Synchrony partners with companies by providing financial solutions, payment technologies, and data insights to help them grow. In their recent podcast, Business Schooled, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Initialized Capital and Reddit, travels the country meeting entrepreneurs and learning from their successes. The very first episode, Stitching it all Together, features Missouri Star Quilt Company and its YouTube celebrity co-founder Jenny Doan. Her story is the subject of this article.
Lesson 1: Stitching it all together
Listen to the full season of Business Schooled for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Every once in a while, this question comes up: Is content marketing worth pursuing?
The answer for most, sadly, is no.
This isn't because content marketing is inherently flawed. It's because content marketers may not put in the effort to succeed.
Conversely, those who commit to creating bonds with their audiences, those who understand the passions of their audiences, and those who can deliver both content and commerce to their audiences are well on the path that helps foster success.
This was the subject of the initial episode of Synchrony's new podcast, Business Schooled, hosted by Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and Initialized Capital.
In the episode, Ohanian sits down with Jenny Doan, co-founder of the Missouri Star Quilt Company, who has used a series of YouTube videos to turn a small business into a massive success story.
"Jenny created the model for the future of retail," Ohanian says.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to content marketing, according to Ohanian three elements--content, community, and commerce--should be seamlessly integrated to help deliver real value. Missouri Star Quilt Company, Ohanian says, is an example of a business that brilliantly integrates all three.
"It's not enough to find and target your customer. Anyone can do that. We should all be looking for ways to create bonds with people. To keep them coming back."
The term "content" covers a whole lot of territory. It can be a one-word tweet or a voluminous whitepaper. Whatever the form or length, content needs serve the interests and demands of the audience for whom it is intended.
While there are dozens of platforms for delivering content, all formats should have a common thread: storytelling. Whether it's an article, a podcast, or a video, the content should be delivering compelling, entertaining and/or insightful information.
In Doan's case, the Missouri Star Quilt Company was floundering before her son Al convinced her to create instructional quilting videos and post them on YouTube.
Doan's content consisted of simple "how to" video tutorials on quilting. While not overly produced, each provides a valuable lesson, while doing a brilliant job of showcasing Jenny Doan's warm and down-to-earth personality.
"Creating the right amount of content took some experimentation," Doan says. "We didn't want to be spam-y and in people's faces. Instead, we focused on making content people wanted to see, and building a shopping experience that supported that. Once we became a destination for them, we knew we had to create a steady stream of the kinds of content they were looking for."
Quality content doesn't necessarily mean Pulitzer Prize quality exposition. It means content that speaks the language of the target audience. Stories that teach, entertain, and engage. Creating content doesn't have to be expensive, but it will require a significant commitment if you are going to do it well.
A video called The Ultimate Quilt Binding Tutorial with Jenny Doan of Missouri Star may not sound like it would be of much interest to most, but 2.5 million intensely passionate people have viewed it and that number grows daily.
As of mid-February 2019, Jenny Doan had produced more than 690 instructional videos and her YouTube channel had more than 540,000 subscribers. Total views are in the vicinity of 200 million.
While creating so many videos involves a massive commitment, the effort has paid off. What was once a tiny family business is now a quilting empire, with books, events, tours, stores, restaurants, and even quilting retreats.
It may sound simplistic, but the key to building a community for your business is creating content that feeds members' passions and finding ways to get that content in front of them.
It's one thing to know who your target audience is. It's quite another to understand their interests and behaviors. That's where research and hard work come into play. Where does your audience reside online? What content formats do they prefer? In many cases, communities with common interests already exist, and they are interacting with each other online.
"Don't start a content marketing campaign with the idea of 'building community,'" says Ann Handley bestselling author of two books, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, and one of the preeminent experts on content marketing. "Instead, start by articulating your bigger story, creating and sharing great content, and showing up and responding to the people who connect with it."
Synchrony created the Business Schooled podcast as a service to business owners and entrepreneurs everywhere.
"Brands can find success by creating content that aligns with their enterprise and capabilities in a natural way," says Mason Narramore, VP, Brand Advertising & Content at Synchrony. "As people with a shared passion engage with that content, you're able to understand what formats, stories and topics resonate. It's a best practice for any company: what value, knowledge and tools can we share that are authentic to who we are? Then the community will follow."
This is where content marketing can get dicey. Everyone may want to be informed and entertained with digital content. Not everyone wants that content to be turned into a sales pitch.
If you haven't built a foundation of trust, there can be resistance when you start attempting to sell to your audience. The key to avoiding this problem is to have the products or services offered flow naturally into the content and to always keep in mind that your mission is to serves the needs of the community you're addressing.
The Missouri Star Quilt Company is a great example of a business putting commerce in the context of content and community. On their YouTube channel, in tiny letters positioned to the left of the videos, you'll find the call to action: "Click here for supplies." This links the viewer to http://missouriquiltco.com where they can shop for many of the products featured in the videos.
"The free videos on YouTube gave the community a door to walk through," notes Ohanian. "She started selling quilting supplies so her community could get some practice."
Many businesses enjoy rapid growth spurts only to stall in their growth and see revenue decline. They may have reached a sales saturation point. They may have just stopped innovating.
Businesses can use content to serve and create a community, and then monetize that community by providing goods and services that serve their passions. This approach can help them to enjoy sustainable growth.
The very nature of community is that people share content that supports the members. Sharing not only keeps the community together, it brings in a constant flow of new members, each of whom may be a potential customer.
If you are a business owner, Synchrony is committed to help you grow with financial solutions, payment technologies, and data insights. Find out more on Synchrony.com.