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Episode 4: “The Brandwagon Interviews” Podcast with Veronica Parker-Hahn of Effie Worldwide

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From tactics to taglines, Wistia’s CEO, Chris Savage, chats marketing with the brains behind successful brands on our new video series, Brandwagon. Last week, Chris sat down with Dan Kenary, Co-Founder and CEO of Harpoon Brewery, to learn all about risk-taking and consistency with brand values across your business. Today, we’re excited to share our extended interview with this week’s guest, Veronica Parker-Hahn, SVP of Growth & Innovation at Effie Worldwide.

Check out the episode to hear Veronica share some nuggets of wisdom from 15 years of working with billion-dollar brands in the advertising world and why she believes strategic rigor is essential to building an effective brand.

Or listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher

Watch the actual Brandwagon episode here!

When Veronica first began her career in the advertising industry, she was an account manager who quickly learned creativity is only a fraction of what builds a strong brand. Building a strong brand and creating an effective campaign starts with a deliberate, well-thought-out strategy. As a champion of brand strategy, Veronica has worked with major brands like Mars (M&Ms), State Farm Insurance, DirecTV, Procter & Gamble, Reebok, and many more over the past 15 years.

Today, Veronica works at Effie Worldwide, an organization that celebrates effectiveness in marketing. Effie awards companies all over the world that produce successful campaigns, evaluated by their rigorous platform. In this episode, we hear all about the importance of brand strategy from Veronica and how identifying an insight leads to executing successful campaigns and strengthening your business.

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“Even conversion is not enough. You need affinity. You need advocacy. You want those people to love your brand and tell their friends about it. Then it makes your dollars go so much further.” On this episode of The Brandwagon Interviews, Veronica highlights the importance of strategy when it comes to creating successful brands.

Here are some of the lessons learned throughout the episode:

  • Strategic rigor is essential for effective creative marketing and building a strong brand
  • Insight is often the missing piece preventing brands from communicating effectively
  • What your brand stands for should permeate everything you do

Short on time? Check out some of our favorite moments during this interview between Chris and Veronica.

3:29 – 15 Years in advertising

After some pleasantries about bears that steal grills and enjoy salsa music, Chris asks about Veronica’s career in advertising. Veronica talks about her experience as an account manager at different advertising agencies. For Parker-Hahn, really understanding the client and their business was essential to developing a creative strategy for their campaigns and initiatives.

6:12 – Moving the needle on M&Ms

Veronica shares how some of the biggest brands think about growing or maintaining market share. She talks about working on the M&Ms account as well as the challenges trying to grow a brand with existing broad awareness that people barely need to think about it. Their goal? Try to get consumers to buy one more bag of M&Ms a year. A story about working with State Farm follows.

10:15 – “If you just build to get people in the door and you don’t have a reason to keep them? You have a leaky bucket.”

Chris points out most marketing professionals or aspiring creatives have daydreamed about working for big brands, and how Veronica actually did! He asks how her experience shaped her marketing instincts. Parker-Hahn said she was surprised how much strategic rigor is required for a beautifully executed campaign. They dive into a conversation about strategy and building brand, the downsides of measuring performance alone, and they offer up some thoughts on why being the cheapest is rarely an effective brand play.

17:40 – Employee No. 11 at Oscar Health

Oscar Health insurance was founded in New York City in 2012. The idea was to create a health insurance company that was “more human.” Since most folks pretty much detest health insurance, Oscar hoped to challenge entrenched perceptions with a better, friendlier, more efficient and more transparent service. Parker-Hahn was among the first employees at the company and came on board as the VP of Marketing. She shares her beginnings at Oscar and what it was like building a brand from scratch as the only person in the marketing department. How do you spin a “boring” business like a health insurance company? Veronica reasons, with a good strategy and strong brand values, any business can have compelling marketing.

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24:14 – Oscar goes out of home

Oscar won two Effie awards — awards that recognize excellence in marketing effectiveness — for their out-of-home campaigns on the New York subway. Chris asks Veronica about the origins of this campaign, why she decided on an out-of-home strategy and how they measured a notoriously tough-to-measure tactic. Parker-Hahn talks about the power of polling your audience, how to be smart with a small budget, and the importance of constantly testing the effectiveness of your campaign.

30:59 – “There’s humanity behind everything that is involved in marketing, so we can’t forget that human side.”

If Oscar had gone with traditional, more performance-based marketing tactics at the start, would they have seen the same growth? Veronica says brand-building and performance-based tactics aren’t mutually exclusive. She talks about how, on the agency side and in her early days of marketing, she thought about building businesses more holistically. Today, she points out as roles have become more specialized. performance and brand have become siloed, and she wonders if businesses are losing sight of the humanity inherent to marketing.

36:26 – From serving the client to being the client

What’s the difference between making recommendations to clients compared with making decisions as a VP of marketing in-house? Veronica shares her experience and explains how sticking to your strategy can make it easier to make creative decisions.

41:02 – SVP Of Growth And Innovation at Effie

Today, Veronica works at Effie Worldwide. The organization highlights effectiveness in marketing through their Effie Awards and helps marketing professionals improve their skills through educational programs. The organization takes a look at brands who take on a challenge, and then evaluates campaigns based on the strength of their insights, ideas, execution, measurement. Parker-Hahn talks about Effie as an organization, shares how she came to work there and some of the things she’s learned by seeing 50 years-worth of marketing excellence in one place.

49:54 – Advice for startups

What advice does she have for startups given her experience working with the world’s top brands? Veronica says that bigger brands spend a lot more time on strategy, and she notices that startups tend to rush into tools that may be trendy but may not make strategic sense for that particular business. Savage and Parker-Hahn also discuss how bigger brands can learn from startups.

56:13 – Where are things headed?

Chris wants to know what Veronica thinks the future of marketing will look like. She considers aloud that marketing is cyclical, and that while tools continue to change, the art of storytelling and developing a strong strategy will always be important.

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Video Marketing

Why Your Content Strategy Should Target a Niche Audience (Not Potential Customers)

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As Raymond Williams once said, “There are no masses, but only ways of seeing people as masses.” As marketers, we tend to look at the world as three distinct masses:

  1. Existing customers
  2. Potential customers
  3. People who will never be customers

However, outside of our own lens, there’s usually nothing that unites the people within these groups. While, as a business, we tend to think of our potential customer base as a homogenous group of people who we can and should market to, this is rarely an accurate view of the world. In reality, those that are likely to buy our products and services are usually a hodgepodge of individuals from different communities and interest groups.

Marketing best practice engenders this skewed perspective. By doing keyword research, user interviews, and creating buyer personas, we’re building up a picture of the world as viewed by a fictional cohort.

“By doing keyword research, user interviews, and creating buyer personas, we’re building up a picture of the world as viewed by a fictional cohort.”

In the world of content marketing, we’re then tasked with the challenge of creating content that appeals to the interests of these people. But how can you create content that appeals to a group of people who don’t really identify as a group of people?

Let’s take a fairly straightforward example — the equally fictional musical instrument repair shop, “Don’t Fret,” run by our very own creative director.

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The potential customer base for Don’t Fret is people who need instruments repaired in Somerville, MA. There are probably two characteristics that unite this group:

  • They own musical instruments that need repair
  • They spend time in Somerville, MA

Other than that, everything else will be varied. Some of these people will be musicians themselves, some will have children who play, and some will be restoring antiques or family heirlooms. Some will have guitars, some will have cellos, and there might be the occasional oud in the mix. Some will be professionals who need a set-up to withstand regular touring, and others will be hobbyists who mostly play at home.

In short, even for a small local business like this, there’s not a whole lot that unites the entire customer base. If my task is to create content that will appeal to all customers, I’m stuck with a fairly narrow brief: I must create something that will appeal to harpists and lutists, amateurs and professionals, collectors and layman i.e. everyone, and therefore, no-one.

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It’s easy to see how trying to be all things to all people, even for a local business with a clear audience and value proposition, often leads marketers towards creating uninteresting and uninspiring content.

Target customers, so defined, are not a group of people you can create content for. It’s a made-up group of people, an abstraction that can be helpful for you in categorizing users and interactions, but one that typically doesn’t reflect anything tangible in the real world.

While it may be incoherent to think of potential customers as a group of people to create content for, there are invariably plenty of very real interest groups that can meaningfully be served by great content marketing.

What makes them good targets are a clear shared interest that spurs a great deal of conversation, with desires and challenges related to that interest. These groups will tend to coalesce around things that significantly contribute to an individual’s identity — subcultures, passions, culture, vocations, and causes.

“These groups will tend to coalesce around things that significantly contribute to an individual’s identity — subcultures, passions, culture, vocations, and causes.”

Our challenge, as marketers, is to identify these niche audiences by finding extremely active and passionate interest groups that are tangentially related to our customer base i.e. communities that a substantial number of our existing customers are a part of.

image1

For the “Don’t Fret” guitar shop, we can see how different communities based on professions and hobbies can intersect with the customer base to provide niche audiences that have clear desires, needs, and challenges as communities.

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Now, there are some fairly straightforward ways of discovering these types of niche audiences for your business.

Interview your customers

Rather than just asking for their opinions on your product or service, use this opportunity to find out what makes them tick. Ask them how they spend their free time, what kind of websites they regularly visit, what organizations they’re members of, and what communities they consider themselves a part of.

Mine subreddits

If there’s a subculture, there’s usually a subreddit. Explore the depths of Reddit to discover what kinds of topics your potential customers are regularly talking about.

Explore Twitter data

Use tools like SparkToro and Followerwonk to find out what topics and content your existing customer base are most readily engaging with on Twitter. Discover if there are any trends in how people identify themselves in their bios, and look at the content of tweets to determine the topics that ignite passionate reactions.

Increasingly, effective word of mouth distribution is not only a “nice to have” that can help things go viral, but an essential ingredient in ensuring any successful content marketing campaign. Unless your content is being shared organically, both on private social networks (e.g. Slack, Whatsapp) and public ones (e.g. Twitter, Facebook), then it simply won’t be found. Both search and social are becoming “winner takes all” games, and the winner is the content that secures the most organic interest.

Word of mouth is fuelled by conversation, so the crucial first step in securing word of mouth distribution is picking a niche audience that talks to one another.

talking

Unless you represent a sports team, your customers probably won’t talk to each other on a regular basis, so this necessitates moving as far away from this broad, all-encompassing audience as possible and towards a very focused target group.

The more niche your target audience, the more likely you are to be able to create the best content in the world for that community. There’s a wealth of content that’s created to loosely appeal to broad demographics and industries, but very little that’s made for the communities of a few thousand people who are super-passionate about specific things.

You create word of mouth by finding your nerds. Take again, our creative director’s fictional repair shop, “Don’t Fret.” We could create content about how to restring a guitar‚ which would appeal very loosely to most of our customers. But, there are a million and one tutorials online that explain how to restring a guitar, and ours would be adding nothing new to the pile, meaning very few people would care, and the content likely wouldn’t get found.

“There are a million and one tutorials online that explain how to restring a guitar and ours would be adding nothing new to the pile.”

However, if we decide to create some content about how to reduce humidity fluctuations in a dive bar, aimed at sound technicians, we’ll be creating genuinely unique content that’s extremely interesting just for the small subset of people who manage live sound at neighborhood bars and clubs around the world.

Because it will appeal to those folks specifically, this content will stand a better chance of being shared, and these sound engineers will grow an affinity towards our brand because we created something genuinely useful and interesting for them. They might then recommend us to the people they speak to regularly (musicians), who in turn discover and recommend us to those they influence, and so on.

image3

This content will then eventually lead to awareness and affinity amongst our target audience, even though the content is far too specific to be of interest to the vast majority of people who need an instrument repaired.

This is why, paradoxically, targeting extremely niche audiences, and making the best content in the world for them is the most scalable way to increase affinity amongst a broad base of potential customers.

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Video Marketing

Season 1 is Done: Binge-Watch All of Brandwagon

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Phew, releasing our weekly talk show for marketers, Brandwagon, has been a super exciting ride (car pun intended). And if you’ve been keeping up for the last 10 episodes, you might’ve learned why Mailchimp is investing more in content and less in advertising, gleaned insights about building authentic brands from inspiring leaders like Lauren Fleshman, the Co-Founder of Picky Bars, and Nancy Dussault Smith, CMO of Hydrow, and you might’ve even learned why Rand Fishkin, co-founder of SparkToro, hates Google so much. Not only that, but you saw our team expense a ‘91 Volvo wagon and commission an artist to make it the ultimate — you guessed it — Brandwagon.

Binge-Watch Brandwagon

And if you haven’t been following along, we think it’s safe to say that you have some catching up to do. But, no need to spin those wheels! Now you don’t have to pump the brakes between episodes, because the entire season is out and ready to binge-watch. So, bust out the snacks, tune in at your desk (it’s an educational show, after all), and learn what it takes to build a memorable brand from experts in the marketing industry. Ready to binge-watch Brandwagon? Click below to hop on in to the first season!

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5 Key Takeaways from Season One of “The Brandwagon Interviews” Podcast

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If you’re a marketer and you like podcasts, then the first season of The Brandwagon Interviews might just be the perfect podcast for you. For 10 weeks, we invited 10 special guests from an array of industries onto the set of Brandwagon to talk about all things brand marketing with Wistia’s CEO, Chris Savage. From Mailchimp to UM Worldwide and Harpoon Brewery to ProfitWell, we’ve learned a lot from the masterminds behind these amazing brands.

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In this post, we’re highlighting the most valuable lessons learned from all the conversations that were featured on The Brandwagon Interviews podcast. Be sure to listen to each episode on your favorite streaming platform and read on for our key takeaways!

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher

When Dan Kenary, CEO of Harpoon Brewery, and Mark DiCristina, Head of Brand at Mailchimp, dropped by our studio, they both knew what it was like competing in saturated markets. Despite being in different industries, Kenary and DiCristina knew that the best way to stand out amongst the competition was to differentiate their brands.

Harpoon Brewery was one of the first craft breweries on the East Coast. However, it wasn’t long before competition exploded in the craft brewery and microbrewery space. So, how did they differentiate themselves? Kenary explained that the company focused on building a strong brand and connecting with their customers. Even without flashy advertising, this strategy helped the brand cut through the competition. To differentiate themselves further, Harpoon also created a sub-brand called UFO, which helped the business appeal to a new segment and grow in unexpected ways. And today, knowing their brand like the back of their hand, Harpoon manages a house of five distinct brands all under the Harpoon umbrella.

In the early days of Mailchimp, a marketing automation software platform, the company wasn’t the biggest or well-funded fish in the sea by a long shot. DiCristina described how Mailchimp understood they wouldn’t be successful by playing the same game as everyone else. Instead of outspending other companies and competing with them on a dollar for dollar basis, DiCristina said, “ … our approach, which is really a credit to Ben, our CEO and co-founder, was to be as different as we possibly could and use our weakness as a strength.” Ultimately, DiCristina said what ended up helping Mailchimp stand out was their appetite for being weird and playful, and their belief in creating real connections with their customers.

mailchimp

From the experiences of both Kenary and DiCristina, it’s clear that making your brand a key differentiator can help you stand out in markets where everyone is stuck in a similar mold. Let your brand communicate more about your values and trust that you’ll connect with the right folks.

The second lesson we learned was about consistency and why it’s a crucial part of the recipe for creating a strong brand. Veronica Parker-Hahn, SVP of Growth and Innovation at Effie Worldwide, and Dan Kenary of Harpoon had a few words to say about the importance of strategic rigor and remaining consistent.

Parker-Hahn began her career in the advertising industry, and over the past 15 years, she’s worked with major brands like DirecTV, State Farm Insurance, Reebok, and many more. Over the years, she’s learned that creativity is only a fraction of what builds a strong brand. Building a strong brand and creating an effective campaign starts with a deliberate, well-thought-out strategy. In addition to strategic rigor, you need to identify your values, and she emphasized, “ … what your brand stands for should permeate everything you do.”

veronica

Kenary also shared similar sentiments about remaining consistent with your brand. At Harpoon, they built the brand under the banner, “Love Beer. Love Life.,” and to this day, they ensure every interaction they have with consumers is consistent with what they’re trying to represent. In Kenary’s mind, if you’re not consistent, your brand loses meaning and people stop paying attention. Whether it’s communicating with someone in customer service or hosting a seasonal festival, every touchpoint with the consumer matters.

So, when thinking about building a stronger brand for your business, remember to always start with a solid strategy. Then, when it comes to executing on that strategy, make sure you understand the audience you want to reach and what makes them tick. Stay super consistent with the values you want to convey, both internally and externally, and you’ll be able to create a well-loved brand with a ton of loyal fans.

“Stay super consistent with the values you want to convey, both internally and externally, and you’ll be able to create a well-loved brand with a ton of loyal fans.”

Speaking of knowing the type of audience you want to reach, it really helps to know your niche inside and out when building your brand. Lauren Fleshman, Co-Founder and CMO of Picky Bars, and Patrick Campbell, CEO of ProfitWell, have discovered the many benefits of appealing to a niche audience.

As a former Nike-sponsored athlete, Lauren Fleshman grew to become an exceptional storyteller. In order to renew sponsorship deals, she recognized the importance of marketing her values, and when she started her own business, she marketed Picky Bars in the energy bar industry leading with the brand’s values. Lauren believes brands should lead with their values because it helps you find out why people like you in the first place. Then, you can lean into your niche and trust your brand will build from there.

One of the ways Lauren dove deep into Picky Bars’ niche was by starting a podcast with her husband called Work, Play, Love, where they chat transparently about all the mess-ups and struggles they’ve encountered running the company so far. Not only do they talk about the business, but they also open up about their relationship and balancing all the chaos of regular day-to-day life, giving their audience an opportunity to have a deeper connection with them and the Picky Bars brand.

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At ProfitWell, a subscription software company, Patrick Campbell is appealing to a niche and building an engaged audience for the brand by creating binge-worthy video series. Along with their series Pricing Page Teardown, Subscription 60, The ProfitWell Report and Protect the Hustle, Campbell told Savage that ProfitWell has over 10 distinct shows in the works. Episodic video content has become one of ProfitWell’s primary marketing vehicles because traditional advertising campaigns and written content have become less effective for them over the past few years. Producing shows doesn’t guarantee more conversion, but they’re better at keeping their audience engaged with their brand, rather than aggravating them with intrusive ads.

Trying to reach a niche might sound counter-intuitive, but Campbell encourages people to get comfortable with marketing to niche audiences. You may not see the impact right off the bat, but there’s inherent value in developing an engaged audience over time.

For Picky Bars and ProfitWell, going all-in on their niche audiences has helped their business’ build better brand affinity than if they tried appealing to everyone. After all, the number of impressions you make with a campaign does not equal the number of people impressed.

Want to learn more about Brand Affinity Marketing? Check out our new four-step playbook for all the nitty-gritty details.

Throughout The Brandwagon Interviews, we also noticed that many of our guests were strong believers in taking risks and experimenting with new and innovative marketing tactics. When it comes to building a stronger brand and surviving (and thriving!) in any industry, risk-taking often seemed to be a necessary part of achieving success.

As the CMO of Hydrow, an in-home rowing machine company offering a live outdoor reality experience, Nancy Dussault Smith discussed why it’s important to make space for experimenting with different types of brand marketing tactics. Having worked with innovative products like Hydrow and Roomba in her career, Dussault Smith says she always dedicates a portion of her budget to testing things out, and that’s where she’s seen many wins come in. By using small victories from experimentation as proof, she’s convinced C-suite executives to take bigger swings with their investments when it comes to building a brand.

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Rand Fishkin, CEO and Co-Founder of SparkToro, is no stranger to taking risks, either. After all, he ended up building an iconic brand around his “Whiteboard Fridays” video series at Moz simply because he was tired of writing blog posts week after week. In order to convince people at your company to get on board with investing more in brand-building activities, he recommends you show value early on and highlight the fact that your competition is already doing it. To urge higher-ups to invest even more in brand, he recommends putting together research and presenting it along with suggestions for next steps that’ll level the playing field. Similar to Nancy’s approach, Fishkin also said that making one small investment can be used as a proof-point to justify another small investment.

“In order to convince people at your company to get on board with investing more in brand-building activities, he recommends you show value early on and highlight the fact that your competition is already doing it.”

Over at UM Worldwide, a full-service media agency, Brendan Gaul, Global Chief Content Officer and Head of UM Studios, is exercising innovative thinking on a large scale and with a bigger budget. He pointed out that brands need to think of interesting new ways to connect with people because consumers are moving to ad-free platforms. For example, when Johnson & Johnson wanted to elevate the image of nurses around the world from doctor sidekicks to the heroes of healthcare, Gaul pitched a rather out-of-the-box idea for a documentary film called 5B. While this was certainly a risky investment for the brand, the documentary went on to win the Grand Prix for Entertainment at the 2019 Cannes Lions Festival for Creativity. This big win validated the notion that brand-funded content can be accepted by audiences and that creative risk-taking can pay off for brands.

brendan

“He pointed out that brands need to think of interesting new ways to connect with people because consumers are moving to ad-free platforms.”

No matter what industry you’re in, getting comfortable with risk-taking and knowing how to convince others to get comfortable with it, too, is key. After all, in order to compete in a constantly changing marketing landscape, you have to innovate and take risks to stay relevant and stand out amongst the competition.

The final lesson we took away from the first season of The Brandwagon Interviews, is just how important it is to create content for your audience that offers real value. Mark DiCristina of Mailchimp, Brendan Gaul of UM, and Patrick Campbell of ProfitWell, all have something in common — their teams create engaging video content that helps build better brand affinity.

Recently, Mailchimp has been releasing short-form video series, films, and podcasts out of their own new content studio, Mailchimp Presents. DiCristina said, “Mailchimp’s mission has always been about empowering small businesses and helping them succeed and grow. We’ve always done that with software, but over the last couple of years, we began to feel like there are other ways that we can do that.” With content that inspires, motivates, and makes people feel like they’re not alone, Mailchimp Presents has developed a valuable platform for an audience of entrepreneurs, while increasing the amount of time people spend with their overarching brand.

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As we mentioned before, ProfitWell is also engaging niche audiences through multiple video series of their own. Not only is their content valuable for consumers, but they’ve also found value in repurposing clips for their marketing efforts. What ProfitWell is doing here is treating their video content like a product, which is advice we took to heart when promoting our own four-part docu-series, One, Ten, One Hundred (and spoiler alert, it worked!).

At the end of the day, consumers are able to sniff out content that’s solely based on trying to sell them more stuff, and people are keenly aware when brands are phony with their intentions. That’s why brands need to know when they have — or need to earn — permission to be a part of important conversations. For smaller companies, the need to create powerful content like the biggest brands can be overwhelming. But, approaching content humbly and understanding the value your company can genuinely offer to a niche audience will help you define your brand.

Now that you’ve heard from several masterminds behind amazing brands on The Brandwagon Interviews, get out there and put their wisdom to good use. From one marketer to another, establishing a strong brand in the modern marketing world is more important than ever. So, let these key takeaways guide you toward building a better brand and creating a more engaged audience who will stand by your business for a long time.

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