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Episode 6: “The Brandwagon Interviews” Podcast with Brendan Gaul of UM 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 Lauren Fleshman, Co-founder and CMO of Picky Bars, 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, Brendan Gaul, Global Chief Content Officer and Head of UM Studios at the full-service media agency UM Worldwide.

Check out the episode to hear Brendan talk about the agency’s award-winning documentary film, 5B, and discuss how brands are shifting their strategies to create original content as traditional advertising platforms disappear.

Or listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher

Watch the actual Brandwagon episode here!

UM Worldwide works with some of the world’s largest business-to-consumer brands like Coca-cola, Spotify, BMW, Sony Pictures, and Johnson & Johnson. When Johnson & Johnson wanted to find a way to elevate the image of nurses around the world from doctor sidekicks to the heroes of healthcare, Brendan pitched the idea for a documentary film called 5B.

Flashing forward — 5B won the Grand Prix for Entertainment at the 2019 Cannes Lions Festival for Creativity, which was the first time a media agency has ever won the award. For Gaul, this win validated that brand-funded content can be accepted by audiences and industries.

On this episode, we hear more about how other brands are creating content in ways that offer value for their audiences, and Brendan shares exercises smaller companies can do to help define their brands, too.

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On this episode of The Brandwagon Interviews, Brendan Gaul explains the decision-making behind UM’s unique piece of branded content and advises how brands, both big and small, can approach creating content humbly.

Here are some of the lessons learned throughout the episode:

  • Think of innovative ways to reach customers who’ve moved away from ad-free platforms
  • Create content that offers value for your audience
  • Don’t try to reach the “average customer”; reach your high-value audience

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

2:51 – A non-traditional career path

After chatting about Brendan’s favorite dessert and the current state of New York diners, Savage and Gaul talk about Gaul’s winding career path to working with some of the world’s biggest brands. Brendan talks about getting his start in film school at Pratt in Brooklyn, but quickly found himself immersed in the world of fashion retail when he took a job (to pay for off-campus housing) at the first Armani Exchange in NYC. Brendan learned about brand experiences through his work with luxury brands like LVMH, Sephora, and Donna Karan. With these brands, he saw first-hand how brands created immersive brand experiences that tapped into all five senses. He also got a sense of how different brands relate to one another in commercial environments.

12:21 – Moving into advertising

After the attacks on New York on September 11, Donna Karan underwent a restructuring that left Brendan without a job, giving him time to reflect on what his next steps would be. During this time, he was introduced to the world of advertising. He leveraged his experience from film school and consumer-experience design to art direct several commercials for Lowes. The work got him a job at then McCann Erickson. Brendan shares how his career has advanced from there and what he does today at UM Worldwide.

17:38 – Changing to survive

At UM, Brendan works with some of the biggest B2C brands in the world, including Amex, Coca Cola, Levis, BMW, Johnson &Johnson, and more. He points out how changing media landscapes are forcing these iconic brands to evolve and change the ways they do things. Savage asks if this is the challenge for big brands today. Brendan talks about how consumers are moving to ad-free platforms, so brands need to think of innovative and interesting ways to reach those customers. The two discuss Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp and their declaration that “the future is private” as examples of diminishing advertising space, and Gaul shares the benefits of working with big brands in big media.

22:57 – 5B

UM worked with Johnson & Johnson to create the documentary film 5B, which was shown at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. The idea for the documentary came from Johnson & Johnson’s efforts to elevate the image of nurses around the world from doctor sidekicks to the heroes of healthcare that they are. The documentary had an impressive showing at Cannes, winning the Entertainment Grand Prix at the show among other awards. Savage and Gaul talk about how the film came to be, and the decision-making behind this unique piece of branded content.

41:09 – “If you’re putting content out there that’s solely based on trying to sell more stuff, the consumer smells it.”

How do brands know whether they can do something like what Johnson and Johnson did with 5B? Gaul talks about how brands need to know that they have — or need to earn — permission to be a part of cultural conversations. Savage and Gaul discuss how brands can approach content humbly and note examples of brands trying to act in spaces where they aren’t welcome. They go on to discuss other examples of brands who are creating content in ways that offer value for their audiences.

51:06 – The big-brand playbook

While it’s relatively easy for the biggest brands to create powerful content, Savage wants to know what smaller companies can learn from this type of content strategy. Brendan admits that it can be easy for smaller companies to be overwhelmed by the need to create content, but offers some practical advice and exercises smaller companies can do to help define their brands.

55:23 – “You had me until you said ‘average consumer.’”

How can B2B companies reach average consumers like B2C brands do? Brendan points out that the goal isn’t to reach an “average consumer,” but to reach your high-value audience and goes on to describe how smaller, B2B companies and local businesses can think about their products. He offers some ideas on how to position themselves for their best audiences.

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Why Your Next Product Line Should be Binge-Worthy Content

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For most businesses, building a brand comes down to creating memorable experiences for your customers and prospects — within your product, amongst your sales and support teams, on your website, in your stores, and more.

We call this the “brand experience,” and it’s how businesses have typically built affinity over the years. It’s this affinity that drives word out mouth, decreases churn, and increases expansion. The company that has the strongest connection with their audience wins.

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The way we create and expand these experiences in the software world, is by investing in scaling our products. To create greater brand affinity, you need to either evolve your current products or create new ones. The challenge, of course, is that adding more products means you need more support, sales, infrastructure, engineering, etc. You need more people, more complex operations, and more investment. And you need to make sure that amazing customer experience scales, too.

Creating and investing in what it takes to support additional products can increase your brand affinity, but it’s expensive and risky to pull off. However, there is a way to scale brand affinity without those risks and overhead. Instead of investing in new product lines, we think businesses should invest in content, as a product line, through Brand Affinity Marketing.

Learning from the media company model

As we talked about at length a couple of weeks ago at our live broadcast, Change the Channel, both B2C and B2B businesses can learn a lot from media companies like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO about how to market their content. For these companies, their product is the content they offer to customers, so naturally, they’re experts at aggregating and creating it, distributing that content to the public, and then building huge audiences.

By treating your content like a product line, just like a media company would, we can start to grow more demand. Fortunately for us, mainstream media is no longer solely in charge of controlling what content consumers have available to them — there’s a huge opportunity for businesses to get in on the action, too.

Arguably the best part about treating your content like a product is how scalable it is. Once you create the asset — whether that’s a video series, podcast, documentary, books, you name it — it lives on forever. If the content doesn’t land with your intended audience, you can let it fade away into the abyss and just try something new.

Now, when we reference “content” here, we’re not just talking about another blog post or guide. We’re talking about binge-worthy content, or entertaining content that’s so good consumers can’t help but want to watch, listen, or read a lot of it in one sitting. Most importantly, the content you create has to actually add value to viewers’ lives, not just push them towards the next stage in the funnel.

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At the end of the day, it should cost you next to nothing to keep this type of content working hard for your business compared to what it would cost to support the infrastructure around a more traditional new product line. Sure, maintaining and scaling your content requires an additional investment in content and the people who create it, but it doesn’t require additional support, sales, or engineering resources.

“It should cost you next to nothing to keep this type of content working hard for your business compared to what it would cost to support the infrastructure around a more traditional new product line.”

All you need is a small team of creative folks, internal or external, who are dedicated to creating amazing content that resonates with the right niche audience. For example, last year we created our first-ever, four-part docuseries, One, Ten, One Hundred, where we explored how creativity can be born out of constraints. This series, which was scripted, shot, and produced by our own videographers here at Wistia, went on to win a Webby award for “Best Video Series” in the branded entertainment category. To put it simply, when one of your product lines is content, it has to be good.

It’s critical that the content you create provides value outside of your product or services, is truly unique, and entertaining. If you’re going to treat your content like a new product, it should be worthy of that dedicated investment.

Speaking of investment, when it comes to promoting the content you create, the risk is small compared to many other traditional marketing investments. It doesn’t cost much to be able to take really big, creative risks with your content. Plus, experimenting with your content and how it performs with niche audiences can help inform other parts of your business strategy, as well. Ultimately, the key is being clear and transparent with the other leaders at your company about the risks you plan on taking from the very beginning of these brand conversations.

Advocate for setting aside a small percentage of your overall marketing budget for experimentation, and most importantly, don’t expect to measure the outcome like you would a traditional marketing activity.

When we sat down with Nancy Dussault Smith, CMO of Hydrow, on our talk-show called Brandwagon, we asked her about how she thinks about making room in the budget for more experiential marketing tactics, and she said:

“I used to always say at places where I had bigger budgets, that a certain percentage of the budget was mine to do as I choose … and nobody could question it. I’ll take this 5 or 10% of the budget, and this is what I play with. This is where I test things that in my gut feel right, but I can’t prove this to you until I try it … and that’s where a lot of wins come in.”

Nancy Dussault Smith, CMO, Hydrow

Keep track of the time people spend with your brand — you could have a small audience, but if they spend a ton of time with your brand consuming content the impact can be outsized. If you’re creating content that adds value, you should start to see recommendations, comments, and qualitative feedback roll in while you’re waiting for the quantitative numbers to take shape.

“If you’re creating content that adds value, you should start to see recommendations, comments, and qualitative feedback roll in while you’re waiting for the quantitative numbers to take shape.”

One example of a business that has started putting a ton of value-add content out into the world is Drift, a conversational marketing platform for businesses. They’ve been creating podcasts, video series, and more over the past few years, and because of their success, they’ve recently decided to double-down on content.

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Image Credit: Drift Insider Plus

Drift Insider Plus is an exclusive on-demand content subscription platform that “ … goes a mile deeper than what you get for free on Drift.com and Drift Insider.” At $99/year, the Drift Insider Plus subscription follows the same basic model that consumers are already super familiar with. The best part about Drift’s decision to invest more in content is that they didn’t have to spend a fortune creating a new product line to figure it out. Mark Kilens, VP of Content and Community at Drift, comments on how building a brand and creating shows has been one of the best investments Drift has made to date.

“Today there are more things than ever vying for your customer’s attention. Building an enduring, authentic brand is critical to stand out from all the noise. Creating an original show is one of the best investments your business can make. Why? Because a show is going to help you grow a captive audience, and help you build a community around your brand. We’ve seen this firsthand at Drift with our original shows like Seeking Wisdom and The Marketing Swipe File. And don’t forget that you can repurpose all of your show content into audio clips, quotes and short stories, and video segments. Package up all of that valuable content into new offers to grow your sales. It’s a no brainer.”

Mark Kilens, VP of Content and Community at Drift

Because B2B companies, in particular, are so hyper-targeted with the services they provide, there’s a huge opportunity to become the top brand in your given category, by becoming an active part of the subcultures and communities that influence your target customers. Think about the current trends in media consumption outside of your business — audiences expect content to not only be specific and tailored to them, but to be high-quality and available in abundance.

Niche audiences may be smaller than the ones your marketing team is typically used to targeting, but deep connections with people who can influence potential customers purchasing behavior is far more beneficial than simply making lots of people aware that your business exists. When businesses invest in creating binge-worthy content that appeals to a community passionate about a specific topic, it’s much easier to meet demand and start conversations about your brand.

“When businesses invest in creating binge-worthy content that appeals to a community passionate about a specific topic, it’s much easier to meet demand and start conversations about your brand.”

Focusing on a niche audience also gives you the opportunity to become the go-to destination for all types of content specific to that niche over time. Instead of casting a wide net and only capturing some of your broader audience’s attention, businesses should get more specific and focus on creating content that appeals to viewers on an identity or value-based level. Members of this subculture — because they are so passionate about the topics you’re dealing with — will likely spend more time with your brand online and on your website. This can translate into sustained engagement with your content, leading to active advocacy for your brand.

Word of mouth advocacy isn’t just driven by your most active customers — it’s driven by anyone who has formed a strong opinion about your brand. By investing in content as your next product line, you create the opportunity to build this brand affinity at scale within niche audiences while keeping costs down. To build a lasting brand in the modern world, businesses need to start treating their content like a product.

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The Business Case for Building an Audience for Your Brand

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In the marketing automation space, there’s an interesting case study that puts into perspective the age-old dispute between marketers who prioritize reach and those who prioritize resonance.

Two of the biggest players in the lower and middle tiers of the marketing automation industry, HubSpot and Mailchimp, have been competing to win over as many small to medium-sized businesses as possible. HubSpot currently boasts four times as many social media followers and attracts almost double the amount of organic traffic than Mailchimp does, so one might assume HubSpot also generates more revenue and profit.

The reality, however, is that Mailchimp has overtaken HubSpot in both financial categories. In 2018, HubSpot saw $513 million in revenue while Mailchimp earned $600 million. Moreover, while HubSpot has yet to turn a profit, Mailchimp has been profitable for its entire existence. Now, that’s not to dismiss HubSpot’s huge success in any way — it just brings up an interesting question. Do more views and more leads actually result in more revenue? Not necessarily.

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If you dig a little deeper and think critically about Mailchimp’s relentless focus on audience building (which has resulted in the creation of Mailchimp Presents, a network of original content) and HubSpot’s concentration on reach, Mailchimp’s ability to generate more revenue and profit with significantly less reach than HubSpot starts to make sense.

In most marketing dashboards, reach and revenue tend to trend in the same direction. More often than not, marketing teams will notice this relationship and assume that revenue will increase when reaching as many people as possible.

However, research shows that your audience’s sentiment toward your brand is what ultimately leads to more revenue. So, contrary to popular belief, while an increase in reach can influence revenue growth, it’s not the sole driver of it — that driver is actually emotional resonance.

“Contrary to popular belief, while an increase in reach can influence revenue growth, it’s not the sole driver of it — that driver is actually emotional resonance.”

Unfortunately, most brands run with this flawed logic and adjust their marketing strategies accordingly. This misaligns their incentives, pressuring them to crank out a ton of content to generate views and leads rather than crafting content that their audience actually enjoys.

Solely focusing on reach can generate a huge amount of impressions, but the vast majority of these people won’t enter the brand’s funnel because the content is too self-serving. And most of the people who do enter their funnel will churn more rapidly because they’ll quickly lose interest in the content. As a result, these brands will generate a disproportionate amount of leads and opportunities for their sales team to close.

Creating content that is truly valuable and resonates with viewers’ core beliefs and identities gives businesses the opportunity to build loyal audiences and keep them coming back for more. Of course, we’re talking about creating binge-worthy content here — entertaining content that is so good consumers can’t help but want to watch, listen, or read a lot of it in one sitting.

Want to learn more about what binge-worthy content is all about and how your business can start creating it? Check out our new four-step Brand Affinity Marketing playbook.

As we mentioned before, Mailchimp has been investing in creating this type of content for some time now. They’ve been focusing on building resonance over reach by creating content that attracts specific types of viewers well before they may ever become a Mailchimp customer.

Our CEO and co-founder Chris Savage sat down with Mark DiCristina, their Head of Brand, on our talk show, Brandwagon, to get the inside scoop on how creating binge-worthy content has helped them build audiences, and ultimately, do more with their content by focusing less on reach.

“Mailchimp Presents is an entertainment platform entrepreneurs. 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. We can make content that inspires them and motivates them and makes them feel like they’re not alone.”

Mark DiCristina

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DiCristina goes on to explain why they’ve made this switch from focusing on awareness by investing a ton in advertising to investing their budget more in creating original content instead. When referencing the shows they’ve been creating at Mailchimp Presents, he notes, “It’s more durable, lasts longer, doesn’t require people to be interrupted … it changes our relationship with our customers. So now instead of interrupting people all the time, they want to come and engage with us.”

By focusing on creating content that resonates with viewers, businesses encourage audiences to spend more time with their brand, and when that happens, it’s more likely that viewers will become a customer in the long run.

Resonating with your audience doesn’t just help generate more revenue for your business. It also costs less, and in turn, results in more profit for your company.

When your brand is just focused on reach, only a slim, static percentage of your audience will convert into customers, so growing revenue requires a regular increase in boosting awareness. And to boost awareness, you must continually invest in advertising on platforms like Facebook and Google. While digital advertising can help people become aware of your business, it’s expensive and has increasingly become ineffective thanks to oversaturation on these platforms. Plus, just because someone knows of your brand, that doesn’t mean they feel connected to it.

“When your brand is just focused on reach, only a slim, static percentage of your audience will convert into customers, so growing revenue requires a regular increase in boosting awareness.”

On the flip side, if you focus on retaining an audience, you can generate more revenue by growing resonance. With this approach, you don’t even have to necessarily increase reach. You just have to focus on creating a lower volume of content that offers a higher level of quality and engagement.

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When you’re focused on retaining an engaged audience rather than acquiring new, less-engaged members to replace the ones who have churned, each member of your audience’s lifetime value increases. In fact, since Mailchimp launched Mailchimp Presents, they’ve noticed that the people who have engaged with their shows buy their products faster and spend more money with them. And an added bonus? Since a loyal, passionate audience produces a ton of word-of-mouth marketing for your business, you don’t have to spend as much money acquiring new audience members, which decreases customer acquisition costs.

In our interview with Mark DiCristina, he goes on to share why making binge-worthy content for your audience is actually more cost-effective than running a traditional ad campaign. Here, he compares making a podcast to advertising on one:

“In many cases, it’s often less expensive to make the podcast, and you own it forever. The reason that you buy the ad instead of making the podcast, is because you’re buying the audience, so you can get in front of people who are listening to those shows. For Mailchimp, we already have an audience … we have access to lots of people and to our customers, and they trust us. So why should we always be spending money to be in front of them when we can just make the thing?”

Mark DiCristina

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Over the years, the race for brand awareness has plagued business’ marketing strategies. We’ve continued to sacrifice the quality of our content and customer experience for the pursuit of our own goals — and our audiences are sick and tired of it.

Nowadays, anyone can instantly identify content that lacks value, ads that are just there to interrupt, and businesses that are over-optimized and disingenuous. That’s exactly why focusing on resonance and audience-building generates better business results than investing in awareness and reach alone.

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Why Existing Brand-Building Strategies Aren’t Working

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How do you build a lasting brand?

It’s an ever more prescient question in a world where the concept of the marketing funnel is breaking down, and as consumers, we’re relying more and more on our personal networks to make purchasing decisions.

If I want to buy a new camera, for example, my first port of call for tips is my WhatsApp group full of video gear-heads. And if I want to know where to get the best lobster roll in Boston, I’ll bypass Google and go straight to our #team-wistia Slack Channel.

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How do all of these recommendations come about? Some are a consequence of direct personal experience, but some are driven by word of mouth (Maureen) and others by an ineffable affinity for the state of Maine (Jay). As a business, chances are that you want to encourage more of this type of behavior.

Contemporary thinking would suggest you focus on improving your overall “brand experience” — which is the notion that every interaction customers have with your business (both inside and outside of their purchasing cycle) contributes to the overall perception of your brand, which drives preference and purchasing intent.

Because our brands have become the essential factor that dictates what we choose to buy, and most importantly, what products and services others recommend to us, this has lead businesses to invest more in it.

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Brand-building efforts centered around improving and optimizing the customer experience look like the following:

  • Designing our websites to be aesthetically pleasing and easy to use
  • Ensuring our products and services meaningfully solve customer problems
  • Offering best-in-class customer support
  • Hiring a talented and well-informed sales team
  • Creating marketing content that educates and informs potential customers

Our implicit goal here is to out-perform our competitors in each of the above areas, and thereby become the preferred vendor in our respective markets. In essence, businesses aim to create brand advocates through an amazing customer experience.

“In essence, businesses aim to create brand advocates through an amazing customer experience.”

By ensuring our existing customers love us, we hope (and assume) a good subset of them will become “net promoters,” recommending our products and services to others, increasing the positive market perception of our brand.

This way of thinking has a critical flaw.

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Image source: Reddit

If you rely on your existing customers as the potential pool of individuals who will become brand advocates, word of mouth becomes extremely hard to scale.

A situation where a positive NPS score leads to one new customer being acquired via a word-of-mouth recommendation for every ten new customers you get (a not unreasonable standard, especially in B2B), you still need to ensure a very low churn rate for your customer base to grow at all.

And to grow dramatically, you need to hit a viral coefficient of >1 (each customer brings in at least one other), which is a standard achieved by only 0.01% of new businesses.

Because, for most of us, organic word-of-mouth at a dramatic level is hard to achieve via customer experience, we end up supplementing our organic efforts with some sponsored advocacy. The staggering rise of influencer marketing over the last few years, paired with the astonishing amount of money top influencers are making today is a testament to this trend.

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But, this growth cannot continue infinitely. People are starting to slowly reduce the time they spend on social media, and there’s only so much room for sponsored posts (as well as members of the Kardashian family) before we hit oversaturation.

Therefore, we see the cost for influencer marketing growing quickly, to the point where a cost per (potential) thousand impressions is hitting >$10.

At these rates, influencer marketing looks incredibly expensive (and risky) when compared with an obvious, more measurable investment — digital advertising. And because this is expensive and untrackable, we aim to buy brand preference with ads.

This tactic, in various forms, has been the primary brand-building default for the last hundred years. The idea is based on the (now very outdated) notion that through repeated exposure to your brand, people will remember you better, and think more positively about you.

“The idea is based on the (now very outdated) notion that through repeated exposure to your brand, people will remember you better, and think more positively about you.”

In the pre-internet era, this meant buying ads in places where they were likely to be seen by potential customers — billboards, print media, TV — and then coming up with creative, compelling executions that spoke to the needs of your potential customers.

Today, most businesses create a few short, creative assets, and then pay Google and Facebook to provide as many small interactions with them as possible. This tactic, in order to be worth the investment, relies on the assumption that increasing awareness alone will increase affinity.

Because media agencies gain revenue by taking a percentage cut of ad spend, they have a vested interest in supporting this “impression-centric” model. And because big Silicon Valley giants now see the majority of revenue that was once spent on printed media and TV, they are more than happy to serve them.

This spend continues to rise, and the revenues of Google, Facebook, Havas, IPG, Omnicom, Publicis, Dentsu, and WPP continues to grow with it.

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But despite all this investment, digital advertising doesn’t work very well. Here are the factors that contribute to its downfall.

Ad blindness

Because the web is now so saturated with advertising, most users have become adept at ignoring things they don’t want to see. This means that for most people, ads just become part of the background noise of the internet rather than something they actively view and consider. Don’t believe me? Just take a moment to think about how many of the ads you’ve seen online recently that you can remember.

To mask this problem and ensure maximum revenue for themselves, media companies then sell ads primarily on a cost-per-impression or cost-per-view basis, which falsely equate trivial interactions with meaningful engagements.

Filter bubbles

Users are increasingly in control (both consciously or unconsciously) of their own digital worlds thanks to filter bubbles caused by AdBlockers, personalized search, and algorithms like Facebook EdgeRank. This means consumers often only see your ads if they have previously engaged with your content.

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Ever-increasing costs

Due to competition, channel saturation, and the increasing costs of distributing messaging on search and social, overall customer acquisition costs from advertising continue to rise.

Shortness of interactions

While most ads are ignored, even unskippable ads only last for a maximum of 30 seconds. It’s very hard to tell a compelling, emotionally resonant story in 30 seconds. Certainly, there is the exception that proves the rule — a giant consumer brand that hires the world’s best creatives and achieves viral success — but 99.9% of campaigns attempting to achieve these results fails dramatically.

In 2019, Our perceptions of companies are no longer based on how many times we’ve interacted with them in passing, but rather the depth of our personal experiences, and the experiences of those we trust, both of which are typically impacted very little by advertising. Because digital advertising doesn’t make people like you, we need to find a new way of increasing preference and world of mouth.

“Because digital advertising doesn’t make people like you, we need to find a new way of increasing preference and world of mouth.”

As marketers at businesses big and small, we need to recognize that we can’t make potential customers fall in love with us at first sight.

Constantly interrupting people with messages and short videos they didn’t ask to see is not behavior conducive to making them like us more. Sure, they may then have heard of us…but brand awareness does not inherently lead to the creation of brand advocates.

So, instead, we need to find a new marketing tactic that builds meaningful, positive connections between brands and consumers — in a scalable and cost-effective way.

We need a way to market to the circles of influence for our potential buyers and to positively dispose them to our offerings. And this is what we’re developing here at Wistia, with Brand Affinity Marketing.

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