What Uber’s PR Issues Tell Us About The Current State Of Digital Marketing

Uber, the mobile app that connects users to taxi drivers and ride shares was lauded in 2010 (under its former name UberCab) as a service that would finally remove the hassle of booking a private car service. It has since gone to become a $40 billion company, extend its reach to fifty three countries and generate $10+ million dollars in revenue in its mature markets (according to data leaked to Business Insider)

But for all this fervor the ride hailing service has gained, the regulatory issues and PR controversies Uber has faced show that the state of digital marketing is evolving beyond recognition.

There is now essentially no way to hide a PR issue from public view, as evidenced by the French taxi drivers in Paris who staged a protest against UberPop.

The truth is that everyone now understands how to ensure previously under the radar news stories can now be shared in an instant with a global network of customers and stakeholders.

If you hadn’t already realised that means that anything you do as a business owner that negatively impacts a customer or stakeholder in any way is likely already being discussed online by a passionate community of consumer advocates. (Hotel owners are the worst culprit for this when they try to hide Tripadvisor reviews!)

But what I think is significant about Uber’s recent PR issues is the big questions is presents about the direction of digital marketing, which I want to outline in this blog post.

Online Conversations Are Messy And Uncontrollable

No client side marketing team or external marketing agency ever expects a normal day when they arrive at the office.

The primary reason they don’t expect any normality in their day is because the online communities built around a product or company are often messy and uncontrollable.

The one thing that makes the online conversations so messy is that every incident (good or bad) is carefully scrutinised by the wider world and this is often done without the appropriate context for why an event took place.

Therefore if I was to play devil’s advocate for Uber it would be fair to say that they haven’t been receiving equitable coverage from popular online news outlets such as Buzzfeed whose chairman has been found out to have an investment in a rival company.

On the other hand Uber does seem to be adding fuel to the fire with its questionable actions (including the supposed automatic algorithmic change to Sydney cab prices during the recent hostage crisis in the city)

And it is that fuel which is perhaps not working in Uber’s favor. They are having to fight fires on multiple fronts and the power of the online conversation appears to be quickly overriding the company’s ability to protect their public image.

One question that Uber must ask and one consideration digital marketers must make is what is deemed an appropriate action to prevent fuel being added to a fire.

It may have just taken one or two people at Uber a matter of minutes to realise the link between the surge in demand for their ride sharing services and the events that were unfolding in the hostage crisis.

And I think that point I made earlier about context probably gets overlooked by people who post on social media because so many fail to consider the other side. (i.e Uber must be the bad guy because they chose to increase prices during the crisis).

But when Uber didn’t immediately react to the unfolding situation and realise its error you can easily see why people were quick to assume Uber was just trying to take advantage of the situation.

The power of context is a lost art in social media. That’s probably the one uncontrollable part of the online conversation because some people just want to be heard, regardless of whether they have got the entire story straight before they publish a tweet or Facebook post.

People Power Dictates The Trending Conversations

The one thing that is closely linked to the previous section about the messiness of the online conversation is the power of the people dictating the trending conversations.

If we are to step back for a moment in the discussion about whether Uber made a mistake in charging more for surge demand during the hostage crisis, it is important for us to think carefully about just how influential people power can be.

It can be something as simple as getting an alternative song to Christmas number one or something as powerful as shaping the future of an entire country. The people who care about making either of these outcomes happen are going to become the most passionate people you will ever meet.

Social media is the platform that consumers, government officials and the wider community have been yearning for. It can feel like a nightmare to navigate, but it really shouldn’t.

In Uber’s case people power influenced the company to offer rides for free in Sydney (after the initial hike in prices for several hours). For other companies such as Victoria’s Secret and Gap it has involved a drastic overhaul of their marketing campaigns after the social media backlash occurred.

Although we can all acknowledge that people power has provided us with plenty of beneficial outcomes, I am sure you would agree that there is also a dark side to the influence of people power.

I would personally say that in 2015 we will probably be seeing a lot more social media backlashes taking place. But it is a preventable event.

Marketers need to wise up to the power of the people and embrace it for a positive cause. The Ice Bucket Challenge wasn’t just fun, it was something you felt like you were a part of.

The same principle applies to potential PR disasters. It isn’t about trying to shutdown a conversation but instead taking charge of turning something contentious into something positive.

Some of the great examples I have seen over the last few years of companies who have turned an awful PR event into something positive include Greggs, The Red Cross and Chevy Trucks.

I hope this post has given you all an overview of how I believe digital marketers need to adapt in the next few years.

Be active. Be positive. Live your core values and never forget that the world is watching and critiquing your every move.

How To Connect Your Brand To Success Stories In A Meaningful Way

success photo

Hope. Desire. Ambition. Three words which are often associated with an individual or group of people aspiring to succeed.

But when it comes to associating your brand with these inspiring individuals or teams as a way to promote your value proposition it can often be tricky to connect in an authentic way that shows your brand adding value to that individual or group. 

Being able to add value in an authentic manner is still an alien concept to many  marketers who are shamelessly intent on selling rather than connecting. (You only need to read this article by Rachel Sprung from Hubspot to see what I mean!)

But when you connect your value proposition to an inspiring story in an authentic and meaningful way, you become more human.

Humanity is still a hugely undervalued asset in a marketer’s arsenal, at best it  allows consumers to feel they connect to your company through your values and mission, at worst it appears fake and disingenuous and at times simply a company trying to look good, greenwashing being a perfect example.

So let me just firstly highlight one excellent example of a brand who  associated themselves with individuals who have triumphed.

Excellent Example Of Authentic Brand Association With Success Stories

Holiday Inn: Scott Rigsby

Source: Holiday Inn/Youtube;
H/T Steve Hall from Marketing Land 

What I LOVE about this advert: It only takes hearing “My life radically changed in nine seconds” in the first four seconds of video to effectively tune your mind to the tone of this advert.

Sidenote: The one thing charities often get wrong with TV advertising and online video is that they don’t capture the viewer’s imagination in the first few seconds – gone are the days when you can just use dramatic imagery with no narration and some emotional background music. You have to engage from the very first second of the video.

An empathic and resilient Scott appears on screen. The opening title appears after we have heard Scott speak in the first four seconds (Suddenly the words ‘extraordinary’ and ‘journey’ now have a deeper meaning for the viewer – We want to know more about Scott’s journey because his story has already engaged us!)

Again as the video progresses in the first ten to fifteen seconds we start to hear Scott tell his story.

Naturally most advertisers would assume that the audience needs a traditional one on one interview shot with Scott in his home or at a studio during the entire advert.

Personally I think the choice on whether your brand uses action shots or in person studio interviews really depends on the product. (Smoothie makers tend to sell better when someone is standing in the studio demonstrating the product – unless your smoothie maker is an action friendly device!)

Notice how Scott is almost telling us his story in the same way that advertising copy is written. Short, to the point and without the fluff that would get in the way of his story.

But of course the audience does need some context to the opening remarks “My life radically changed in nine seconds”.

For brands executing the development of a success story  it is important to consider using storyboarding to help get the mix right. (I won’t outline the nature of storyboarding in this blog post but please do take a moment to learn more about it and also understand the value of trigger words in each frame of the video!)

So far sixteen seconds into the advert we have already seen the use of:

  • Curiosity in the first four seconds of the advert: “My life radically changed in nine seconds”
  • Emphatic imagery of Scott running and riding a bicycle
  • Meaningful and descriptive words: The frame with the words ‘The Journey to the extraordinary’ wouldn’t have the same value if we didn’t understand that something had happened in Scott’s life. (again, showcasing the effective use of trigger words to make us want to learn more!)

Sixteen seconds is all it took to build the background for the story in a way we actually care about.


Most brands spend ninety seconds to two minutes building up the emotion through bland, uninspiring cut scenes patched together to make us feel “connected” to the cause.

The immediate takeaway you should have for your next video marketing campaign is simple.

Make every second of your video count.

It takes a total of fifty six seconds before we even hear Holiday Inn’s name being mentioned.

The video has already helped build the story to a point where we are now empathising with Scott’s pain and frustration about losing his leg and it is now time for the classic problem/solution phase of a traditional advertisement to kick in.

Notice how Holiday Inn didn’t start the video by showcasing Scott checking into a Holiday Inn and a proud Holiday Inn rep telling the viewer how Holiday Inn helped Scott through his ordeal.

If you as the brand don’t allow the person you are profiling to tell their story first before your brand is mentioned, people won’t connect to the individual’s story and will just view them (fairly or not) as the paid representative of your brand.

People connect to people. People will not willingly choose to hear you as the brand tell them how amazing you are for helping someone in need.

Furthermore notice how Scott describes the Holiday Inn staff as his family. Again this wasn’t a Holiday Inn rep proudly saying “We welcomed Scott in like he was family!”

And the brilliant subtlety of Holiday Inn’s affiliation to Scott’s success story continues as we meet Julie, a Holiday Inn staff member at the hotel Scott stayed out who really speaks from the heart about her empathy and compassion for Scott’s story.

Scott then tells us that despite being thousands of dollars of debt to the Holiday Inn Julie never put pressure on him and “without Julie… [he would have] been homeless”.

Julie is the human side of Holiday Inn, Scott doesn’t say that the Holiday Inn didn’t put pressure on him (lest the company be accused of being a corporate bemoth who is just interested in profits – Julie was the one who helped ease the pressure!)

I think this infographic by Playnetwork outlines the quantitative impact of brand storytelling perfectly.  Adverts are ignored, stories are embraced.



Key Takeaways For Your Next Video Marketing Campaign

  • Let the individual tell the story in the way they want to tell it.
  • Engage your audience from the very first second of the video.
  • Don’t start the video with how your brand helped the individual succeed. Build the connection to their success in a natural and genuine way.
  • Don’t focus any unnecessary attention on your brand – the video should be all about the individual and their story.

Cost Benefit Analysis Of Editorial Content Versus Traditional Upselling

chart photo

Source of image: Geralt/Pixibay

UPDATE: Thanks to  from ‘Marketing Land’ for featuring this article in Marketing Land’s daily roundup post on Monday 28th July. Click here to see it.

£1.5 billion. That’s the amount online retailers missed out on last Christmas because they didn’t have a strategy focused on the user journey and when to push items on sale” according to an article published on “The Drum” last week.

One interesting remark from the research conducted by conversion optimisation company Qubit was that they recommended companies focused more on editorial content instead of constantly upselling to consumers during the key period of 24th – 26th December each year.

On the face of it companies such as Amazon who generate a growing level of revenue from cross selling would probably disagree with that statement.

However to weigh up this claim it would be wise to conduct a cost benefit analysis on the use of editorial content as part of an online sales strategy versus the use of the more traditional methods of upselling to consumers.

I have used public data from various sources to help me compile an average cost for each area of producing editorial content and each area of the sales process for upselling.

Cost Per Lead


In my opinion editorial content is anything which focuses on the inbound marketing funnel which includes social media, content curation, blogs and video marketing.

One of my all time favorite marketing companies Hubspot produces a great report every year called “The State Of Inbound Marketing”.

Here are just some of the key benefits  in terms of inbound marketing and editorial content that they highlighted in the 2013 edition of their report (emphasis is mine):

  • B2B companies are early to embrace inbound marketing — 65% implemented inbound practices in 2013, while just 46% of B2C companies report doing inbound marketing
  • 41% of marketers say inbound marketing produced measurable ROI in 2013.
  • 48% of marketers [increased] their inbound marketing budget in 2013 — the 3rd year in a row inbound budgets are increasing at or near a 50% pace. 
  • 45% of B2B companies increased marketing budgets due to past inbound success

On the other hand I will now contrast those benefits with some of the drawbacks I believe companies face when investing in an editorial strategy:

  • Lack of share worthy content: In the past few years companies have never truly got the concept of shareable content as part of an effective inbound marketing strategy. I cannot tell you how many blogs I still discover which have recycled press releases or are simply used to promote jobs at the company. An excellent example of a company who creates excellent shareable content as part of their editorial strategy is Goop which although largely panned by most of the mainstream media still gets plenty of attention on fashion and style blogs for events such as “The Annual Goop Closet Sale” 
  • Lack of senior buy-in: It seems odd to be writing about this several years after the prominent rise of inbound marketing but you will still find plenty of companies where senior management just don’t get it or resist the idea of inbound marketing having any role of their business. However to play devils advocate, in 2014 it should now be the responsibility of marketing teams in these companies to realise that you won’t ever sell the benefits of inbound marketing to senior management unless you make it wholly tangible  (i.e what is the cost of acquiring a customer through inbound marketing versus traditional marketing methods such as print, television and radio – HINT: Start collecting data religiously from sources such as Emarketer, Social Media Today and Hubspot to help you make your case!)
  • Lack of financial investment in an editorial strategy: Again, I can’t quite believe I am writing this in 2014, but some companies are still not investing financially into developing an editorial strategy as part of the marketing mix.
  • Lack of understanding on how to filter prospects through the marketing funnel: For some companies the goal of making the sale outweighs the desire to take the softly, softly approach to guide the prospect through the marketing funnel. Editorially speaking, no one piece of content can make the sale immediately. You must build a relationship BEFORE you make the sale (even then the sale must be made to a warm prospect who actually wants what you are selling.)


When done right upselling to a customer can sell more effectively than the majority of sales tactics utilised as part of the sales cycle.

The benefit of upselling (i.e to present a similar product or service to a consumer at the point of sale) is that you have already got that consumer in buying mode and more willing to consider similar options which could compliment their existing purchase (i.e a phone case for a new phone).

The drawback of upselling is that companies (offline and online) can simply try to push high end or irrelevant products/services in front of consumers in the hope that one or two will purchase these products with higher profit margins.

In terms of investment the major financial investment companies need to make with upselling online  is having a team who can maintain the backend database and technology which powers the front end recommendations on the website.

However as this case study by Fortune on Amazon’s recommendation engine highlights the investment in excellent employee knowledge on superb recommendations to make for similar products can require extensive measurement of key metrics such as email open rates and click through rates.

But as I noted at the beginning of this section when done right, upselling can really pay dividends.

So I hope this article has given you a frank and honest cost benefit analysis on the use of editorial versus upselling.

The key takeaway you should have from this post is that editorial content connects whereas upselling SELLS. (One news story to watch at the moment in terms of the future direction of upselling is the rumored launch of Amazon’s mobile point of sale platform)

Ultimately it is about understanding what your audience is looking for. Is it a human being who develops or curates superb editorial content or simply a service provider who provides an excellent service and appropriate recommendations through timely upselling?

Why The Major Supermarkets Failed To Acknowledge The Rise Of Aldi

Aldi, best known for its reputation as the UK’s darling of discount supermarkets, launched a World Cup themed advertisement last month to promote Aldi’s Orchard Cider.

The TV advertisement, created by McCann Manchester, last a mere twenty seconds but in that twenty seconds it is clear to see why Aldi’s “I like this (XYZ product from more expensive retailer) and I like this (XYZ product from Aldi which is notably cheaper)” work so well.

Let’s be honest, supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda failed to recognise the threat of Aldi and fellow discount retailer Lidl until it was too late. (WM Morrisons didn’t even grasp the fact that discounting was the way to go until earlier this year)

The irony is that you still see advertisements from Tesco and Sainsbury’s and Asda which are narrowly focused on comparing one supermarket against the big three rather then the wider competitive market as the advertisement from Tesco displayed below exhibits.

Personally I believe that in a world where consumers can access information and compare prices at the touch of a button, it is foolish to simply use market data to create a value proposition on the known information. (i.e whatever the data from sources such as MySuperMarket shows for the ‘main competition’)

Consumers aren’t as loyal to one supermarket as they used to be. Tastes are changing. People’s habits are changing. Let’s face it, none of the big three were ready for that to happen. (Of course another major issue facing the big three is actually the cost of running their online shopping networks – again, something they didn’t predict when they first launched their online offerings!)

Advertisers and the major supermarkets alike need to adjust their marketing communications to reflect the unknown information and base their industry analysis on developing trends rather then just the established market trends.

If Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda had done that several years ago, they would have spent more time focused on Aldi and Lidl and figuring out how they could create a compelling USP which defined why consumers should continue to shop there (even during the recent recession!)


And whether that it is corporate arrogance or sheer naivety that held them back from making that jump to monitor the wider competitive environment, I am not entirely sure.

But I do believe that as a result of superb advertising such as Aldi’s recent World Cup TV ad that the perception of the supermarkets as we know it may have irrevocably changed.

Whether the big three have the capacity to claw back recent losses is yet to be seen.

It will all start with changing the way people think about them in comparison to discount retailers. And that starts with making their value proposition more tangible and focused on the real world.

Twitter Conversations From #inbounduk2014

Important disclaimer: I didn’t attend Inbound Conference 2014. I merely participated in the Twitter chat online here in Leeds. As a result my thoughts and reflections are only based on the conversations I had with attendees through Twitter.

Firstly before I share some of the Twitter chats I had throughout the day with attendees at the marketing conference “Inbound Marketing UK” held in Liverpool, I wanted to give a shout out to everyone I chatted with.

I will include a link to their blog or Twitter so you can go and learn more about them:

Brainwave Technology

During yesterday’s session by Tracy Chong, VP of Marketing for Muse which is a device driven by brainwave input, I struck up a conversation with Ilka Salzmann over Twitter about the potential of this new technology.

Video Content

Picking up on an earlier session from Dominic Burch, head of social at Asda, I briefly discussed with Lisa Marie Jones on the significance of online video content.

Lateral Trends At Conferences

There were two people tweeting from yesterday’s event commenting on the fact they were uncertain that brain wave technology had any relevance to a marketing conference.

I can sympathise with both of them. On the face of it some sessions at conferences I have been to have seemed out of place, but as I noted it is simply lateral trends that all marketers need to be aware of.

Pouring Beer With Brainwaves

This was something demonstrated during Muse’s session. Naturally I had to check out what I had missed out on and let’s just say I was incredibly impressed. Link to the video here. 

Google Glass In The UK

Sponsored Tweets

Influence Versus Trust In Social Media

Google Translate For Websites


Advertising On Google Smartwatches


Conserving Battery During A Tech Conference


The Influence Of Unofficial Sponsors On Sporting Events

Simon Haynes, UK managing director at IgnitionOne recently opined that in the runup to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil the unofficial sponsors are actually turning out to be the competition’s biggest brand successes, two weeks before the event has even begun.

Haynes mentioned brands such as Nike (measured purely on social metrics) have already captured the spirit of the World Cup through their advertising campaign “Winner Stays” which has currently been viewed 71 million times on Youtube, as of June 3rd 2014. (embedded below):

However one additional thought I would like to add to that blog post is the power of in-built audiences that bigger brands such as Nike have at their disposal.

As it stands (as of June 3rd 2014) Nike has 18 million Facebook fans , 3.3 million Twitter followers and was recognised as Fast Company’s Most Innovative Company in 2013.

For brand managers reading this, it is important to note that it is the power of that audience and the active engagement practices that Nike implement into developing fresh and original content that help them influence people to take action.

But as we all know innovative social media campaigns don’t have to be created on a big budget. (#givegregtheholiday is a great example of this!)

Ambush Marketing

On the other hand some companies have managed to use the practice of ambush marketing at recent sporting events to great effect. Ambush marketing was a term first coined by former global marketing chief for American Express Jerry Welsh in the 1980s.

Recent examples of companies which have successfully “ambushed” a sporting event with their advertising include Subway, Red Bull, Paddy Power, Bavaria Beer.

However ambush marketing hasn’t always been viewed as a wholly ethical marketing practice. At the 2002 Fifa World Cup companies such as Nike (ahem!) and Pepsi were called out for “unethical practices” and even branded as “parasites” by FIFA.

The irony is that every time a major sporting event is held, sponsors flock to spend millions of pounds to be “officially associated” and yet very few people actually even know they are sponsoring the event.

In a world dominated by second screens, isn’t it about time the official sponsor companies got a little smarter and actually challenged themselves to become more creative marketers. It doesn’t have to just be about spending millions of pounds on sponsorship (although for companies such as Coca-Cola millions of pounds is a drop in the ocean for them to spend).

I would agree with Simon Hayes’s final remarks in his blog post for the Drum. We do need more disruptive marketing. It is time to challenge the perception that advertising for the masses is the only way to engage at sporting events.

We need to all take a fresh look at what it means to be a brand who doesn’t automatically resort to mass marketing. The future of sport sponsorship could look very different if we all just stop to think for a moment.