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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Episode 6: “The Brandwagon Interviews” Podcast with Brendan Gaul of UM Worldwide
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.
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.
The Science Behind Storytelling: Why Narrative Cuts Through the Noise
At the beginning of every year, most marketing teams set aggressive goals for their content. With lofty numbers hanging over their heads, they crank out content with the sole purpose of gaming an algorithm or converting leads.
Unfortunately, this type of content is more likely to meet traditional marketing goals than say, an original docu-series might. And because of that, marketers claim the data backs up their strategy — they’re moving the needle, making more people aware of their product or service. The problem with this strategy, however, is that this type of content doesn’t actually resonate with audiences in a meaningful way. Sure, it may reach them, but it doesn’t strike a chord with them. In other words, it won’t turn them into life-long fans of your brand.
Storytelling, however, has the power to do just that. And lucky for us, neuroscience backs up that claim time and time again. Let’s take a look at the science behind storytelling itself, why it’s such a powerful tool for marketers, and how it can help businesses cut through the noise.
Before our ancestors could write about the dangers of their environment and teach their children how to maneuver the social dynamics of their community through books, they told stories.
It’s estimated that from the time humans started speaking to the time we started writing, almost two million years passed. During that period of time, the humans who learned how to survive their ruthless, prehistoric world through stories lived longer and reproduced more often than the humans who didn’t. As a result, natural selection shaped and hardwired our brains to crave, seek out, and pay instant attention to narrative.
“Humans who learned how to survive their ruthless, prehistoric world through stories lived longer and reproduced more often than the humans who didn’t.”
Today, brands that prioritize storytelling are tapping into their audience’s innate need for narrative. They’re the ones who will be able to get their audience hooked on their binge-worthy content. And not only that, but they’ll be the ones to inspire their fans to spread the word amongst their peers and friends.
Take, for example, how Taco Bell teased the return of their popular menu item — nacho fries — in their ad below:
To announce that nacho fries were making a comeback, the brand launched a fake movie trailer ad campaign with a witty and enthralling sci-fi storyline. By using a storytelling strategy, they were able to capture peoples’ attention in an entertaining way.
If a scientist scanned your brain while you watched Stranger Things, it’d look like Joyce Byer’s alphabet wall. Now, watching Stranger Things doesn’t lodge a Demogorgon into your brain. What it does do, though, is boost your brain’s neural activity, lighting it up like a Christmas Tree.
When more parts of your brain are active at the same time, your ability to remember whatever you’re engaged with increases exponentially. Stories warned our ancestors about the dangerous dire wolf lurking at night and taught them valuable social norms like generosity and cooperation, so the fact that narrative can illuminate our brains and sear information into our memories makes complete sense. If stories didn’t have this effect on our minds, our ancestors wouldn’t have remembered how to dodge that dire wolf or why they should help their neighbor.
Today, stories haven’t lost a speckle of charm. In fact, in a marketing industry that’s filled to the brim with uninspired content, narrative-driven content is more alluring than ever before. So, trust the neuroscience — if you want to earn people’s attention and bake your brand into their brains, do it through stories that speak to the wants, fears, desires, and beliefs of your audience.
“If you want to earn people’s attention and bake your brand into their brains, do it through stories that speak to the wants, fears, desires, and beliefs of your audience.”
Playing on fear, Allstate Insurance successfully bakes its brand into the brains of their audience. They’ve literally personified mayhem into “Mr. Mayhem.” For every commercial, Mr. Mayhem takes a different form, whether it’s a car thief or a pesky cat.
In this ad, Mayhem is a cat who is plotting against its owners. Allstate illustrates several instances where a cat might wreak havoc on your house. If you’re a pet owner, these mini-scenarios remind you that having the wrong home insurance coverage (and not Allstate) might end up costing you!
Every marketer has heard the adage that humans are creatures of emotion, not logic. But how do you consistently form bonds with strangers, persuade them to buy your product, and convert them into brand advocates? According to neuroscience, storytelling is your best bet.
When we read, watch, or listen to a gripping story, the activity triggers the release of oxytocin in your brain, which pushes us to relate, care, trust, and help others. Within the context of a story, a brain full of oxytocin helps us empathize with the protagonist. In fact, we’ll empathize so deeply with the protagonist that the parts of our brain that would be active if we actually experienced the story switch on.
If your audience can rely on your stories for a consistent fix of emotion, they’ll fall in love with your brand and keep coming back for more. In fact, humans have always revered great storytellers. In 2017, anthropologists discovered that the best storytellers in two different Filipino villages had a better chance of getting chosen to be social partners, gaining community support, and having healthy offspring. For brands, the benefits are equally valuable to their bottom line.
Nike has mastered the art of storytelling and other businesses look to them for inspiration. Their ads are famous for telling powerful stories, but they also showcase the brand’s values. Here’s a look at their recent ad “Dream With Us”:
Nike’s not just pumping up their brand here. In a world where women are marginalized, they’re encouraging women to tell their stories and inspire today’s youth to chase their dreams. However, the message still works to build their brand because people emotionally connect to the values being displayed.
Producing content that’s designed to game algorithms or convert website visitors might be able to generate a decent amount of views and leads for your team. And as a marketer with goals to meet and bosses to please, it’s tempting to prioritize your team’s own goals over your audience’s needs. But if you truly want to resonate with an audience, create a lasting impression on them, and, in turn, produce real long-term results, storytelling is the best path forward.
Episode 5: “The Brandwagon Interviews” Podcast with Lauren Fleshman of Picky Bars
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.
“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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