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Who do you trust? Advice from a close friend or relative, or, let's say the verbose and colorfully dressed used car salesmen screaming his pitch across the street?

I think the answer is obvious.

According to a recent study from Nielsen, 92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising, an increase of 18% since 2007. Earned media, the most coveted form of advertising and hardest to secure, is media customers use to help spread the brand's message; social, media, WOM, etc. The key to ensuring your message is shared is to take the sales out of the sell.

Engaging content, not ads, motivates consumers to share with their personal networks. Every time content is shared, consumers are shaping their identity to the outside world; it's an expression of who they are, what they love, and what they believe. And it's this type of messaging that resonates with their social networks. Brands that create content that captures our imagination will reap the benefits from the increasing socialization of media. It's not about selling a product, it's about telling a story.

Working closely with B2B and lifestyle sites engaging the affluent audience, we've discovered that consumers earning $100k+ are actually more likely to share ads than most consumers. In a study we conducted with WPP/Added Value, we found that 74% of affluent consumers say a good ad is worth talking about. That doesn't mean that they are likely to share or discuss just any ad. The task of reaching this audience is complicated by the fact that they are the least susceptible to simple advertising messages. Instead, they are most likely to respond and interact when ingenious creative arouses their curiosity.

Again, it's about creating content that emotionally connects with customers. Whether it touches the heart or the funny bone, it needs to go beyond touting product features for it to be shared and trusted by others. When you can create ads that do this, you won't just be another message; you'll be part the conversation.

Tom O’Regan is a seasoned advertising executive with an expertise in vertical publishing and sales strategy. As CRO of Martini Media, he is responsible for company-wide advertising revenue and operations. He comes to Martini Media after a dozen year stint as head of TheStreet Inc’s media business.

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