Marketing Overview

The average attention span is 8 seconds. So whatever academic activity you’re marketing, it must gain the audience’s respect.


So, we’ve compiled some salient points from experts in branding and virality that you can apply to any project.


In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek presents an elegant branding model, dubbed the Golden Circle.

He argues that most companies, when selling something to you, work from the outside of this circle inwards. They ask you to buy their product our service (WHAT), they then tell you its unique features (HOW), and they might tell you the purpose for their existence (WHY). But Sinek argues that the model should be flipped – i.e. if you want to sell anything, start with WHY.

Take Apple, which masterfully uses the Golden Circle in its marketing.

Apple starts by instructing you to “Think different” (WHY). Apple then says that they do this by designing cutting edge products (HOW). Lastly, the label invites you to buy their product(s) (WHAT). This WHY has allowed them to sell a host of products outside of the traditional computing space – e.g. mp3 players, watches and, soon, cars.

Apple even incorporates the WHY into their building architecture. While everyone in Manhattan is building skyscrapers, Apple’s flagship store is underground. Apple’s WHY is so strong that they have managed to make laptops without touchscreen capabilities, thereby convincing customers that an iPad is a good purchase.

You, too, can use the Golden Circle when positioning your work. Start with WHY by defining the big purpose of the project in question. If that WHY is attractive, others will be attracted to it.


Of the great amount of literature on virality, we feel Jonah Berger’s Contagious offers the most succinct and comprehensive explanation of how something goes viral. He identifies six frameworks that can make something go viral; sometimes, something can go viral by using a combination of these frameworks. He summarizes these six frameworks into a mnemonic: STEPPS.

  1. Social Currency: relies on people’s desire to be valued in their social circles – e.g. one person finds out about an exclusive restaurant and tells his friends because it purports that he’s in the know.
  2. Trigger: exploits a common environmental cue to remind the customer of your product – e.g. the restaurateur Nusret Gökçe, a.k.a. Salt Bae, has gained a global fan base by dramatizing sprinkling salt on a steak … despite subpar reviews of his steakhouses.
  3. Emotion: anything evoking arousal emotions is shared the most, be they positive or negative – e.g. awe, humor, anger, anxiety, inspiration; in contrast, emotions like contentment and sadness are harder to go viral.
  4. Public: the more visible it is, the better; e.g. people still wear Livestrong bracelets, despite the Lance Armstrong scandal.
  5. Practical Value: people share stuff that helps them in their daily life – e.g. this video of how to deseed a pomegranate went viral despite ghetto recording quality and no script.
  6. Story: people are more likely to share ideas conveyed in a story – e.g. think of the moral lessons we all know from stories like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “The Tortoise and the Hare”.

Try to use at least one of these frameworks when marketing your work. It will pay dividends.

Lastly, what if you’re ready to get to work with these principles but there’s already competition? Blue Ocean Strategy and Positioning argue that in such instances, by repositioning your brand, you can beat an incumbent. For example:

  • By contrasting your product with the incumbent, you can stick out.
    • When Volkswagen debuted the Beetle, they repositioned the lack of size as being a good thing. To this day, their “Think Small” campaign is celebrated amongst advertising circles.
    • Taco Bell did this with their “Think Outside the Bun” slogan and 7Up with their “Uncola” ads
  • By branding your competition before they do.
    • Apple positioned Microsoft as dull and old in the clever “Mac vs. PC” ad campaign.