How to Attract the Right Audience and Subvert the Funnel

We were lucky enough to have Chris Savage, co-founder and CEO of Wistia, deliver a great talk to the Vegas tech community on why video marketing is so powerful when building audiences and how to make video production easier.

The good folks at Wistia often recommend to video newbies that they work with whatever camera they have handy — so we MacGyver’d something with Walter’s iPhone, some tape, a picture frame, and a bar stool to capture Chris’s words of wisdom.

Hey! It’s the transcript for Chris’s talk, Building Audiences with Video Marketing

I’m excited to be here with you guys. I’m going to be talking about building audience with video and content marketing, and a bunch of stuff that I do everyday that I’m excited about. It’s fun to be here in Tony Hsieh-town, so it’s fun to be able to give back a little bit.

I started Wistia in 2006. That’s me on the right. That’s my cofounder Brendan. We were 22 and drunk and seemed like a good idea. And we’re still going, seven and a half years later so I’m pretty happy about that.

Today Wistia has 26 people in it, all shapes and sizes, and we do a ton of content marketing. So we put out about 3 blog posts a week, 1-2 videos a week, it’s the main driver of our business, we have over 50,000 companies at this point that use us, so the stuff that I’m going to be going over with you guys is stuff we’ve learned from ourselves, stuff we’ve learned from other companies, and hopefully there are a couple pieces that you can use today.

When we first started thinking about content marketing, we thought about the funnel, and I’m sure you’ve heard about the funnel. And what we tried to do was make content that would move people through the stages of the funnel, so that ultimately we could have our house of money, which is like the cheesiest, best thing I could find for a successful business. But when we were trying to make content that was around the funnel, we ran into a lot of problems. I think that’s actually because the funnel is really limiting.

So the first thing is that funnels are inherently sales-focused, so if you make content but you’re trying to make it for a certain stage. So for us, the bottom people who are paying us for video-hosting analytics, someone who might be ready to buy video-hosting analytics, someone who might be making video. When you’re trying to push someone through the funnel, it limits the kind of content that you can make and it limits how that content is going to be shared. And ultimately we started to find that it limited our potential audience. So if we were only making content for people who could use video-hosting analytics today that would be stopping a lot of people from being interested in the stuff that we make.

Then the last thing is that the goal of funnels is to push. And I found that a lot of the content I love the most doesn’t ask me for anything. It’s just a gift. So I’m going to show you guys a video that we made about a month or two ago, and as we watch this one minute clip from that video, think about where in the funnel you’d think about this content fitting.

The goals for this video are very different than goals I would think about for content that’s going through the funnel. So the goals in this video are: to build trust — we want people to think that they can trust Wistia, we’re going to do right by your time, teach useful things, hopefully not sell you a ton of things. And the next goal is to engage a wider audience than video hosting analytics. This is not something for people who just care about video hosting analytics, this is for anybody shooting a video anywhere. Like if you could be shoot a video of your kids, and this stuff matters. And that’s important to us — and ultimately the goal is to encourage sharing of the content.

I want to highlight this one example, Teresa, who’s someone who is in our audience. Well actually she’s just a stock photo but it does the trick. Basically the idea is we have lots of people like Teresa in our audience who are college students, and random people in random industries that have nothing to do with being Wistia customers. And the key to this whole process working for us for making content that’s not just about the funnel but it’s about an audience is that she is a perfect audience member.

I’m going to show you why you want a lot of Teresas. So Teresa, we got her email somehow, and this is the same video we were watching — when we send a video to Teresa, we want her to trust us, we want basically not ask much of her except to come through and take a look at the content.

So this is that video – it lives in something called the Learning Center, which is the home of a lot of the content we’ve made that’s been really successful for us, and we want her to see that she’s part of an audience. So we’re showing her how many plays are on this video, how many tweets, how many likes — and there’s no call to action on this page that says “Sign up for a Wistia account”. The goal is literally to try to make this content so useful to her that she says, “oh yeah, my brother, he makes a lot of videos and he would find this interesting,” or “my friend who got a job at some other place, they make a lot of videos, they’d find this interesting” or maybe they just do still photography and they’d think about making video.

Whatever it is, we just want to limit anything that would stop her from sharing the content and our ultimate goal is that when those other people come back here, we give them a very easy way to opt in to the content but it’s not a strong pitch. So this is something that shows up at the end of the video, it literally just says “enter your email to stay up to date on our content” and we’re not saying buy the product, get some special thing, whatever — the only people who sign up for this are people who watched that whole video all the way through, thought it was really interesting, thought it was really useful, and they’re going to be amazing audience members for us.

This is where things start to get interesting because our goal is actually to fill our funnel — we do have a funnel, it’s really consistent, we know exactly how many people convert based on what are the things that they do and touch in our product, when we send them emails, all this other stuff — but our goal is to fill the funnel by growing the audience.

And it’s actually dumb marketing. We’re not super strategic with the things that we’re making, we just make things that we think will be good and kind of follow our mission of empowering everyone to make videos, and then if we do our job right, the sharing goes around, and there’s a splash effect that happens on the site. And the splash is that people are like, “who’s making this great content? I want to know what’s behind the scenes, I want to know where this stuff is coming from” and those people end up making their way to the funnel and I think the thing that makes me so happy about this is it completely aligns our goals with our audience.

So our audience doesn’t want to be sold, they don’t want to waste their time, they don’t want to see a bunch of junk, they just want really useful experiences that they can share with others, and they want useful things that they can tell other people about. And that’s all we’re trying to do. So it doesn’t feel pitchy, it doesn’t feel salesy, all the time when people buy, they’ll say, “the first time I heard about you was your content but I had no idea what your product was for months” and that’s the way that we like it. We like it because we’re so well-aligned.

Tons of companies are doing this well. Just to give a couple examples — the first one is First Round Review. I think it’s a really great example because First Round Capital is a venture capital firm and First Round Review is their version of a Harvard Business Review, and everything around this site is just about getting you to join an audience and see how great the content is. But if you think about what they’re selling, they’re trying to get you guys, the best of you guys, to pitch them at the right moment, right when you need to raise money, right when you’re at the right stage. There’s actually an incredibly small amount of people they want to talk to, like they might fund 12 companies a year, and it could be an amazing year for them. But because they’re so focused on building an audience, they’re going to build that audience, build that name recognition, and get enough people going through this process that the right people will come and sign up.

Another example that I’m sure many of you have heard of is Buffer. This is something I pulled from last week, and I love just the title of this: “The Psychology Behind Brainstorming: why it doesn’t always work and 4 ways to get ideas more consistently” – this really has nothing to do with their product at all, but it has something to do with their mission, and it’s clearly content that’s designed to be pushed around and to build an audience. iDoneThis is doing this as well, I’m sure a bunch of you guys are doing this also. I just love the fact that when building audiences is done properly, content just aligns with the goal so well.

This is another example, which is Moz. Moz has a bunch of inbound marketing, analytics, and SEO tools, they’re a great product. They have an amazing blog which is wildly, wildly popular. This is an example of a series they do called Whiteboard Fridays where every Friday, someone from Moz gets on camera and they teach about things that are between 4 and 7 minutes long. Every single call to action that they have on their site is just about joining their audience, and they have kind of the same effect going where they’re trying to build a really strong connection with content, and then bring people into the fold of their product.

So where does video fit in? I’m a video guy and I’m the guy standing up, so I’m going to say what I want. We’ve tried a bunch of different kinds of content, and we’ve found that video is particularly effective in audience-building for a couple of reasons.

The first one is that video builds trust in a way that a lot of other mediums don’t. You see the people that are talking and you can judge whether or not you believe them, you can judge whether you want to have a relationship with them. I’m going to show you a video of this guy, his name is Paul. He runs a lawncare business in Pennsylvania, and what Paul does, it’s called WiseGrass, I guess I’ll just play this video, you guys watch it, and we’ll see if we think we trust Paul to take care of our grass.

The thing that I love about Paul is that Paul has totally changed the game in terms of the amount of traffic that he needs for this to be successful because he’s trying to help these random people make their lawns more beautiful in some suburb of Pennsylvania, but what he’s selling is himself, and he’s selling his personality and his approach, and I feel like at the end of this, you actually feel like you know him a little bit about and you might actually trust him, which is basically all he needs to do. So if he gets like 500 pageviews out of this, that could make a season, that’s the crazy thing about what he’s doing. And I should also mention that he’s been doing content marketing like this for four years, and it is the main driver of his growth. It’s kind of wild.

The next example is this guy from magictricks.com – this guy’s name is Peter Monticup. and he’s a real goofball and basically goes through and teaches you how to do a bunch of cheap, easy magic tricks at magictricks.com. So check it out, buy a bunch of magic tricks — but the thing that’s cool about this is that magic tricks are not a commodity, like nobody knows what a magic trick is going to look like, and nobody knows if you’re going to buy. It’s just hard to know if you’re going to buy into what this thing is going to be. So he realized that the key to scaling himself and scaling people to come into his physical store was just him making videos of these tricks, which doesn’t seem like that remarkable of a thing, except that everything that all of you are trying to do is you’re trying to build things that are not commodities, you’re trying to explain them to people in an automated way, and you’re also trying to build trust and build relationships with them, so it actually does tend to work really, really well. So for Peter, he’s been super successful.

Videos are really just about relationships. I think that’s the thing that’s the most important piece of this. When you’re thinking about video as part of a content marketing strategy is where are the things that when you’re talking somebody in person you sell them, but when you try to put it in a blog post, you try to put it down on a feature page, it’s not just resonating in the way that you want it to — those are often really good places to incorporate video, because you can’t scale yourself and because you can build a relationship, because those are often the things that are the difference in getting people to sign up or not.

So I’m going to go through a couple of the ways we found that make it a lot easier to make video. The first thing is to start scrappy. So Paul’s video is shot on an iPhone on a tripod by himself. It is like a minute and 20 seconds long, and it clearly does the trick. So what Paul does is gets in front of the camera, doesn’t edit anything except for his credits, and he tries this 3 or 4 times, and then he’s done. He’s just changed the process, so he can have something that feels really genuine and it doesn’t have to be really scary. And I think this is something that we kind of discovered by accident, and I’ll show you a piece of content that’s kind of crappy and worked really well for us in a second.

So the first thing is starting scrappy and the second thing is keeping it really simple. So this is Rand from Moz. They’re Whiteboard Friday series, if you ask them, is one of the most successful marketing things that they’ve ever done, they’ve built enormous amount of brand recognition out of it and individual recognition, and the crazy thing is is that it’s just one take, in front of a whiteboard, with 3 lights and the same camera. So it’s basically set up and ready to go and the hardest part is coming up with a presentation that’s going to be 5 minutes long, which of course they’re doing all day every day. They’ve been able to have a weekly series for 4 years now, because they’ve hacked the production so that it’s really really simple.

The next one is that you should use the camera that you already have. Everyone’s always asking me what’s the best camera to use? It’s the one that you have in your pocket. People will get over the scrappiness. That’s why this is an iPhone right here taped to a photo thing. All these cameras work. There are some decent tools out there to help you. One of them is a tool called Filmic Pro, and that’s going to make it easier for you to just do simple things like lock the focus on your subject, and if you’ve ever noticed if you’re holding an iPhone and move it around, the white balance is changing, so things are getting blown out and going back – that’s the kind of app that’s going to help you a lot.

The next one, and this is where you’re going to get your biggest bang for your buck, is buying lights. We’ve put together a lighting kit that you can find at bit.ly/lightingkit, you can also find it at wistia.com/learning and for $100, you go to Home Depot, get these 3 lights, put them together, and what it’s going to do — and this is Chris Lavigne here — what it’s doing on his face is basically, we’re trying to balance out the shadows of his face, and we’re trying to separate him out from the background. So what we’re doing it we’re trying to reduce distractions so you can feel a more intimate connection with him and you don’t have to worry about why he looks so crazy. It turns out if you just shoot everybody without lights, everybody looks pretty weird and crazy, which is how they look all the time, but we judge people more on video and that’s why lighting is important.

The next thing is you’re definitely going to want to put yourself on camera as much as you can, I can’t stress this enough. It’s unbelievable the effect that it has when you can build relationships and scale relationships by getting on camera. And we also try to put the people who are the experts at what they’re talking about in the video about the thing that they’re talking about. So Joe is one of our lead designers so if you are watching a video from Wistia about why we do design a particular way, which if course fits directly into the whole audience-building I was just talking about, Joe is going to be the guy on camera. It’s going to be his voice, he’s going to have the final say on the script, he’s going to make it feel like him. Jeff leads our customer happiness team. If you see a video of us talking about customer happiness, all that stuff, Jeff is the guy who’s going to do that.

I definitely highly highly suggest if you’re going to try this, you should put yourself on there, because while it’s scary, people will actually say things to you, like “I really like when you said xyz, or I love how your hair was, Walter” and I think those connections add up to the difference between these things being shared a lot, they add up to the difference between these people being willing to fight for your brand, is actually having connections with an individual.

The next piece is just making video really consistently. So this is Justine, she runs marketing at a company called Litmus, and they’re doing a monthly video series where they talk about email market share is changing and what new things you should be aware of – like is iPhone up or down, how do the Gmail promotions tabs affect things – so they actually hacked a way. They have all this data and they just need an easy way to talk about it, and they’ve created that. So every month they just get together, and she literally stands next to a computer that has Keynote on it, and just flies through. That’s it. And they’ve gotten so much better in the 3 months they’ve been doing this, and if you want to get inspired, go look at what these guys are doing.

This one might seem obvious but I still think it’s important, which is that you’re going to be wanting to teach as much of this content as possible as opposed to selling. And one of the keys is that you can make a couple amazing videos or couple amazing pieces of content that are focused on selling. You can make an unlimited amount of content that is focused on teaching.

Before I really got this, we were struggling to come up with ideas for what our next blog post would be, we were struggling to come up with ideas for what our next video would be. We’ve kind of pushed our product, we’ve kind of pushed our company, we’ve kind of pushed these other pieces of this thing. But when we started to really focus on saying, how can we make content that educates people that’s a part of our mission – it became much much much easier and we could make content about lenses and scripting and editing and all these other things that have absolutely nothing to do with our product but that actually sell people on our product every day.

So the last piece I encourage you to think about with making video is Game of Thrones. And the reason I encourage you to think about Game of Thrones is that they do an absolutely phenomenal job of building momentum with their content. So the newest season is about to come out, people are pretty excited about it. People are pretty excited about it because in the last season, you were left with this feeling of, I need to see more, and it turns out at the end of every episode you feel this of I need to see more, because you’re making it through the content, you’re excited about it, you’re judging it.

And one of the things that I’ve noticed with business content and marketing content is that everyone is judging what we’re doing even more than they’re judging entertainment content. They know that you’re a business, they know that you’re a startup, they know that at the end of the day there’s some product you’re trying to sell, so if you can actually make content that gives people watching all the way through and actually helps build momentum, people actually recognize that and they tell other people about that, and they anticipate things, and it makes your life a lot easier.

I’m going to show you a video now that we made in 2002 that was a huge turning point for us. We launched on our blog and for social proof, it had like 13 tweets and 3 likes on it, so you know this thing was crazy viral. Actually I’ve been featuring this thing in talks for a year and a half, so really it had like 1 tweet on it and 0 likes, but I’m going to show you the video and we’re going to look at the analytics and talk about what we learned from it.

So that’s it. Pretty simple. So these are the analytics for that video, and I’ll just briefly walk you through it. Basically this blue part of the graph is engagement, so when it’s going down, people are skipping ahead or they’re turning the video off. And this orange part of the graph is rewatching. So this is areas people are skipping back and watching over and over for some reason. So the reason someone’s going to do that is something’s particularly interesting, something’s confusing, something’s particularly engaging, and at the bottom, we have the loads, the visitors, the play rates – percentages people click play, the plays, and the hours watched. For the industry, a play rate of about 33% is average for the video on the site, so this is a fine play rate, not that okay. But the engagement on this video was 91%. So on average, people are watching 91% of this video.

What’s in this video? People moving furniture around. It’s not like some crazy wild thing except they’re watching it, and I was like, what the hell’s going on here because we’ve been making tons of content and trying really hard to teach people things and sell them shit, and we were getting like 60% engagement, and then we made this video basically moving furniture around our office, and 91% of people watched all the way through. I was blown away by this.

This little bump here, which used to be more dramatic when there were less views, was when that Yoshi head came out. We started to realize that maybe just showing behind the scenes of our company would be interesting, and maybe being a little bit more forward with how big we are would be interesting, because when we first launched this, at the time, there was like 10 people in the office, maybe a little less than that, and we were terrified of telling people how big we were and what we were doing. Yet this video where you could actually judge that we were super-small was one of the things that really helped us build a connection and it brought a lot of people back. And the most wild part about this is, of the visitors to this page, they still converted to accounts the same percentage anyway, like paying Wistia customers, which was kind of wild.

I think we never would’ve made this if we thought, let’s make a video that’s going to go viral, let’s make a video that’s going to improve our conversion rate, let’s make a video that’s going to better sell our product. We didn’t make it for those reasons. We made it because we literally had a camera sitting there and we happened to be moving furniture around.

So I just encourage you to try to take some more risks and try to take advantage of this medium, because it’s really being underutilized still and so that means it’s a huge advantage for all you guys. It’s a huge advantage to build deeper connections with your audience in a medium that most people don’t use at all.

So all that comes back to iteration, and that’s the only way we’ve gotten where we are is just iterating and iterating and iterating. And not taking the same video and redoing it, just like you wouldn’t take the same blog post and redo it, but trying to improve our content in the future, understand what people want better, and build deeper connections.

Back to the funnel analogy, I don’t think it’s that fun to be pushed through a funnel. I don’t think it’s that fun to be that blue guy falling out of the bottom but I think it’s way more fun to actually be a part of an audience, when you’re engaging with a brand.

So, that is it.