Building Brands That Last (2/2): The Perennial YouTube Channel
While I was writing the first part of this post, I was reading a book called Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday. And it turns out that I liked it so much, that I decided to create a second part based on the structure of that book. Because if you want to build a brand or anything that lasts, that book is your bible.
This post is not a substitute of the book. What I’ve done is to pick the main structure of the book and apply those ideas on how to build brands that last on YouTube. In fact, the structure of this post is exactly the same as the book, four parts (the creative process, positioning, marketing and platforms.)
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In the first part of this post we talked about how to become scarce on YouTube. Basically we covered how to find and solve problems, become scarce by using the lock-in effect, and also the challenges every channel on YouTube faces.
In this post, we’re going to get a wider perspective of what’s necessary to create content that would help you to become scarce on YouTube and last for a while.
However, before we dive deep into it, this post follows the idea of not tracking your progress based on views. If you want to create content that lasts, avoid the instant gratification and focus on things that matter. Things that grow stronger every single day that passes.
Let’s get into it.
Photo credit: tim.blog
1) The Creative Process:
Making great videos is hard, but that should be your primary focus.
The YouTube’s reality is that crappy videos don’t survive. Even with great videos is hard to thrive, but if your videos are worthless, you’d be out in the first round.
The point here is to know how to define your videos before you start making them. Every great video and channel on YouTube have something in common: they define everything before they release their first video. The story, concept, theme, genre, execution, niche, everything! This is something that can’t be skipped to do later.
The idea behind this, is to make your creative work so good, that people recommend it to their friends.
This is your opportunity. Everybody wants to be on YouTube, but not everybody is willing to do the work that requires to be at the top of their category.
Timing is not critical
It doesn’t matter if you release your channel today or a year from now. It makes no difference. What matters is to release something worth watching.
Great videos can’t be hurried.
An idea needs time to be baked.
As Ryan Holiday says in his book:
“A book takes months or years of writing. Movie productions may take longer. Scientific discoveries might take decades to properly articulate. This is not a process we ought to plunge into unknowingly. Just as we take a big breath before we dive underwater, we need to grab some air before we bury ourselves in a creative pursuit.”
Pull the thread
Just as a book should be an article before it’s a book—a YouTube channel should be a short video on YouTube or Facebook or Instagram… before you create the channel around a category.
Take this site as an example: I started talking to some people about a case study on YouTubers and people liked it. Then, instead of writing a case study, I started a collaborative book for charity, with experts talking about the relationship between brands and YouTubers. That was when people started to be interested in this idea and my point of view against the TV practices on YouTube. Finally, the idea forced me to turn it into something bigger: a movement.
And for your brand is exactly the same. It has to be the idea itself that forces you to stand up and serve it. In fact, you’ve got to decide, whether your serve the idea or you kill it.
Photo credit: Julie Jablonski
Don’t spend months making videos, start testing with quick videos and see where those threads guide you. One of those threads will let you tweak it and make something that people will be eager to tell their friends.
By following this path, you’ll be able to figure out the answer to: Who is this thing for?
This point is critical: Instead of waiting until you launch your videos to know that no one wants to watch’em—before you pull the thread completely, figure out to whom is the stuff you’re making. Again, to have a chance to build something that lasts, think about this now, before you launch your official channel, while you’re making it.
As Ryan says:
“The key to success in nonfiction (is) that the work should be either “very entertaining” or “extremely practical”. (…) So the creator of any project should try to answer some variant of these questions:
• What does this teach?
• What does this solve?
• How am I entertaining?
• What am I giving?
• What are we offering?
• What are we sharing?”
Take as much time as necessary to figure this out.
Do you have everything (story, concept, execution, niche…) well defined?
Are you in a hurry to launch your channel? Slow it down and make sure you get the essentials right.
Are you pulling a thread? Where does it guide you?
The problem every YouTuber faces is this: An audience can’t know what’s inside a video they haven’t watched. As simple as that.
You’ve got to tell them what’s inside. And make it obvious.
It doesn’t matter how good your videos are. If you don’t attract their attention, they won’t come. So forget about the saying of “if it’s good enough they’ll come.” Because they won’t.
“Being really good is merely the first step. In order to earn word of mouth, you need to make [your product] safe, fun, and worthwhile to overcome the social hurdles to spread the word.”
— Seth Godin
That’s the point of Positioning: earn word of mouth.
The one, one, one approach
I love the exercise Ryan Holiday proposes in Perennial Seller. It’s “One Sentence, One Paragraph, One Page.”
The idea here is to pick a piece of paper and a pen, and write down exactly what your YouTube channel is supposed to be, and do it… In one sentence… one paragraph… and one page.
This will help you, not only to gain clarity, but to say who you’re aiming to with your channel or videos. And ideally identifying who will be your first thousand readers.
Therefore, make sure you define who your videos are for (and not for), why they are special and why people should watch them.
Important: Take your time with this and make it right, This can’t be rushed.
It’s not enough to be way better than the rest. You’ve got to make sure your viewers understand why you’re better. You’ve got to show them.
Photo credit: Travis Wise
As Ryan says, “we judge a book by its cover. That’s why books have covers.” That’s why your featured image and the look of your channel is critical.
Test, test, test.
See which featured images work better, the copy of your titles, the header image in your channel.. Every single thing has to be tested.
Again, this is critical to be defined before you start doing the work. And this applies to these series of posts and also to the laws of branding for YouTube. Don’t postpone the pain.
Every brand has a purpose
Or should have.
If you want to build something that lasts, you’ve got to stand for something. You need a mission. And this isn’t something you put in your channel information or your about page—it has to be real.
Whatever mission you have, make sure you communicate it perfectly.
Before you define your mission, find your edge and challenge the status quo, because brands that do that, thrive.
Tesla challenges the status quo with their mission to stop the use of fossil fuels. And Elon Musk also made it clear with SpaceX…He wants to colonize Mars. That’s what makes a brand powerful and gets millions of people watching their live videos.
But not everybody is Elon Musk, though.
You can make it to a different scale. Let’s take this site again as an example.
We clearly stand for something. We challenge the status quo by fighting against the TV-Industrial Complex that corrupts YouTube. And not only that, we give it a bit of controversy by not being on YouTube. I’m not even a YouTube expert. And that’s something that makes this site unique: we challenge the status quo by bringing some clarity from the outside.
Are people eager to see what’s inside your videos? Do you make it clear for them? Test, test, test.
Do you stand for something? Are you communicating it?
Does your videos have some controversy on them?
3) Marketing: word of mouth is the goal
Everything here is related with one goal: earning word of mouth.
Today, if you want to market something successfully, you need word of mouth. As Ryan puts it in the book:
“A product that doesn’t have word of mouth will eventually cease to exist as far as the general public is concerned. Anything that requires advertising to survive will—on a long enough timeline—cease to be economically feasible. As Jonah Berger, one of the leading scientists on viral sharing, has put it, «[Companies] live or die by word of mouth.»”
Setting the stage
The problem here is that most people haven’t heard about you. Not even watched a video. So this is where you need to set the stage and make a media strategy to get more coverage in order to spread your idea.
As I’ve said, you need more than a great product. You need to hit critical velocity if you want to thrive on YouTube, and the only way to increase your chances is to prepare the official launch and make your homework.
You need to coordinate your videos, media, influencers and relationships. So take your time and plan accordingly.
The best way is to create a spreadsheet and include everything you’ve got to make the official launch of your channel a success: all your relationships, media contacts, resources, collaborators… It doesn’t matter if the contact is not too influential… Write it down.
On the other hand, if you’ve successfully solved a problem people have (see part 1), your videos will hit velocity organically by themselves. Nonetheless, you need help to get traction, and that’s where you’ve got to find your influencers.
Find your influencers
Why influencers? Because there’s no such a thing to get word of mouth that a real person recommending your product. And that’s why collaborations between YouTubers work so well.
Photo credit: Do What You Can’t by Casey Neistat
For the record, here I won’t recommend to pay a YouTuber to say how nice your product is. It’s a given that in most cases that’s pure interruption. What I want to recommend you is to find a way to make them eager to talk about your stuff without paying them. And yes, you can achieve that.
YouTubers and other influencers, at least the good ones, care about their audience. So if they think something might interest them, they’d talk about it.
How do you do that?
Here’s you’ve got two choices: (1) that YouTuber/Influencer is your friend, or (2) your product is so good that they have to talk about it.
If you’ve developed your project properly and solved a problem as I said in the first part, then it should be easier to accomplish.
There’s no other way around, you’ve got to exceed expectations. And they way you do that is by making them look cool in front of others.
In fact, that’s one of the steps Jonah Berger shows in his book Contagious. The act of making others look good when they talk about you, increase the chances to earn word of mouth. (I might write soon a post about how to create Contagious videos on YouTube…)
Therefore, your main task here is to identify the influencers in your space. And make a list in a spreadsheet to use it in the next step.
By the way, here you don’t have to find the most popular influencer. Just the one who is famous to the family. The one that, despite having a small audience, has a unique voice that resonates to that audience.
How to ask influencers to share your content
Okay, okay… but how do I ask these influencers to share my content?
You don’t. But… you make it easy for them to talk about you.
If you talk on your videos about physical products then it’s easy. You can send them your best stuff or you can even customize your products just for them. And here’s where it gets critical to define extremely well your ideal influencer. And of course if you can find influencers with influencer friends, that’s a perfect scenario.
But what if you don’t sell a physical product?
In both cases, but specially in this one, you’ve got to communicate your mission and build a human relationship with them. There’s no shortcut here.
Here’s worth remarking something. Even if it seems counterintuitive, your goal here shouldn’t be to drive viewers to your channel. You goal should be to build relationships as social proof, so you can start being trusted by an audience. Then visits will come by themselves.
As Ryan says, “it’s about grabbing attention, not getting it.”
Note: test and try everything and see what works best for your channel. I give you the thinking behind the strategy, but you’ve got to find your best marketing strategy that suits your story.
Do you have your spreadsheet ready? Make sure you include every single contact you can.
Identify which influencers are the key ones in your category. If can’t identify them, it should be easy, see who influences you.
Start building relationships with the influencers in your category. Don’t rush anything and be a human (not spam.)
4) Your Platform
In the first post, I showed you that the best way to stay scarce on YouTube is by building your permission asset. Building your true fans platform using email as the main way to stay in touch. Now’s time to dive deep into it:
Your main advantage right now is that most brands that are on YouTube don’t think they need to build a permission asset with an email list. And that’s where you can work your way up by thinking differently.
While other brands rely on advertising and YouTubers to reach an audience, your goal here is to “own” it. No middleman, no more possibilities to disappear overnight. This is an asset that you can own, but you’ve got to start. Now.
Again, YouTube is a great way to work on your permission asset. However, if your can combine it with email… way better. Email is great to cultivate a direct and intimate connection with your audience, and it’s the only medium that has been around for 50 years.
Nonetheless, in one way or another, find a way to get people’s permission to contact them. Get subscribers to your own channel and build your email list.
Why you need a permission asset?
Photo credit: TechCrunch
I love Casey Neistat’s case, and Ryan talks about him in Perennial Seller:
“Casey Neistat was once an up-and-coming filmmaker destined to be the next go-to indie director. He’d created a successful show for HBO. (…) But he left that behind to distribute his work on YouTube.
“On YouTube, however, he could release his videos directly to his fans. He could line up subscribers. He could reach people directly on social media and via email. Online, he has a platform—one he owns and operates, no middlemen allowed. (…) There’s no promotional apparatus here, he doesn’t lobby a studio for a marketing budget, there’s no vying for a release date against the rest of a distributor’s slate. Today he’s one of the most influential directors on the planet—even if most people who aren’t his fans would have trouble recognizing his name.”
This is a powerful asset. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re featured on Trendings or not. Because you already have your audience waiting to watch whatever you release next.
But I have to insist, find a way to build an email list and don’t rely too much on social platforms like YouTube, because they can disappear overnight (like MySpace did.)
So, how can you make people to leave YouTube to subscribe to your email list?
Thinking outside YouTube
Here’s is the tricky part. How can you get your audience interested in something outside YouTube?
The truth is that you can build a list about anything you want, but most of your subscribers are just there for your videos. However, you can build an email list about something they can’t get on YouTube.
The answer to “what can I do to build an email list?” depends on your brand, but I can give you a few ideas, so you can use them, tweak them or just to get a rough idea:
- Exclusive content behind the scenes: some people use Instagram or other social platform to show additional content, but you can make it private by only sending it to your email subscribers.
- News and projects.
- Special releases.
- Private videos or special Q&As.
- Give a book away for free. Or a guide, or an article, or whatever you can.
- Include hidden QR codes for your true true fans that are able to find it. (Not sure how well this thing works, but it’s interesting.)
- Promise something and make it happen.
Find something that suits your audience. For example, in my personal blog what I do is to send an exclusive monthly reading list for my subscribers.
Whatever it is, start building now.
Start building your email list. Open a mailchimp account (or another provider) and start building it. You can even start doing it manually (!)
Are you providing enough value so people leave you their emails? Find something useful that offers more value than the pain of subscribing.
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With these two posts we’ve seen how any brand can become scarce and be built to last. Too many great brands have followed this path and ended up lasting over their competitors that focused on short-term results.
The good news is that a few brands are following this path on YouTube right now. And if you find your edge on a category and solve a problem following these instructions, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll thrive on YouTube.
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