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What Consumer Brands Can Teach Small Businesses About Building an Audience

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“Restaurants are content creators,” Sweetgreen co-founder Jonathan Neman said in a 2018 interview with Recode. “[O]ur salads are our hits.”

B2B companies are also starting to view themselves as brands and platforms that provide greater value than just their products or services. Many are creating branded shows like podcasts, video series, and documentaries; others are building interactive experiences; and some are even creating alternate brands and products in order to reach new audiences. But if you want your audience to grow, it’s not enough to just create great content — you need to consistently connect with people over the topics your content touches upon.

Successful B2C brands like Sweetgreen, Casper, and Glossier know a thing or two about getting audiences to talk about their content, whether that’s salads, sleepless nights, or beauty regimens. Why not take a page out of the B2C audience-building book when it comes to expanding your own audience as a small business? It may sound a little daunting at first, but the pay off for your business is worth it in the long run.

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Sweetgreen was started from three college students’ desire to get healthy food, fast, and has grown into a tech unicorn with a $1B valuation. There’s a lot Sweetgreen has gotten right, from its online ordering system to the way the company manages supply chains for different regions. Beyond logistics, the brand has started its own music festival and even runs a health education program. But how does Sweetgreen stay top of mind with its diners? Regular menu changes.

Sweetgreen has core salad offerings, but the stores update menus each and every season — plus, menus are adapted to reflect local climates and preferences. If the core salads are Sweetgreen’s hits, the new salads are remixes.

Sweetgreen relies on user data and focus groups to make menu decisions and tries to anticipate when a menu change will make people unhappy. To communicate the change, the company will send out emails to people who regularly order a particular salad that’s being retired. This attention to detail, proactive outreach, and customer TLC pays off in the positive responses the brand gets on social media — and through the growing lines at stores. The constant refreshes and improvements have helped Sweetgreen grow a cultish following over the years.

Just look at the number of searches “sweetgreen menu” has gained over time:

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So, how can you keep your B2B content fresh and exciting for your audience, just like Sweetgreen does with their salads?

  • Deliver new content regularly. Sweetgreen is able to secure brand loyalists and grow its audience by delivering fresh content on a seasonal schedule. The anticipation is part of the fun for longtime fans, and the new offerings open the brand up to new ones.
  • Be local and personal. When dreaming up new content ideas, ground your research in the communities you’re trying to reach. Sweetgreen does over a year of in-person research in new markets to find out what to put on menus. The only way to create a message that resonates is to actually talk to people.
  • Overcommunicate changes. If you’re delivering something new or different to people, tell them exactly why you’re doing it and what folks can expect. Send people individual messages and create lots of social, blog, and video content to support the new directions you’re taking.

Tailoring the content you create — whether that’s a blog post, a podcast, or a video series — to your audience based on research, focus groups, and surveys is a sure-fire way to make your content resonate on a personal level. Don’t be afraid to change things up — it may be the fuel your word-of-mouth engine needs to really get going.

A lot of marketers talk about zeroing-in on pain points and trying to alleviate them for their customers. But how far would you be willing to go to connect with your target audience over a pain point? Mattress company Casper has centered its extensive storytelling efforts over the years on sleep health and science, going as far as staying up late to talk to people with insomnia every night.

“Casper has centered its extensive storytelling efforts over the years on sleep health and science, going as far as staying up late to talk to people with insomnia every night.”

Casper’s Twitter feed, with 114K followers, is the brand’s direct line to its audience. One Shorty Award-winning tactic Casper used to build its audience was to tweet bedtime stories, using the hashtag #linksomnia, to people who were complaining of sleeplessness late at night.

The insomnia story continued in 2016 when Casper created a bot and a toll-free hotline to entertain people at night. Neither the bot, Insomnobot-3000, nor the hotline mention Casper, but both got people talking in the press and on social.

The bot had a lot of personality, leading people to post screenshots and send them to the brand:

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Image source,Wordstream blog

Casper also publishes helpful and humorous articles about insomnia on its various publishing platforms, including Casper’s wellness site, Woolly, and the mattress-review site Sleepopolis, which Casper doesn’t technically own (it helped finance the site’s acquisition by JAKK Media in 2017). The company also sponsors a podcast, The Insomnia Project, to help people fall asleep. In many ways, Casper is becoming a go-to source for insomnia information online.

So, how can B2B brands keep audiences awake (pun intended) and engaged with their content just like Casper does?

  • Join and start conversations directly on social. Chances are you’ve already identified the main problems plaguing your audience (if you haven’t yet, check out this post and learn how to identify what makes your audience tick). Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the people participating in the conversations happening on social media. Or alternatively, start a new conversation with a branded hashtag that will make responses easy to follow. Be sure to contribute positively with knowledge, helpful tips and tools, or entertaining tidbits, like Casper does.
  • Go cross-platform. From tweets to bots to podcasts, Casper has gone deep on the issue of insomnia. They’ve successfully made their brand the center of conversations about sleeplessness all over the web. Think about diversifying your content creation efforts — don’t just share posts on your blog. Think about where else people are consuming content and spread the word there.
  • Read the room. While much of Casper’s insomnia content is lighthearted, the issue of insomnia isn’t exactly funny. Casper’s content toes the line between serious and playful, joking around about late-night cravings and TV binges, but also letting people know they’re not alone. If you’re taking on serious issues in your content, be friendly and approachable, but above all else, respectful with your tone.

Engaging with people around a pain point builds intimacy with your audience and that closeness contributes to growth. Opening up a conversation around a particular issue establishes trust and makes people feel more comfortable sharing their concerns with you. Because Casper has made the effort to be a part of these conversations around sleep health, their brand has become part of the greater wellness movement.

“Opening up a conversation around a particular issue establishes trust and makes people feel more comfortable sharing their concerns with you.”

As brands across the B2B world start to act more like media companies, it’s important that we learn from what B2C companies have already done before us. Want to start growing your audience with the content you create? That’s great! Jump into the conversations they’re having in real time, listen to what your audience wants and needs more of, and celebrate them when they show up for your brand.

Whether you invest in a video series, a podcast, or even a documentary, the goal is to build up trust in your brand just like you would with your product. At the end of the day, audience building is all about sharing ideas (and feelings) with the right people and creating a brand relationship that stands the test of time.

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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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Announcing Change the Channel: A Live Event from Wistia HQ!

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Online marketing is getting harder — there are fewer new channels, the best tactics are known, our playbooks don’t work like they used to, and our technology is no longer a competitive advantage.

To stand out in a world with unlimited distractions we have to build brands that are strong. Brands that have clear values and brands that our audiences care about.

To win, we need to create more brand advocates who believe in what we are doing and who will help us share our stories.

On October 2 at 1 p.m. EST, my-co-founder Brendan Schwartz and I are going to be hosting a special live broadcast called Change the Channel. We’re going to share what we’ve learned about building brands, where we see marketing heading, and what you can expect from Wistia in the coming years. We’ll even hear from a few special guests from InVision and ThriveHive — companies that are already building incredible brands.

Now it wouldn’t be Wistia if you weren’t able to be involved in this announcement as well. Before tuning in, be sure to download our Change the Channel Bingo Card* and play along for the chance to win an all-in-one mobile video studio, aka the Wistia Soapbox Station. Print a card out for yourself, or pass them around your office! Three winners will be chosen at random on each channel. Here’s how to enter:

  1. Snap a picture holding your winning card
  2. Post it to Twitter or Instagram
  3. Tag @wistia & use the hashtag #watchCTC

Be sure to register and watch the livestream on Wednesday, October 2 at 1 p.m. EST. And if you can’t make it, don’t worry — all registrants will receive a recording of the event once we’re done broadcasting. We hope to “see” you there!

Sign up to watch live:


*Participants and winners must be U.S. residents. Limit of one entry per person on Twitter or Instagram exclusively. Submissions must be posted by 9 AM on Thursday, October 3rd in order to be considered. Winners will be announced on Monday, October 7th. Soapbox Stations provided to eligible winners are not transferable, redeemable for cash or exchangeable for any other prize. If a winner cannot be contacted or is disqualified for any reason, Wistia reserves the right to determine an alternate winner or not to award that winner’s prize, in its sole discretion.

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What We Can Learn from Streaming Services About Audience Viewing Behavior

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There once was a time where sitting through 18 minutes of ads to watch your favorite one-hour show was an unfortunate necessity in life. Today, however, a 10-year-old wouldn’t be able to distinguish a cable box from a DVD player and binge-watching a show for hours on end is the norm. Video streaming services have clearly been dominating the space for some time now, but television networks aren’t ready to go down without a fight.

Media conglomerates that were once disrupted by the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are now entering the race to win back long lost customers. How will they go about doing it, you ask? Our best guess is by crafting impressively entertaining content. After looking at different trends in audience behavior on streaming services, marketers would be wise to take a similar approach when it comes to capturing and holding the attention of their audiences.

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Over 600 million people are now subscribed to streaming services worldwide, and the average U.S. adult watches 6 hours of video per day. However, the popularity of streaming services doesn’t just tell us that consumers expect on-demand content from every media company. It also tells us that audiences are hooked on entertainment.

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Image Credit: Variety

To feed our voracious appetite for both shows and films and, in turn, claim a healthy slice of the market, AT&T, Disney, Apple, Viacom, and Discovery all plan to launch their own streaming services this year.

This battle for market attention should push brands to raise the bar creatively, crafting content that their audience can’t help but want to consume. For instance, imagine if your audience held your docu-series in the same regard as Last Chance U, or if they listened to your podcast over This American Life while commuting to work? That would be an unprecedented level of resonance.

“This battle for market attention should push brands to raise the bar creatively, crafting content that their audience can’t help but want to consume.”

To survive and thrive in this war for attention, it’s time for brands to start tackling what the streaming service industry has already mastered — the ability to entertain.

When content marketing was first gaining steam, earning consumer attention by providing educational advice was a novel and revolutionary idea. Nowadays, educational content is rather ordinary, and people have become habituated to the standard listicle or ultimate guide.

Fortunately, the human brain is wired to pay instant attention to novelty and narrative, so crafting creative, story-driven content can attract and retain an audience. That’s why Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Apple TV, and Disney spend the majority of their combined $24.5 billion annual content budget on original productions — they understand humans crave novel experiences.

71% of millennials are now subscribed to streaming services to watch original content. Additionally, the average American subscribes to 3.4 streaming services to access as much variety as possible. In other words, novelty sells.

In the content marketing space, Mailchimp has taken a page from the streaming services industry’s playbook by making sure Mailchimp Presents — their creative studio that produces original series — hits a diverse range of notes. In just eight months, Mailchimp released three docu-series, two comedy series, two documentaries, and two podcasts that all cover different (yet targeted) subject matter. And in the months since Mailchimp Presents officially launched, the people who have engaged with the original series tend to buy their products faster and spend more money with the software company.

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Not all marketers should feel like they have to mimic Mailchimp’s showrunning moves, though. Since the content marketing space is already so flooded with similar-looking content, starting with a single, creative, story-driven series is enough to get started and cut through the noise.

While online video streaming is only 12 years old, the number of streaming-service-only households has tripled since 2013, and the number of cable-cord-cutters is expected to increase by 33% this year.

It’s easy to see why so many people are ditching cable for streaming — streaming services provide instant access to commercial-free content and personalized recommendations based on viewers’ history and preferences. On top of that, streaming is much more affordable than cable: subscribing to all four of the main streaming services, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO, is cheaper than subscribing to Spectrum Cable TV.

“The number of streaming-service-only households has tripled since 2013, and the number of cable-cord-cutters is expected to increase by 33% this year.”

Brands can easily offer these same benefits, too. One business that has emulated these qualities and has built a loyal, passionate audience is Yeti Coolers. As a company that makes coolers, drinkware, bags, and other gear for outdoorsmen, Yeti has crafted over 70 short stories and films about the pursuit of hunting, fishing, the outdoors, ranch and rodeo, and barbecue. All of their binge-worthy content is hosted on a single webpage that’s easy to find through their homepage, making it accessible for any visitor.

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Any business can easily host their binge-worthy content on their own website, driving visitors to a home-base where they can consume more content at their leisure. And when it comes to making the content itself, brands can (and should) cater it to their specific target audience while leaving out any mention of their products, just like Yeti.

As marketers, investing in producing documentaries and original series might seem like a big risk, but if there’s one lesson to be learned from streaming services, it’s that our audience craves something that most brands have neglected to provide — binge-worthy content. Maybe channeling our inner screenwriter isn’t a risk after all. Maybe it’s our safest bet!

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