image credit: notsogoodphotography

When was the last time you were truly captivated? What was it that captivated you? Was it a performance? A charismatic speaker? A person’s eyes? A piece of music? There are many things it could have been, but I bet I can tell you what it wasn’t: a piece of marketing.

Let’s face it, marketing and advertising efforts aren’t usually the kind of things that capture your attention. Indeed, I cannot think of any recent marketing element in any medium that has held my attention hostage to the extent of the beautiful eyes in the picture above.

At this point, some older, traditional marketers are snickering at me. Too many in the outmoded marketing aristocracy think “captivate” is a nonsense word. “Captivate is a like Innovate,” they say, “easy to toss into your tagline or mission statement, but nearly impossible to truly achieve.” While I don’t agree that it is impossible, I concede that truly captivating your target consumers is difficult.

But that’s a lousy reason not to try.

So let’s try! Let’s look at some ways we can not only engage consumers, but how we can captivate them.

Engage Their Emotions

This is the element at which I fail most often. I fall into a trap which many often do: I engage my own emotions and expect that it will result in the same for my target consumers. If you’re a novelist this Image Credit: *MarSworks out OK because you can always fall back on “I don’t give a damn what others think, I write only for myself!” Alas, it might be just the opposite for marketers.

To better appeal to consumers’ emotions, it helps to remember one thing: emotions are not logical. I am incredibly moved by Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, but my reaction has nothing to do with the mathematical precision of its counterpoint. In fact, my music-major business partner once began to explain some of the theory to me, and I realized I didn’t care….I didn’t want to know. Similarly, I feel an emotional response when I see an Aston-Martin Vanquish, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s under the hood or the fact that it is an utterly impractical car for New England winters.

In final illustration of this first point I present an example from my own recent experience. Last week I wrote a five-page proposal for launching a client’s new company blog. I covered everything, showing not only what we could do, but how we would do it. Upon reading the proposal, the client called me and said, “I just read the first paragraph of the thing you sent me and I’m sold. What the hell is all the rest of this crap?” Not only didn’t he read the details, he didn’t want to read them. For him it was all about my first paragraph, a high-level, impassioned preamble that answered not the how/what/where/when, but the why. It captivated him, his attention held such that he didn’t even need to keep reading. He wanted to move right to the services. The details (which engaged me) were worthless.

Use Multimedia:

I laugh when I hear the term multimedia because it reminds me of the 1998 Encarta Encyclopedia CD that announced proudly it was a multimedia encyclopedia. Multimedia is now taken for granted…it’s just the way things are. But I’m surprised how many marketers are not using or misusing audio, video, and images in their efforts.

image credit: Dan ZenA picture may be worth a thousand words, but the right picture is priceless. Great visuals have been a staple of advertising for decades and using imagery is one of the easiest and most touted methods for captivating consumers online. Pictures often evoke an emotional response more directly than a paragraph of text. Imagery removes the burden of processing a long string of alphanumeric characters, leaving the consumer’s brain free to feel. Please note that I am not claiming imagery evokes a better emotional reaction than text, simply that it evokes a quicker reaction. And in the age of ten second attention spans, quicker sometimes means better.

Video is another way to appeal to the powerful emotional responses of your consumers and hold their attention. I daresay that if you believe in the power of pictures then the power of video is self-evident. The “moving picture” has been the dominant form of advertising for decades and that’s not an accident. Video engages…it captivates. Enriching your site, your blog, your news release with video hits your consumers with a 1-2 punch; the video captures their attention and your copy answers the details they might need to finally decide to buy.

Last, but certainly not least, is the power of audio. If you’re not sold on the power of sound then go rent “The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers” and try to watch the Helm’s Deep sequence with the sound muted. It’s nigh unwatchable. Why? Because sound is the foundation from which the tower of human emotion rises. Sound conveys inflection, timing, harmony, melody, and activates a wholly different area of the brain than the text and imagery perceived through the eyes. Even the simple act of putting blog posts into podcast form can be powerful. The narration of your podcast will allow you to convey emotional elements of your text to listeners in a captivating way, often enabling you to hold their attention for longer periods of time.

Be a Human:

It is difficult to establish a rapport with a faceless corporate monolith. I, for one, would much rather speak to a person than a logo. I doubt that I’m alone in this.image credit: TheArtfulBadger Blogging and marketing gurus spend a lot of time talking about developing your “voice.” At it’s most basic level, your “voice” is the digital representation of your personality. Notice the important root of “personality:” person. It is difficult for a company or brand to have a personality with which people can engage.

The transmission of a person’s personality into the digital space is not easy, and there are few things that make it harder than writing by committee. Perhaps your shiny new company blog is still viewed as an experiment by the fundamentalists in charge of your company’s marketing department. As such, the task of writing the weekly blog entry falls to some junior staffer fresh out of college. Although the higher-ups won’t deign to write the blog posts, they are still unwilling to publish a post without running it through the editorial wringer which is so often the bloody battlefield from which press releases and corporate statements emerge mutilated and impotent. By the time the post is published it lacks any semblance of an individual voice and falls flat with any consumers who happen to read it.

Don’t fear the voices of the people who write your company blog. You’ve presumably hired these people because they are smart. Let them out of the box. Let them connect with consumers and maybe–just maybe–you’ll find yourself the proud recipient of a captive audience that genuinely respects the honesty of your online ambassadors. People are smart enough to realize that Microsoft cannot have a conversation with them, but people within Microsoft certainly can.

I am reminded of a anecdote related to me by Larry Weber. His daughter came downstairs one day, laughing. Larry asked her what was wrong. Barely containing her giggles she said, “Coke wants to be my friend.” To her, and millions of others like her, the idea that Coke wanted to be her friend on Facebook was absurd. Her friends are people, her friends can go to the movies with her. A brand does not fit any definition of the word and she knew it instinctually. Be human or be laughed at.


There are undoubtedly many other ways to captivate your consumers, but this post is getting long and the flight I’m on is about over. I suppose the value of this post is found not so much in a rigid adherence to the three methods, but in an increased receptivity to new marketing ideas. Every company is different, and no two brands alike. As such, the exact method of your new marketing endeavors can take many shapes. What’s important is to realize that the internet presents everyone–startups and Fortune 500s alike–an unprecedented avenue through which to converse with consumers. Captivate them. Engage them. Or lose them.

Written by Matt Peters
Matt is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pandemic Labs, and enjoys thinking about, writing about, and talking about social media marketing whenever someone will let him.