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The digital marketing revolution

By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media

BuzzFeed explains how it created and developed the number one food and drink publisher in the world, and how this platform is utilised effectively in the new age of digital marketing and consumer engagement.

BuzzFeed is a leading independent digital media company that delivers news and entertainment to hundreds of millions of people around the world. It first became known for its viral listicles and quizzes, and then its video content, and subsequently it expanded and launched its sub-brands. These include: Tasty, its food brand, Bring Me, its travel and experience brand, As Is, its beauty and lifestyle brand, Goodful, its wellness and lifestyle brand, Nifty, its DIY brand, Playfull, its brand for parents, and BuzzFeed News, its brand for serious journalism and world news.

BuzzFeed has been a trailblazer in a new and digitally-led way to grow brands and sell products. James Lamon, Head of Content at BuzzFeed UK, introduces this further: “Social media is quickly becoming the best place companies have to reach their customers. As the marketplace changes and more and more commerce moves online, if you’re trying to reach a large audience that you can sell a product or provide a service to, social media is perhaps the best way to reach a large number of people at once.”

He discusses the common issue brands can face when first trying to navigate this new marketing landscape. “In an effort to accommodate this, brands are bringing strategies that they have created for other places, such as television or in-store, to the social media space. This can sometimes cause problems in reaching their audience in an optimal way.” He explains that this risks turning potential customers off if they are not being approached appropriately in the social space, and can prevent brands from reaching the level of success that they could achieve; the same success that BuzzFeed and other media companies have achieved in the social space.

Lamon explains this further, stating that BuzzFeed takes an audience-first approach in its content, which he says is what has allowed the company to grow to its current size. “What that means, plain and simple, is that when we make something and put it on social media we seek to address the needs of a single real individual who is using that platform.”

He continues: “Working in the marketplace, I think sometimes we forget that social media is deeply personal. People create their accounts to entertain themselves and to connect with their friends and follow influencers, and it can be quite revealing and even embarrassing at times; it’s a little private window into our lives.” He says that approaching one’s audience with a product-led approach won’t always translate in the intended way, and that BuzzFeed has found far more success in pausing and thinking about how its product, message, service, and brand fits into the life of someone on social media, and meeting them in what they are already looking at and engaging with. “That is to think audience-first.”

Lamon relates this shift in approach to ‘The Connection Spectrum’, which is the shift from targeting the collective to targeting the individual. “This is something that social media enables.” He says that traditional advertising targets the collective, and uses the example of a TV advertisement. “It’s expensive and you’re going to make one ad, or several versions of one ad, and you need to speak to your entire customer base with this one marketing communication, so it has to connect with everyone.”

He says that this approach does not work on social platforms, as it is too generalised to significantly impact the individuals that see it. “You can see evidence of this by the many brands that take a commercial made for TV or YouTube and put it on Facebook, and then don’t see anyone watching it or completing viewing or saying any nice things about it. Instead of going viral it flops because it wasn’t meant to go in that personal space,” he says. “Social media forces you to connect more one-on-one because it is a portal for users to connect personally with people that they have actively chosen to connect with and follow.”

Despite this common mistake, Lamon emphasises that this is not something for brands to be afraid of, and instead it should be valued as a new an opportunity. “By virtue of media consumption on social media, you don’t need to spend millions of pounds in an expensive, high budget commercial. You can make many small bits of content that can connect to many different individuals in many different ways.”

He highlights that when brands think audience-first and prioritise what will appeal to specific individuals’ likes and wants, it makes the content more shareable and engaging to consumers within their social network, and the brand’s content will be shared further and have a larger reach. “This change has been happening for years now. I think this a watershed moment in the industry.”

Once this audience has significantly grown and a positive relationship has been built, brands can then advertise more successfully to this community. Lamon uses BuzzFeed’s food brand, Tasty, as a key success story of this approach: “Tasty is now the world’s largest food network with over 100 million fans with different editions and languages across the world. From Britain alone, Tasty videos reach 18 million people a month with 54 million monthly video views, averaging 44,000 views per video.” The Tasty channel grew at an incredible speed, garnering 1.2 million likes in its first month alone, and in 2017 was named one of TIME Magazine’s best 25 inventions of the year.

“But we didn’t stop there, and I think this is what people don’t realise about the future of media and brand-building on social media,” Lamon says. “Once we had a large and engaged audience on Tasty, we started developing products for that audience. Our first Tasty cookbook sold 100,000 copies in its first month, and we have now sold over one million cookbooks to date. We made a Tasty app that has millions of downloads and users; we have a one-top cooking appliance, which is an induction hob that talks to our app and makes cooking easier; we have a range of cookware, and we have Tasty-branded foods in-market.”

He continues: “What’s interesting about this is if we had gone straight to the market trying to sell any of these things no one would have cared, but once we had built the Tasty brand and that brand stood for something people were interested in buying our products. We’ve changed the way that brands can be built in the modern era.”

This has completely revolutionised how consumers are marketed to. Tasty built a huge audience, and then successfully converted this pool of people into its customers through advertising within its content. “By using our products in our cooking Tasty videos we are marketing and advertising our own products at the same time as making content to entertain people. It’s the idea of building an audience first, and then being able to sell that audience products.”

This has also had the knock-on effect of changing the landscape of social media itself. “Social media is serving more enterprise needs and the targeting is already very good, but now they’re rolling out tools that allow you to do market research and surveying of your audience. The buy button is also rolling out across all markets so consumers can buy directly from their social feed.”

Lamon speculates that, with the increasingly growing market on social media and the decline in traditional shopping methods, there is a possible future where social media can become an all-in-one marketing solution. “You can find, reach, and target an audience on social media, and convert them into your customers by selling products in-feed. Then, once customers buy your products, if they have questions or problems you can speak to them using consumer management platforms all rolled into one.”

He emphasises that these communities also help to shape the products sold. “These products are informed by our efforts in the media space and having a two-way connection with our audience, which is enabled by the features of social media like the comment box where we can get direct and ongoing feedback.” He uses the example of a spatula Tasty sells that was a direct result of customer feedback on a pancake video, which led to the BuzzFeed team developing a product specifically catered to address the needs highlighted by its audience. “This is how easy and linear this can be.”

“At the heart of all this is creating a large footprint on social media. It requires you to play by the rules of the media companies and the influencers; if you don’t do that then you just won’t win,” he says. “It really changes the way that you style yourself, your brand truths and brand values, and how you present yourself to the public.”

Lamon finishes by giving insight into what we can expect to see from BuzzFeed moving forward. “Tasty is a forerunner of a lot of the BuzzFeed brands, and we are thinking more about expanding into licensing our brands, developing products, partnering with outside brands to develop products, and ultimately evolving from being just a media company that entertains people, to being a company that has a large media arm but also sells products direct to consumers. As a business, BuzzFeed is moving broadly in this direction in a million different ways across all of our brands.”

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