All posts by Annabel Youens

Annabel Youens

About Annabel Youens

I'm a co-founder and CMO at AE. I believe that truly successful internet businesses have to connect people. {wave} When I'm not online I'm exploring beautiful Vancouver Island. Things I love: everything scifi, literary fiction, coffee, Google Music, my workhorse sewing machine and board games.

Take advantage of all that the online world has to offer, without giving up your online data. Here is a list of the best online privacy tools that we know of in 2019.

The internet is an amazing resource. It allows us to research obscure topics, connect with distant loved ones, and learn how to fix anything from a video. The internet has become so completely interwoven into how we live, work, and play that it’s hard to believe it only launched for the public in 1991!

Up until recently, we have been focused on all the amazing streamlining and productivity that the internet has offered us. It didn’t occur to most people to ask whether there were trade-offs involved…and now we are starting to wonder: Is my online activity being tracked, stored and used? Where do I look for answers?

Thankfully there are individuals and organizations that have been asking these questions for a long time. Long enough to come up with solutions that make our online data a lot more secure.

Below is a list of some of the best tools for online privacy that we have found to date.

Best Online Privacy
Tools in 2019:

1. Ghostery

Ghostery is an anti-tracking tool that works through a simple browser extension. It blocks nearly 2,000 known trackers and is available for desktop and mobile devices. Since it was launched in 2009, Ghostery has built a base of over seven million monthly users.

2. Off-Facebook Activity

While Facebook has taken heat for violating data privacy in recent years, they are taking measures to enhance privacy for their users. Off-Facebook Activity, released in 2019, allows users to see and control the online data that apps and websites share with Facebook. When activity is cleared by the user, Facebook won’t send identifying information for the purposes of ad retargeting or other marketing technology.

3. Tor

Tor, popularly referred to as the “Onion Router,” is a browsing tool that makes it possible to access websites anonymously–including “.onion” addresses, which are only accessible through Tor’s browser. Since its release in 2002, the Tor Project remains one of the most foolproof applications for masking browsing history and online activity.

4. AdBlock Plus

Marketing automation relies heavily on advertising, and the result is often a better, more personalized experience for users. Solutions like AdBlock Plus simply protect users from irrelevant or illegitimate ads to preserve the customer experience with less risk of unwanted tracking. It not only blocks unwanted ads but also reduces the number of stored cookies that can track activity. It has gained over 50 million users since its release in 2006.

5. Tails OS

Tails gained notoriety as the system whistleblower Edward Snowden used to avoid apprehension by the United States. It is rumored to leave zero traces of user history behind since it operates from a read-only USB or DVD drive. It includes cryptographic communication tools and requires all ingoing and outgoing communications to connect through Tor (mentioned above). Released in 2009, it is still considered one of the most secure all-in-one operating systems.

6. HotSpot Shield

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are rapidly gaining in popularity as more consumer privacy issues come to light. HotSpot Shield uses VPN technology to bypass internet provider and government restrictions. Released in 2008, it has since expanded from a Windows and macOS client app to include iOS and Android devices. With end-to-end encryption capabilities, it allows users to browse securely in public places where hackers are more likely to infiltrate networks.

7. OpenDNS

OpenDNS is a free browsing protection tool. It works with desktop and mobile devices to offer botnet and malware protection, as well as web filtering to protect users from accidentally accessing sites that may put their data at risk. Launched in 2006, OpenDNS has over 90 million global users thanks to its promise of greater security combined with a better, faster browsing experience for its customers.

8. SpiderOak

Just over a decade ago, SpiderOak recognized a need for data storage services that operate under the principle of “no knowledge”–meaning that the storage provider knows nothing about the documents and data stored on their servers. Unlike other providers who hold encryption keys and could release information about stored information, SpiderOak designed a solution that puts encryption keys solely in the hands of its users.

9. Off-the-Record Messaging

Developed in 2004 as a university research project, Off-the-Record Messaging has since evolved into a highly-secure method for sending instant messages without exposure to possible surveillance. It is a simple, open-source tool that plugs into common messaging platforms to encrypt and protect conversations.

10. HTTPS Everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere was launched in 2010 as a collaborative effort of the Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It forces browsers to load a secure version of websites that are missing a security certificate. The result is a safer browsing experience through data encryption between the connected device and the server.

Here’s to a safer online experience where we can simply appreciate all that the internet has to offer!

Who are the richest gamers in the world in 2019? What are they doing differently?  We summarized the details for you here.

Since when are gamers making any money? Welcome to 2019, where E-sports is a booming billion-dollar industry and stadiums are being erected to house tournaments. 

The following players are the top 10 earners in the gaming industry:

10. Kyle Giersdorf, @bugha

Net Earnings: $3 million

  • At only 16, he won the 2019 Fortnite World Cup and took home the $3 million-dollar prize. 
  • Prior to this competition, he was only at $25,000 in earnings (which is still impressive for a 16-year-old). 
  • He says he will be spending his some of earnings on a new desk and investing the rest.

See Kyle Giersdorf play on Twitch.


9. Saahil Arora, @UniverseDOTA

Net Earnings: $3 million

  • This gaming vet has participated in 75 tournaments over a decade. 
  • A Wisconsin Native; considered one of the best offlaners in DOTA 2 in the world. 
  • Notably, he’s the only gamer to attend every Valve-sponsored event.

See Saahil Arora play on Twitch.


8. Sumail Hassan, @SumaaaaiL

Net Earnings: $3.3 million

  • Moved from Pakistan to America to further his gaming career. 
  • While playing DOTA 2 for EG, he became the youngest gamer to ever earn $1 million through gaming. 
  • He was also in Time Magazine’s 2016 Top Influential Teenagers. 

See Sumail Hassan play on Twitch.


7. Jesse Vainikka, @iamjerax

Net Earnings: $3.3 million

  • Began his gaming career with Heroes of Newerth.
  • Currently a top player in DOTA 2; he led the newly formed Team OG to victory at the International 2018. 
  • He also runs his own merchandise company, Jerax
  • Jesse Vainikka’s net worth is estimated to be in the millions.

See Jesse Vainikka play on his site.


6. Lasse Urpalainen, @MATUMBAMAN

Net Earnings: $3.5 million

  • Signed with Team Liquid in 2017 and has proven himself a valuable DOTA 2 player. 
  • In his youth, he played basketball for the Finnish National Team. 
  • He’s also hosted many major tournaments across the world. 

See Lasse Urpalainen play on Twitch.


5. Ivan Ivanov, @LiquidMinD_ctrl

Net Earnings:  $3.6 million 

  • An offlaner for Team Liquid; has built a strong DOTA 2 reputation for himself. 
  • He’s competed in over 60 tournaments and helped secure over 25 first place finishes. 
  • Despite some questionable anti-Russian comments made during a stream in 2018, he’s still a fan favorite.

See Ivan Ivanov stream with Team Liquid. 


4. Johan Sundstein, @OG_BDN0tail

Net Earnings: $3.7 million

  • The original founder of Team OG; has built a legacy of wins in Heroes of Newerth and DOTA 2. 
  • In 2018, he achieved victory with Team OG and helped them win the largest gaming prize in history: $11 million dollars.

See Johan Sundstein play on Twitch.


3. Amer Al-Barkawi, @Liquid_Miracle

Net Earnings: $3.8 million

  • Prior to signing with Team Liquid, he was a notable player for Team OG as well as an esteemed non-affiliated gamer. 
  • With OG, he helped win the first-ever DOTA 2 Major. 
  • Today, he’s responsible for the mid-laner position on Team Liquid. 

See Amer Al-Barkawi play on Twitch. 


2. Kuro Takhasomi, @LiquidKuroKy

Net Earnings: $4.3 million

  • One of the top 5 DOTA players of all time, he is the highest competition-earning gamer in the world. 
  • He’s won over 36 different tournaments and maintains a coveted spot on Team Liquid. 
  • One of the three players in the world to compete in every International Championship. 

See Kuro Takhasomi play on Twitch. 


1. Tyler Blevins, @Ninja

Net Worth: $15 million

  • Known as the King of Twitch; earned over $10 million dollars in 2018 from streaming on Twitch. 
  • The bulk of his earnings come from advertising, sponsorships, and donations. 
  • In terms of competitions, he usually earns $3,500-10,000 per tournament. 
  • Despite his low competition earnings, his immense profits from streaming have made him the wealthiest gamer in the world.

See Tyler Blevins play on Twitch. 


Synchronicity can be a beautiful thing — especially when you find the brand partnerships that connect your product to an entirely new market. Here are five examples of brand partnerships with social media influencers and the marketing strategies that made them successful.

Shopping for a pair of shoes, a device, or a rideshare? You may have noticed more and more cross-promotion everywhere you look. Here’s a look at 5 top brands that are partnering with other businesses, celebrities, and micro-influencers to reach distinct niche audiences.

1. Taylor Swift + Keds Shoes Partnership

taylor swift and keds brand partnership

Taylor Swift is well known for her high-profile brand partnerships. The majority of them are carefully curated, so as to speak to both her audience and the business’ audience.

Her partnerships are always on-brand, and her marketing team finds a way to use customer data to craft partnerships that:

    • Offers additional value to the shared audience (PixMob and LED bracelets for concertgoers, convenience for her listeners with Apple Music)
    • Embody and strengthen her brand (Keds reinforced the image of the capable girl next door – a persona that both Keds’ ideal audience and Swift’s existing audience identify with)
    • Improve her market positioning (Diet Coke ads in which one of her songs off 1989 premiered)

While the partnerships seem like serendipity at first, there is a well-thought-out strategy behind every single one. (Cross brand analysis is less chance and more powerful data analytics…)

Keds + Taylor Swift Brand Partnership Timeline

In 2011, right as Swift was releasing a new album, Red, she and Keds announced a multi-year partnership.

From that point onward, it was clear that Swift had always been smart about publicizing her albums and her own activity through carefully selected partnerships that reinforced her message, while also serving the needs of businesses she partnered with.

Her audience appreciates it, as Swift’s marketing team always finds a way for that partnership to stay true to the persona Swift embodies, and provides additional value to her existing audience.

According to Keds’ press release, they chose Swift as their partner because she “embodies their spirit, style, and sensibility.” For a brand that prides itself on comfort and casual charm, Swift was the perfect partner. Additionally, their audiences overlap.

Keds chose their partner wisely. As they state, they are a brand whose ideal customers are young women who “have moxie and lead multi-faceted lives.”

It’s no coincidence; Taylor Swift’s audience are also young women who are brave enough to be themselves.

The most notable aspects of the strategy consisted of:

  • Cross-promotion
  • Multimedia campaigns (Both Keds’ and Swift’s audiences use mobile devices)
  • Community creation (Scholarship opportunities, social media initiatives like shoppable Instagram feeds, limited edition Keds commemorating Swift’s album Red, product personalization)
  • Crafting a message that supported both Keds’ and Swift’s brands (Campaigns: Ladies First, Braveheart)

Results from the Taylor Swift and Keds Partnership

Keds + Swift’s 1989 promotion tour alone engaged over 2.1M fans who took part in her shows, generated over 400K Instagram impressions, and resulted in over 100K in sales of branded items and coupons.

Ultimately, Keds successfully rebranded their shoes to appeal to a new generation of women.

The major part of that success was their partnership with Taylor Swift. She helped them reach their shared audience; Gen Z and Millennial women who fell in love with their shoes and their mission by way of loving Swift’s persona.

2. Casey Neistat + Nike and Samsung Crossover Marketing

casey neistat and nike and samsung brand partnership

Casey Neistat is a product of the contemporary era, an individual whose claim to fame is that he is a YouTuber and a vlogger. After vlogging his adventures and reviewing products, Neistat rose to prominence and even went on to start his own multimedia companies.

Today, he is a filmmaker known for his modern approach to advertising. It was this approach that drew Samsung to him.

Neistat doesn’t produce ads or offer ad space to companies; he creates native ads through storytelling. He knows his audience well, and knows that they value authenticity before anything else.

In an era where brands are increasingly facing consumer pushback when it comes to ads (millions of users have ad-blockers installed), major brands including Nike and Samsung recognized it, and partnered with Neistat whose audience matches their own: Millennials.

Neistat and Nike’s Partnership Results

On April 8, 2012, Nike launched a video titled “Make It Count,” produced by Casey Neistat.
Officially, Nike wanted to promote its new product: Fuelband.

However, after collaborating with Nike for a longer period of time, Neistat wanted to help the brand reach its target audience in a way they responded to best: storytelling.

In the video, Neistat was upfront about being sponsored by Nike. He took his audience on a trip around the world to show them what he’s doing with the money Nike gave him.

Similarly to Nike, Neistat believes in telling authentic stories. In his words, “What [Make It Count] means to me is take a huge chance.”

Many could relate to that and consequently, they were also able to relate with Nike’s vision, leading to increased sales. Nike has always been vocal about encouraging people to make their dreams come true, and Neistat was the perfect partner to drive the message home.

(Find your perfect brand partnerships with AE…learn more here.)

The authenticity allowed both Neistat and Nike to connect with different members of the same target audience without compromising each brand’s unique reputation.

Ultimately, the video garnered over 14 million views.

Neistat and Samsung’s Cross-Promotion Results

Having the right audience data proved to be crucial for the success of Samsung’s Neistat-fueled campaigns.

Samsung’s original goal was to form deeper relationships with Neistat’s (and their own) audience. Since the majority of Millennials prioritize relationships with brands over price points, it made sense to approach the partnership from that standpoint.

As a filmmaker, Neistat needs high-quality gear to create amazing stories, and Samsung provided it under one condition: that he showed his audience what he filmed with Samsung’s products.

This led to Neistat:

  • Using Samsung’s 360-degree camera to show what it’s like to walk the red carpet at Oscars
  • Using specially-created Samsung drones to capture the beautiful landscape of Finland

The partnership left both parties content.

Neistat was producing high-quality content in an organic manner he is famous for, while Samsung rose in popularity among its target audience members. (Don’t know who your company’s target audience is? See your full customer picture.)

Not only did Samsung attract more customers, but they also won awards at Cannes in 2017.

3. KFC and DrLupo Brand Partnership

drlupo and kfc brand partnership

Gaming is the hottest new industry for brands who want to make sure their success isn’t forgotten in the era of entertainment-oriented Gen Z’ers.

Brands that want to integrate themselves into new spaces and attract the attention of new audiences are looking for influencers to pair up with. However, YouTuber influencers are no longer as popular of a choice. Twitch streamers, people who play video games for millions of their followers, are the new targets of brands.

(AE can help you figure out where your customers are spending time.)

DrLupo, whose real name is Ben Lupo, is a Twitch streamer who commonly plays Fortnite and PUBG.

In 2018, KFC partnered with DrLupo for a special event in which every viewer could get a coupon code whenever DrLupo won in the game.

The partnership was contextually appropriate; there is a saying in PUBG whenever a player wins a game – “Winner winner chicken dinner.” KFC used this inside joke to promote their own business.

Whenever DrLupo (or one of his partners) won, all viewers had to do was respond with the right emote and get a discount code. Additionally, the viewers got a chance to receive a special themed loot box.

Why the Audience Overlap Matters

KFC’s partnership with DrLupo was yet another example of a contemporary brand partnership done right.

After all, Twitch audience makes up for a significant portion of KFC’s audience. This partnership was a work of careful audience data analysis:

  • 81.5% of Twitch users are male
  • 55% of them are between ages 18-34
  • 80% of users view sponsored content in a favorable light

Finally, not only did KFC partner with DrLupo, but they successfully connected their brand to the famous video game saying.

This partnership goes on to show that, regardless of the nature of the brand, every business that wants to stay competitive needs to consider new media platforms as viable ways of connecting with their potential customers.

In turn, modern celebrities (such as YouTubers and Twitch streamers) can benefit from working with big brands who help them reinforce their credibility and stimulate even more positive sentiment from their audiences.

4. Apple + Oprah Winfrey Brand Partnership

oprah winfrey and apple brand partnership

Oprah Winfrey is never going to go out of style, and Apple recognized that. While the tech giant may have originally targeted techies, their target audience has changed over time. Today, even Baby Boomers have iPhones and show them off proudly.

So what better way to reach the older generations than with a partnership that helps both parties get more influence?

Apple originally decided to sign a multi-year partnership contract with Oprah Winfrey to promote its video streaming service.

Winfrey would create original content for them, helping them popularize their service while simultaneously reaching more members of her desired audience.

The official statement went on to say:
“Together, Winfrey and Apple will create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.”

It is clear from that statement that Apple is looking to use some of Winfrey’s conversational charm and ability to connect with audiences across generations to boost its own figures as they prepare for launch.

(Discover where your customers overlap with another brand’s to form powerful partnerships.)

While the partnership is still in its infancy, it seems Apple made the right choice. Oprah managed to get Prince Harry to collaborate with her on her mental health series.

The conversation about mental health will help Apple popularize their streaming service not only among the demographic that Winfrey has been successful at capturing so far (Gen X, Baby Boomers), but Millennials, as well.

Additionally, this partnership adds a human note to Apple’s brand.

The second project Winfrey is creating for Apple deals with harassment in the workplace, yet another burning topic that could catch the eye of millions – if not billions.

Winfrey herself stated that she is looking forward to speaking to a much bigger audience, going on to say: “They’re in a billion pockets, y’all. A billion pockets.”

The Brilliance of the Partnership between Apple and Oprah

In order to fully understand the importance of the synergy between Apple – a modern brand – and Oprah Winfrey, a producer and TV show host loved by Gen X and Baby Boomers, it is first necessary to understand that each party is getting something out of the partnership.

Apple has decided to expand their influence across generations. They noticed their products and their brand are popular even with people who are not digital natives, and they couldn’t have picked a better partner than Winfrey herself.

Winfrey, on her part, is hoping to reach new audiences.

It is only a matter of time before Apple becomes synonymous with compassion and understanding – all because of this partnership.

5. Martha Stewart + Uber Brand Partnership

martha stewart and uber brand partnership

Speaking of seemingly counter-intuitive partnerships, Martha Stewart and Uber have joined forces to promote the luxurious version of Uber – Uber Black.

Following her social media posts where she ranted angrily about the state of her ride, Uber decided to partner with her to create a more stylish way of getting from point A to point B.

After her disastrous first ride, Martha’s been contracted to make Uber Black rides feel just like rides in limos.

It only takes consumer data analysis to understand that a significant portion of people who follow Martha Stewart shy away from getting Ubers. Some of them don’t understand the concept, or fear what will happen to them if they use the popular ride-sharing app.

Additionally, the partnership with Martha Stewart gave Uber a dose of nostalgia. It’s always a good asset for winning over the hearts of consumers (or at least, generating positive sentiment that Uber sorely needs after the 2018 fiascos).

(Locate your own successful brand partnerships using AE.)

The Logistics of the Cross-Brand Partnership

In May 2019, Uber published a post in which Martha Stewart created her perfect Uber Black trip.

It was a way of showcasing the new features created in cooperation with the domestic goddess.

The emphasis was placed on comfort, a significant problem for many potential customers who don’t use Uber because of that very reason. Uber showcased how Stewart requested a quiet ride and help with her bags – all features that are now available with Uber Black.

Publicly, Stewart has been complimenting Uber even after the first disastrous ride, and especially after partnering with them.

By saying that she is looking forward to new technologies that make lives easier, she has effectively managed to reach the significant portion of Uber’s potential customers who weren’t quite sure if Uber was more suited to them or their grandchildren.

As a de-facto spokesman, not only is Stewart getting more popular with newer generations, but she is also helping Uber reach the people they weren’t able to reach before. And according to Uber’s 2019 Q2 report, they are doing just fine.
It’s a win-win.


How our tech company is crossing the chasm without falling in (and bleeding out)

***This article originally ran in The Startup, a Medium publication. 

The chasm between early success and continued market acceptance of a tech product has been made famous by Geoffrey Moore and his 1991 book, Crossing the Chasm.

I like to think of the chasm a bit differently. To me it’s Jaws. Yes, like the giant shark the 1975 blockbuster movie was named for.

For most of the past decade, my husband Jeff and I have been busy building our SaaS (software as a service) company. We’ve developed proprietary technology and landed long-term enterprise clients with big visions who use it. Along the way, we’ve built an advisory board and even made it through rounds of investment funding.

Life in our small tech company is rosy. But to get out to a mainstream B2B market, we know it’s time to cross The Chasm. (And avoid sinking into the shark-infested waters!)

It’s time to cross The Chasm — and avoid sinking into the shark-infested waters!

The Jaws Version of the Technology Adoption Bell Curve
My Version of the Technology Adoption Bell Curve

The Technology Adoption Bell Curve

When I peek over the edge of the Early Adopter slope, I see a huge open shark’s mouth with never-ending teeth that glisten, hungry for my business. As one entrepreneur tips over the edge of the chasm and tumbles down, the shark gnashes and breaks teeth on the business bones. This Jaws is very hungry and he never tires.

Jumping this chasm is scary and challenging. You need to be thinking about the core foundation of your business and prepping for the journey on the other side..I think of that journey as Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the hill for eternity. But let’s not get caught up in Greek mythology just yet.

Jaws is hungry.

How do you jump over the chasm? It’s not science that’s for sure. It’s science, heart, and courage. Here are a few key things I’ve learned so far to help small companies get past the “Jaws” chasm in business:

RACI: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed
RACI: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed

1. Build Confidence and Accountability in Your Team: The Not So Racey RACI

As you grow your company, you’re hiring people, you’re getting jobs done and the slots are filling up. This is exactly what you should be doing.

However at some point, you’ve got a team but the time to get your work done has dramatically decreased. What’s wrong? You think to yourself, Why do I have less time with more people? This is surprisingly tricky to decode and where good old RACI rides over the horizon waving her stetson to help.

RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) is a Responsibility Assignment Matrix. Do not be turned off by the terrible acronym. It’s very effective.

RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) is a Responsibility Assignment Matrix. Do not be turned off by the terrible acronym. It’s very effective.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • A project is running smoothly and at the last second a team member swoops in and everything changes — arghhh!
  • You have a project that never seems to end and drags itself along week-to-week looking very pale and sickly.
  • It seems like everyone at the office, including the potted plant Gary, is asked to contribute an opinion on the project
  • You have a couple of people who constantly respectfully disagree about a project and this leads to a lot of circular arguments and everyone feels dizzy and wants to get off the ride.

If you nodded your head to any of these you need some RACI rescue. RACI will put a grinding halt to these kinds of problems. When a project starts your team will determine the key roles and responsibilities of those roles. You could also give them branded sheriff’s badges.

Besides shiny-looking badges you’ll get:

  • Confidence that every team member knows where they sit in the project and how they’re expected to contribute
  • And while you will still have respectful disagreements everyone knows that the accountable person has the final say
  • You’ll watch more Clint Eastwood movies and say y’all around the office.
Build a Bridge, Not a Wall: Company Culture
Build a Bridge, Not a Wall: Company Culture

2. How to Make a Better Company Culture

Okay, so you might be rolling your eyes and thinking yeah, yeah — visioning exercises, and big-picture thinking and team lunches are nice but it’s not really going to impact my business. Wrong.

I spoke to an investment firm last week where the head of partnerships told me that the businesses he invests in that have a good culture outperform his other teams every year without fail. That’s a pretty good reason to care about culture.

Even Gary V, who I don’t always agree with, speaks about how culture is going to define the success of companies in the coming decade.

I think it’s really important to not think about creating a “strong” culture — have can have a super strong culture of misogyny and that’s not going to get you anywhere fast, plus it’ll be a really crappy place to work at if you’re not a young white man.

I had a brilliant culture experience at the first startup I worked for, Abebooks.

In 1998 it wasn’t even called culture. We worked hard, were given a lot of responsibility, had great parties, threw office competitions like Foods Of The World. At the time, I just figured every office was like this.

In 1998 it wasn’t even called culture. We worked hard, were given a lot of responsibility, had great parties, threw office competitions like Foods Of The World. At the time, I just figured every office was like this.

When I later started working with a government agency, I realized that no, the rest of the world is not a joyful, hardworking, and dedicated bunch of people. My government role wasn’t a shock to my system, it was more like a slow deadening of my internal drive. I got bored and lazy. This is not the kind of culture you want.

Let’s take a look at the words, “culture building.” I like the idea that building means to create something brick-by-brick, but you can build anything: a bungalow, a wall or you can build a bridge. How do you become a company that builds a bridge? Or at least, how do you support that direction?

How do you become a company that builds a bridge?

Find people that add to your culture, one brick at a time

Recently I saw Emily Chang speak about bro-culture in the technology space. My big takeaway from her talk was that, in order to build a meaningful culture, you need to be looking for more than just “culture fit.” You’re going to end up with a lot of people who are just like you. And while that will feel great, you’re missing out on the big wide world…the whole spectrum of people that make up a community.

Instead, look for culture add. This means your new team members share your values (ie. build a bridge and not a wall) but have interests, skills, and perspectives that differ from yours.

Build that culture bridge with lots of different people, skill sets and perspectives.

Avoid the Tsunami — Decide where to steer your business
Avoid the Tsunami — Decide where to steer your business

3. Avoid the Tsunami

What you want to achieve with your business directly impacts what you should be doing.

In the early days we’re told, find product-market fit, find paying customers and then keep growing. But at what point do we stand back and make sure we’re building the business we want to be in?

The most impactful planning in my business journey this year has been for us to re-evaluate what where we want our business to be in three years. This isn’t about vision or mission or even growth, but instead about options.

In three years do you want to:

  • Sell your business?
  • Raise capital to grow even larger?
  • Cap your growth and run a lifestyle business?

I’ve always known you need a goal to aim for but I didn’t realize how that should trickle down to every decision you make every day. Yes, I just breathed a big sigh typing that line. It sounds completely overwhelming like a tsunami advancing on your desk. And yes, it kind of is a tsunami and your desk is your ship. How are you going to avoid the tsunami if you aren’t pointing in the right direction?

The sailing analogy is strong in the startup world, but usually, you talk about reefing the sail and adjusting course. Sometimes you don’t need just a course adjustment, though. Sometimes you’ve turtled your boat and you need everyone in your family and your team to help you flip the boat, repair the sail and set course to where you just came from. And that’s the advantage of preparing to steer your business through those shark-infested waters, on your way to whichever horizon you choose.

What You Can Learn from Our Mistakes

Scaling a company is like successfully navigating shark-infested waters. So far, we’ve learned a few things that help:

  1. Instill confidence and accountability in your team so they’ll be ready to steer through shark-infested waters together
  2. Build up your team by adding people to it that make it more diverse, more opinionated and more adaptable
  3. Decide which direction to steer towards, and avoid ending up in the wrong place after all that work.


Use custom social login to power your Spotify Pre-Save or Spotify Follow campaigns and gain richer and more valuable data.

Working in music you know the importance of tapping into your streaming audience. Streaming has skyrocketed recently, with the worldwide streaming giant, Spotify, hitting over 191 million active listeners each month.

So why did “God’s plan” by Drake get the most plays on Spotify in 2018 and not your artist’s track? Well one reason might be that you’re not taking advantage of the small but mighty Spotify follow button.

In 2013, Spotify made it possible for its follow button to be added to any desktop or mobile web page. This small change was big step towards Spotify becoming the music marketing giant it has become. This little button allows artists to capture fans  and gives labels direct access to the people who are ready to spend money on their artists.

Knowing exactly who this fan is gives you a direct connection, but when is the right time to reach out? What are they interested in? Merch? Tickets? What other artists on your roster do they like?

Leveraging More Fan Value in Spotify

By using a custom Spotify Follow button you can tap into Spotify’s engine and take advantage of rich, constantly changing customer data.

You’ll get valuable data about your fans, including customer behavior, you just don’t get anywhere else.

spotify streaming

Why A Custom Spotify Social Login Is Valuable

Using a custom social login service, like AE, to implement your Spotify Follow means you get permission to look at everything your fan does, because you’ve got permission through Spotify as “that fan.” When a fan logs in with the custom Spotify Follow button you’re getting access to all that fan’s Spotify data.

Here’s just some of the data you’ll see:

  • Fans who followed your artist
  • Fans who recently pre-saved an album on Spotify
  • Fans who have your artist on heavy rotation
  • Fans with your artist in their top 25 artists this month on Spotify
  • Fans who added your artist or another artist you track (Artist X) to a collection on Spotify.

This rich Spotify fan data can only be leveraged by using AE’s custom social login solution.

Spotify activity

How to Take Action on Valuable Spotify Insights

Now that you’ve got rich fan data from Spotify you can find perfect segments of fans and send them a message that resonates.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Send a thank-you email to the fans who pre-saved and give them access to some behind-the-scenes album recording content
  • Advertise upcoming tours across Facebook and Google to the fans who have Artist X in their top 25
  • Send an email with the top 5 tracks of all time by Artist X to fans who recently added a track by Artist X to a collection
  • Advertise Artist X to Facebook and Google fans who “look like” those who have Artist X in their top 25

With Spotify’s data, you’ll see how your artist is performing. But with a custom Spotify login, you see how your fans are performing so you can target them the right way.

Facebook lookalike audience from spotify customer insights

Get Real Results with Good Spotify Data

With precise targeting see your email open rates jump to 60%. That’s because you can see in real time which fans are into your artist right now. Yep, that’s precision targeting at scale.

Or use your Spotify fans to create lookalike audiences on Facebook. Lookalike targeting on Facebook generates impressive numbers. One example of great stats reported from Lookalike ad targeting was The Portland Trail Blazers, who used lookalike targeting and saw a 21x return on ad spend. That was a 77% higher return on ad spend than through their other channels. To really leverage lookalike targeting, you need to own your fan data — which you get with custom social login.

AE’s custom pre-save buttons look just like normal ones. The difference is the rich customer insights you’ll get siphoned into your dashboard!

AE, The Tool of Choice for Modern Music Marketers

AE offers a custom social login tool allowing music marketers to capture fans and see real-time data.

Use AE’s social login tool to power your Spotify Pre-Save or Spotify Follow campaigns and gain richer and more valuable data.

Power up your Spotify campaign right now and get more value from every Follow.


While great songs can take singers far, there’s nothing like a good music marketing campaign to help them rise to stardom. Let’s take a look at how Shawn Mendes got famous and the marketing strategy behind the Canadian singer-songwriter’s success.

Shawn’s (Marketable) Origin Story

While most of us forgot about where Shawn came from as soon as “Stitches” and “Mercy” dropped, his fans didn’t. Shawn Mendes became an internet star at 14 thanks to his vines. Now defunct, the platform was known among teens for allowing them to upload funny, six-second looping video clips. Shawn used Vine for a different purpose. He posted his covers of popular songs.

By the time Vine shut down in 2016, Mendes had over half a billion views and an established fan base. He was successfully marketing to his audience even before Island Records found out about him. The first thing he did was notice that no one was doing song covers on Vine. YouTube was already saturated and offered few chances for growth, so Mendes turned to a new platform where his target audience hung out. One of the first videos he posted on Vine was the chorus from Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me,” and it blew up, accumulating over 10,000 likes overnight. In four months, he grew to 200,000 followers on Vine and Twitter! Shawn Mendes also often filled fan requests, a strategic move that ensured he always knew which songs were the most popular with his audience at a given moment. 

Mendes became so popular that he started going on meet-and-greet-conventions (MAGCONs) with other social media celebs to engage with fans.  In the end, it was his cover of “Say Something,” that caught the attention of major record label, Island Records. 

#HandwrittenBuyouts Music Marketing Campaign

When Mendes started marketing his first album, Handwritten in 2015, it caused a lot of controversy in the media. In a tweet, he announced the release of his album by inviting his fans to go to their local music stores and buy out all the Handwritten albums on shelves. They had a chance to find a golden access pass to meet Shawn in person and watch him perform in a tropical destination.

Despite creating some controversy, this tactic worked. His album flew off the shelves and he sold 119,000 album-equivalent units in the first week. This is no record-breaking number, but impressive nonetheless. Now, all of this would’ve been impossible if Mendes hadn’t become a person his fan base could relate to. Instead of perceiving him as a singer with a marketing team behind him, his fans saw him as a friend and rushed to support his first album.

Mendes interacted with his fans who bought stacks of his albums (frequently spending hundreds of dollars to clear out the shelves), retweeting their photos and celebrating his success as the youngest artist to have a number one album on the Billboard 200 chart. While Mendes’ fan base was happy to just consume his songs, they thrived when he gave them a chance to do something to show support for him. And win a meet & greet, of course. 😉

How Shawn Mendes Promoted the Album Illuminate

The first thing Mendes did in 2016 (quite literally – it was Jan 21) was appear on CW’s show The 100. Mendes also sang in the episode, which was the third season premiere of the show.

By appearing on The 100 (whose audience is demographically and behaviorally similar to that of Mendes), he was able to capture more interest and reach the audiences he hadn’t before. The best part? Mendes is rumored to have landed the role after tweeting to the show’s producers. Whether this is true or not, if his audience wasn’t sold on him by that point, they would’ve been. Once again, he showed how much he resonated with his fans. After appearing on The 100 and getting in front of a large, previously unreached target audience, Mendes announced his second world tour.

Shawn Mendes’ OOH Advertising Campaign

When it came time to promote Illuminate, Spotify and Mendes teamed up to launch an Out-of-home (OOH) campaign. This time, instead of putting Mendes front and center, his marketing team opted for billboards displaying his lyrics across cities in the US. Mendes himself invited his fans to take part in the campaign by sharing the photos of the boards they found. Lucky winners would meet him on the tour.

According to Musically, the campaign’s budget was around $25,000 and it had a good success rate, garnering over 21 million impressions across the US, the UK, and Canada. When it comes to digital music marketing, this was a good move on Spotify’s part. Instead of putting Shawn at the forefront of the campaign, they put his lyrics in the spotlight in order to capture a new audience.

Mendes’ Music Video Fulfills Fan Fantasies

It’s not a secret that a big part of Mendes’ fan base is attracted to his boyish looks and demeanor. And that’s exactly what Sharon Timure of Island Records used to promote his single “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back.” In the music video, Shawn Mendes is shown falling in love with a girl who’s apparently his fan (judging by the scenes showing her in the audience as he’s performing on a tour). The video itself is cute, but what’s even cuter is the marketing behind it; every Mendes’ fan wants him to fall in love with them.

Teen magazines like Seventeen started asking themselves: “Who would reject Shawn’s love? Also, how is his voice always ~so angelic~ and ~soft~? Fans wanted to know if the love was real, Jimmy Fallon made a cover of the song, and Ford used it to promote their 4×4 Ranger. Successful? Definitely. Mendes’ fan base does like his songs and his voice, but they love his personality even more. It’s a great card for his marketing team to play, especially since fans today expect to get more access to the celebrities’ private lives than ever before. In the words of Mendes’ manager: Authenticity is a must.

Shawn Mendes’ Partnership with Spotify

Since digital music marketing is gaining more and more traction with each passing day, it’s not enough to just drop an album and call it a day. Record companies have to focus on the tools that the fan bases are using, and that’s exactly what Mendes did with his self-titled album. By partnering with Spotify again, and adding his album to the Pre-Save program, Mendes generated a lot of hype. Spotify also organized a meet-up with Mendes’ biggest fans on their app.

The album debuted at the top of the US Billboard 200, with 182,000 album-equivalent units (142,000 pure album sales).

Shawn Mendes Artist Spotlight on YouTube

Next, Mendes focused on building his brand through YouTube and a big part of this was YouTube launching an Artist Spotlight Story for Mendes. In the spotlight, directed by Casey Neistat, Mendes looks back on his journey and the music that led him to where he currently is.

Again, it’s all about Mendes’ authenticity that his fan base can relate to. And when it comes to the channels his marketing team chooses, they’re the ones used by his fans. While he does appear on TV shows, the majority of Mendes’ influence is perpetuated through social media and digital channels, and it’s something we should take note of in music marketing. 

How Shawn Mendes Became So Famous

Mendes’ songs may be catchy, but it’s his personality, paired with the right marketing channels, that allow him to consistently engage his fans.  Mendes’ marketing campaigns and industry partnerships have been thoughtfully curated by a team that knows their stuff. And with that kind of support, there’s really nothing holdin’ him back.

Key Digital Marketing Takeaways from Shawn Mendes’ Campaigns:

  • Keep an eye out for new platforms your target audience is using, and find a way to stand out. Vines were a BIG part of how Shawn Mendes got famous.
  • Connecting with the artist’s fan base should be the number one priority. Create a strong bond and learn more about their preferences.
  • Gamify promotion to engage the audience more.
  • Increase the relatability of the singer in regards to their target audience. Fan connection has and always will be a big part of Shawn Mendes’ marketing strategy.
  • Know when to remove the singer from the spotlight and let their music attract new fans. Having a strong fanbase was critical to how Shawn Mendes got famous.
  • Local has an influence on digital, so try OOH experiences to engage fan bases.
  • Identify overlaps in audience in TV shows and movies to expand a singer’s influence with native advertising.
  • Singers are public figures. Hinting about their private lives (if the fan base is involved enough) can be a great way to promote new material.
  • Make fan fantasies come true. Do they want the singer to fall in love with them? Give them a chance to experience it, even if it’s just in a music video.


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Singer, songwriter, and actress, Ariana Grande is more than just a pretty voice. With millions of fans (and even more in ticket sales), this pop star rose to stardom not just because of her talent, but also because of her digital marketing campaigns. Let’s take a look at Ariana Grande’s marketing strategy and see what we can learn!

Sweetener: Marketing Success with a Sweet Mixed Reality Campaign

It takes a versatile team to turn a good singer into an absolute pop icon, which Grande definitely is. The team behind Ariana Grande’s marketing strategy knows her fan base doesn’t just want to consume content – they want to be engaged in the experience and get a more intimate connection with the singer.

So when Ariana Grande started promoting her new album, Sweetener, in August 2018, Island Records and Landmrk – a location-based VR platform – teamed up to market her music to new and existing fans alike.

Grande and her team engaged her fan base by sending them on a treasure hunt across the UK to find “Sweet Spots” (hotspots).

When they reached the hotspot, the fans deciphered the code on a billboard and entered it on the official website. For the fans who weren’t in the vicinity of actual billboards, Landmrk created virtual billboards, as well.

The reward? Prizes like tour tickets, Sweetener CDs, merchandise and selfie filters.

(You may be asking, how did Ariana Grande’s marketing team coordinate her country-wide treasure hunt experience? This sort of thing can be a data nightmare! Luckily, AE’s fan marketing software easily powered the back end and helped the team easily track and engage fans!)

The fans couldn’t wait to get started with the OOH (out-of-home) experience that would bring them closer to the singer. Thousands of fans entered the competition and shared it across social media, primarily Twitter and Snapchat.

And since Grande had gone silent on social media after sharing a teaser of the new song, Island Records drummed up enough excitement for fans to re-engage with even more vigor than before.

Was the campaign successful?

Sweetener debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, and earned 231,000 units in its first week. 127,000 were from direct sales.

The album was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album Grammy Award in December 2018.

Standing Up For Something and Voicing Her Opinion  

In an era with more scandals than ever before, a lot of pop stars are shy to voice their opinion. While this is something their PR advisors may suggest, it’s not what consumers and fans need.

In fact, an overwhelming majority of consumers are asking brands to stand for something. Otherwise, there’s nothing Millennials and Gen Z fans (which compose a majority of Ariana Grande’s fan base) can relate to.

In addition to Grande’s excellent vocals, she’s also vocal about social issues her fan base cares about.

Speaking Up with Social Media

In addition to tweets in which she expresses her point of view, she’s vocal about gender equality in her work, as well.

Some may criticize her lyrics, but Grande’s song “God Is a Woman” resonated with her existing fan base and attracted new fans. Frequently covered in feminist media and acclaimed for the empowering approach, this hit wasn’t a mistake. It connected Ariana’s passions perfectly with her fans.

Grande accurately pinpointed what moves her generation, which makes for the majority of her fan base. And the fan base responded – it was her lyrics on the signs at the Women’s March.

Unlike other stars who produce hits, but don’t have the consistent brand personality to justify it, Grande has been consistent in speaking up about a variety of societal issues.

Among other events, she participated in the March for Our Lives, advocated Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights.

Every one of her fans has arguments to prove that she did deserve Billboard’s 2018 Woman of the Year award.

In the marketing era where values come first, Ariana Grande established the right foundations for the digital music marketing success that followed.

Key Digital Music Marketing Takeaways from the Sweetener Campaign

After the Manchester tragedy, Ariana Grande’s British fans felt particularly close to her. Island Records used the increased traction Grande got in the UK because of it to connect with that segment of her fan base with the AR Sweetener marketing campaign.

In order to promote the Sweetener music marketing campaign, Island Records also got in touch with fan groups which participated in spreading the word of the campaign.

Winners of the campaign were contacted on October 26, 2018, but even those who hadn’t won the prize had fun and enjoyed sharing the selfies and details about their “hunt” on social media.

Once again, Grande and her team showed that they don’t just understand music, but they also understood what their audience wanted.

And with the treasure hunt popularity of Pokémon Go a few years ago, it didn’t take a marketing wizard to realize fans couldn’t wait to hit the streets and win prizes that’d get them closer to their favorite singer.

Self-Love and Pop Culture: The Marketing Success of the Album, Thank U, Next

According to her fans, when Grande dropped Thank U, Next, everyone was shaken.
The song was released after the death of Grande’s ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, and her high-publicity breakup with Pete Davidson, a member of the SNL cast. For a while, it seemed like Grande couldn’t catch a break.

Everything changed when she turned the negative publicity that came from her romantic life falling under the scope into a message of self-love and positivity with her hit single: Thank U, Next.

Unapologetically (and in a way that meant her fan base could relate to her experiences) and gratefully, Grande sang about her exes, thanking them for what they had taught her. Finally, she wrapped up the song by saying that she’s her first and biggest love.

Music Video Packed With Pop Culture

Thank U, Next was a big deal when she first teased the song with a tweet, but no one was prepared for the viral hit it turned into when she published the music video. (Well, no one except Ariana Grande’s marketing team of course!)

After teasing the fan base with headlines announcing that a Kardashian would star in the video and posting Mean Girl-esque behind-the-scenes photo on social media, Grande’s fans were more than ready to see the video.

Promotion was done across multiple social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) with the video being published under YouTube’s premiere feature.

There were enough pop culture references in the video itself to invoke curiosity even in the people who weren’t her fans, with the thumbnail being a recreation of the scene from Mean Girls. Other references in Thank U, Next included Legally Blonde, 13 Going On 30, and even appearances from Troye Sivan and Kris Kardashian.

Grande told a great story of gratitude and self-reliance, and both the message and the story resonated with her fan base.

ariana grande wedding scene thank u next

Key Digital Music Marketing Takeaways

Grande’s team used the attention already on Grande because of Miller and Davidson to promote her single to a fan base that responds well to the topic of heartbreak and empowerment.

They built up anticipation before publishing the video, ensuring that everyone’s ready to hear it. And ready they were.

Pop cultural references were a nice touch for Gen Z and Millennials who respond well to nostalgia and will recognize the generations’ favorites Grande recreated for her Thank U, Next video. This campaign was definitely one of the top successes of Ariana Grande’s marketing strategy!

And after the release of the video, Grande’s team didn’t stop. They published additional behind-the-scenes content and sparked conversation across social media. With the rise of Thank U, Next’s popularity, it’s just a matter of time before it reaches the ultimate level of viral success and becomes a meme.

Was the campaign successful?

There was quite a buzz surrounding the release of Thank U, Next.

Since its release in November 2018, the video was viewed over 287 million times on YouTube alone. There have been millions of mentions of Thank U, Next both in the context of the song and the dismissal of haters or exes.

And since the song’s release in November, Thank U, Next got over 1 million certified units/sales in the US alone.

It’s a great song, but it was Ariana Grande’s digital marketing campaign that helped turn it into a viral hit.

Honorable Mention: Dangerous Woman Music Marketing Campaign

Ariana Grande’s marketing approach doesn’t shy away from personality or transparency.
Nothing shows that as much as returning to the Dangerous Woman tour with a documentary – Dangerous Woman Diaries – showing what happened behind the scenes and Grande’s inspiration for the album.

In December 2018, when all eyes were already on Thank U, Next.

This showed that Grande’s marketing team was focused on the subject at hand (the popularity of Thank U, Next) but didn’t forget how popular Dangerous Woman was, and what significance Grande’s personal journey had for her fan base.

By re-engaging fans with a mixed-reality approach that proved its usefulness with Sweetener, Grande’s team partnered up with Google and Landmrk to set up promotional billboards throughout the US and Canada.

So while Ariana Grande is a great singer, she’s also a marketing superstar.

By finding new ways to connect with old and new fans alike, she’s at the forefront of the digital music marketing revolution we need in 2019.

We can’t wait to see where she’ll take us next!


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This year, the battle lines are being drawn in the fight for consumer data privacy. Trust is the next big data opportunity to make your company stand out. Read the full article below or watch the video summary!

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Annabel’s got a lot more to say about data privacy and how marketers need to adapt.

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Trust Is The Next Big Data Opportunity

In January, Apple CEO Tim Cook, took a stand for consumer privacy rights in an article for Time Magazine, asserting that consumers have a right to know how their data is being used

The past few years have been like the “wild west” in data harvesting. Taking a stand for consumer privacy at this moment in time is a calculated move on Apple’s part. Building trust around data and privacy is necessary in today’s digital world.

Apple is wise to focus on trust being the next big thing. The tech company’s bold position confirms that online privacy is a polarizing issue of our time.  And you can expect more businesses to follow suit.

cover of time magazine with tim cook from apple- cook agrees big data opportunity exists
Privacy is huge part of what makes the Apple brand attractive to consumers.

The Dark Side of Consumer Data Privacy

On the other side, big companies are even becoming more bold in their attempts to collect consumer data. In January, TechCrunch reported both Facebook and Google had apps in the Apple Store that were shut down because they were tracking users on their devices, flying in the face of Apple’s policies.

Businesses we trust and depend on have found a shady path to making big money — tracking users and brokering their data. And for some, it’s going to be a tough habit to break.

For consumers, agreeing to give up some data is an expected part of digital life. Most of the time, if we want (or need) to use an app, buy a product, or subscribe to a service, we can’t avoid a certain amount of data in trade.

But consumer advocates and governments are starting to step in. Purchasing a product online shouldn’t lead to your data being sold to a broker. Credit card companies and online services shouldn’t be collecting and selling your information without your knowledge or consent.  As Cook mentions in his article, these violations happen every second of every day.

Stay Ahead of Data Privacy Legislation

GDPR protects consumer data privacy rights
The US and Canada need more progressive data privacy regulations like the GDPR in Europe.

As regulations and consumer advocates stop companies from harvesting data for a competitive advantage, our digital world becomes more and more polarized. Good vs. bad companies, trustworthy vs. suspicious business practices. So what does the next age of data look like for businesses?

The crack-down on shady data practices is starting. Cook’s article calls on the U.S. Congress to “pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation.”

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) implemented in Europe last spring is the most comprehensive legal mechanism so far, intending to put control back into the hands of the consumer. Under the GDPR, consumers can explicitly deny or agree to transfer their data to a company they trust.

Being known as a “trustworthy” brand is becoming a requirement to doing business online.

Trust is The New Age of Data

As data collection and legislation matures, it’s time to re-think how data can create something beneficial for the consumer. And this is where data really excels — it can personalize mutually-beneficial, two-way relationships with consumers, setting companies up to perfectly serve their customer base.

This new age of consumer data will be about forming more useful relationships with individuals. Think about movie suggestions on Netflix, or useful product suggestions on Amazon. The right products can be offered to the right buyers — even more so, the right products can actually be invented and refined to anticipate the buyers’ needs and serve them perfectly.

And customers will have easy access and full rights to approve or deny a company’s forays into their data. This is why trust will be such a huge data privacy opportunity.

Making a Data-Enabled Future Possible

Zoom ahead to the Jetsons future and imagine your AmazonFresh App alerts you that it’s just ordered sourdough bread, soy milk, and eggs because it knows you’re about to run out. You’ve already agreed with AmazonFresh that you trust them to order on your behalf because they know what you want, saving you time and decreasing your mental load.

a picture from the old tv show the jetsons
How can create a positive future by nurturing a beneficial two-way relationship between companies and consumers?

I know I’m looking forward to the day when a self-driving car shows up, unordered, in anticipation of my flight, and at the right time based on traffic and immigration lines at the airport. But we don’t get to this future without some sort of two-way data relationship.

The new age of data requires a big adjustment for many businesses as well as consumers. Instead of seeing data agreements and privacy as a challenge, think about knowing more about your customer and serving them better, more creatively, more uniquely.

Data can build a better relationship with a more invested audience who find value in a product or service. The first step is to rebuild that trust.


Have you been watching?

The year we’re about to close has brought a LOT of changes to the world of online business. Consumers are demanding privacy and becoming more leery of online sales tactics than ever before.

The online landscape has already started to change. And that affects relationships that brands have with customers.

The upheaval started with Facebook’s many privacy blunders and policy changes and lead to the sweeping new structure of the GDPR (if you don’t know what that is, start learning here). Both of these notable changes have made businesses more accountable for the way they treat people online.

In the end, marketing work is about building relationships. Marketing automation can be used to help build those relationships… but we need practices that are not invasive and impersonal. Privacy improvements are a good thing if they help us build more trusting relationships.

Marketing Automation DONT’S:

  1. Pushing out content
  2. Buy, buy, buy
  3. Unboxing (ugh!)
  4. Impersonal marketing (Hello customer xyz!)
  5. Black Friday specials
  6. Faceless emails

Marketing Automation DO’S:

  1. Be useful
  2. Expose customers to new ideas
  3. Resonate with shared values
  4. Don’t take yourself (your brand) too seriously
  5. Respect your customers’ time
  6. Be genuine

Build Real Relationships

If you’re a marketer who cares about building real relationships with your customers, try a few of these ideas with your automated marketing — whether that’s Bots, Email Marketing, Funnels or Retargeting PPC ads.

1. Be useful:

Nobody likes a friend who only talks about themselves: “…me!” We’ve all had one of those friends!  If we don’t like people who behave that way, why would we like a brand that behaves that way? A “me-me-me!” brand is one that always talks about itself and its problems and successes. If you’re building a brand and doing that, stop it right now!  Be a brand that comes from a place of service and share stories your customers can use.

Leslie Ziegler interviewed for First Round on branding.
Image courtesy of First Round

First Round Review — Getting Useful
A startup fund that produces amazing content for founders. 

This article on brand strategy gives you a great taste.

“The branding choices you make now are building your company as much as the programming language or CRM software you select.”

— Leslie Ziegler, Rock Health (interviewed by First Round)

2. Show Me New Things

Doing the same old thing is comforting. I love walking to work the same way every day because it feels nice. But science shows us that doing things differently — even changing your route to work — changes your brain. It helps you retain more information and be more successful. The same thing happens when we’re exposed to new ideas.

Be a brand that brings new ideas, challenges your customers, and helps them master their world. Open up those neural pathways and offer something new and valuable.

The Story of Microfibers video by The Story of Stuff.
A screenshot from The Story of Microfibers

The Story of Stuff — Bringing New Ideas

A movie kicked off a movement focused on how we buy and use our stuff. 

This video about microfibers is a wealth of new information.

Every time we wash synthetic fabrics, whether they’re made from recycled bottles or brand new materials, super tiny pieces of plastic called microfibers wash off and flow down the drain — up to hundreds of thousands each wash.” — “The Story of Microfibers”

3. Resonate With Shared Values

We naturally surround ourselves with people who feel like members of our tribe. Most likely this means that we have similar core values. Values are important because they are guideposts that help us make decisions in our lives and remind us what we stand for.

Just as we all have our own personal values, brands also have values. When these values are clearly posted, you quickly get a feel about what the brand stands for. Today values are having a resurgence. It’s becoming clear that not only do you have to state your values, but you have to follow through with actions. Be a brand that takes a stand and lives up to that — in every channel, including your automated marketing channels.

Some zany art for Lyft's Round Up & Donate initiative.
Image courtesy of Lyft

Lyft — Sharing Values 

Their values couldn’t be more clear and different from Uber. I love them and what they stand for.

Lyft’s Round Up & Donate initiative is a perfect example.

“The more we ride, the more we raise. Support the causes that you believe will make the world a better place.” — Lyft

4. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Let’s be honest, most companies we interact with every day are not saving lives. They want to be successful, make money and return money to their shareholders. If you’re not a successful business, you can’t survive. But being a successful business doesn’t mean you have to be uptight.

I love a brand that reflects humor, spontaneity and positive messaging in kooky ways. It’s an important part of our daily lives to step back, reflect and inject humor where we can. I like to think of humor as the connective tissue that holds our relationship together. Be a brand that isn’t a stuffed shirt.

MailChimp made this graph showing the top emojis used by their clients over the holidays.
Image courtesy of MailChimp’s blog

MailChimp — Being Lighthearted
An email platform that m
akes everything fun. How can you not love that monkey!

This fun article is a great example of MailChimp showing its playful side!

“There was a 34% increase from 2016 to 2017 in total emoji used by MailChimp customers during the holiday season. 🎄 was the top emoji used in subject lines, followed by 🎁 , 🎅 , 🎉 and 😍.” — Kasia, MailChimp writer

5. Respect My Time

Don’t make me jump through digital hoops to get on your mailing list. Don’t tease me with content and then not provide it when I visit your website. Don’t send me an automated email newsletter every week just because you should (no you shouldn’t – see Be Useful).

Don’t send out a Black Friday coupon because everyone else is doing it. Be a brand that delivers something meaningful to your customer.

An example of a newsletter from Note to Self.
Image courtesy of Note to Self

One of my favorite podcasts, Note to Self, gently prods me when a new podcast is online and always includes other content that’s valuable. They curate for me and save me time.

6. Be Genuine in Your Automated Marketing Campaigns

Stop doing what everyone else is doing. You don’t have the same customers as your competitors. Those customers don’t have the same problems. Everyone’s customers care about different things, so why on earth would you be trying to communicate with them in the same way.  

Be a brand that respects the time I take to read your newsletter and click on your links. And most of all, make it personal so I care.

The team at Sago Mini being genuine.
Image courtesy of Sago Mini

Sago Mini — Being Genuine 

This brand for kids’ apps and toys is always about being themselves. In this blog post, a team member gives a candid account of how she came up with an idea for a new game.

“I started thinking about the brutal but beautiful winters in my hometown of Edmonton, and all of the fun activities we used to do in the snow.” — Teena Saur, Sago Mini Director of Brand & Marketing.

Building relationships is no easy task.

It’s no longer good enough to sign someone up… it’s too easy to quickly lose them. Onboarding has become a big deal for businesses working online. That’s just one hint at a larger trend — the new standard in marketing automation is a fully personalized experience for your leads and customers. 

You have to look at every customer touch point and engineer the marketing experience way past the point of signup. Who are your real users? Those people are busy, they have families and friends to spend time with, grocery shopping to do, bathroom sinks to clean and time to rest at night. The only way you can stay relevant is to show you really do care. 

Brands and companies who treat their end customers like breathing humans with limited time will be winning. And that makes me happy because the hard work that smart digital marketers are doing every day will be paying off.


AE was recently featured in Music Ally’s Sandbox, a monthly report for music marketers. We shared what we are doing here at AE and why AE is the perfect tool for music marketing.

This September’s issue was all about what to do when your music marketing campaign takes off. The report showcased how AE’s fan insight technology can impact music marketing for the better.

While we can’t give you the full article, you can get a free subscription trial here, and we have included some of our favourite quotes below!

Capture And Campaign

“Acquire, Attribute and Automate are the three A’s that are driving modern music marketing….Enter The Appreciation Engine (AE). This allows marketers to capture fan information from streaming and social platforms and then view insights down to the individual level.”

-Music Ally’s Sandbox Report

musically's sandbox report appreciation engine is the tool for music marketing

Get The Engine Running

“Inside AE’s dashboard, you’re able to view what’s been going on across your fanbase at an artist level, a global level and an individual fan level, so teams for a specific artist or across a wider catalogue can all work together within the same place.”

-Music Ally’s Sandbox Report

musically's sandbox september issue music marketing for the digital era where ae is the tool for music marketing

Enterprise to Indie

“AE is currently available to any labels and management companies that would like to start working with it and, although its features are currently geared for very large labels, it is prioritizing its updates over the coming years to be every bit as accessible to smaller labels…”

-Music Ally’s Sandbox Report

musically logo for music marketing

Sandbox by Music Ally is a subscription-based online publication that releases a fresh report every month. Their in-depth articles share recent digital marketing trends, useful tools and services, the industry’s most successful campaigns and interviews with industry leaders.

We were thrilled to be featured as a tool for music marketers and we hope you get a chance to read the full report! You can learn more about Sandbox and get a free trial subscription here.


What a real example of AE in action? See how we helped Kesha reach 3.5 million fans here!