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Episode 5: “The Brandwagon Interviews” Podcast with Lauren Fleshman of Picky Bars

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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 time, Chris sat down with Veronica Parker-Hahn, SVP of Growth & Innovation at Effie Worldwide, to learn why she believes strategic rigor is essential to building an effective brand. Today, we’re excited to share our extended interview with this week’s guest, Lauren Fleshman, Co-Founder and CMO of Picky Bars.

Check out the episode to hear how Lauren learned the power of identifying and marketing your values from her experience as a two-time US track and field champion, and a Nike-sponsored athlete.

Or listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher

Watch the actual Brandwagon episode here!

Before becoming the co-founder and CMO of Picky Bars, a real-food company that makes energy bars, oatmeals, and granolas to fuel active lifestyles, Lauren Fleshman was a highly decorated professional runner. She’s a two-time US 5K champion (her fastest mile time is 4 minutes and 23 seconds!). When she signed on as a Nike-sponsored athlete, she soon realized she was Nike’s own brand marketing asset. From this experience, she learned how to be an exceptional storyteller and the importance of marketing her values to renew sponsorship deals.

Using this wisdom, Lauren started Picky Bars and grew the business in the energy bar market. On this episode, we hear all about building your brand for the long-run by paying attention to how you make your audience feel.

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“I think you can make an interesting story out of anything. Because if you have a goal — no matter what the business is — there’s a journey involved in getting there. Everyone can relate to a journey.” On this episode of The Brandwagon Interviews, Lauren Fleshman highlights how knowing your values and telling your story will help your audience connect to your brand.

Here are some of the lessons learned throughout the episode:

  • Identify your story and decide it’s worthwhile to tell
  • Figure out why people like you and lean into that
  • Go narrow yet deep with your current audience and trust that your brand will grow from there

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

1:22 – “I think it’s helpful sometimes to be a beginner at something”

After Chris runs the best mile of his life, Lauren and Chris sit down to talk about all things brand. Chris kicks off the conversation by asking Lauren about learning how to play the violin. Despite being a champion runner and a business owner, Lauren talks about how it’s important to be a beginner at something. It’s helped her in her coaching career and has pushed her to understand certain aspects of her business in new ways.

4:14 – On being a marketing asset

Not long after her highly successful collegiate career, Lauren signed on as a Nike-sponsored athlete. She quickly came to understand the world of running from an interesting perspective: she was another brand’s marketing asset. Fleshman talks about what it was like to pitch herself to companies in hopes of renewing sponsorship deals and how being an influencer helped her learn to tell her own story.

8:55 – Changing values at Nike

Even though she had a demanding training and race schedule, Lauren still found the time to tell her own story. Early on, she realized women athletes at Nike were treated differently than male athletes. Nike advertising for women featured models instead of professional athletes whereas ads for men’s shoes and clothing featured top male athletes at the time. Fired up, Lauren emailed Nike’s CEO on a whim and ended up changing the culture at one of the world’s largest brands. The company worked with Fleshman to make the first Nike catalog featuring female athletes and produced a commercial with her.

14:04 – “Everyone can relate to a journey”

When you’re a national champion and a Nike athlete, you’ve got a pretty cool story to tell, right? But what if you’re selling insurance or golden-toe socks?! Chris asks Lauren what companies should do if they feel like they don’t have a story, or that their business is “boring.” Lauren says if you just start telling your story, and if you accept that your story is worthwhile, you’ll be surprised by how people will be interested. If you have a business, you have goals. And if you have goals, there’s a journey involved in working toward those goals. Experiencing this in her running career and with Picky Bars, she believes everyone can relate to a journey, and they’ll be invested in your successes and failures along the way.

17:40 – Layering risks

What happened after Lauren missed competing at the Olympics due to injuries? She took the downtime and started four major projects, all of which she fully expected to fail. Fleshman describes how low-risk ventures can feel worthwhile in the face of failure because impacting even a few people in your community can have a great benefit.

21:26 – Starting Picky Bars

Chris asks Lauren about how she started Picky Bars, which are energy bars made with whole foods and balanced for sport. The story began when Lauren was on a break from running and wanted to help her husband and triathlete, Jesse Thomas, find an energy bar that wouldn’t mess with his digestive system (and fill the house with unwanted…gas). Lauren continues to tell the origin story of her business and how the brand grew organically.

26:47 – Growing a business in a crowded space

The energy bar market is saturated with products of all shapes, sizes, and claims. So, how did Lauren begin marketing Picky Bars and differentiate the brand in a crowded space? She first focused on her community and doubled down efforts on her personal blog. Then she drew on her experience as a sponsored influencer for other brands to market Picky Bars.

28:32 – Understanding your values

Lauren’s personal values have a ton of overlap with the brand values at Picky Bars. Chris wonders how you discover and define your values as a brand. Lauren explains how she began to define her own values and why she thinks it’s important for brands to lead with their values. Often, it’s about looking at what’s working and identifying why people like you in the first place, and then leaning into that.

32:14 – Finding a home at Oiselle

Amidst the discussion about values, Lauren mentions how she began to feel out of alignment with Nike due to their policies around athletes starting families. At that time she fell in love with Oiselle, a clothing company for female athletes, and left Nike to work with Oiselle, who helped her scale her values to affect more change and impact more people. Fleshman describes how she felt more motivated to work for Oiselle because their values aligned. This has fundamentally changed how she feels about sponsorship opportunities and how to inspire employees.

36:53 – Marketing your values

Chris asks how companies should market their values once they define them. Picky Bars and Oiselle both tell brand stories that reflect their brand values. In doing that, Lauren’s noticed that brands have the power to change the culture of the industries in which they operate.

40:15 – Creating brand affinity with Work, Play, Love

In 2018, Lauren and her husband started a podcast called Work, Play, Love. The podcast focuses on the intersection between sports, entrepreneurship, and relationships. On the podcast, the couple talks about their experience running Picky Bars — including all of their mess-ups and struggles — they offer advice on balancing life with goals in sport, and they talk about their relationship. Chris asks why they decided to be so open about their business and Lauren talks about how it gives their audience an opportunity to have a deeper connection with them and the Picky Bars brand. She describes how doing a show like Work, Play, Love has helped their business.

44:43 – CEO recaps

Lauren recommends that small businesses create a CEO recap for their fans, the same way a CEO would brief investors on the state of the business. She talks about the benefits of being open with your audience, both for your customers and for yourself.

47:24 – “Decide your story’s worthwhile”

What advice does Lauren have for marketers who are thinking about making shows and being their own spokespeople? She says that the first step is deciding that your story is worthwhile. Then? Go narrow and deep with your current audience and trust that your brand will build from there.

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Video Marketing

How to Nail Your Video Series’ Concept With a Show Positioning Statement

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Creating an original video series is an exciting endeavor for marketers. But, since it’s also probably a brand-new endeavor, you may not have a process in place for vetting show concepts. Fortunately, one of the most effective ways to create a concept worthy of loyal followers is to root it in your brand’s existing values.

That’s because people buy what you stand for as much as what you sell. If they can connect with your brand on a personal level through your values, they’ll want to spend time with your content and eventually, do business with you.

Writing what we call a Show Positioning Statement will guarantee that your video content is grounded in and reflects your company values. Here at Wistia, doing so has helped us drive the concepts and creative direction of our Webby Award-winning docuseries One, Ten, One Hundred, and our talk show for marketers, Brandwagon.

Learn how to write your own in this post to ensure that your idea for a video series is as reflective of your values as it is binge-worthy.

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Your Show Positioning Statement describes who you’re creating your binge-worthy content for, what message you’re communicating, and why your audience should care. It’s the foundation of your video series and the compass for its creative direction.

For every show you create, you should have a unique Show Positioning Statement, which should include three core elements: audience, insight, and theme. Once you identify each one, frame your Show Positioning Statement like this: “We connect with people who [audience], but [insight], by [theme].

Below are some examples of Show Positioning Statements that a B2C and B2B brand might write (they’re totally hypothetical, mind you). Follow these examples and then get started on your very own!

Audience: The subculture you’re targeting

The first step to crafting a Show Positioning Statement is identifying your target audience — ideally, a group of people outside your existing audience who share a unique belief. You might call this group a subculture or niche audience.

For a company that sells cold-pressed lemonade made without any added ingredients and believes that food and drink should improve people’s lives, their target audience could be people who strive to live a healthy, additive-free lifestyle.

After identifying this target audience, the lemonade brand’s Show Positioning Statement starts to look like this: “We connect with people who want to eat and drink more healthily.”

Insight: The unique problem your audience grapples with

The next step to crafting a Show Positioning Statement is uncovering an insight about your audience. As one of the most frustrating problems your subculture faces and is constantly trying to solve, the insight highlights the gap between their aspiration and their current situation.

For the lemonade brand’s target audience — people who want to eat and drink more healthily — one of their biggest challenges is differentiating between food and beverages that are nutritious and the ones that claim to be. This is a prevalent problem in the lemonade industry, where an overflow of brands mass-produce their beverages by mixing powder with water but still claim they’re natural and healthy.

Locked onto this insight, the lemonade brand’s Show Positioning Statement could look like this: “We connect with people who want to eat and drink more healthily but don’t know how to identify packaged food that is actually nutritious.”

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Theme: The solution to your audience’s problem

The final step in crafting your Show Positioning Statement is picking a theme, which offers a solution to your insight. As always, make sure it aligns with your brand’s values. Otherwise, your audience will perceive your brand as disingenuous and might disengage from your content.

To offer a solution to their audience’s pressing problem, the lemonade brand could show their audience how to identify nutritious food and drinks by examining the ingredients. They could also recommend certain brands from each food and beverage group.

With their theme determined, this brand’s Show Positioning Statement might end up looking like this: “We connect with people who want to eat and drink more healthily but don’t know how to identify packaged food that’s actually nutritious by exploring what ingredients actually make them healthy or not.”

Audience: The subculture you’re targeting

For this example, we’re going to talk about a brand whose software connects companies with freelancers. To attract the best customers, they need to attract the best freelancers, as the talent of the freelancers ultimately makes or breaks their product. With a target audience of people who want to build a successful freelance career, this brand’s Show Positioning Statement could look like this: “We connect with people who want to build a successful freelance career.”

Insight: The unique problem your audience grapples with

Being a freelancer is one of the toughest gigs around. You’re constantly hustling to finish projects, market your brand, and, toughest of all, close more deals. Given how prevalent this insight is in the freelance industry, this brand’s Show Positioning Statement could be: “We connect with people who want to build a successful freelance career but struggle to thrive in a cutthroat industry. ”

Theme: The solution to your audience’s problem

To help solve this problem, this brand could inspire their audience to persevere and find success as freelancers by creating a documentary about how some of the most successful freelancers have built their careers. After selecting this theme, this brand’s Show Positioning Statement could be: “We connect with people who want to build a successful freelance career but struggle to thrive in a cutthroat industry by inspiring them to persevere and find success through true, motivational stories from successful freelancers.”

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As you can see, by running these hypothetical businesses and their brand values through the Show Positioning Statement framework, we could easily generate a relevant, emotionally-resonant concept for their next video series. And at the end of the day, the most important part of crafting a video series is creating a compelling concept. Just think about your favorite shows and films. Do you love them and keep coming back for more because of their actors, cinematography, or special effects? Or do you love them for their stories? In most cases, it’s the latter. And that’s exactly why you need to invest time in perfecting your video series’ concept.

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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.

dontfret

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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