For years, marketing and branding experts are telling businesses to use storytelling to differentiate themselves. And for years, most companies have ignored that advice and just bombarded consumers with useless ads.
But the world has changed. We live in an ad-block age. Consumers are skeptical. And they have bullshit detectors that easily look right through cheap marketing tactics.
I’ve studied marketing for years. Not only have I read marketing books, articles, and paid close attention to successful businesses and organizations, I also specialized in marketing during my master’s degree in business administration.
I mention that because I’ve never seen anyone nail branding more than Casey Neistat. Some see him as a filmmaker or YouTuber. Others view him as an entrepreneur or advertising man.
I see him as an opportunist. Now, before you think that’s a bad thing, being an opportunist is an important reason why homo sapiens still exist today. Historically speaking, we’ve always been good at making the best out of normal things.
That’s probably also how the spear was invented. It’s nothing more than a combination of a stick (one tool), and a sharp stone (another tool). But when you combine those two things, you have a completely new weapon category that’s much more effective.
And that’s exactly what Casey Neistat did to branding.
Storytelling + Personal Content
Before Neistat started a company called Beme in 2015 with Matt Hackett, he had years of experience (and success) as a filmmaker. He even had a show on HBO, with his brother Van — an impressive accomplishment that not many filmmakers achieve.
So when Neistat and Hackett started Beme, which started as video sharing app, they could’ve done what any other new tech company does: Write articles, create some explainer videos, organize giveaways, ask influencers to use their app, and submit it to Product Hunt, etc.
But instead, Neistat combined his filmmaking experience with his personal story to create a new way of generating awareness for Beme: An entertaining daily vlog that became immensely popular.
“Ideas are cheap. Ideas are easy. Ideas are common. Everybody has ideas. Ideas are highly, highly overvalued. Execution is all that matters.” — Casey Neistat
A New Branding Narrative
‘Engagement’ is the word that marketers and business people love. As a brand, you want people to share your marketing campaigns and get excited about your product, service, app, etc.
Nike does this well with their sneaker releases. This year they launched an anniversary edition of the original Nike Air Max 1. Fans loved it because it reminded the about the ‘good old’ days.
It was a good story (it certainly got my attention as a sneaker fan). And even major media outlets such as GQ Magazine wrote about it. But Nike doesn’t need to put out ads because we, the fans, dictate the narrative for them. They just craft the story.
Don’t get me wrong; ads are still effective. But they won’t turn customers into fans. The perfect example is Beme: The app itself wasn’t anything special but it did have a massive launch.
In the first few days, half a million users downloaded the app. All this happened without traditional advertising. And for a few days, the growth of Beme seemed promising because it was on par with Instagram’s launch. In 2010, it took Instagram two months to hit one million users.
How did Beme pull this off? Pinpointing the main cause is difficult. Often, experts advise you to create a product that’s so good, that people can’t ignore it. However, Beme wasn’t that good.
I think Neistat’s daily vlog sparked Beme’s growth. Why? His content had high engagement (even though it wasn’t about Beme 95% of the time). And when he announced Beme’s launch, his fans went nuts for it.
Neistat’s YouTube channel grew exponentially since March 2015, when he started posting daily videos.
You might look at that graph and think: “Wow, when he started posting more videos, his channel grew as a result!”
I can guarantee you one thing: If I start publishing a daily vlog from tomorrow, my channel will not grow exponentially.
A Different Skillset
If businesses want to use the same strategy that Beme used, they’ll need a whole different skillset, compared traditional marketing. Gaining a competitive advantage is no longer only a matter of market research, analyzing tons of data, and creating targeted ads.
Sure, current marketing strategies such as Facebook ads still work. But if you want to improve engagement, build a loyal fan base, and grow your brand, you don’t need marketers — you need filmmakers, storytellers, artists, writers.
In Neistat’s case, he spent years perfecting his filmmaking and storytelling craft. That’s why he’s able to move so fast. He possessed these skills and saw an opportunity in 2015 to grow Beme with this new branding strategy.
It’s safe to say he’s done well. Beme was acquired by CNN. And his personal channel has over 7 million subscribers.
Neistat also proved that branding is entertaining for the audience. And when more businesses hire people with storytelling skills, or when entrepreneurs learn to do it themselves, we can all start telling stories instead of shoving ads down people’s throats.
And that’s a new definition of branding: No ads, but compelling stories. What’s yours?