Up until recent history, mainstream media was responsible for dictating the content our country consumed en masse. From books and television to movies and magazines — trends came and went in what felt like huge waves. While this is still partially true, our culture has shifted dramatically over the past decade. Today, our culture is dictated by the Internet.
Mainstream media is no longer solely responsible for what content is at our fingertips. We have an unlimited array of content and interests that were once niche being magnified by social media (just spend a couple minutes on YouTube or Reddit and you’ll get the gist pretty quickly).
Our societal culture has fused with Internet culture, and that means what was once niche, is now … well, mainstream. More than ever, our individual interests make us feel more connected and influence where we spend our time online.
But, what does this have to do with B2B brands? Well, if B2B companies want to build relationships with their audiences and stand out in a world with unlimited competition, then they need to embrace the change in our culture and start thinking like media companies. I’m excited to place a bet on this shift and the media model as a whole — here’s why.
Marketing a product is something with which we’re all very familiar — we spend countless hours moving our customers through the funnel, chasing dollars. Our products deliver value and we charge for a small percentage of the value that we deliver. This concept is hardly new or groundbreaking.
But, what worked before just doesn’t work anymore. And in a world with unlimited competition for attention, you must find a way to deliver value to your customer before they ever make it to your product pitch. You need to find a way to stand out. You need to meet your audience where they’re already spending their time.
“In a world with unlimited competition for attention, you must find a way to deliver value to your customer before they ever make it to your product pitch.”
One way to do this is to make content that’s so valuable that you can market it in the same way that you would market a product. To do this, you have to have the confidence that your content is genuinely useful, funny, inspiring, or educational. And if you can get to that point in your creation, then you can work to stand out in a place where your audience is already hanging out.
Is this what it means to act like a media company? Well, yes. Media companies are in the business of aggregating — in some cases, creating — and distributing content to the public that helps them build audiences. This may sound overwhelming, but it’s totally doable for B2B companies to adopt this model and be super successful with it. In fact, many of us are already putting a ton of effort into our content and other forms of media distribution.
We need to shift away from thinking about content as a way to meet search demand, to thinking about content as a way to grow demand. And you can only grow demand with content if it’s unique, focused on the right specific audience, and delivers real value — just like a product.
One of the advantages B2B businesses have when it comes to content production is that we usually have specific target markets and audiences that have faced specific challenges and opportunities. And while some people see this as a hindrance, this actually makes it easier for us to create content perfectly suited to our niche audiences.
Once you start looking for examples of businesses leaning into this advantage, you start seeing them everywhere. Profit Well is building up a slate of shows for data-driven data folks, Invision is making inspirational documentaries highlighting the importance of product design, and MailChimp is launching original series to give small businesses inspiration that being truly themselves is a way to rise above the fray.
You know your audience better than anyone, and that means you can make content that is more engaging for your niche than anyone else out there — but only if you can get specific enough. The goal is to make content that is so useful and engaging for your niche that they will choose to watch, listen, or read your content when they would otherwise be watching a movie, listening to music, or reading a book.
During the pre-Internet days, capturing the attention of this niche just simply wasn’t possible; you had to have a massive amount of money and time, and a way to get your content distributed through media outlets. Now, the only thing holding businesses back is the commitment to finding what works for your audience, and creating content to fulfill that interest. You don’t need to be a blockbuster — people will choose you because your content is so targeted.
It’s no secret that online advertising is becoming more expensive and more competitive. Because of this, we’re already seeing digital-first companies going back to having a brick and mortar presence because it’s cheaper to acquire customers that way. The rent is too damn high!
In other words, it’s getting too difficult to capture people’s attention in the digital advertising space. More often than not, we end up relying on the recommendations of others when making decisions for how we want to spend our time. Have you seen the Fyre Festival documentary yet? Are you listening to Segment’s new podcast?
“More often than not, we end up relying on the recommendations of others when making decisions for how we want to spend our time.”
We make decisions on how to spend our time based on what our friends and colleagues suggest in group messages, Slack channels, emails, and over lunch. We don’t want to waste our time, so we rely on the filter of our networks to help us figure out how we spend it.
Providing great content for your audience can show them that you truly understand the problems and opportunities they face. And if you can do that through your content, then you can build up the trust the same way you do with your products. When you think of your strategy in this way, the relationship your audience has with your brand is different — you’re sharing ideas and feelings instead of products.
People will only share your content with others if it’s generally useful and they believe it will help their peers and friends in some way. And when done well, people will spend an enormous amount of time with your brand.
When a new movie is released, it’s first brought to theaters where the people who are most excited to see it will pony up $12 (plus another $20 for popcorn and a soda). Next, depending on how things go during the theatrical release, the movie will make its way to airplanes and Pay-Per-View. Then, it will hit iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and eventually, it makes its way to Netflix or maybe even cable some day.
When you’re thinking about where to distribute your content, you should start with the audience that will pay the most and have the highest amount of interest — and then work in concentric circles out to the people who didn’t bother to watch it earlier. If you have a big hit, people will run to the theaters to see it. If not, that’s okay too.
For the web, you should distribute your content with the audience that you believe will have the strongest affinity for it (likely the people already going to your website) and then release it to audiences who have less and less of a connection over time.
Then, you can create and use promotional clips on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., to reach a different audience. Eventually, if they want to watch your content in full, they’ll need to go back to wherever it is that you originally hosted the content (likely your website). We gave this strategy a shot for One, Ten, One Hundred and we saw some great results.
If you want to start acting like a media company now, then you need to create the structure to measure your results like a media company. You have to find a niche and make content that is so targeted that people will be compelled to tell you if it’s good or not. To get a better gauge on success, you’re going to need to replace the media company focus groups with qualitative feedback.
“You have to find a niche and make content that is so targeted that people will be compelled to tell you if it’s good or not.”
As you’re creating your content and determining its success, I’d urge you to measure brand hours. You can have a small audience, but if they spend a lot of time with your brand and consume a lot of your content, the impact will be huge. There will be an outsized amount of recommendations, sharing, and feedback. The key is making sure you can see the small amounts of qualitative feedback to help sustain your efforts until you’re getting enough quantitative feedback.
This shift in marketing represents an enormous opportunity — allowing us to go beyond standard marketing tactics to make a different impact on our audiences. By acting like a media company, you’re no longer limiting yourself by the number of people coming into your funnel. And if you have good quality content, it can be more fruitful than all of the optimization marketing you’ve been doing thus far.
There’s no better time to start acting like a media company. What do you have to lose?
Why Your Content Strategy Should Target a Niche Audience (Not Potential Customers)
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:
- Existing customers
- Potential customers
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Season 1 is Done: Binge-Watch All of Brandwagon
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.
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!
5 Key Takeaways from Season One of “The Brandwagon Interviews” Podcast
If you’re a marketer and you like podcasts, then the first season of The Brandwagon Interviews might just be the perfect podcast for you. For 10 weeks, we invited 10 special guests from an array of industries onto the set of Brandwagon to talk about all things brand marketing with Wistia’s CEO, Chris Savage. From Mailchimp to UM Worldwide and Harpoon Brewery to ProfitWell, we’ve learned a lot from the masterminds behind these amazing brands.
In this post, we’re highlighting the most valuable lessons learned from all the conversations that were featured on The Brandwagon Interviews podcast. Be sure to listen to each episode on your favorite streaming platform and read on for our key takeaways!
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher
When Dan Kenary, CEO of Harpoon Brewery, and Mark DiCristina, Head of Brand at Mailchimp, dropped by our studio, they both knew what it was like competing in saturated markets. Despite being in different industries, Kenary and DiCristina knew that the best way to stand out amongst the competition was to differentiate their brands.
Harpoon Brewery was one of the first craft breweries on the East Coast. However, it wasn’t long before competition exploded in the craft brewery and microbrewery space. So, how did they differentiate themselves? Kenary explained that the company focused on building a strong brand and connecting with their customers. Even without flashy advertising, this strategy helped the brand cut through the competition. To differentiate themselves further, Harpoon also created a sub-brand called UFO, which helped the business appeal to a new segment and grow in unexpected ways. And today, knowing their brand like the back of their hand, Harpoon manages a house of five distinct brands all under the Harpoon umbrella.
In the early days of Mailchimp, a marketing automation software platform, the company wasn’t the biggest or well-funded fish in the sea by a long shot. DiCristina described how Mailchimp understood they wouldn’t be successful by playing the same game as everyone else. Instead of outspending other companies and competing with them on a dollar for dollar basis, DiCristina said, “ … our approach, which is really a credit to Ben, our CEO and co-founder, was to be as different as we possibly could and use our weakness as a strength.” Ultimately, DiCristina said what ended up helping Mailchimp stand out was their appetite for being weird and playful, and their belief in creating real connections with their customers.
From the experiences of both Kenary and DiCristina, it’s clear that making your brand a key differentiator can help you stand out in markets where everyone is stuck in a similar mold. Let your brand communicate more about your values and trust that you’ll connect with the right folks.
The second lesson we learned was about consistency and why it’s a crucial part of the recipe for creating a strong brand. Veronica Parker-Hahn, SVP of Growth and Innovation at Effie Worldwide, and Dan Kenary of Harpoon had a few words to say about the importance of strategic rigor and remaining consistent.
Parker-Hahn began her career in the advertising industry, and over the past 15 years, she’s worked with major brands like DirecTV, State Farm Insurance, Reebok, and many more. Over the years, she’s learned that creativity is only a fraction of what builds a strong brand. Building a strong brand and creating an effective campaign starts with a deliberate, well-thought-out strategy. In addition to strategic rigor, you need to identify your values, and she emphasized, “ … what your brand stands for should permeate everything you do.”
Kenary also shared similar sentiments about remaining consistent with your brand. At Harpoon, they built the brand under the banner, “Love Beer. Love Life.,” and to this day, they ensure every interaction they have with consumers is consistent with what they’re trying to represent. In Kenary’s mind, if you’re not consistent, your brand loses meaning and people stop paying attention. Whether it’s communicating with someone in customer service or hosting a seasonal festival, every touchpoint with the consumer matters.
So, when thinking about building a stronger brand for your business, remember to always start with a solid strategy. Then, when it comes to executing on that strategy, make sure you understand the audience you want to reach and what makes them tick. Stay super consistent with the values you want to convey, both internally and externally, and you’ll be able to create a well-loved brand with a ton of loyal fans.
“Stay super consistent with the values you want to convey, both internally and externally, and you’ll be able to create a well-loved brand with a ton of loyal fans.”
Speaking of knowing the type of audience you want to reach, it really helps to know your niche inside and out when building your brand. Lauren Fleshman, Co-Founder and CMO of Picky Bars, and Patrick Campbell, CEO of ProfitWell, have discovered the many benefits of appealing to a niche audience.
As a former Nike-sponsored athlete, Lauren Fleshman grew to become an exceptional storyteller. In order to renew sponsorship deals, she recognized the importance of marketing her values, and when she started her own business, she marketed Picky Bars in the energy bar industry leading with the brand’s values. Lauren believes brands should lead with their values because it helps you find out why people like you in the first place. Then, you can lean into your niche and trust your brand will build from there.
One of the ways Lauren dove deep into Picky Bars’ niche was by starting a podcast with her husband called Work, Play, Love, where they chat transparently about all the mess-ups and struggles they’ve encountered running the company so far. Not only do they talk about the business, but they also open up about their relationship and balancing all the chaos of regular day-to-day life, giving their audience an opportunity to have a deeper connection with them and the Picky Bars brand.
At ProfitWell, a subscription software company, Patrick Campbell is appealing to a niche and building an engaged audience for the brand by creating binge-worthy video series. Along with their series Pricing Page Teardown, Subscription 60, The ProfitWell Report and Protect the Hustle, Campbell told Savage that ProfitWell has over 10 distinct shows in the works. Episodic video content has become one of ProfitWell’s primary marketing vehicles because traditional advertising campaigns and written content have become less effective for them over the past few years. Producing shows doesn’t guarantee more conversion, but they’re better at keeping their audience engaged with their brand, rather than aggravating them with intrusive ads.
Trying to reach a niche might sound counter-intuitive, but Campbell encourages people to get comfortable with marketing to niche audiences. You may not see the impact right off the bat, but there’s inherent value in developing an engaged audience over time.
For Picky Bars and ProfitWell, going all-in on their niche audiences has helped their business’ build better brand affinity than if they tried appealing to everyone. After all, the number of impressions you make with a campaign does not equal the number of people impressed.
The final lesson we took away from the first season of The Brandwagon Interviews, is just how important it is to create content for your audience that offers real value. Mark DiCristina of Mailchimp, Brendan Gaul of UM, and Patrick Campbell of ProfitWell, all have something in common — their teams create engaging video content that helps build better brand affinity.
Recently, Mailchimp has been releasing short-form video series, films, and podcasts out of their own new content studio, Mailchimp Presents. DiCristina said, “Mailchimp’s mission has always been about empowering small businesses and helping them succeed and grow. We’ve always done that with software, but over the last couple of years, we began to feel like there are other ways that we can do that.” With content that inspires, motivates, and makes people feel like they’re not alone, Mailchimp Presents has developed a valuable platform for an audience of entrepreneurs, while increasing the amount of time people spend with their overarching brand.
As we mentioned before, ProfitWell is also engaging niche audiences through multiple video series of their own. Not only is their content valuable for consumers, but they’ve also found value in repurposing clips for their marketing efforts. What ProfitWell is doing here is treating their video content like a product, which is advice we took to heart when promoting our own four-part docu-series, One, Ten, One Hundred (and spoiler alert, it worked!).
At the end of the day, consumers are able to sniff out content that’s solely based on trying to sell them more stuff, and people are keenly aware when brands are phony with their intentions. That’s why brands need to know when they have — or need to earn — permission to be a part of important conversations. For smaller companies, the need to create powerful content like the biggest brands can be overwhelming. But, approaching content humbly and understanding the value your company can genuinely offer to a niche audience will help you define your brand.
Now that you’ve heard from several masterminds behind amazing brands on The Brandwagon Interviews, get out there and put their wisdom to good use. From one marketer to another, establishing a strong brand in the modern marketing world is more important than ever. So, let these key takeaways guide you toward building a better brand and creating a more engaged audience who will stand by your business for a long time.
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