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Why We Started Tracking (And Optimizing For) Total Time Watched

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Here at Wistia, we recently began tracking and optimizing for brand interactions — and it’s changed the way we think about our entire marketing and promotional strategy.

The concept is simple — the more someone interacts with the Wistia brand, the more likely they’ll be interested in trying our software or becoming a brand advocate. And because we use a ton of video in our marketing efforts, over time it became clear that looking to the “Total Time Watched” metric to understand success in this department was key.

For those who aren’t familiar, Total Time Watched is defined as the total amount of time an individual viewer has spent watching your content.

This indicator helped us quantify an otherwise somewhat ambiguous measure, making it super easy for us to spend more time optimizing for that metric and less time guessing about what’s working and what’s not.

But, things weren’t always this simple.

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We’ve always believed that building a strong brand experience would help Wistia grow, whether it’s on our website, social channels, or even in the emails we sent to our customers.

Conceptually, of course, this makes sense. But it isn’t just a hunch — we’ve seen this confirmed from a quantitative perspective time and time again. In fact, after doing extensive analysis to understand our highest quality traffic, we found that Wistia website visitors who visited more pages are more likely to become a Wistia customer, and the same was even true for social interactions and email engagement.

“We’ve always believed that building a strong brand experience would help Wistia grow, whether it’s on our website, social channels, or even in the emails we sent to our customers.”

At the end of the day, we uncovered that the tipping point for conversion was actually a total of nine page visits. If a website visitor views more than nine pages, they’re twice as likely to become a Wistia user than those who have visited less than nine. Pretty interesting, right?

So naturally, we started tracking what we called “high potential visitors” (aka people who visited more than nine pages). At one point, the Wistia Growth Team even ran a series of experiments with the goal of generating more of them. We tried different website designs and user flows to get website visitors to view more pages. We tried providing nine-pages-worth of value on one page. We tried page designs with nine “sliders.” But none of those ideas really worked — not super shocking.

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The truth is, these tactics were gimmicky. We were trying to shortcut the process of providing value versus just investing in it. We went back to our roots and started re-investing in our brand, creating more amazing content, and building slick software. But as marketers, we couldn’t help but still be intrigued by the idea of tracking, measuring, and iterating on our work. And that’s where the idea of measuring brand interactions came into the picture. We found our new best friend in one simple metric: Total Time Watched.

It’s one thing to just talk about reinvesting in our brand, and it’s another thing to invest $111,000 in it. This past year, we released our first-ever original series, One, Ten, One Hundred. And as part of the promotional planning process, we had several meetings to chat about which metrics to track that would be the biggest indicators of success. After all, we invested a ton of time, effort, and resources into creating this content and didn’t want to waste a single day optimizing for the wrong metric.

“After all, we invested a ton of time, effort, and resources into creating this content and didn’t want to waste a single day optimizing for the wrong metric.”

After all the chatter, we decided to plan the entire marketing campaign around maximizing for the “Total Time Watched” metric. Now, this was a first for most of the marketers on our team. Sure, we were used to promoting digital content, but we typically followed a more traditional playbook that went something like this:

  • User visits a landing page
  • User fills out a form
  • User gets redirected to a “Thank You” page with the content

When it came to promoting a video series, however, we needed a slightly different playbook. We wanted to reduce friction for the viewer, provide more content up front, and ultimately, promote our brand. That’s part of the reason why we decided to design a page that put the emphasis on showcasing the video content itself, rather than hiding it behind a form.

We researched design choices from companies who also optimize for play time, like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and took notes on how to make the experience on our own website just as good.

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With our design team focused on creating an incredible experience that would showcase our brand and optimize for that “Total Time Watched” metric, our marketing efforts shifted gears to executing on the promotional plan.

Up until now, we’ve talked a lot about the paid promotional plan for Soapbox on the blog, but we haven’t shared as much about the series promotion itself and how surprised our advertising partners were when we shared that we weren’t optimizing for lead generation. Let’s dig in.

Dialing in our optimizations

After committing to optimizing for Total Time Watched, we started thinking about how to drive the most views to our content. We decided to meet viewers where they are by sharing the trailer for the series on our social channels in full rather than trying to drive users back to our website. We also researched other places where people tend to consume a lot of videos and eventually syndicated the full series on Amazon Prime.

This is something we would have never done before had we been focused on optimizing for a metric like product conversions. Behind the scenes, every single decision we made was focused on driving our audience to watch the content.

“We decided to meet viewers where they are by sharing the trailer for the series on our social channels in full rather than trying to drive users back to our website.”

When we took a look at the initial results of the campaign, our team was super excited — Total Time Watched was through the roof. The design team had created a page that clearly encouraged binge-watching the series — 98% of the page visitors watched our content! Plus, those who watched the content, watched a lot of it, and that helped us validate just how high-quality the content really was.

It was looking pretty clear to us that our decision to optimize for Total Time Watched was the right one. The average viewer watched around 50 minutes of our video content, which ultimately added up to thousands of hours of video watched on our website and social channels, with thousands more on Amazon Prime.

It was a huge risk to not put a lead generation goal on our campaign, but it seemed like our gamble paid off. We saw tons of positive feedback everywhere we looked from forums cropping up on Reddit and discussions on Quora, to social threads that were full of chatter and positive vibes — all signs pointed to success.

Focusing on Total Time Watched as our key success metric challenged the way our team thought about promoting content. It impacted our design decisions, changed some of our promotional tactics, and made us question what success really meant.

If you’re like me — a data-driven marketer who’s starting to realize that not everything is about direct revenue attribution or conversion data — you’re probably wondering how we actually know this is a good metric to optimize for. To help validate our original hypothesis, we tracked three things:

  1. The correlation of someone watching a video and then trying our software.
  2. The correlation of someone watching a video and then downloading other content.
  3. The number of mentions and shares of the project on social media, direct emails to our team, questions during our live Q&A, and our ratings on Amazon Prime.

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The data shared an interesting story. Tons of people who watched the content were already in our database, which was great, but we were thrilled to see that 1.7% of visitors that weren’t had created a free Wistia account since the series launched. Plus, another 2.3% of visitors had gone on to download other content on our website.

We had a bit of difficulty gathering a concrete number for total mentions and shares across platforms, but we have seen hundreds of comments across social media, tons of emails to our team, dozens of questions during our Q&A, and (at the time of this post being published) we have a 4.7 star rating on Amazon Prime. All of these factors combined are pretty powerful, and that helps us validate Total Time Watched as a metric we’re interested in tracking more in the future.

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that this is just one campaign — the data is still maturing as I write this very post. But, we’re confident that this metric can help put a more meaningful number to the goal of increasing brand interactions. Not only that, but optimizing for Total Time Watched challenges us to think differently about our overall promotion strategy, which is always a win.

Here at Wistia, we’ve even invested in developing an entirely new feature in our product that will dramatically change the way marketers showcase their brand and optimize for that Total Time Watched goal. We’ll share more details on that in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, we’d love to hear how you’re tracking this metric and how it’s been working for you!



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Video Marketing

Why Your Content Strategy Should Target a Niche Audience (Not Potential Customers)

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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:

  1. Existing customers
  2. Potential customers
  3. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Mine subreddits

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.

talking

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.

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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.

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Video Marketing

Season 1 is Done: Binge-Watch All of Brandwagon

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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.

Binge-Watch 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!

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Video Marketing

5 Key Takeaways from Season One of “The Brandwagon Interviews” Podcast

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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.

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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.

mailchimp

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.”

veronica

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.

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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.

Want to learn more about Brand Affinity Marketing? Check out our new four-step playbook for all the nitty-gritty details.

Throughout The Brandwagon Interviews, we also noticed that many of our guests were strong believers in taking risks and experimenting with new and innovative marketing tactics. When it comes to building a stronger brand and surviving (and thriving!) in any industry, risk-taking often seemed to be a necessary part of achieving success.

As the CMO of Hydrow, an in-home rowing machine company offering a live outdoor reality experience, Nancy Dussault Smith discussed why it’s important to make space for experimenting with different types of brand marketing tactics. Having worked with innovative products like Hydrow and Roomba in her career, Dussault Smith says she always dedicates a portion of her budget to testing things out, and that’s where she’s seen many wins come in. By using small victories from experimentation as proof, she’s convinced C-suite executives to take bigger swings with their investments when it comes to building a brand.

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Rand Fishkin, CEO and Co-Founder of SparkToro, is no stranger to taking risks, either. After all, he ended up building an iconic brand around his “Whiteboard Fridays” video series at Moz simply because he was tired of writing blog posts week after week. In order to convince people at your company to get on board with investing more in brand-building activities, he recommends you show value early on and highlight the fact that your competition is already doing it. To urge higher-ups to invest even more in brand, he recommends putting together research and presenting it along with suggestions for next steps that’ll level the playing field. Similar to Nancy’s approach, Fishkin also said that making one small investment can be used as a proof-point to justify another small investment.

“In order to convince people at your company to get on board with investing more in brand-building activities, he recommends you show value early on and highlight the fact that your competition is already doing it.”

Over at UM Worldwide, a full-service media agency, Brendan Gaul, Global Chief Content Officer and Head of UM Studios, is exercising innovative thinking on a large scale and with a bigger budget. He pointed out that brands need to think of interesting new ways to connect with people because consumers are moving to ad-free platforms. For example, when Johnson & Johnson wanted to elevate the image of nurses around the world from doctor sidekicks to the heroes of healthcare, Gaul pitched a rather out-of-the-box idea for a documentary film called 5B. While this was certainly a risky investment for the brand, the documentary went on to win the Grand Prix for Entertainment at the 2019 Cannes Lions Festival for Creativity. This big win validated the notion that brand-funded content can be accepted by audiences and that creative risk-taking can pay off for brands.

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“He pointed out that brands need to think of interesting new ways to connect with people because consumers are moving to ad-free platforms.”

No matter what industry you’re in, getting comfortable with risk-taking and knowing how to convince others to get comfortable with it, too, is key. After all, in order to compete in a constantly changing marketing landscape, you have to innovate and take risks to stay relevant and stand out amongst the competition.

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.

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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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