Kristi Carlson

Going Native With Brand Marketing

Native advertising is redefining marketing boundaries in the never-ending battle to win audience attention and engagement. With users more likely to see, engage and share native ads over many traditional advertising methods, it is no wonder that brands are quickly evaluating how they can incorporate this medium into their marketing mix.1 Today’s definition of the concept continues to rapidly evolve, and the trend is showing no sign of slowing with native investments predicted to reach $4.6 billion by 2017.2  However, while it can be powerful, brands must understand its parameters to get the most out of their investment and avoid adverse effects.  Native ads land on the fine line between content and advertising, requiring brands to take an in-depth, target-focused approach to ensure the medium is drawing the user’s attention effectively. 




Native advertising is sponsored content, or the intentional placement of a brand within a space to add content or relevance to the user’s experience.  The advertisement flows within the content stream for the user.

The definition and examples of native advertising will continue to evolve as quickly as consumer content resources. The concept is not new, but it has recently created more opportunity in the digital space, giving publishers new ad space and revenue.  What started as product placement and advertorials years ago has evolved into sponsored search results, brand-generated articles, partner blog entries, or promoted social media posts. There is a broad spectrum of native ads that will continue to evolve as brands and publishers find new, creative ways to deliver quality content to audiences in native places.


The Guinness Guide to Oysters ad from 1950 is one of the earliest forms of published native advertising. The advertorial was a buyer’s guide to oysters, a popular pairing with Guinness beer.



Traditional advertising messages typically lay outside of user content, and are often focused on convincing rather than providing useful information to the user.  Because consumers receive hundreds, even thousands, of commercial messages every day, brands are looking for other ways to put their message at the forefront in a relevant, valuable and less-intrusive way.  Consumers are demanding more from brands, too.  Social media’s open forum has increased their expectations for higher quality brand content.3

The most effective advertising messages resonate with the target audience, and the same reigns true for native advertising.  Effective native advertising gives users content they want, where they want it.  Giving users valuable information makes them more receptive and likely to engage with the ad.  If the messaging is trustworthy and interesting, it can hold their attention longer while positioning the brand as a thought leader.

Brands agree native advertising works because it serves the interest of the audience.  It engages with a more relevant message rather than focusing on click-through rates or a direct increase in sales, showing the brand’s personality and credibility within a category.




Native marketing is missing the point if it does not mimic the surrounding content, but it should not deceive the target audience.  It’s the fine line between content and advertising that makes it so effective, but also presents challenges.

Today’s evolving regulations leave room for interpretation and margin for error.  Brands and publishers are left using their own moral compasses in content, placement and disclosure.  Without proper transparency, users can be misled, perceiving a native ad as a bait-and-switch tactic rather than an informative and useful brand piece.

And creating the right content requires work.  Native advertising pushes marketers to develop creative, relevant content for consumers without a direct sell of the brand.  The value propositions are less overt, but the messaging complements the brand while adding value to the user’s experience. This philosophy better aligns with how consumers use media today, but the obscurity leaves brands evaluating native opportunities with caution.

The New York Times introduced T Brand Studio, their in-house native advertising content team, with an elaborate article sponsored by Netflix on female incarceration. The ad included video and informational charts within the editorial, providing insight and emotional stories to pique interest of the target consumer segment while promoting the season premier of the Netflix’s series Orange is the New Black.


Marketers are intrigued by the user engagement possibilities, but the results can be difficult to directly quantify because it is an investment in the long-term brand building.  It may fall short if confined to only traditional ROI metrics because it can be subtle brand messaging rather than direct selling. And, unlike traditional ads, every native advertising opportunity is unique.  Ads are likely not reusable in other media, so time and resources need to be invested in creating each ad without the econ­­­omies of replication.




STAY FOCUSED ON THE TARGET.  Only mimicking content is not enough – it must align with the goals of the target audience as well.  Rather than simply extending your current marketing messaging, start with a deep understanding of and focus on the target segment.  Knowing the wants, needs and desires of the target will inspire authentic content that is more likely to resonate. Speaking too broadly will not only dilute the message, but is more likely to alienate your target because they won’t see the value.

Johnny Walker partnered with Thrillist’s brand partner program, Allied, to create “Scotchtales.” The custom content series of whiskey-centric articles included expertise and tips for their target demographic of the modern gentleman.


PARTICIPATE – DON’T MISLEAD.  A native ad should be positioned naturally within the surrounding content, in a place that makes sense, to keep the focus on the content rather than the brand. However, transparency is necessary. Tricking the user into clicking on what they believe is editorial content diminishes the brand’s credibility. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Native Advertising Playbook provides recommendations for “clear and prominent” disclosure, and it is beneficial to always err in favor of the target.  No ad is worth betraying the target audience.

Buzzfeed offers “social advertising” with custom social posts created by Buzzfeed based on the brand’s identity and goals. Advertisers are labeled as brand publishers at the top of the post. Hidden Valley partnered with Buzzfeed during the launch of their updated product recipe that they proclaimed as “the new ketchup” to promote new product uses for consumers.


FIND THE RIGHT PARTNER.  Brands must take full ownership of their ads, including placement.  Native advertising has opened new ad space for publishers, but brands must evaluate the opportunity to decide if the partner and placement is a good fit.  It may be where the target audience is, but irresponsible execution of the ad can be off-putting to the user. Brands must work with credible partners that align with their priorities to ensure the ad meets the brand’s objectives.

Brandvoice is Forbes’ brand-generated content that is published alongside editorial and user content in print and online. Brandvoice content is labeled and linked to an explanation of the program for the audience. IBM partnered with Brandvoice to publish business-targeted editorials by IBM’s thought leaders that supported their “Smarter Planet” brand positioning.


UNDERSTAND THE VALUE.  As with any media, opportunities must be evaluated to determine how they fit in the marketing mix to achieve an end goal. The goal of native advertising is brand building, and it is better measured by understanding the correlation between user engagement and the probability to purchase within that segment.  It is more accurate to measure awareness and attitudes rather than focus on traditional ROI metrics.




Native advertising is a quickly evolving concept that presents the opportunity for brands to connect with their target audience in a valuable way for engagement that rivals editorial content.  The challenge is adding the right content in the right context, but when done well, brands will create a meaningful connection with their target that goes beyond what most traditional marketing methods are able to deliver.  Those that most accurately understand their target audience will find the most effective native ways to add to the conversation, resulting in more audience engagement and brand strength.



1.  Sharethrough, Inc and IPG Media Lab, Native Advertising Effectiveness Study, 2013

2.  BIA/Kelsey, U.S. Local Media Forecast, 2012

3.  Forrester Technographics Digital Consumer Community Report, September 2012

4.  Hexagram and Spada, State of Native Advertising, 2014


Ceara Milligan

Find Your Purpose.

We were not designed to live a life of monotony. We have always been told that we should spend each day on earth to the fullest, but with the way most of our days seem to blend together with the same chores, meetings, errands, and responsibilities, this concept may seem easier said than done.

The best thing about our industry, workplace, and culture is that every day, we are encouraged to recreate ourselves, share our ideas, showcase our work, and be inventive. We all hold different roles within the agency — planners, strategists, creatives, writers, accountants, analysts, developers, administrators, managers, leaders (The list goes on…) — and have the notion that we’re all here for the same purpose: Work hard, make money, build our reputation, and please our customers. However, I think this might not be entirely true. We all have our own talents, skills, dreams, hopes, aspirations, and individual traits that allow us to stand apart from our colleagues. Each of us has a solitary value that contributes to one common goal as a business.

Now, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself, “What is my purpose?”

Well, here is the simple formula:

What you love to do + What the world needs = Your mission
What the world needs + What you are paid for = Your vocation
What you are paid for + What you are good at = Your profession
What you are good at + What you love to do = Your passion
Your mission + Your vocation + Your profession + Your passion = Your purpose

Your purpose should not be defined by the title on your business card. Your purpose is to foster positive change, no matter the part you play within the agency. If you have an idea, write it down, email it to your manager, collaborate with coworkers. An idea is just an idea until it becomes an action with results. There is an Irish proverb by which I try my best to abide each day: You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind. Seek inspiration from everything and everyone around you, but most importantly, learn to spark your own fire.

Do the math.

Crystal Vining

Ignite Milwaukee

Five, twenty and fifteen. You are probably wondering what those numbers mean. No, they are not the number sequences from Lost or the SPF numbers on your sunscreen. They are, however, the numbers you need to learn if you want to give a presentation at Ignite. Ignite is an event where presenters can share what makes them tick. From graphic designers to English professors, people from all walks of life are coming together to educate the world on what they know best. Recent presenters spoke about how to be an expert witness, going global on a local scale and the three p’s of eLearning. With only five minutes, twenty slides and fifteen seconds to talk per slide, speakers are encouraged to enlighten but make it quick. Do you have what it takes? If interested in speaking, please email for more information. Want to be in the audience? Come out and see what you can burn into your mind or into others. Check out the details below! And click here for more info.

Who: There is an open call for presenters. Please email if you’re interested in speaking or attending.

When: August 22nd, 8pm

Where: The Alchemist Theatre, 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53207

Ilana R. Borzak

Making Trust Mobile


“Virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust,” wrote Nobel prize winner Kenneth Arrow. Arrow’s line describes why banks emphasize consistent and personalized interactions with their customers across all branches– to build trust. Back when an actual bank was central to all banking activity, personalizing customer interactions wasn’t too complex. Executives placed greeters at every bank entrance and favored tellers with the local accent who would address us by name. But as we’ve exchanged our interactions with bank employees for banking apps on our phones, banks have been challenged to adopt their familiar strategy of emphasizing human interactions to our screens.

The technology that enables personalization is consistently improving and I’ve noticed increased personalization in my banking apps. Today, my American Express app, for example, greets me with a message appropriate to my time of day. And my Chase app welcomes me with a background based on my location (as I write this post in the Chicago office, I am greeted with the Chicago skyline). In the words of Chase’s head of digital for consumer and community banking, these apps were built with the intention of “humanizing the [digital] experience” aka giving the customer a digital experience similar to the retail experience, a concept that technology has only recently been able to realize. While the app will never replicate human interaction, it has the potential to master personalized interactions on a scale that is impossible for a bank employee (who can easily forget information or get stressed on the job) to do.

As banks seek to regain our trust after the Recession (Gallup), their increasing ability to create a consistent brand experience across all mediums for their customers is great news. Not only do they signal a bank’s excitement to help us where we are – whether online or in the store – they also bring consistency to the bank’s brand experience, an important part of building brand trust and loyalty (Journal of Consumer Research). The banking industry’s ability to use mobile for building customer trust is certainly something we can expect other industries to replicate.


Marko Knezic

Did You Just Purchase a Product or Buy Into an Idea?

A few days ago I was chatting with a few industry friends about whether the role of marketers was to “tell stories” or to “sell stuff.” I’ll spare you the drawn-out details of this philosophical chess match, mainly because a point-for-point retelling would have the same effect as chugging a large glass of warm milk. But I will discuss the main points, because given the seeming ubiquity of social media and the continued success of content marketing, there is a right answer to this question.

Marketers who believe that the term “storyteller”  fundamentally describes their job have an advantage over those who more closely self-identify with terms like “salesperson.”

Storytellers understand people’s motivations and are able to make emotional connections that are both influential and long-lasting. Salespeople fill an immediate need, provide product information and then are likely forgotten – and we live in a world where success and longevity rule together, hand-in-hand.

(*Note: The point that the best salespeople actually sell relationships – not products – was brought to my attention. Exactly, and I would argue that those relationships were forged by emotional bonding via storytelling, not regurgitating product information.)

Evidence of people’s love for for a good narrative and its effect on their spending decisions can be seen every day. Consider Coca-Cola. Coke is a fixture at or near the top of Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands, year in, year-out. They didn’t achieve this by simply creating advertisements featuring the product. They arrived and continue to reign over the top spots by emotionally resonating with multiple facets of people’s lives – and using the multiple channels that power our 24/7 connectivity –  via content marketing like

The point is that if you can use intriguing stories (content marketing) to sell people on an idea – why they should invest in your brand – you will have created a more personal, loyalty-generating bond than if you’re simply pushing a product because it’s your job to “sell stuff.”

So, now you’re saying, Philosophy is great but is there any factual evidence to put a definitive end this chess match? I’m glad you asked. A recent Ad Age survey revealed that 71 percent of marketers will increase their content marketing budgets in 2014.



Marko Knezic

Getting From Point-A to Point-A

Certain brands have mastered content marketing and are creating high-end content that fuses their brand story with a larger, emotional, human story. Red Bull, for example, has intertwined itself with extreme sports and the notion that human beings are capable of extraordinary things if we’re willing to let go of our own perceived limitations – and Red Bull gives you the wings to do so.

So, now that we’re on the same page, you’re saying, “I want in.” However, your brand doesn’t have the budget to send one of your employees on a free fall from space, so you’re wondering if there are any simpler things you can do to improve your content marketing.

Yup. Consistently creating things like blogs and podcasts that can connect with people on a personal level is a great place to start, and here are some tips to help you construct a narrative that will grab your audiences‘ attention.

  1. Think of Each Story as a Circle. And the goal of telling it is to take the reader on an adventure from Point-A to Point-AThink of any movie or book you’ve read. The formula is simply: “Balance. Disturbance. Return to balance.” This formula can be applied to all blogs and podcasts to ensure quality and consistency.  
  2. Establish Your Point-A Opening. What are you trying to say? This idea should be presented in the headline and will serve as the main thought or your blog/podcast. For this blog, it’s teaching why a 360 degree story structure is important.
  3. Establish Your Point-A Closing. Think of a line/thought/angle that’s going bridge your opening and closing lines. Get creative here. This is the chance to drive your point home –and make it memorable. (You’ll have to read the rest to see what I’m going with here.)
  4. Use Main Points to Bridge Opening and Closing. When your two point-A’s are set –the balance and return to balance – it’s time to list out the main points that will lead readers from thesis to conclusion.
  5. Make Your Supporting Arguments Equal Parts Fact and Fun. Now that you’ve cleared a path for the reader to follow, it’s important to use tools and techniques to make the trip as enjoyable as possible. Persuasion is about framing, and the goal with this content is to convince someone to agree with your point of view – this is best done by expanding on your main points with humor, logic, ethos, pathos and other techniques that entertain, elevating the reader’s view of your opinion to one they connect with on an emotional level.

This method may seem backwards if you’ve never tried it. Many people are used to working chronologically – from intro to body to conclusion – but if you don’t know where you’re going to end up, it’s tough to determine a logical way to get there. By thinking of your narrative as a journey from Point-A to Point-A, you’ll prevent yourself from talking in circles. (See what I did there?)

Amanda Eggert

LC Brings Home 14 PRSA Paragon Awards + Prestigious Best in Show Award!

Congratulations to the Laughlin Constable public relations and social teams for another successful year at the Southeastern Wisconsin PRSA Paragon Awards, including Best of Show for the second consecutive year!

The Paragon Awards honor exceptional PR work by local professionals who implement effective, innovative and strategic communications for their clients. The LC PR team brought home 14 awards, including eight Awards of Excellence and six Awards of Merit. In addition, LC’s Travel Wisconsin PR team brought home the prestigious Best in Show award. This reinforces the fact that the LC Full Circle team includes an incredibly strong PR department.

Awards included:

Best in Show and Excellence
2013 Wisconsin Department of Tourism PR Campaign

Awards of Excellence
What’s Happening at the BMO Harris Bradley Center?
Promoting Travel Wisconsin with Jordy Nelson on Social Media
Introducing a Game Changer – Hard Rock Kenosha (Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin)
Travel Wisconsin Goes Hollywood
Keeping Trees Safe from Emerald Ash Borer (Arborjet)
Lung Cancer Alliance USPSTF Campaign
Travel Wisconsin’s Email Newsletter Redesign

Awards of Merit
Airplane! the Commercial Poster
Holiday Surprises from McDonald’s
Travel Wisconsin’s “Sweaterize Yourself” Facebook App
Introduction of U.S. Cranberries to South Korea
Jordy Nelson Learns There’s No Place Like Wisconsin in the Fall
Travel Wisconsin’s 2013 Press Kit

While this is a Southeastern Wisconsin group, the competition is tough. Below is a sampling of some of the many positive comments from the Florida-based judges:

  • “This was simply and outstanding effort, work and results.”
  • “It is hard to find any areas to suggest for improvement. It was expertly thought out, planned, implemented and followed through.”
  • “The out of the box thinking with small investment lead to great results.”
  • “Incredibly creative tactic. No wonder Wisconsin has LC doing its PR.”

Kudos to the entire PR team for another year of hard work and great results, and thanks to the social folks for their award winning work as well!

Marko Knezic

Evolution of Theory

I’ve noticed this photo making the rounds on my LinkedIn newsfeed.

I understand the message. I understand the channel and why it’s appropriate. But I also feel the need to hold up a yield sign when this photo is referred to as “the most brilliant photo I’ve ever seen” in the comment section.

I’d be willing to guess that most business-minded people would agree that agility and the ability to adapt are critical elements of any company’s success.

Case in point: Blockbuster Video.

But consider this: Just as important as the willingness to change is the willingness to be grounded in reality and not let philosophy and catchy – but at the end of the day empty – rhetoric dictate the direction of your company.

Change isn’t inherently good. Good is good.

Continuous improvement should always be an objective but it’s been my experience that change for the sake of change will seldom trump actionable strategies and quality process.

At the end of the day, while change and philosophy can inspire, they don’t necessarily yield tangible products or measurable results.

Sure, there’s often a need to use pathos in order to grab attention and make emotional connections with an audience – as is done in the picture above. But be careful not to let every clever phrase and trending philosophy replace the tried and true methods you’ve always used – unless the change is poised to result in a measurable improvement to process and/or final products.

The intent of this piece isn’t to dismiss change or high-level rhetoric.

Think of it more as a friendly suggestion to use those tools as a support piece to a foundation built on strategy and processes.


Crystal Vining

Steve Laughlin Awarded Boys & Girls Club MVP

We are honored to announce that Steve Laughlin was awarded the 2014 MVP “Most Valuable Person” by the Boys & Girls Clubs on Monday, May 5 at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. Boys & Girls Clubs offer programs and services to children in need to help build bright and engaging futures. They currently support four million children at four thousand clubs all around the United States.

Steve has been a trustee for the Boys & Girls Clubs for twenty-seven years and has been committed to enhancing the program through community involvement and outstanding leadership. He created and implemented the Decade of Hope campaign, which raised $50 million dollars to help fuel expansion, create new program offerings and add additional stability to the organization. Steve also serves on the strategic planning committee, the marketing committee, the board development committee and the executive committee to help support Boys & Girls Clubs nationally.

Congratulations Steve, we are so proud of you and your accomplishments.

Ilana R. Borzak

Finding the Inner Shopper

Advertising is more than the copy and art on your favorite magazine’s inside cover. That ad is made by an industry that straddles the gap between Art’s and Science’s hands as they approach for a handshake. It’s an industry that uses a scientific approach to human behavior and psychology, in order to create art that effects behavioral change. The websites it develops, the commercials it produces and the press coverage it generates are based on research-heavy understandings of you, the wallet holder. What you see on your screen is often born from behavioral models that bridge the Art and Science gap.

Advertising’s formal advent into human behavioral science is traced back to 1898, when the first known model depicting the theoretical journey a customer takes before purchasing an item was recorded. The AIDA Model, which later evolved into the Purchase Funnel, posits that every customer who wants to buy something starts at the funnel’s wide top with a number of brand options. As need or interest increases, he or she follows the linear path towards the stem, removing brands from the consideration set until a single  brand remains, which is then purchased.

Marketers using this research-supported model followed the image’s suggestion and assumed their customers methodologically made purchasing decisions. They reasoned that awareness’s and interest’s position at the funnel’s top meant they must be achieved in order to survive the customer’s narrowing of the funnel. And their ads reflected this thinking. VW’s “Think Small” ad, considered one of the most memorable ad campaigns of the 20th century (Ad Age), is a prime example. When seen as a whole, the ad’s visual simplicity draws the eye to the advertisement’s only two images — the car and the logo — bringing attention, or awareness, to their existence as independent yet intertwined entities. The “Think Small” copy was meant to spark interest and ensure a position at the beginning of the funnel amongst baby boomers who were buying larger cars than ever before to fit their growing families (Bizjournal). VW’s awareness- and interest- focused ad guaranteed a spot in the funnel’s final stages.


The ad was a success and set a new standard for advertising strategies at the time. In the nearly sixty years between its appearance and today, human behavior, analytic understanding of behavior, and advertising’s artistic creations to reach customers have evolved. The internet, arguably a prominent catalyst behind much of the change, created whole new venues for consumers to explore and discover and gave advertisers a completely new environment to communicate both to and with customers. It dated the AIDA Model and spurred McKinsey to create the Consumer Decision Journey, a new model that stands out for its theories as well as its fairly wide acceptance (1).


The now-spherical model no longer depicts the customer as a purely rational and methodological purchaser. Rather the changes, as McKinsey argues, incorporates the internet-using customer’s non-linear behavior and expectations. These customers who use sites like Amazon tend to add rather than subtract options as they get closer to purchase, negating the funnel’s linearity as well as distinct stages and a cohesive path to purchase (McKinsey). Behavioral targeting and recommendations, an advertising reaction to – as well as catalyst of – the changes are emblematic of the ad industry’s understanding of the digitally savvy. How many times have you gone to Amazon with a single brand in mind and then found yourself with more than 5 recommendation-fueled tabs on your browser with brands or products you never knew existed?

The parallel evolution from Purchase Funnel and “Think Small” to where we stand today reflects both the change in purchase behavior as well as advertising’s understanding of how people buy. What was once thought to be structured and linear is now circular and vague, a sentiment echoed by today’s most renowned decision-making researchers and advertisers (2). The funnel’s creator could never have conceived an advertiser’s ability to enter a customer’s life with a message that appropriately addresses where he or she is in the purchase process. Nor could he in the late-19th century have guessed that most consumers would willingly add products to their consideration set.

As ideas and technology evolve at an ever-faster pace, advertisers will have brought their version of art-and-science to a new place in the not-so-distant future, where theoretically you and your desire to buy will be. After all, the process that you take before you reach into your pocket for your wallet is our fuel for creation.








(1) Numerous models have been suggested over the years but the Consumer Decision Journey stands out as both a widely accepted and wildly divergent model from the original AIDA model. For a more thorough history of the models, see Thomas E. Barry’s 1987 article “The Development of the Hierarchy of Effects: A Historical Perspective” published in the Current Issues and Research in Advertising journal.

(2) Daniel Kahneman’s dual process theory, for instance, supports the idea that people aren’t always rational consumers. For more information, see his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.