How to market to humans in 2016: My favorite lessons from #SocialMitten 2016 – Part 1

By: Kim Farrow

NOTE: This post started out as a quick summary of my main takeaways from Social Mitten 2016. But as I wrote, I found it was important to go more in depth with each lesson – which is why I’ve decided to break them up into three posts based on theme. This is part one of three – I’ll post one each Friday over the next couple of weeks.

Last week, my boss (Reach Marketing Director, Kristen Nauss) and I had the opportunity to attend Social Mitten, Michigan’s largest social media conference hosted by Social Media Club Great Lakes Bay.

The event was held at the University of Michigan’s Crisler Center, which meant the chance to stay overnight in Ann Arbor, eat dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, and get a beer at Jolly Pumpkin. Plus, we got to take a tour of the Big House (which was neat, but not quite as exciting as, say… Spartan Stadium).

Most importantly, it meant the chance to learn from some of the biggest influencers in the social media game, from Michigan and beyond.

And boy, did they deliver.

The conference was full of inspirational nuggets, practical lessons, and action items. And while I took 7 pages of handwritten notes to apply to my duties at Extend Your Reach, I’ll share the one lesson from each speaker I think is most relevant for our clients.

Since I had to split these up into different blog posts, here is the first set of lessons, all centered around one theme: How to Market to humans in 2016.


“Why is there a disconnect from how we want to listen to how we expect to be heard?” In today’s attention economy, “we need to get our message down to a sound bite.”

Charlie Wollborg, Chief Troublemaker at CurveDetroit

There is a lot of truth in Charlie’s words, and a dash of harsh reality. As marketers in 2016, we must compete for people’s attention just as much as (if not more than) we compete for their preference or loyalty.

On Facebook alone, a user has videos to watch, posts to read, links to click, photos to view, comments to make, notifications to check, and tags to create.

Jump to the real world and people are forced to split their attention between work projects, TV, radio, billboards, emails, calls, texts, social media, podcasts, games, mobile apps, schedules, driving, and, hey, maybe even a real-life interaction with another human being.

It’s no wonder our attention span has fallen below that of a goldfish.

So how do we combat this lack of attention? Is it possible to survive in the attention economy?

According to Charlie, the answer is in creating compelling content in small, sound-bite sized chunks. It’s about giving people the information or entertainment they want to consume in a way that fits their short attention spans.


  • Use compelling headlines and captivating images – Think critically about what is compelling to your audience, whether you find it compelling or not.
  • Connect what you have to say with things that people are already interested in – This can include pop culture, people they know and like (your employees), and/or causes they are passionate about.
  • Tell a story – Give your marketing (social media and otherwise) a protagonist, antagonist, conflict, and resolution.


“Fall in love with the problem. Not the solution.”

Greg Hickman, Founder & CEO of

As marketers, we get paid to love our business’s products and services, and it’s our job to talk about how great they are. But this thinking is a little backwards when it comes to trying to sell them to other people.

In his presentation, Greg pointed out that “if businesses don’t think they have a problem, you can’t solve it for them.”

In other words, if your audience doesn’t understand what problem or pain point your product or service will fix or prevent for them, will they ever consider spending money on it?

To effectively market your business, it’s important to focus on what might lead people to see you out – NOT on how great your product is, your extended warranty, or your lower price.

Here’s an example: I recently started running regularly for the first time since high school. But since my thighs are a little wider than when I was 16, I found that I couldn’t do long distances without a little chafing. So I took to the interwebs to find a solution for my chafing thighs, and came across BodyGlide. I bought the BodyGlide and haven’t experienced the problem since.

Take note: I didn’t go looking for some product that would validate my coolness as a runner (I can assure you, there is nothing cool about chafing) – instead I had a problem, searched for a solution, found one that fit my needs and my budget, and bought it.

In both the B2C and B2B arenas, potential customers will rarely set out to spend money without first identifying some sort of pain point or challenge. Sometimes that pain point is a real problem (e.g. chafing thighs), and other times your product or service may help fill an emotional need (e.g. making me feel like a legitimate runner). Ultimately though, your audience needs to see the value of the product, which may require you to help make them aware of their problem.

So how can you use this to your advantage? Find the pain points that drive customers to you, and craft your marketing messages around those.

  • Tell stories using those pain points and position your brand as the best answer to them.
  • Share customer testimonials – which are ultimately stories that position your customer as the brilliant hero who saved the day by choosing your product.
  • Instead of segmenting your audience by job title or industry, segment them by “problem.” Those with similar problems will likely respond to similar messaging, even if their demographic or psychographic characteristics are different.


“Emotions are more powerful than intellect.”

Brian Carter, Author and CEO of The Brian Carter Group

The fact that people are driven by emotion is a terrible and wonderful thing for marketers.

It’s terrible in the sense that audience response to a given campaign may be hard to predict (although not so much for these campaign flops). Plus, if something goes wrong at any point in the customer journey, emotionally-driven customers can react negatively and make it particularly difficult to manage your business’s online reputation.

On the other hand, an emotionally-driven audience means that marketers have a chance to connect with people on a human level, through storytelling, social responsibility, and problem-solving.

If customers were motivated to buy based on solely logic or intellect, it’s likely that price would be the single most important factor in buying decisions, everything would become a commodity, and brands like Apple and Nike wouldn’t exist.

Keeping this in mind, remember that your products and services must hold up to standards you set in your branding and marketing to ensure your customers won’t feel duped. If you create a strong brand but don’t deliver, it will ultimately reflect poorly on your business.

Instead, use your marketing as an opportunity to delight customers, then delight them with high quality service and products once they make a purchase. As you market your business, remember to be real and authentic:

  • Determine your brand “personality” and make sure everything you put out – online and in print – upholds that personality.
  • Use your website, blog, social media, and newsletter for storytelling. That means including key characters (your customers and employees), a conflict (the problem your business solves), and a resolution (what your business offers).
  • If you’re not sure where to start, ask your customers first-hand what it is that draws or drew them to your brand. Use this feedback to help guide the story you tell and your brand personality.


Did you attend Social Mitten 2016? What were your favorite lessons? Let us know in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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