6 Ways to Make a Good Company 'Fascinating'

Guest Author Blog: Six Gold Hallmarks of a Fascinating Brand by Sally Hogshead author of "FASCINATE: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation."

Fascinating companies, like fascinating people, get under our skin and into our conversations. They challenge us and move us. They’re unafraid to ask questions, and incite a response. They incite strong reactions from a specific audience.

Yet in an attempt to be all things to all people, most brands end up being nothing to anyone. (If you’re not generating a negative reaction from someone, you’re probably not influencing anyone.)


In my book, FASCINATE: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, I describe why consumers become fascinated by certain brands, but not others.

To expand your company’s influence, you can tap into seven universal deeply-rooted “triggers” of influence: power,lust,mystique,prestige, alarm,vice,andtrust.

By applying these seven fascination triggers, you can make any product or idea (even ordinary ones!) more persuasive.

Is your brand fascinating?

There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, but there are specific criteria. And you can apply these criteria to evaluate any type of message: from a product launch or packaging concept, to a PowerPoint presentation or political statement.

Guest Author Blog
Guest Author Blog

How to evaluate your brand?

Start by checking it against the six Gold Hallmarks of a Fascinating Brand.

Gold Hallmark #1: Provokes Strong and Immediate Emotional Reactions

People respond to the brand immediately, almost involuntarily. The advertising might stimulate a “love it or hate it” response. For example: Fox News. Disney. Acid rap. Trader Joe’s. NASCAR.

Ask your team:

  • Do we provoke strong and immediate emotional reactions?
  • Are we watering our messages down to mush (through committees, or safe thinking, or fear)?

Gold Hallmark #2: Creates Advocates

Regular consumers become passionate advocates when your brand effectively activates one or more fascination triggers. These dedicated fans may be a small slice of your overall base, but they’re the most active and vocal, and they’ll exponentially increase your marketing efforts. Reward them, inspire them, and support their communication with you, and with one another. Examples: Louis Vuitton. Harley Davidson. The Twilight Series of books and movies.

Ask your team:

  • What would it take to make someone want to pay for a T-shirt bearing our logo? What would it take for people to be willing to stand in line for hours to purchase our product?
  • What would it take for our product to become so beloved that it never, ever went on sale?

Gold Hallmark #3: Becomes “Cultural Shorthand” for a Specific Set of Actions or Values

The brand represents such a distinct point of view that it can stand alone as a symbol for a defined set of values; it becomes a reference point for how people identify themselves, and their world. These companies earn attention by focusing on a specific set of values: Home Depot (do-it-yourself), Patagonia (sustainability), Target (accessible style), Ikea (democratic design), or De Beers (romantic expression).

Ask your team:

  • Do we embody a specific set of values, or actions?
  • How could we turn our unique attributes into emblems of our beliefs?

Pret A Manger, a gourmet take-out chain, evokes the lust trigger through tiny details. Each location of this chain stirs its granola by hand, using a four foot-long wooden oar. Sure, the company could far more easily stir it with a mechanical mixer, but, they insist, this would damage the oats’ flavor and texture. With this one tiny detail the brand stirs our imagination.


Gold Hallmark #4: Incites conversation

The more people want to engage with, play with, learn from, talk about, and, above all, connect with something or someone, the greater its influence. Influential brands spark spirited conversations and debate among consumers, competition, and the media. Examples: NFL Fantasy Football. Adidas original. PBS. TMZ.com.

Ask your team:

  • Are we inciting conversations?
  • What opportunities do you create for people to connect with one another?
  • Does your message create debate? (No? Your point of view might not be distinct or vibrant enough.)
Guest Author Blog
Guest Author Blog

The U.S. military employed this tactic.

When the number of recruits dropped, the military started conversations among potential recruits by creating a video game. Named “Future Force Company Commander,” or F2C2, portrays the nation’s futuristic military as an invulnerable high-tech organization, giving its consumers (teenage boys) a carefully controlled glimpse of battle. Even if you don’t agree with the use of F2C2, you can’t ignore how this outreach effort got so many potential recruits talking, and connecting, around the brand.

Gold Hallmark #5:Forces competitors to realign around it

These companies don’t chase or mirror trends, but rather, establish new standards for the category. They think, act, and behave unlike any other. Often, they inspire imitators, look-alikes, and me-toos. Examples: Trader Joe’s. Axe Body Spray. Wal-Mart. Swiffer. Microsoft, then Apple, then Microsoft again.

Ask your team:

  • How could you communicate so distinctively that your innovations turn into your consumers’ expectations?
  • How could you become irreplaceable for the audience, impossible to exactly replace or duplicate?
  • Could people describe themselves by comparing you to your competition (“Are you a Mac, or a PC?”)

Gold Hallmark #6:Taps Into (or Even Causes) Social Revolutions

When people become fascinated, they merge with larger groups of people fascinated by the same message. These groups dramatically accelerate your marketing, inciting others to join a bigger cultural movement.

Social revolutions aren’t once-in-a-decade events. They’re happening constantly, every single day, when we shift our decision-making. Zappos.com changed online shopping. Red Bull changed cocktail culture. Dove changed the conversation around female body image. Netflix changed media consumption. Viagra changed the perception of impotence to “erectile dysfunction.” Even if you don’t trigger social revolutions, you can make your budget go farther by tapping into cultural changes.

Ask your team:

  • How can our message take advantage of emerging changes in behavior?
  • What groups, communities, and tribes could our message excite and activate, so that they champion our message as part of their own?
  • Could we tie our message into what people are already doing and saying around a specific cause or effort?

This measure of fascination lives not in your own communication to the world, but in how the world communicates about you. For instance, on your Web site— it’s not about the number of links in your site, but about how many sites, and the quality of the sites, that link to you. On Facebook, the status updates that last in the news feed are the ones that generate the most commentary. On Twitter, it’s just not about what you say, but how many followers re-tweet your message to their followers.

Fascination has little to do with what you say, and everything to do with what you inspire others to say and do (and buy).

The Wizard of Oz said, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” The same is now true for brands. Marketing is no longer about creating messages—it’s about getting the market to participate, and to create fascinating messages about you and with you.

As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, the truth is, consumers don’t want to connect with brands. They want to connect with each other. Fascinating companies create more opportunities for people to connect with eachother, through the brand.

Why do certain messages captivate, while seemingly equally deserving ones never get adoration (or even recognition)? Most marketers aspire to create messages that offend the fewest people. They’re playing not to lose. By evaluating our communication according to these six Gold Hallmarks, we can begin to make any type of message more fascinating: a sales presentation, a book, or anything else that must influence behavior in order to succeed.

In a competitive environment, the most fascinating option wins. Fascinating brands win more consumers, more PR, bigger budgets, more time, better talent, greater admiration, deeper trust. Brands that fail to fascinate will, increasingly, lose the battle.

It’s that simple.



Sally Hogshead
Sally Hogshead
Sally Hogshead

Sally Hogshead consults with companies from startups to Fortune 500s on how to create captivating messages.

Her work involves developing branded content, new media applications, and multi-platform advertising, while providing smarter, faster, more creative solutions.

Her clients include Pepsi, Harry Winston, Godiva and Cole Haan, among others, and she has delivered keynotes for companies such as Starbucks and Microsoft, as well as innovation workshops around the world.

Sally is also the author of FASCINATE: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.


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