There are many ways to go about marketing your brand, and with the endless amount of social media platforms out there right now, visual marketing is topping the charts.
But how do you connect with your audience through visual marketing in a way that influences and shapes the way they perceive your brand?
Most important is to always be true to your audience. Find out where they hang out and be there. Maybe even consider finding ways to include your audience in the marketing with campaigns that include customer’s media such as photos. Steer clear of the trendy route and pave your own road that allows your brand’s voice to resonate with your audience and makes them want to share it with the world.
Gregarious Narain is co-founder of Chute, where he helps enable businesses to create visually rich media that influences and shapes the way people perceive their brand.
Rich: Gregarious Narain is the co-founder and CTO of Chute, the visual marketing automation platform that enables brands, publishers and agencies to create media rich stories through fan and brand powered media. He’s responsible for architecting and scaling the Chute platform.
Previously Gregarious was the VP of product at Klout, where he helped establish the Klout score as the standard for online influence for product development and developer outreach.
Gregarious, welcome to the show.
Gregarious: Thanks for having me, Rich.
Rich: Now it’s been awhile since we actually connected, we met back at South By Southwest back I think in 1942 or something like that. It’s been awhile.
Gregarious: It has been, yeah. It was ages ago.
Rich: Absolutely. So obviously we’ve both gone off on our paths and we meet again today, so I’m just kind of curious as I was reading through your bio, how were you drawn into the idea of visual marketing?
Gregarious: That’s a really great question. I think it started from 2 pathways actually. When I was at Klout originally one of the things I helped launch was the campaign business. And one of the interesting things I found out is when we would do the reporting at the end of a campaign and show off to the brand the results that we got, when we showed them the visual content – the photos and boxings and the types of experiences that people shared visually – that sort of really resonated with them and I thought that was a really powerful insight that a customer sharing a piece of media was so much more interesting and powerful to the people who were trying to win their attention. And that was an early inception point of my thinking visual things for marketing and advertising.
But then I also came at it from a consumer point of view where it was more to the point that we were originally building Chute as an app to simply backup all the media off your device, because we sort of realized that people take a lot of photos and they never get them off of their phone and as a result of that they never used them for anything.
And so when you combine those 2 things together, it’s sort of how we ended up where we are. If we could unlock all this power in the media that people are making, and then also we could combine that with the brand’s desire and sort of interest in promoting and amplifying and sharing that media, maybe there’s something golden there.
Rich: Very cool. And I’ve definitely seen and talked to a lot of people who realize the power of visuals, especially when it comes to social media. So it seems like you’re in a good space.
Now a lot of people listening to the show are small businesses, entrepreneurs, startups and obviously those people don’t necessarily have an unlimited budget. So I’m looking to you, how do I market if I really don’t have a huge budget for marketing? I know you work with some big brands, but how can we bring that down to somebody who doesn’t have a giant marketing budget?
Gregarious: Absolutely great question. I think money is actually not the most important part in being successful in this domain. Obviously time is one function of money, but I do think there’s a lot of free stuff that’s happening. If you look at how marketing has evolved, people can grow a huge audience that is basically without spending any money these days. There are entire networks to represent YouTubers and Instagrammers and Viners and all these things. And what that states is ultimately the social channels provide tremendous access for anyone who can get involved. So if you can leverage any of those platforms I think you automatically have a chance to be as successful as anyone else is today.
Now the interesting thing that’s happened in those platforms, and is really ultimately why Chute exists the way it does, is that you basically can’t use one of them anymore without being a pretty visual orientated company.
Think about that. Twitter tweets that have photos in them do 5 times better than regular tweets. Facebook posts are twice as effective if they have photos, And by the way, Mark Zuckerberg got up on stage and said, “Do not post anything without a photo in it.” Basically they’re not going to give you any attention. People look at Instagram and Pinterest and all these platforms that have arisen that are all free to use, everyone can participate in those platforms, you just have to have media. So you need to just get into the practice of being able to find photos and stuff that you can use as part of that. And then I think you can certainly scale that up.
Another thing that we’re really just a big advocate of is really trying to enlist your customers in the process and finding things that are repeatable and easy for you to do, as opposed to making it where you feel like you need to set up equipment and do a photoshoot and all these crazy things. The more that you can make it a regular, organic part of your day to day life and operations at your business, the better chances of [inaudible] up.
Rich: Well I definitely like the idea of getting customers involved, and I want to come back to that in a few minutes. I also like that idea that you said I don’t necessarily need to set up an entire photoshoot to be able to create a lot of images. But I almost feel like those are very tactical things. If we can take a step back, let’s talk a little bit about devising a strategy – and maybe you have some ideas or tips on that – on how we can create a strategy that’s going to work that brings in some of these visual elements.
Gregarious: Absolutely right. So you know we spend a lot of time thinking about marketing as a whole is moving largely – traditionally it was more paid placement that sort of drive the bulk of your marketing strategy – B2B businesses is moving more to an inbound strategy where they’re sort of putting great content out into the world. It’s part of this larger conversation around “content marketing,” using information and creating value for your customer.
Now we’ve actually got this framework called the Content Marketing App, which you’re free to download later if you want to take a look at it. It sort of outlines 8 things that help you think about how to plan that marketing strategy. I’ll list them for you real quick and I’ll tell you what I think each of those pieces means.
One, it’s got to be very targeted, you have to know your customer. You’re not trying to be a cool kid here, you’re trying to talk to a customer and connect with them.
Your strategy should be multi channel, so you don’t want to just put signs outside your door if you don’t have a lot of foot traffic. If you know everyone’s on Twitter or everyone’s on Instagram or everyone’s on Facebook, be where they are. Otherwise there’s no chance that you’re going to be seen.
Again, it has to be visual. You have to use lots of media in the process. We really guide people to be really thoughtful in their use of media. Companies often try to act like people in a weird way sometimes. They try and jump into conversations and seem relevant, and the problem with that is sometimes you can step in it a little bit. So if you look at some of these things that large companies have done, it’s very easy, one wrong tweet or word inside of a message.
So don’t try to be clever, don’t try and be trendy, stay tried and true to the things that you are good at. If that makes sense for your audience, then you’ll know that and learn that. If your customers are witty and sarcastic, then that’s the way you can be. But that doesn’t usually travel well.
There’s 3 left. The next one is be evergreen. My guidance here is really simple, do things that are easy to repeat. Or do things that sort of have a flywheel that happen naturally from your business. The more you sort of stage it and create a thing around it, the harder it is for you to be successful at actually keeping up with it. This is a commitment you’re making, so once you start this, if you want it to work – much like everything in life – you have to actually stay at it.
So the notion of being native is really being true to the platform that you’re on. So if you’re on Instagram, don’t put a lot of text up, it’s not a text based thing, people aren’t reading the comments as much as they’re looking at the pictures. More importantly, the easy way to do this is find the best. Find the people that you think do well and get great engagement and see what they do and try and learn from them, mimic them.
And the last one is, to make the things that you make, shareable. It’s a simple idea but really, really hard, actually. This is a thing that just takes time to learn. There’s lots of articles and your site has got good info on this, actually, but how do you make your message something that people want to take to their people. Make it matter, and then other people will share it and take it to the world.
Rich: Alright, that’s a lot of good advice all wrapped up into those 8 little points. So now I want to go back to what you were talking about before, getting our customers involved. When I hear about Doritos crowdsourcing new flavors, I get it. They’ve got millions of users. But for me at flyte new media, we’ve got like 100-130 customers at any given time, and for other companies it might only be a fraction of that. So how do we as a small business or an entrepreneur or a startup, how do we really engage our customers so that they’re helping us create this content? Is that even reasonable?
Gregarious: I think it’s absolutely reasonable. What tends to happen is we tend to be gun shy as a small company and even Chute – we don’t have thousands of customers, either – but what happens is you feel gun shy about mentioning the same customer all the time. So I think if you can remove that bias on the outside part it it’ll be a little easier to do.
If you’re going to use your customers, I think you have to do two things. I think it’s really just really important to make it successful. One, is to clear up space to highlight them. Because when you ask someone to do something for you, they want to understand how they’re going to use it. So you’ve got to be able to demonstrate to them how you’re going to use the information that they’re providing. Your customers are all busy people and my customers are all busy people. They don’t have time to donate to these efforts, so if you’re a good listener have simple conversations with your customers. You’ll either delight them or find things that they have problems with. Those are free, natural content that you can turn into content that you’re other customers benefit from.
The second part is to incentivize their participation. So not only making it clear how you are going to use this stuff, but then, is there a reward for that? It doesn’t have to be monetary. A lot of your customers like creating a pathway where they can come to you and you’re going to involve them in the process of shaping the next thing that you do or how you think about the future. That can be an incentive unto itself. But for other customers – say you’ve got a coffee shop – you can feature one of them on your wall and give them a gift certificate. Or you give free usage of a product, or whatever it may be. But I think these 2 things help create a fair footing with you and the customer. As long as we value and appreciate that what they’re giving us is their time – which is valuable – then they actually become more welcoming to the idea of helping become part of the marketing.
Rich: That makes a lot of sense and I love the idea of asking your customers to help you almost steer the ship and plan what we should be doing next. That really gives them incentive and it helps make your success their own success as well. I know that one of the things that we’ve done with this podcast in the past is somebody had randomly taken a picture of where they were when they were listening to the show and I thought that was great. So I asked people to share it for a number of weeks, and people would share where they were all over the world taking pictures while driving and then calling me out on Twitter so I saw them. That meant a lot, and it also kind of gets them all excited about it.
I remember actually the first time, somebody had written me a nice note, I had not published a show on time because I had run out of material and they were like, “Oh my god, I missed it! Is everything ok with you?” So I thanked them on air and the next week I got an email from them, “I literally fell off my stairmaster listening, I was not expecting to hear my voice on your show.” So that’s when I realized people want to hear their voice, they want to be part of this, they want to feel like they’ve got a little bit of ownership. So what you’re saying definitely resonates and I’ve seen that work myself.
Gregarious: Think about that, you actually went to a visual medium even though the show doesn’t operate in that medium. So that’s the sort of thing that I think is absolutely available to almost everyone. It’s just there for us to think about and actually try and capture.
Rich: And that make a lot of sense and I’m always looking for ways – we put on our annual conference, Agents Of Change – and every years it’s that getting people back up and involved and getting people to write about it and talk about it and share it with their friends. Getting them more involved always pays off.
So obviously that all sounds great. We’re painting this rosy picture of how user generated content is going to save our business. But there must be a downside, there must be problems occasionally or issues when you’re using user generated content in your marketing campaign. What might they be and how do we address those issues?
Gregarious: So I think the #1 risk that you have – we sort of touched on one just before – there should never be an unintended consequence. Someone should always know how you’re planning to use their information or their thoughts or even their likeness. So if you ever find that you are going to scale that usage outside of even the way that you talked about it initially, you have to go back to people and ask them. Make sure you have permission.
One of the things that we do at Chute a lot – because we work with visual media – it’s easy to take for granted that this stuff is free, but that’s not the case, though. The reality is that people sort of shared it with an understanding and a context that they knew it was going to be used in and they don’t really think it could end up as a poster in a storefront window or something else.
Rich: That’s a great point, Because I don’t think any of us think about that. I know – and I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this , but we collect tweets at the end of every Agents Of Change Conference and we use it in next year’s marketing. I don’t know that we went back and said, “Hey, you’re in our sponsor kit this year. Thanks for saying those wonderful things about our speakers.”
Gregarious: Right, exactly. Like I said again, there’s a certain bit of framing that’s ok and the reality is that the law isn’t clear yet on what you can and can not do, per se. Sometimes you’ll be surprised or amazed that someone took a photo and they have a better version of it that they offer, So sometimes you may get better results by reaching out.
Rich: Well this also reminds me back in the 90’s when my clients would say, “Is it ok if I link to another website, do I need to get permission?” I would basically tell them they probably don’t need to – although the law is a little fuzzy – but it’s not a bad idea to tell people that you’ve created that link and you’ll take it down if they wish. That all of a sudden gets them to your website, gets them involved in your product, maybe they’ve got a better link for you or they’re really excited about it. It can actually blossom into a much better relationship than you just leveraging something that they created.
Gregarious: That’s right You’re creating a conversation and a relationship at the same time. That’s the power you’re actually unlocking. That’s how small businesses beat big businesses, because they’re not faceless. They’re small, nimble and they know their customers intimately.
Rich: Absolutely, that makes a lot of sense. Any other issues we should be worried about besides getting permission? And the examples you’ve given us are if we see something like a tweet or Facebook status or Instagram, and we share this through some other fashion. But are there ways of getting people to share content – I know I’ve seen campaigns where people share a hashtag – are there tactics of getting people to create and share content on our behalf, like because they’re taking pictures at our conference or they’re at our store, what are some techniques that you’ve seen work like that?
Gregarious: Absolutely. So I’ll use media as an example because it’s my most available set of arrows. We had a customer, Ann Taylor Loft, and they had a campaign where you could just upload photos of yourself in a black dress. And they had photos uploaded, for example, Kate Hudson uploaded a photo and a random customer uploaded a photo. the photo of the random customer had way more likes and comments then the photo of Kate Hudson.
So that user inspired clade from my earlier 8 points is really powerful. When you put the customer at the center of that conversation, they naturally want to share their participation in it. So again that’s why it’s important that they feel like they helped create the message. I do think we shouldn’t be scared of reaching out – here we will often send out surveys – sometimes the people that we have a good conversation with we ask them a question. We have a new research paper and we offer, “Hey, would you like to be in the whitepaper? All we need is a comment from you.”
So I think there’s other kinds of engagement that you can solicit from your customers, and a lot of times it’s as simple as asking. It doesn’t have to be a hashtag, it can literally be an email or a headband in your app if it’s an online app, it could be a sign in your store. There’s any number of ways to solicit that feedback, but we just can’t be afraid to ask for it, ultimately.
Rich: That makes a lot of sense. Now this may be outside of what you were planning on talking about in your area of expertise, but whenever we deal with customer created content, we run the risk that they’re not going to say the kind of things we’re looking for. Certainly big brands like McDonald’s have seen this gone astray. They had that whole “ask us anything” campaign and they were assuming the questions would be about the food. But people were asking them about a living wage, which then they refused to answer. Do you have any suggestions on how to mitigate any of those situations when somebody does take your brand and picture and run with it in a way that it doesn’t compliment your business?
Gregarious: Yeah, I think there’s 2 parts to that. It’s part of the expectation setting. If you don’t offer this notion that it goes straight from you to the world, that there’s a review process and you sort of choose the best moments or whatever. That sort of helps create a bit of a buffer there. So the way most of our customers would implement that is they have moderation of some sort inside. They go through and find the great or best moments that they actually use, and then they decide which ones they’re going to put to use.
So that’s one part of it. And the people that you don’t use, message them and let them know that it wasn’t that they sent something wrong. And that’s one part of the solution. I think the other side of it when people are running into saying things that you don’t like, you have to address it head on.
Jay Baer has a new book coming out about this, but he says the real monster is about ignoring them. If you don’t address their problems, it actually escalates faster. If somebody really seems like they have a problem, get into that, figure out what it is. Try and move it to a private channel so it doesn’t all have to be out in the open, per se. But the reality is, if you need to deal with it in public because that’s the only way to get someone off the cliff, you should do that.
The longer you let it fester, the worse it gets for you. They start to continuously bring people down, they look for more chances where people are mentioning or hinting on a similar thing and they want to bring you down. But if you convert them, they’re going to be that advocate that actually works to help undo those things when they see them happening and correcting the truth for you going forward. If someone’s making fun of you – this is a little easier for small businesses than it is for big ones – but take it on the chin and maybe join in on it. Like, “Alright, you got us. We’ve got one even better for you.”
Rich: I know that you’re actually about to enter parenthood, so I’ll give you this piece of advice that runs parallel with that. What I always tell my girls is if you trip in front of a group of people and you know all the slams are about to be coming, you get up there and you make the most horrendous joke about yourself right then and there, because you’ll take up all the air out of their sails and they’ll move onto whatever they were going to do next. It’s pretty much the same online if you do find somebody making fun of you and if it’s something that you can make a joke about, then you should actually try and do them on their jokes.
The easiest way to create a brand advocate I’ve found is find somebody who hates you and just do something amazing and surprise them with it, and very often they become your biggest promoters.
Rich: Hey Gregarious, this has been great. I think people have some really good ideas now about how to get some customer generated content, especially around graphics and visuals. But I’m sure there’s some people that want to learn more about you and Chute, where can we send them?
Gregarious: The Chute website has a great resource center, lots of stats and data, that’s at getchute.com. Feel free by all means to send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can always find me on Twitter at @gregarious.
Rich: Awesome. And of course, as always, we’re going to have the full transcript and all those juicy links that Gregarious shared with us. Gregarious, I just want to thank you very much for coming by and sharing your knowledge with us today.
Gregarious: Thanks so much, Rich, and it’s great to catch up again.
- Find out more about Gregarious and Chute at the website.
- Have a burning question to ask Gregarious? Send him and email at email@example.com.
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- Here are a few materials Gregarious referenced during the show:
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