are owned assets always digital?

All owned assets exist in the digital space, but not all digital assets are “owned.” A brand has varying levels of control over its stack of digital assets.

Owned assets are the foundation of that stack, where brands have the most control over content, message, and platform.

Terakeet’s MACH-6 framework stacks a brand’s assets by degree of control — giving marketers a bird’s-eye view of what their assets are, and how much control they have over them. 

Owned assets tiers

Owned assets on Terakeet’s MACH-6 are divided into three tiers. These tiers give marketers a granular look at exactly how much control they have over a particular asset, and how those owned assets influence other assets as they stack.

MACH-6 Owned Asset Category Breakdown


Typically internal-facing, these owned assets are the foundational documents and ideas that brands can call upon to build and optimize external-facing owned assets. 

Examples of foundational assets:

  • Brand language and visual identity
  • Customer personas
  • Proprietary data and intellectual property
  • Market positioning
  • Company values and purpose
  • Executives and employee ambassadors

While a brand’s foundational assets aren’t themselves externally facing digital properties, they underlie and support all of a brand’s external messaging.

For example, internal proprietary data can inform the creation of externally owned content that solves consumer problems and builds connections with a brand’s audience.

Ground Level

Ground-level owned assets are a brand’s core vehicle for reaching its audience.

Usually consisting of a brand’s core website and any other digital properties, websites or apps they might own, ground-level assets are where you connect directly with, and earn transactions from, your consumers. 

  • Corporate websites — The websites brands have total creative and technical control over.

Tier 1

Tier 1 owned assets are the pieces of content, webpages, and messages brands use to communicate with their audience.

These assets are optimized to meet consumers’ specific needs, show up more readily for them in organic search, and give them options to take action.

  • Pillar content — Corporate website pages with substantial content that can be broken down into many unique, smaller content pieces.
  • Blog posts — Content published on a brand’s blog to connect with consumers.
  • Tools and downloads — Audience engagement tools like lead magnets, white papers, one pagers, free tools, and more
  • Corporate communications — Brand communication like announcements, press releases, and more

Optimizing owned assets

Because brands have total control over their owned assets, these properties become the focal point of a successful OAO strategy. Starting with the assets brands control and optimizing them to reach consumers at crucial moment is impactful. 

Owned assets can be optimized for increased reach, better consumer connection (by meeting consumer needs), increased conversion rates, and a better user experience.

Well-optimized owned assets perform better, and at the same time influence and optimize other assets, boosting the performance of traditional marketing channels.

Using consumer search intent data, brands can discover exactly what their audience needs and what problems they want to solve. Brands can then provide that value to consumers by creating purpose-built content to meet those needs. 

Owned assets drive Impact

Each owned asset is a unique touchpoint for engaging with your audience. Construct a vast network of owned assets, and you build thousands of opportunities to authentically connect with and provide value to your consumers.

Your asset network may include hundreds or even thousands of individual assets. A fully optimized asset network consistently provides what consumers want at every touchpoint throughout their buying journey.

A foundation of optimized owned assets becomes its own performance engine, improving ROI, while magnifying ROI across every marketing channel you have.

Your optimized owned assets tell a consistent, cohesive story that explains your brand and your value to the world.

Influencing less controllable assets

In the MACH-6 framework, owned assets make up the base of a brand’s entire asset stack. As we move up the MACH-6, potential reach increases but control diminishes. You can tap into the increased reach of managed and leveraged assets, but you also need control. 

Owned assets set the tone, build brand trust from the start, and help influence positive outcomes across less controllable assets.

Using the assets you fully control to help consumers solve their problems garners trust and goodwill toward your brand that pays dividends across less controllable spaces.

For example, if a candle company creates a content hub that covers all aspects of candle maintenance, safety, and ingredients, the brand can provide value to consumers and create positive sentiment.

That sentiment influences less controllable assets like social media, word-of-mouth, reviews, and more — providing reach AND control. The positivity in social media, word-of-mouth, and reviews returns to the brand, setting a virtuous circle spinning.

Strategic value

Just one owned asset, properly optimized with consumer needs in focus, can provide tremendous value. Now imagine an entire network of owned assets, strategically positioned to provide value to your audience at every touchpoint, every engagement across the buyer’s journey.

The great news is that leading brands already control large networks of owned assets. They just need to be strategically optimized to provide the value consumers want.

Owned asset optimization gives brands the insight and framework they need to develop assets with intention and link them together to create a network of consumer connections. 

With this digital asset infrastructure, brands can:

  • Assert control over their narrative
  • Win back consumer attention
  • Unify their marketing efforts under a guiding strategy of OAO
  • Align their customer journey with how their consumers actually behave
  • Acquire better-qualified leads
  • Deliver real value to consumers
  • Establish trust and equity that will flow into non-owned digital spaces
  • Influence social media, reviews, and word-of-mouth sentiment
  • Optimize the ROI of all marketing campaigns

Owned assets first

Prioritizing owned assets, and owned asset optimization itself, is a new direction for brands that understand the importance of leading with authentic, trust-based consumer relationships. 

When brands center audience needs and create a framework to deliver value first — instead of only seeking conversions at every interaction — they are investing in long-term strategies that set them apart as industry leaders.

Transactions, and more specifically revenue, are often the main goal for brands. But demanding a transaction before building trust and relationships is putting the cart before the horse.

That tunnel vision on transactions paradoxically fractures the buyer’s journey and prevents consumer connection, resulting in fewer transactions and lower revenue. Optimizing your brand’s owned assets to lead with connection solves the problem and unifies your marketing.

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man sitting on couch pointing with two women watching

Owned Asset Optimization (OAO) | The Foundational Guide

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Owned asset optimization (OAO) is a new marketing strategy that aims to maximize the impact of assets brands fully own and control.
  • Consumer behavior data is the foundation of an OAO strategy, allowing brands to understand how to provide value to their consumers.
  • OAO enables brands to make stronger and more authentic connections with their audience — turning consumer attention into loyalty.

What is owned asset optimization?


Owned Asset Optimization

Owned asset optimization (OAO) is a business strategy that maximizes the impact of the digital assets your brand fully controls. It allows you to own your narrative, earn attention, and create long-lasting customer relationships.

OAO uses consumer behavior insights to create brand experiences that foster authentic connections. 

To execute an OAO strategy, brands first need to understand what owned assets are and how to operationalize them alongside all other assets and channels.

What are owned assets?

Owned assets are digital brand properties that companies have complete creative and technical control over. This primarily includes a brand’s domain and the content they publish. 

Owned assets also refer to the foundational business documents—such as brand and positioning guidelines—that define your core mission, purpose, and messaging.

Owned assets are the foundation of any OAO strategy and enable the consistent creation and optimization of your entire asset landscape. They are where you can most directly connect with and support your consumers.

Example of an owned asset - ground level - corporate website

Your website is the first owned asset your OAO strategy “breaks through” to connect with your consumers. It houses many other owned assets, like pillar pages and blog posts, that are all optimized for discovery, connection and ultimately conversion. 

How are owned assets optimized?

In this context, optimization means building owned assets to be more valuable, regardless of channel. 

In OAO, optimization includes but goes far beyond search, social, or any one channel you might optimize for, and instead prioritizes consumer intent data as a source for strategic insight. This approach provides the type of consumer insights required to optimize your content and business strategies in a way that better connects with today’s consumers. 

Optimized assets:

  • Meet your consumers’ needs by providing the solutions they’re looking for. 
  • Meet your brand’s needs by offering logical and helpful calls to action and conversion.
  • Build brand equity and trust by providing positive consumer interactions.

How the OAO process works

Owned asset optimization puts connection at the forefront of every consumer-brand interaction. Here’s how:

Get insights from consumer intent data

To launch an OAO strategy, brands start by listening to the needs of their target consumers. To meet consumers where they are, brands need to focus on understanding the problems and challenges they face. 

Brands can learn about their target audiences by tapping into consumer intent data. Consumer intent data tells us not only what digital actions individuals take, but the reasoning and intent behind these actions.

From this data, brands can glean insights about consumer behavior. Those insights become the foundation of an OAO strategy, guiding the content a brand creates to answer consumers’ questions as they research solutions online. 

Learn how Terakeet uses unique consumer intent data

Prioritize owned assets

Once brands understand consumer motivations, they can deploy a content strategy based on those insights. Brands then create a network of owned assets — content pieces, sometimes whole websites — all purpose-built to provide value to consumers throughout the buyer’s journey.

By prioritizing investment in owned assets, brands maintain complete control over the content they publish. This level of control offers protection from the whims of third-party platforms and algorithms — and brands can put their budgets toward building sustainable and predictable revenue sources.

Align to the buyer’s journey

A new understanding of the non-linear buyer’s journey shows that, at any given time, 95% of target consumers aren’t ready to buy. Before they’re ready to make a purchase, consumer intent data helps us understand the information they are asking to see.

In an owned optimization strategy, brands use this insight to create valuable content that satisfies not only the 5% of consumers looking to make a transaction but for the majority who are not ready yet. 

Through OAO, brands are able to create a multitude of consensual connections with consumers, all working to drive value in their own right.

How OAO drives value for leading brands

An owned asset optimization strategy builds equity in your owned assets and activates the long-term, measurable value of your digital properties.

Growing brand affinity

In the age of consumer empowerment, OAO helps brands better address consumer needs and interests. 

Creating optimized content that solves real consumer problems allows brands to earn attention at critical moments and provide real value.

When you show up for consumers early and throughout their entire journey, they grow to trust your brand, thus fostering authentic connections that translate to sustainable success.

Insights drive impact

Consumer insights from reliable sources, applied across a brand’s assets, enhance the effectiveness of its entire marketing ecosystem. Brands that take the time to learn about their consumers will be rewarded with attention and loyalty.

OAO’s use of consumer intent data, and emphasis on prioritizing owned assets first, enables brands to transform new and existing digital assets into owned performance channels.

Insights derived from an OAO strategy also foster more effective collaboration between internal teams, with potential for application across business areas, like product development and customer support.

Equity and predictable performance 

OAO is an investment, rather than a “spend.” Unlike transient marketing channels (e.g. paid advertising), where the value extends only as far as their budget, owned assets can provide value to the brand long after the initial content investment.

Optimized assets retain value, even if the brand shifts focus or investment. This means a brand is able to tap into and realize revenue from the equity they have in their digital platforms and properties.

Brands that follow this approach have seen lower customer acquisition costs (CAC) and improved ROI.

Establishing a controlled foundation

OAO prioritizes building a strong foundation of owned assets that brands directly control. This includes core brand documents and messaging that may not always be effectively distributed across internal teams and external channels.

This foundation helps brands tell a more unified story across all assets, channels, and platforms, leading to an enjoyable customer experience. 

A strong foundation of assets also improves strength and resiliency to outside risks through consistent messaging and control. When brands tell their own stories, outsiders have less authority over them.

Why now? Entering the era of reception marketing

Cultural shifts and changing consumer trends have always pushed brands to revisit how they connect with customers. In this new age of consumer empowerment, brands are again being challenged to revisit approaches to consumer connection.

Today’s consumers no longer respond to intrusive marketing tactics, and they want more value upfront. Therefore the modern digital marketplace requires a new strategy — called reception marketing.

Reception marketing allows brands to meet consumers on the platforms and channels they are already using to look for support, with information they’re actively seeking. This connection strategy allows brands to build content that answers consumer questions at the right moments, meaning when they are most receptive to it

Through OAO, brands can execute reception marketing by tuning into consumer frequencies and building a broad network of content that resonates.

A Terakeet case study

Through a partnership with Terakeet, a leading mortgage lender discovered that the three main pages of their website account for 38% of conversions.

illustration of the economic impact of key pages on a website

The next ten pages bring in 19% of conversions. The remaining 1,400 pages, optimized to meet specific consumer needs, account for a whopping 43% of conversions. 

Without an OAO strategy and a focus on reception marketing, this industry leader would be missing out on almost half of their current conversions, without even realizing there was a problem.

Is OAO the right approach for your business?

Right now, many brands are executing fractured marketing — meaning they struggle to align all of their marketing campaigns and channels under one strategy. 

It is the result of one-off campaigns, tactics, and activities being tacked on over time, and chasing quick-wins without using a foundation of consistent source material. 

OAO is an investment into your long-term brand equity and value. To reignite trust and recapture consumer attention, brands need to become more aligned with the digital cues customers are sending with every online interaction.

Read more: OAO vs Digital Marketing

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google always on focus group

Google: Your Always-on Focus Group

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Using Google as your always on focus group means harvesting its sophisticated search data to reveal exactly what consumers are asking for and how to satisfy their needs.
  • Consumer needs data from Google is incredibly accurate because it reflects the actual needs and wants of real people searching for solutions to their problems.
  • This data tells you what people want and allows you to develop better consumer behavior insights, build a more engaging customer journey, and create authentic consumer connections.

Focus groups can approximate consumer demand on a limited scale. But it’s harder to get a holistic picture of entire markets and demographics. It’s difficult to truly map what your audience needs, and how those needs change over time, with one-off focus groups.

Google search offers brands a unique and extremely powerful alternative. With the right tools and expertise, Google can act as your brand’s “always-on” focus group. 

What do we mean by this?

Every Google search represents one data point in a massive collection of detailed consumer search intent data. Taken as a whole, this information reveals what millions of people are looking for at any given time. And it can be activated to achieve authentic consumer connection.


Why brands should leverage search intent data

Search intent is maybe the single most accurate type of consumer intent data brands can leverage. It’s so accurate because when people turn to Google they are honest and vulnerable. They often ask questions they wouldn’t ask their closest friends.

Each search reflects a desire or a need to solve a problem. Curiosity and honesty reach their pinnacle during each query as motivated consumers search for answers. 

Furthermore, consumer search intent data from Google has the following unique characteristics:

  • Constantly refreshed — Search intent data is never stale because Google is always on and always collecting searches. It represents real-time insight into consumer needs at any given moment. 
  • Direct access to real people — Search intent data is an aggregate of searches by real human beings, instead of an approximation or estimate. When brands leverage it they’re getting as close as possible to their real consumers.
  • Honesty and transparency — It’s worth reiterating that search intent data because it’s based on humans searching for solutions to their problems, is incredibly clear, accurate, and honest.

Imagine the power your brand can harness from this always-on focus group, giving you data across billions of searches.

What you can learn from Google data

Google search intent data, when analyzed and converted into consumer needs insights, can help brands determine the specific searches of their consumers, what problems their audiences are trying to solve, and what else they might be seeking.

This data gives brands the direction they need to develop data-informed strategies to offer information and content to solve these problems and connect with their consumers. 

What consumers are searching for

As a whole, searches performed on Google show you what people are searching for across industries. This data reveals an aggregate picture of what consumers want. It also shows changes in their needs as those needs evolve on a monthly basis.

The problems consumers are trying to solve

Beyond revealing what and how much people search, search intent data reveals how to best satisfy a query. Google algorithmically attempts to match a user’s search to the best, most relevant answer.

When you know what people are searching for, and you understand how the algorithm tries to satisfy those queries, you learn about your consumers’ problems and pain points. You also learn how you can create content to best solve their problems. 

What consumers might search for next

Knowing what your consumers are searching for, and what Google is showing them, you can start to hypothesize about what else your audience might be interested in, trying to research, or need in the future.

Forecasting consumer trends and popular topics becomes more feasible as you start to truly understand consumer search insights and use them to create actionable consumer connection strategies.

What you can do with Google data

Here are the most powerful ways to revolutionize your marketing efforts with Google’s search insights:

Develop accurate consumer behavior insights

There are many ways to approximate consumer behavior but search intent data is the strongest option for large brands. Search intent is not abstract — it’s real searches by real consumers. These searches are performed by real people looking to solve their problems.

As a result, the search queries people use are incredibly honest. Analyzing this search intent data allows brands to gain actionable consumer behavior insights that can drive digital connection strategies. These strategies can optimize marketing efforts, reduce CAC, and increase revenue. 

Create a customer journey based on real human behavior

With expert mapping of consumer behavior within a brand’s industry space, brands can create a unified strategy and customer journey. And it will actually reflect how real people behave. Because current journey models are obsessed with funnel stages versus actual needs, brands that want to win need to shift their thinking to put consumer needs first.

The customer journey is made up of a number of consumer engagements, or touchpoints. Brands can leverage consumer search intent data and consumer behavior insights to create optimized touchpoints that deliver as much value as possible.

If you can provide substantial value and build brand trust at each touchpoint, the likelihood of transactions greatly increases. So too, does your ability to claim as many touchpoints as possible and defend your online presence from the competition and brand pirates.

This gapless customer journey, focused on meeting the needs of consumers, should be the ultimate goal for today’s brands.

Build content that delivers the most relevant value possible

Brands can activate consumer search insights to create a broad network of purpose-built content to connect with and solve the primary and related problems of their audience. 

For example, a perfume brand could survey its digital landscape, and see consumers searching “how long does perfume last,” “perfume storage,” and “how to keep perfume fresh.”

The brand would create a content hub or a set of articles covering these and related topics. They’d answer these consumer questions and build brand trust at the same time.

This strategy can be applied to all consumer touchpoints and engagements online, across platforms, and even in-store. The goal is to create authentic consumer connections by providing real value whenever consumers seek it.

Reach new and parallel audiences

Beyond the power of fully understanding what your current audience wants, or is looking for, is the ability to get a higher-level view of similar and parallel audiences to pursue.

It is vital to build strong relationships with your core audience, but search intent insights also allow you to expand your reach.

Just because a topic isn’t directly related to your offering doesn’t make it irrelevant to your brand. Parallel topics and audiences represent opportunities to connect with consumers and build trust with new audiences. This is the key to unlocking the competitive grey area and how brands should compete strategically outside their lanes.

Grow brand trust, brand equity, and create authentic relationships

Growing brand trust, brand equity, and ultimately fostering authentic consumer connections are the keys to increasing market share, retaining customers, reducing CAC, and increasing overall revenue.

Consumer search data gives brands the insights they need to develop strategies that build these authentic relationships with consumers, connecting with them and ultimately converting them to customers.

Predict shifts in consumer demand

A solid grasp of today’s consumer needs in your brand’s industry and competitive spaces allow you to forecast the future needs of your consumers. This can help inform content and even business strategies, telling you what future pain points your audience might encounter so you can be ready with the solution.

Building brand equity and trust is readily achievable when you know what people want today — and tomorrow.

Develop new offerings and inform new investments

Search intent-powered strategy doesn’t just tell you what people want online, it also can reveal offering gaps for new products and services, and help brands make product investment decisions.

Take our perfume brand example. Using Google as a focus group might uncover searches for particular scent profiles, “long-lasting perfumes,” “all-natural cologne,” and more.

This presents a content opportunity but it also implies the real-world value of creating a natural scent line, or perfumes built to perform better or last longer. New potential offerings to meet consumer needs can direct new investments, which shows the true power of accurate consumer behavior insights.

Fuel all other marketing efforts

Consumer search intent insights, when accurately understood, can become the underlying data engine behind all brand marketing activities. 

With these insights, brands can develop marketing strategies that consumers actually want and are ready for. When all consumer engagements are informed by what real people actually want, your brand delivers more value and reaps bigger benefits — trust, equity, and authentic connection.

Fully aligned, data-informed marketing strategies built on consumer search intent data translate directly to better consumer connection, lower CAC, and higher return on investment across your business.

Consumer Insights as Investment

Google and its unrivaled consumer behavior data is the most powerful next-gen tool brands can tap into to engage, connect with, and help as many consumers as possible. Brands that prioritize these insights and invest in the value of their digital properties don’t just reach their audience, they build long-lasting, authentic customer relationships.

There are many data sources that promise real consumer insight, but none are more accurate and actionable than what people search for on Google — your always-on, digital focus group.

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combatting brand pirates

How to Combat (and Capitalize On) Brand Pirates

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Brand pirates (attention competitors) are usurping brand narratives and outcompeting brands online, causing major loss of consumer attention.
  • Owned assets — brand-controlled content and infrastructure optimized to deliver on consumer needs — mitigate the damage brand pirates cause.
  • Optimizing your assets reclaims attention from brand pirates and can use their presence online to push your competitors out of the market.

Brand pirates — the non-traditional competitors hijacking your story and stealing consumer attention — are a problem. But they can be dealt with, either by outcompeting them or flipping the script and using them to your advantage.

The best approach to reining in brand pirates is to optimize all of the digital properties your brand owns, based on what your audience wants.

When you create this infrastructure of content, you take back attention, seize control of your story, and develop a proactive defense for your brand. In this article, we’ll look at how this approach uniquely addresses the problem of attention competitors.

Know your competitors

The first step is understanding who you’re actually competing with online. Across the pirate categories — grey area competition, content hubs and publishers, affiliate sites, social media, and review platforms — brands must audit their digital landscape to identify who is stealing their consumers’ attention.

For example, Bank of America might identify the following attention-loss sources:

  • Grey area competition: Allstate,,
  • Content hubs:,,,,,,
  • Affiliates:,
  • Social: @HumphreyTalks on TikTok, @mrmoneymustache on Twitter, r/finance, r/banking, r/personalfinance on Reddit
  • Reviews:,,,,

These are just some examples, an extensive audit would reveal much more. Brands are no longer just competing for conversions against traditional competitors in their market space.

They are now competing with myriad third parties for consumer attention and online real estate. Understanding who is stealing attention from your brand, and how they’re doing it, are the first steps to reclaiming that attention.

brand pirates graphic 2

How owned assets solve the brand pirate problem 

Brand pirates work in different ways to siphon attention from your brand and dictate your narrative. Owned asset optimization (OAO) provides a unified strategy that addresses:

  1. Market share — The total ownership of the digital search space. An asset-first approach considers, holistically, the entire attention economy. Starting by learning what consumers are searching for, then creating content and consumer touch points to show up and connect more frequently with consumers through search.
  2. Narrative control — Rightful ownership of your brand’s story. Holding attention and market share is critical, but telling the right brand story and protecting your brand narrative is equally important.

Here’s how an asset-first approach solves the unique issues each type of brand pirate creates:

Grey area competition: market share

Grey area competitors are typically blogs or content hubs owned by large brands that are adjacent to your brand. Their offerings aren’t in your lane but their informational space has crossover with yours — also known as content grey areas. Because of this, grey area competitors primarily impact online market share.

The asset-first approach and its search intent-powered insight:

  • Identifies a brand’s grey area competitors 
  • Reveals what audiences are looking for online
  • Informs what value to provide to these audiences
  • Creates the asset infrastructure needed to target the content grey areas
  • Provides the structure and consumer touchpoints needed to win the attention in content grey areas

With grey area competitors identified and a holistic approach ready to attack the grey areas, a brand can dominate the space, build trust with the audience early on in their journey, and be top of mind when consumers inevitably consider that brand’s particular offering.

Reaching into these related spaces is a major source of audience growth and brand equity, helps to lift marketing ROI, and fends off direct and indirect competitors.

Content hubs and publishers: market share and narrative control

The concern with content hubs and publishers is similar to grey area competition in that these entities also take up valuable market share.

The difference is that this includes media sites, and that means narrative control comes into play. Media sites, which garner massive trust, can so easily derail a brand’s story, damage reputation, and cause long-term problems.

The asset optimization solution leverages one of your brand’s most powerful owned assets — your blog — turning it into your own brand-controlled content hub. 

A fully optimized blog produces consistent, high-value content powered by search intent data. It provides the venue to solve audience problems and lets you hone in on research stage awareness. It also lets you tell your own story and dictate your brand narrative — when done right, it’s capable of outcompeting large media sites.

Brands losing to content hubs are ceding large swathes of online real estate, and the consumer attention that comes with it. Instead of letting publishers steal attention, brands can compete with a performance publishing outlet of their own. This protects the brand’s online presence and directly reclaims consumer attention.

Content hubs and media sites aren’t all bad, and they often publish positive content for brands as well. The issue is that even when the coverage is good, the brand itself misses out on growing direct trust with their audience. 

Affiliate sites: market share

Affiliate marketers and content hubs are often one and the same, but there are some unique ways an asset-first approach deals with affiliates. The difference is that affiliates can actually create some value for brands, pushing clicks to transactional pages and featuring brand offerings. 

It’s not all upside though. Affiliates charge money for listings, take fees on sales, and steal attention because they tend to rank so well in search. Users often trust them because they appear unbiased or independent.

Despite this, the popularity of affiliate marketing for brands still grows, with a staggering $17 billion market value expected in 2023.

The goal isn’t to get rid of affiliates. Instead, it’s about reducing brand reliance on affiliates and tipping the balance in favor of the brand. This is achieved by:

  • Increasing investment in creating high-performance owned assets that rank in search
  • Outperforming affiliates with these assets
  • Capturing audience attention and building brand trust directly
  • Decreasing investment in affiliate programs

After establishing high-ranking assets to take attention back, your brand can selectively work with affiliates to block out other unwanted, less positive, or controllable competitors. Affiliates are brand pirates but they can be strategically deployed as barriers to entry against your competitors as well.

Review sites and platforms: narrative control

There are two main review types to be concerned with:

  1. Review sites that provide expert insight on various products
  2. User-submitted review platforms

An owned asset approach helps build more control over the review narrative and allows brands to influence the conversation.

Expert review sites

When review sites cover various offerings they source claims and material from wherever that information is readily available, and that isn’t always a brand’s preferred story. Brands that don’t have the assets to deliver that information and do it consistently across their digital assets, lose the ability to influence the narrative of expert reviews.

If you don’t have the information readily available, a third party will — but the brand should always be the direct source of truth in order to mitigate erroneous reviews or incorrect claims.

With a fully optimized asset network, your brand can provide consistent, rich detail, claims, and narrative about your products and services. If each asset a potential reviewer visits provides an exceptional experience and valuable information, it ensures accuracy and can color the review in a positive light. 

Plus, when your controlled assets dominate search results they crowd out brand pirates who are telling the wrong story, guiding reviews to the brand instead of third parties.

User review platforms

The uncontrollability of user review platforms is a fact of life, but owned assets can help achieve better overall ratings on platforms. 

Creating an amazing experience that consistently delivers value to consumers across your digital real estate can mitigate acutely negative reviews. If a dissatisfied consumer post-purchase reaches out for help, your assets provide the requested value, and that positive micro-moment might just bump a 2-star to a 3-star rating.

You can also build brand-controlled assets where customers can leave reviews, giving you more insight into their needs and challenges. Or, create assets to funnel customers to when they are most happy with their purchase, ensuring more and more positive reviews.

Social media: narrative control

Social media includes all of the platforms (YouTube, Twitter, etc.), social users, and influencers that post to those various networks. 

Brands don’t actually “own” their social media accounts, nor the followers they amass. These profiles, unlike a corporate site or blog, are subject to platform moderation.

Still, brands can control what they post, what they spend, and how they position themselves on social media — and how their socials feed into their broader asset network.

Social media content is displayed prominently in search results and the volatile nature of this content cedes brand narrative control. Video content posted by third parties ranks highly as well, potentially allowing all sorts of negativity and misinformation to appear. 

Optimized brand assets condition search results to be more brand-friendly despite the Wild West mentality of social media. Plus, when your brand’s social accounts are aligned with your other assets, regularly posting valuable content, you can crowd out the social chaos and start to influence user-generated content.

Influencer volatility

Brands that invest too heavily in social influencers, who are valuable, also take on unnecessary risk. Like affiliates, influencers sell access to attention. The problem is, influencers are out of your control and often prone to controversy and scandal.

How many brands have had to cut ties and sustained reputational harm from bad influencer behavior? The risk is ever-present.

Controlling your online space through your assets lets you rely less on unpredictable influencers because:

  • Your assets use search intent data to meet consumer needs and connect with them directly
  • The content across your assets (social posts and videos, too) provides value and increases narrative control
  • The “authenticity” influencers sell is less important when your assets communicate and connect authentically to the audience. 

The money saved on influencers can be prioritized towards optimizing owned assets. Owned assets are a sustainable, predictable way to connect with consumers and grow your business.

Final thoughts

Stopping the damage caused by brand pirates who hijack your narrative and take away market share is a vital step. It helps reconnect and build authentic relationships with your customers. Just competing with your product competitors misses a huge swath of the public. It also limits the accessible market for your brand.

When you make your owned assets the unifying strategy of all your marketing efforts, brand pirates lose the leverage they’ve developed. And that’s just one of the ways owned assets set brands up for dominance.

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Brand Pirates: Hijacking Your Story and Attention

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Leading brands are facing a slew of non-traditional online competitors who hijack their narratives and steal consumer attention. 
  • Brand pirates include grey-area competitors, content hubs and publishers, affiliate sites, social media influencers, and review platforms.
  • Brand marketers must know how to correctly identify brand pirates and attention competitors. This guide will get you started.

In a previous article, we redefined customer attention, divided it into categories, and explored a new lens for building authentic customer relationships. This approach helps brands identify and understand their true competitors. Adding “attention competitors,” or brand pirates, into the mix with traditional competitors helps brands avoid gaps in their digital marketing strategies.

With this new perspective, a deep dive into the various non-traditional competitors brands must compete with is in order. 

They’re called brand pirates because they’re adept at hijacking your brand story and using it for their own purposes. Brand pirates destabilize your control, rob you of consumer attention, create havoc along the customer journey, and damage trust. And given that 46% of consumers would pay more to purchase from trusted brands — it’s important to defend yourself.

Brand pirates may not be exactly who you’d expect, but this article will identify and explain them all. 

Who are you really competing against?

In the post, Declining Brand Trust: What It Is And How To Fix It, brand pirates fall into the following categories: Grey area competition, content hubs and publishers, affiliate sites, social media, and review platforms.

Brand pirates are an additional, often unrecognized, threat to your brand augmenting the risk traditional competitors pose.  

In digital spaces, brand pirates are actually more insidious than traditional competitors because they suck up substantial online real estate and outrank you in search, making your content and products less discoverable by your consumers.

The stakes have never been higher

Lost digital real estate represents lost opportunities to build an optimized buyer’s journey, capture authentic customer relationships and build trust.

Brands with traditional competitor tunnel vision are losing the online attention battle.


Every brand pirate that leading brands overlook can create major damage across the brand’s online market.

Why are the stakes so high now? The simple answer is value. 

Media, publishers, bloggers, affiliates, etc. understand the sheer earning potential of high-ranking content. Brand pirates are in the attention business and they’re good at outcompeting brands for their own audiences. 

The first step is knowing exactly who is usurping your brand’s attention.

Introducing: your true competitors

Here’s who you need to look out for:

Grey area competition

“Grey area” competition occurs when brands outside each other’s core offering or industry become attention competitors. These are often brands with complementary services that end up in direct competition because consumers’ desires tie them together.

For example, you’re looking for a new home. Entering the real estate market typically means getting a real estate agent, getting homeowners insurance, and getting a mortgage. Someone looking for one is also likely looking for the other two as well. 

Even though Zillow, GEICO, and Wells Fargo offer unique things: realtor services, home insurance, and mortgages, they all compete for attention. Each one wins substantial value and control by outranking the other two — even if the product or service offering is in a different lane. Each brand should view the others as brand pirates, or non-traditional competitors.

All brands are impacted by grey area competition. Attention loss, failure to own the online market space, declining trust, etc., are a few risks. Without strategic search intent analysis brands struggle to identify the crossover areas where grey area competitors thrive.

Content hubs and publishers

Media sites small and large, bloggers, content farms, informational sites, financial and medical resource hubs — these are all brand pirates.

This includes listicles and review lists, guides, news stories, blog posts, general articles, and anything that outranks your content and funnels potential consumer attention away from your brand.

Publishers are brand pirates because they are experts at stealing attention and telling brand stories on their own terms. Brands trying to build real trust must do all they can to own and protect their stories from third-party publishers.

Content hubs have a few characteristics that make them a threat, including:

  • Highly optimized content
  • Long content lifecycle 
  • Very popular with audiences
  • Perceived as non-biased and trustworthy
  • Professional and often numerous staff
  • Large archives of content
  • Established and authoritative

Large media sites are brand narrative power brokers in the sense that they can make or break a brand and cause real damage during negative news cycles. News articles, investigative reporting, and especially gossip-driven sensational stories can last forever.

Smaller publishers (especially blogs and content hubs) tend to dominate the informational search landscape. This gobbles up the results, crowding brands out — unless brands become publishers themselves.

Affiliate sites

Affiliates are the result of bloggers and smaller publishers monetizing the attention their content generates. There are also major publishing brands — think The Strategist — in the space that dominate markets across the web.

The main goal for these sites is to write content that inspires visitors to click through to an online retailer, make a purchase, and generate fees. 

They make money by siphoning brand attention and are brand pirates because their content fractures positive brand narratives while simultaneously stealing attention and traffic. Affiliates want to be a middleman, but they end up hijacking your customer journey.

Many electronics brands, for example, perceive this as a wholly positive and symbiotic relationship. 

“As long as product X is on the listicle, we get free positive exposure, recognition, and affiliate sales… right?”


Affiliates are a threat, both financially and attention-wise. Their lists outrank brands, they have high trust despite biased incentives, they steal brand narratives for their own purposes, and they get in the way of an enjoyable customer experience. 

Affiliates can be useful if deployed strategically by a brand that has done the hard work of building a strong online presence. When a brand’s content owns the top spots on search, the brand can work with affiliates to further push out competitors and brand pirates, using affiliate sites as allies to take up more online real estate.

Review sites and platforms

Look up any product category, sub-category, or specific product. What do you see? Reviews, reviews, reviews. You even see commonly asked questions like “Is brand X actually good,” plus video reviews.

These reviews come from independent review sites, review platforms, mega-retailers, individuals, and more. The minute any product, music, movie, or other content drops, you can find a review.

Reviews are so common because consumers see them as a powerful research and comparison tool. We constantly search “product X reviews” to assess ratings and gather up social proof to make a decision. It doesn’t matter if the reviews are positive or negative, it matters that they grab our attention and take control of brand narratives when not properly controlled. 

Reviews and review platforms are challenging because they:

  • Usurp brand narrative — that’s their whole job.
  • Lack transparency.
  • Outrank brands due to search algorithms.
  • Don’t allow brands to answer or counter reviews.
  • Often last, hurting a brand for decades.
  • Cannot be verified as true or false — they are subjective.
  • Are highly trusted, established, and popular.
  • Let anyone review, even trolls, interested parties, and bad-faith actors

Consumer empowerment has been transformative for consumers and has actually created the opportunity for more beneficial brand-consumer relationships. Consumers began to ask more from brands, and brands have found ways to deliver. 

Some aspects of empowerment — namely, reviews — have gained too much leverage and aren’t accountable enough to brands.

The border between review site and affiliate marketer is a thin one. A subtle difference — review sites answer “Is product X good or bad?” but affiliates answer “What’s the best product in category X?” Both can steal your narrative.


Social media

The least accountable frontier, social media has fairly limited moderation but massive engagement and usage. Each day, an estimated 500 million tweets are sent globally. Posts on social grab a tremendous amount of attention and can be chaotic, so brands must be on guard.

Social media’s most troubling brand threats include: 

  • “Wild West” mentality that prevents brand control
  • Potential for a brand to confuse its own narrative by chasing trends
  • Social posts rank highly in search engines
  • Bots and spam issues
  • The risk of fake accounts posing as a brand
  • Mockery of brand narrative
  • Popular and controversial content that sticks around forever
  • Negative brand news spreads in seconds
  • Misinformation is rampant
  • Self-imposed executive or brand reputational harm
  • Anonymity emboldens provocation, belligerence, and cruelty

Social media is made up of millions of mini brand pirates who, together, can cause untold damage. It’s a major hurdle in the pursuit of authentic customer relationships and one that must be carefully monitored and managed. 

Final thoughts

At this point you may be asking yourself, “What can I do about brand pirates?” 

The great news is that when brands optimize the online assets it owns and build a strategy around them, it’s possible to turn some brand pirates into brand defenders.

For the rest, this strategy protects your brand’s narrative, expands your control of the online market, and builds authentic customer relationships.

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Why Building Authentic Customer Connections Is Hard

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Creating customer connections — the kind built on trust and mutual value — is a major challenge for today’s brands and current “best practice” marketing tactics are making this harder.
  • The marketing funnel is outmoded, real customer journeys are non-linear, there’s confusion about what audiences actually want, and consumer attention needs redefining. 
  • A rethinking of traditional marketing philosophies is in order so that brands can build true connections with customers, powered by consumer search intent data.

Attention is everything for creating customers and brands that fail to capture the right kind of attention suffer the consequences. The problem begins with an outdated marketing funnel model. It’s exacerbated by fundamentally bad data and lack of investment in authentic, long-term customer connection. 

Additionally, consumer attention is only valuable if you reward it with valuable content. Millions of eyes on something people aren’t prepared for or aren’t actually seeking have very little value. That’s what much of modern marketing does — interrupts you with stuff you don’t care about. 

These factors (and many others) make it harder to foster authentic customer connection in high-competition, high-value spaces. Brands either build real connection or blend into the crowd of dozens of undifferentiated competitors.

We’re constantly evolving our thinking on customer connections, the customer journey, and what real customer attention looks like. Below are some insights for forward-thinking marketers.

The marketing funnel is outdated

The marketing funnel isn’t dead. It still works to an extent. It just becomes outmoded when we admit some hard truths about the customer journey.

In the ideal picture using customer personas, we think consumers seek a product, compare similar offerings, then make a decision. 

Reality has never been this simple.

In the real world, the buyer’s journey is chaotic. It doesn’t follow the one-size-fits-all concept or a linear path. It gets interrupted, restarted, put on hold, left behind, picked up again, and more. The point is that the funnel isn’t a straight shot from awareness to transaction; it’s a squiggly line at best. 

Marketers need to embrace this truth in order to get correctly aligned with their audiences.

Non-linearity and the customer journey

Here’s where marketing is now, but here’s where your audience actually is:

customer journey
customer journey 2

Approaching the chaotic customer journey

The gap between the old funnel and the real customer journey creates missed opportunities to foster connection, brand trust and brand equity, and meaningful engagement. Serving audiences content, ads, or promotional material meant to create transactions doesn’t work when the marketing funnel is so misleading.

Instead of trying to force customers down the funnel, marketers should assume the role of problem solver. Listening to consumers, learning their problems, and offering solutions to customers’ biggest pain points. More transactions require more trust, which is created when customers get substantial value through brand efforts before a transaction.

Brands need to invest in relationships and not just sales. This philosophy shift means creating rich, solution-oriented content that audiences seek and simply be available, providing value on the audience’s terms — whenever, wherever, and however they want it.

The 95:5 rule 

Heard of the 80:20 rule? Well, marketing is also realizing something called the 95:5 rule. It states that in-market audiences are split into the 95% not yet looking to buy and the 5% who are.

Almost all of the audience is in the awareness and research stage, with a tiny fraction at the transaction level. This has been applied to B2B but resonates into the B2C and D2C world as well.

The problem? Marketers think that prioritizing transactions (forcing people down the funnel) creates sales. The data shows something completely different about consumers. We need to put consumer needs first and evolve our strategies to mirror how our audiences actually behave.

The current (dysfunctional) marketing mix:

  1. 95% demand capture – BOFU/transactional targeting efforts
  2. 5% demand creation – TOFU/MOFU targeting efforts like problem-solving content

Our question — How do you foster connection and trust serving transactional material no one wants?

The ideal marketing mix:

  1. 95% demand creation
  2. 5% demand capture 
marketing mix
marketing mix 2

The solution — Creating the ideal mix requires flipping the “old way” on its head. Embracing a path that centers real world human behavior and consumer insights. 

What consumers actually want

We think of consumer audiences as solution seekers and brands as solution providers. Consumers look for solutions in the shape of information and/or products/services. 

Applying our ideal 95:5 mix, informational content should be a brand’s biggest priority as most consumers aren’t ready to buy. Brands can build alignment and strong trust by providing exactly what consumers want. Providing up-front value creates trust that’s rewarded with sales. Transactional tunnel vision can’t do that.

Customer desires revealed

Great, consumers want solutions… But to what? 

There are many valuable sources of consumer intent data: reviews, user-generated content, surveys, and traditional focus groups. But one outshines them all in providing always-on, real-time, honest information: search intent data.

Google collects, in detail, what users are looking for with every search they make. Given the intimate and valuable nature of search, users are honest about their needs, asking detailed, sometimes embarrassing, private, or unique questions they might not share with their closest friends. 

This highly accurate data can tell you exactly what your consumers want and can lead your marketing to connect with them, whenever and wherever they are. And the best part is it not only applies to marketing, but can be applied across all aspects of brand operations, discovering new markets, trends, and consumers.

Search intent data reveals exactly what your audience needs and what you can do to earn their authentic attention and build trust.

Redefining consumer attention

Not all attention is the same, and the extent of its value depends on the type and the infrastructure a brand has to cash in on it. 

Attention falls into two categories:

  • Earned – Authentic, organic attention that provides enough value to hold a consumer’s attention and turn it into brand equity, trust, and conversions. This attention is created by building audience trust and provides major ROI.
  • Unearned – Attention sourced through traditional paid channels. Because this attention is purchased, it isn’t as powerful as what you earn by helping your audience solve their problems. It inefficiently gets many eyes on your brand but doesn’t foster trust. At worst, it can turn customers off. ROI here is limited and is not optimized.

It’s not that unearned attention is bad, it’s simply that earning attention with solution-rich content creates real customer connections in the process while unearned attempts to force it. Creating exceptional content not only earns attention, but also boosts the impact of the attention you pay for. 

The attention ratio and asset infrastructure

The ratio and prioritization between earned and unearned attention determines a brand’s ROI, efficiency, and cost to acquire customers. Prioritizing investment in valuable content that earns consumer attention builds trust and preps your audience. It will ultimately help make paid, unearned attention valuable.

Building an infrastructure of content focused on helping your audience paves the way for better, more optimized cross-channel marketing results. 

If you lack an infrastructure of owned assets and content that connect with consumers, your budget should be heavily focused on building earned attention over unearned.

Winning with earned attention

Brands can achieve earned attention by using search intent data to fully grasp the problems their audience has, creating highly relevant content, and optimizing it for discoverability when the audience asks for it. 

Done consistently with consumer search intent in mind, brands can become trusted sources of value to the 95% of consumers looking for solutions. Brands are naturally rewarded for this value as audience members make purchase decisions.

This longer play, which actually helps your audience, delivers far better results than throwing money at a channel to buy eyeballs and expecting great ROI. 

Paid channels have a role to play, but leading with sophisticated value creation and relationship-building strategy fosters real consumer attention and increases marketing ROI across all channels. Strong customer relationships generate their own value AND ensure that paid marketing hits an audience that is primed for action. 

Final thoughts

These are just a few of the symptoms resulting from the larger problem of fractured marketing. Industry practices have simply not caught up with the behavior of the real people that make up brand audiences.

Traditional marketing models and perspectives are showing their age, and that drives the misalignment between brands and consumers we’re seeing across some of the largest business sectors.

Thankfully there’s a new path to tread through search intent, solutions-driven content publishing, digital asset optimization and management, and more. Altogether, with a holistic philosophy and approach, achieving meaningful, lasting customer relationships becomes much more actionable and realistic for the world’s largest brands.

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Rethinking the Buyer’s Journey

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • The current buyer’s journey model is out of touch with real audience behavior and needs to be reframed.
  • Digital marketers face an uphill battle trying to force consumers into the neat marketing funnel model. In real life, people are either researching or buying — and they’re looking for solutions and value.
  • Brands that want to foster authentic, long-term relationships are shifting to a new journey model that respects customers and provides value upfront.

Understanding the buyer’s journey, and optimizing it to maximize effectiveness, is one of the most important ways to:

  • Create exceptional experiences 
  • Build trust
  • Strategically connect with your audience

The problem is: The traditional model makes major assumptions about human behavior that are outdated, and often, downright wrong.

Due to the limitations and assumptions of the old model, marketing priorities get skewed in the wrong direction. This failure to understand the real people in a marketplace makes it impossible to know what they really want and how to deliver value to them.

To create strong relationships between brands and consumers, we must fundamentally rethink the customer journey and how to generate conversions.

The traditional buyer’s journey

The journey model used for decades is no longer providing optimal results. It misleads marketers, ignores customer behavior shifts, and creates lower ROI across channels because it doesn’t prioritize customer connection. 

Buyer’s journey stages

At its simplest level, the traditional buying journey consists of three stages:

  1. Awareness stage — When the audience realizes the problem or pain point they have to solve. This is when they are researching and seeking resources to build context around the problem. They are not yet aware of a solution.
  • Awareness content types — Marketers target this stage with blog posts, social media posts, videos, whitepapers, one pagers, ebooks, and more.
  1. Consideration stage — This next stage is when the audience fully grasps the problem they need to solve and begins researching all the potential solutions. They are considering potential solutions but have not yet identified a brand to buy from.
  • Consideration content types — Marketers target this stage with case studies, comparison guides, and free material and resources.
  1. Decision stage — The stage when the audience deeply understands their problem, knows a solution, and begins to select a brand from their shortlist. After this they make a purchase decision.
  • Decision content types — Marketers target this stage with special offers, promotions, coupons, free trials, live demos, and other offers.

Does it work?

The model above is marketing as it has been practiced up until now. There’s a reason it has hung around this long — it works. The question is how well?

Not very. 

The fundamental weakness of the traditional buyer’s journey is that it tries to force a linear path  and sales process from awareness to transaction. In reality, people act in extremely non-linear ways. That is, they bounce around, up, down, and horizontally around the funnel at different times for different reasons. They might even be at multiple stages at once. There isn’t just one decision-making process.

A new model should respect the intelligence, and changing perspectives of consumers. It should serve them on their terms and — most importantly — provide value instead of asking for it. 

If your brand marketing doesn’t live and breathe this central goal, it’s time for some rethinking.

Reframing the customer journey

Understanding the true customer journey begins with recognizing a philosophical shift in consumer desires and behavior. 

Ask yourself: Do your target audiences really want to be greeted with an immediate shove down the marketing funnel to the transaction, all the while being asked for value (time, purchases, subscriptions, emails, personal information)?

The truth is none of us are looking for that. We’re looking for the best possible solution to our problems while having the best possible experience along the way. The interruptive approach doesn’t create potential buyers.

Brands that understand what consumers are searching for and are prepared to provide that value (without the shoving), are the ones consumers trust.


Of consumers care more about experiences than price when choosing a brand from which to purchase.


Ultimately, they are the brands people buy from, and return to, over the long term.

Achieving this status has many steps, but the first is to see how customers actually behave, instead of relying on how dated models make us think they behave.

The real customer journey

Professor John Dawes at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science has published research that forces marketers to rethink the traditional customer journey model.

With key changes to the model, brands can bridge the reality gap and evolve their marketing to focus on building authentic, lasting customer connections.

The real customer journey has only two stages along with some “micro-moments”:

Research stage — 95% of the customer journey is consumers looking for a solution to a problem and relevant content. This includes defining the problem, comparing solutions, and zeroing in on the best (or most relevant) solution.

  • “Consideration” lands here but is not a stage, it’s a micro-moment of value alignment between a particular brand and customer that is part of research.
  • The types of content and targeting tools from the old awareness, consideration, and decision stages — blog posts, social posts, videos, whitepapers, one pagers, ebooks, case studies, comparison guides, free resources, special offers, promotions, coupons, free trials, live demos, webinars, and more — actually fit here. This is when brands must consistently offer real value to their audience at each engagement.

Buying stage — 5% of the customer journey is when consumers are actually engaged and connected enough for decision-making and buying (or re-buying in the case of loyal customers). 

Before this, retargeting ads and related contact points aren’t as effective because the consumer lacks a connection to and trust in the brand. Marketing strategies that attempt “push” tactics when the audience is still researching are misaligned with actual customer needs. Here’s how:

  • The purchase decision lands within this stage as another crucial micro-moment that concludes the buying process.
  • End-of-process activities that demonstrate the final value proposition of the brand’s offering are included here.

Unfortunately for their marketing ROI, brands focus too much on the buying stage when all the value creation and trust building happen during the research stage. This results in consumers never reaching a decision because they have no relationship with the brand.

The diagnosis

When marketers realize that consumer audiences do not fit into neat “stages” and start treating them as real people with diverse needs, wants, and evolving perspectives, a shift in thinking occurs. Brands can no longer rely on old marketing tactics to force consumers towards a transaction, they need to authentically connect with their potential customers to earn that transaction, trust, and loyalty.

Looking back at the awareness, consideration, and decision model, various problems come into focus:

  1. Marketers fail to prioritize the needs of the customer — With so many moving parts, purposes, methods, differing ROI, and costs across the three stages, the major challenge is how you prioritize it all. Getting this marketing mix wrong can break a marketing department and devastate customer acquisition efforts. Simplifying it mitigates risk and allows for a more organic prioritization process.
  2. Marketers fall victim to the transaction trap — A BOFU obsession causes marketers to only focus on transactions, instead of building trust across the whole funnel. Brands want to increase revenue, but a narrow prioritization of “only sales” often means fewer sales. Without awareness and strong trust, people will not convert.
  3. Marketers lose sight of audience desires — Constantly trying to classify people by their funnel position and using the traditional tactics for targeting every stage presents the risk of forgetting about what people really want. Real people usually do not fit into marketing templates.
  4. Marketers overlook consumer behavior data — Relying solely on ideal customer buyer personas and the traditional funnel model reveals only a slice of what the audience wants and how to deliver it. When marketers understand and leverage real-time consumer behavior data, like Google search intent data, they learn exactly what consumers want from their brand and how best to deliver real value.

When you look at the old model and the limitations above, is it any wonder that marketing is fractured? And also, what can brands do about it?

Aligning your strategy with the real customer journey

Creating a strategy that reflects real customer behavior and delivers consistent value to audiences at every engagement requires two things — search intent data and optimizing controlled assets. 

The simplification of the stages into researching or buying means we need to really know what the audience wants, when they want it, how they’re seeking it, and how we can provide it. You can find this information in the data collected by search engines whenever a user performs a search.

This search intent data lets you fully listen to and understand your audience’s desires. Then, translate them into a unified strategy focused on providing the value your audience needs when they go looking for it.

This “consumer connection” strategy prioritizes investment in owned assets (the unique properties that a brand fully controls) and turns them into a constellation of consumer engagement. Each asset in your digital constellation should deliver the unique value and information that your audience is searching for.

Together, all these new points of consumer connection create a galaxy of content that helps shape a better customer experience built on your audience’s needs.

Start with search intent data

Marketers can take search data and convert it into an accurate, truthful source of both big-picture and granular consumer intent. Search intent isn’t just an approximation of consumer intent — it really tells you what people want and how to satisfy them. 

The benefits of leveraging search intent data are not just limited to the web either. It can inform real-world business decisions and help organizations see what consumers want and expand into new markets accordingly. We can use this powerful tool to optimize the customer journey. When you know exactly what the audience wants, the opportunity to provide real value, before you ask for it, is massive.

Creating a customer journey with owned assets

Brands own hundreds (if not thousands) of unique web properties. Examples include:

  • Landing pages 
  • Blogs 
  • Blog posts
  • Corporate sites
  • Publishing platforms
  • Online profiles. 

In the customer journey context, each of these can be used to satisfy the diverse desires of the audience.

Optimization looks different depending on the asset type and its unique goal. For example, a blog post could be leveraged as an awareness piece for the research stage. A hypothetical supplement brand might write a piece of content on vitamin certification facts to rank for the terms consumers researching supplements may search for. 

A product landing page (another brand-controlled owned asset) might contain educational content on why their offerings are better than competitors. 

Brands that leverage search intent data can fully optimize each of these assets to connect with their consumers, letting them find you when they need you. 

At a high level, the asset optimization process includes:

  1. Collecting and analyzing consumer search intent data
  2. Mapping out all owned assets
  3. Creating new owned assets to fill any gaps
  4. Optimizing each owned asset to meet specific goals and offer value to consumers
  5. Iterating and refreshing the assets as brand position and needs change

Assets and the real customer journey

Prioritizing your owned assets helps brands transition from the outdated, linear customer journey model to the fluid, more realistic, 95:5 customer journey model.

Each asset provides real value to each visitor again and again, while a brand’s whole network of assets increases its reach, meeting the needs of new audiences.

The old customer journey model doesn’t prioritize relationships and trust and brings backward assumptions to the table. So even when consumers are exposed to transactional material they don’t engage. 

Consumer search intent-driven asset optimization:

  • Makes customer relationships goal number one
  • Unlocks authentic consumer desire
  • Provides upfront value to consumers and doesn’t “push”
  • Creates a digital infrastructure that helps consumers on their terms
  • Reorients transactional tunnel vision towards the 95% of consumers researching solutions
  • Builds trust each time the audience visits any of a brand’s assets
  • Improves ROI across ALL marketing efforts

Final Thoughts

Fostering authentic customer relationships should be the guiding principle for modern brands. The winners across industries are the brands that people trust. That trust is a hard-won trophy of consistently delighting your customers, but very few brands actually achieve this. 

Our owned asset first philosophy turns marketers from value takers to value providers — and focuses on connecting when consumers are ready. This approach helps brands truly listen to and understand consumer needs, and revolutionizes marketing efforts with innovation, intentionality, and insight.

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fractured marketing

Fractured Marketing: What It Is and Why It’s Preventing Customer Connection

RJ Licata, Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Fractured marketing is the failure to fully align all of a brand’s marketing campaigns and channels under one strategy.
  • Fractured marketing impacts most industry ecosystems and results from issues like channel-specific overinvestment, broken customer journey, bad customer data, non-holistic philosophies, and more.
  • Brands that want to heal the fracture should prioritize understanding customers through search intent data and building the infrastructure to authentically connect with customers.

What is fractured marketing?


Fractured marketing

The failure to fully align all of a brand’s marketing campaigns and channels under one strategy.

Fractured marketing results in difficulty connecting with customers when they reach out in search of solutions to their problems. 

Brands that prioritize omnichannel marketing may get results, but without a strategy that prioritizes consumer connection, and consumer needs, an omnichannel approach can still be fractured.

Fractured marketing isn’t a minor issue, it’s a fundamental weakness at the center of today’s paid marketing approaches, which overly focus on transactions.

Why does it matter?

Reaching your audience only at the transactional level, or when and where you pay for promotion, misses millions of consumers who are looking for solutions across the entire funnel.

Pay-to-play only works while you’re paying, but what happens once the spending is over? This means that brands must build the digital infrastructure to be there when consumers reach out, no matter where they are in their buying journey.

Status quo marketing practices interrupt or ask permission and then serve up transactional content. Unless the target is primed to buy, this often creates a mismatch between customer needs and your offering — especially for brands that lack the infrastructure for higher-level awareness. 

When brands spend big on ads, their ability to realize market share gains and capitalize on customer attention is minimized if their other marketing efforts are fractured. That’s why brands need to reprioritize their marketing dollars in a holistic way that includes the entire funnel — not just transactions.

Here’s why marketing is fractured

Marketing is fractured for dozens of reasons, from bad data and misunderstood customers to overinvestment in interruptive marketing techniques. Here are some of the biggest reasons for fractured marketing:

Relying on the wrong data

Much of marketing is powered by first and third-party data. With first-party, you know where it comes from but third-party data sources are opaque. This is a problem, but the fundamental issue is that third-party data does not reveal your customers’ actual desires.

Search intent data does. Search intent data is a rich resource of consumer behavior across all Google users. This consumer intent data can be expertly mapped and used to reveal what people are searching for and how brands can help them. Think of this as your always-on, brutally honest, real-time focus group.

Search intent data can, and should, lead marketing strategy, but it goes beyond that. It can lead, shape, and evolve business strategies based on what customers are actually asking for in an unbiased and honest way. 

Every day, people reveal their honest desires on Google. This trustworthy data can be used to understand the market, make investment decisions, attack new spaces, and much more.

Disconnected customer journey

Today’s customer journey is anything but one-size-fits-all. Brands need to shift their approach if they hope to connect with consumers. Today’s “awareness to transaction” process focuses heavily on forcing a purchase decision. But building awareness and providing up-front value by solving a consumer’s problem is more effective at creating customer connection.

Many marketing teams focus too strictly on the bottom of the funnel — forcing a transaction. They neglect the rest of the buying journey. This leads to marketing that only targets the fraction of people who are ready to buy. And it misses or creates misalignment with everyone else.

While transactions are the ultimate goal, there are many content marketing goals to be achieved higher in the funnel. Ultimately, the higher-level awareness-focused work builds the infrastructure, trust, and relationships needed for great conversion rates, lower acquisition costs, and higher ROI.

Building trust, positioning yourself as an authority, solving customer problems, creating mutually beneficial relationships — these and more need to happen way before a transaction. Missing these key elements while pursuing transactions leaves you fighting to stand out against the competition.

What do audiences really want?

Audiences aren’t just looking for a product or service, they’re looking for information and solutions to their problems.

Brands that position themselves as problem solvers whenever and wherever people search for solutions gain awareness, build trust, and create lasting customer relationships.

That’s great marketing.

It’s vital to identify the problems your target audience has and serve up content that addresses those problems.


Glossier discovered that consumers who read their content on “Into the Gloss” are 40% more likely to purchase products from Glossier than competitors.


For instance, a glasses brand could use consumer search intent data to learn that its customers want answers about maintenance, types of UV protection, and the effectiveness of blue light filtering.

With this insight, the brand launches a content hub with articles highlighting the best maintenance routines for different types of glasses, breakdowns of different UV protection levels, and when blue light filtering is really worth it. This content helps consumers learn and helps the glasses brand connect with them at critical points in their buying journey. 

Consumers that interact with the content brands create are more likely to trust and return to the brand, ultimately making a purchase.

Lack of holistic philosophy

Businesses operating with a holistic marketing philosophy focus on aligning their disparate marketing efforts, unifying their messaging, and building long-term relationships with customers. This involves being mindful of the entire buying journey and creating content not just focused on sales, but on fostering trust, building a relationship, and helping their audience.

Brands and organizations that think of marketing as separated by channel and goal tend to overinvest in a few channels and focus on prioritizing transactions over customer connection. In doing so, they miss opportunities to capture higher-level attention. 

Limited ability to capitalize on marketing wins

Major marketing efforts — think Super Bowl ads — win massive attention simply because they make a big splash in front of millions of viewers. This is great, but attention alone does nothing without the proper online infrastructure (landing pages, blog posts, offers, forms, etc.) to actually capitalize on the buzz.

These kinds of high-profile stunts only turn into marketing wins if brands have somewhere to send the audience and a way to capture the attention’s value. Otherwise, they get the costly buzz only to be forgotten in the noise within days. Such has been the fate of many well-meaning brands.

Interruption and permission overinvestment 

A major part of fractured marketing is confusing certain types of promotional tactics as the entire strategy versus using them as tools that are part of a holistic strategy. Two big overinvestment areas like this are interruption and permission marketing.

Interruption marketing like banner ads, pop-ups, and other intrusive methods, while sometimes effective, annoy consumers and diminish the customer experience. Over time, and with too much reliance on interruption, brand trust, and equity start to erode.

Permission marketing — opt-ins like newsletters, special offers, and other promotional material. They can be effective, but even if it’s top-notch and innovative, these methods don’t get the engagement ROI to justify major spending.

Both of these tactics play a part, but instead of investing the majority of their budget between interruption and permission, brands should reorient their investment towards expanding their digital footprint by creating great content aimed at solving customer problems. Instead of asking permission or interrupting your audience, be present and ready to help them on their terms, when they actually ask for help.

Combatting fractured marketing

We’ve laid out the problems and the myriad reasons that brands experience difficulty connecting with customers higher in the funnel. Now, let’s look at some of the mindset shifts and actions brands can take to start evolving their strategies. 

From a bird’s eye view, there are three big starting points:

1. Establish and control your assets

Earlier, we discussed establishing the proper online infrastructure to capitalize on marketing wins. This is a foundational element that can optimize not only your conversions from search, but can increase the effectiveness of every marketing channel and tool you have.

Without an intentional infrastructure that begins with optimizing the assets you control, creating a holistic strategy (and reaping better cross-channel ROI) is impossible.

By infrastructure, we’re talking about all the online assets you control or can influence. This includes:

  • Corporate websites 
  • Blogs 
  • Blog posts 
  • White papers and case studies
  • Social media and business profiles 
  • Bylines 
  • Ally websites, and more 

These can be mapped out on a “controllability spectrum” — a ranking from total control to zero control. Then it can be optimized to align with what your audience wants at different buyer journey stages.

Focusing on the assets you control allows you to develop a clear, cohesive, and tailored message for your audience. That core message gets filtered up through your digital infrastructure. If your foundation is solid, stays on point across your less controlled channels like social, ally sites, and user-generated content.

Creating this infrastructure builds awareness, helps connect with consumers, and optimizes conversions, acquisition costs, and ROI across all channels.

2. Let search intent drive strategy

But, how do you know what customers actually want at different stages of their journey? The answer is search intent. 

Every day, millions of people turn to Google to solve problems. Google search queries are revealing because, during a search, users are at their most curious, vulnerable, and honest about their desires. Data gleaned from search is therefore one of the purest, and most accurate, forms of consumer intent data available — an always-on focus group. 

Search intent insights empower brands to build the perfect journey because they reveal what the audience wants throughout the funnel. Then, brands can better deliver answers and solutions to build awareness, trust, and create loyal customers.

3. Connect authentically with customers

With an asset-focused infrastructure that is search intent data-driven, it becomes much easier to connect with your audience and customers. Build true alignment so that when people search for solutions on Google, you are prepared to provide them with answers. 

Being there when and where your target audience reaches out to solve their pain points, instead of interrupting them or serving them irrelevant content, is the key. It builds trust, brand affinity, and sparks the all-important customer relationship. 

Helping your audience establishes you as an authority in the space, builds awareness, and delivers free value to the audience. It also solidifies your trustworthiness, all while converting attention into increased sales, and decreasing acquisition costs across marketing channels.

Authentic, lasting, and meaningful customer relationships (and the infrastructure to consistently create them) are the ultimate fractured marketing cure.

Final Thoughts

Fractured marketing is a very real and pressing problem that brands must come to terms with. Today’s pay-to-play model is dysfunctional, especially without clear audience search intent data and sophisticated methods of building awareness and trust. The ROI on typical marketing channels is limited (and shrinking) across many industries. 

Audiences don’t just want a product or service, they want to solve their biggest problems. More and more they turn to search engines for answers. Organic search data is a priceless resource. It helps brands identify their consumers’ wants, create digital assets that long-term deliver value, and maximize ROI across channels.

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