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