What Consumer Brands Can Teach Small Businesses About Building an Audience

Jenny Coppola


“Restaurants are content creators," Sweetgreen co-founder Jonathan Neman said in a 2018 interview with Recode. “[O]ur salads are our hits.”

B2B companies are also starting to view themselves as brands and platforms that provide greater value than just their products or services. Many are creating branded shows like podcasts, video series, and documentaries; others are building interactive experiences; and some are even creating alternate brands and products in order to reach new audiences. But if you want your audience to grow, it’s not enough to just create great content — you need to consistently connect with people over the topics your content touches upon.

Successful B2C brands like Sweetgreen, Casper, and Glossier know a thing or two about getting audiences to talk about their content, whether that’s salads, sleepless nights, or beauty regimens. Why not take a page out of the B2C audience-building book when it comes to expanding your own audience as a small business? It may sound a little daunting at first, but the pay off for your business is worth it in the long run.

Build anticipation, like Sweetgreen

Sweetgreen was started from three college students’ desire to get healthy food, fast, and has grown into a tech unicorn with a $1B valuation. There’s a lot Sweetgreen has gotten right, from its online ordering system to the way the company manages supply chains for different regions. Beyond logistics, the brand has started its own music festival and even runs a health education program. But how does Sweetgreen stay top of mind with its diners? Regular menu changes.

Sweetgreen has core salad offerings, but the stores update menus each and every season — plus, menus are adapted to reflect local climates and preferences. If the core salads are Sweetgreen’s hits, the new salads are remixes.

Sweetgreen relies on user data and focus groups to make menu decisions and tries to anticipate when a menu change will make people unhappy. To communicate the change, the company will send out emails to people who regularly order a particular salad that’s being retired. This attention to detail, proactive outreach, and customer TLC pays off in the positive responses the brand gets on social media — and through the growing lines at stores. The constant refreshes and improvements have helped Sweetgreen grow a cultish following over the years.

Just look at the number of searches “sweetgreen menu” has gained over time:

So, how can you keep your B2B content fresh and exciting for your audience, just like Sweetgreen does with their salads?

  • Deliver new content regularly. Sweetgreen is able to secure brand loyalists and grow its audience by delivering fresh content on a seasonal schedule. The anticipation is part of the fun for longtime fans, and the new offerings open the brand up to new ones.
  • Be local and personal. When dreaming up new content ideas, ground your research in the communities you’re trying to reach. Sweetgreen does over a year of in-person research in new markets to find out what to put on menus. The only way to create a message that resonates is to actually talk to people.
  • Overcommunicate changes. If you’re delivering something new or different to people, tell them exactly why you’re doing it and what folks can expect. Send people individual messages and create lots of social, blog, and video content to support the new directions you’re taking.

Tailoring the content you create — whether that’s a blog post, a podcast, or a video series — to your audience based on research, focus groups, and surveys is a sure-fire way to make your content resonate on a personal level. Don’t be afraid to change things up — it may be the fuel your word-of-mouth engine needs to really get going.

Stay up all night solving problems, like Casper

A lot of marketers talk about zeroing-in on pain points and trying to alleviate them for their customers. But how far would you be willing to go to connect with your target audience over a pain point? Mattress company Casper has centered its extensive storytelling efforts over the years on sleep health and science, going as far as staying up late to talk to people with insomnia every night.

“Casper has centered its extensive storytelling efforts over the years on sleep health and science, going as far as staying up late to talk to people with insomnia every night.”

Casper’s Twitter feed, with 114K followers, is the brand’s direct line to its audience. One Shorty Award-winning tactic Casper used to build its audience was to tweet bedtime stories, using the hashtag #linksomnia, to people who were complaining of sleeplessness late at night.

The insomnia story continued in 2016 when Casper created a bot and a toll-free hotline to entertain people at night. Neither the bot, Insomnobot-3000, nor the hotline mention Casper, but both got people talking in the press and on social.

The bot had a lot of personality, leading people to post screenshots and send them to the brand:

Image source,Wordstream blog

Casper also publishes helpful and humorous articles about insomnia on its various publishing platforms, including Casper’s wellness site, Woolly, and the mattress-review site Sleepopolis, which Casper doesn’t technically own (it helped finance the site’s acquisition by JAKK Media in 2017). The company also sponsors a podcast, The Insomnia Project, to help people fall asleep. In many ways, Casper is becoming a go-to source for insomnia information online.

So, how can B2B brands keep audiences awake (pun intended) and engaged with their content just like Casper does?

  • Join and start conversations directly on social. Chances are you’ve already identified the main problems plaguing your audience (if you haven’t yet, check out this post and learn how to identify what makes your audience tick). Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the people participating in the conversations happening on social media. Or alternatively, start a new conversation with a branded hashtag that will make responses easy to follow. Be sure to contribute positively with knowledge, helpful tips and tools, or entertaining tidbits, like Casper does.
  • Go cross-platform. From tweets to bots to podcasts, Casper has gone deep on the issue of insomnia. They’ve successfully made their brand the center of conversations about sleeplessness all over the web. Think about diversifying your content creation efforts — don’t just share posts on your blog. Think about where else people are consuming content and spread the word there.
  • Read the room. While much of Casper’s insomnia content is lighthearted, the issue of insomnia isn’t exactly funny. Casper’s content toes the line between serious and playful, joking around about late-night cravings and TV binges, but also letting people know they’re not alone. If you’re taking on serious issues in your content, be friendly and approachable, but above all else, respectful with your tone.

Engaging with people around a pain point builds intimacy with your audience and that closeness contributes to growth. Opening up a conversation around a particular issue establishes trust and makes people feel more comfortable sharing their concerns with you. Because Casper has made the effort to be a part of these conversations around sleep health, their brand has become part of the greater wellness movement.

“Opening up a conversation around a particular issue establishes trust and makes people feel more comfortable sharing their concerns with you.”

Create an inclusive community, like Glossier

Glossier and Instagram grew up together. Glossier’s following is huge — it’s currently at 2.1 million — and Instagram media is the source of inspiration and information for Glossier’s customers. “We used Instagram to launch Glossier, and that’s really where the brand is taking shape,” Glossier founder Emily Weiss told Entrepreneur magazine way back in 2015. She had the handle @glossier before creating a single product, and tested her ideas out on an audience of (mostly) young women who had followed her to Instagram from her blog, Into the Gloss.

The symbiotic relationship between Instagram and Glossier has morphed into an audience-building machine, thanks to the authentic community that has developed through a myriad of photos, videos, and comments. For instance, there are nearly 23,000 tagged posts about one of Glossier’s most popular products, Cloud Paint blush:

Glossier’s approach to community is focused on a mix of influencer and ambassador content, as well posts from regular ’ol consumers. Oftentimes, sponsored posts are subtle selfies with the brand tagged in the corner, but brand reps don’t necessarily need to have a million followers. Glossier reposts UGC all the time to the main brand account, boosting its fans and reps equally. In Weiss’s own words, “At Glossier, something we’ve always stayed very true to, since pre-launch, day one, is that every single person is an influencer.”

And this inclusive strategy seems to be paying off. In 2017, Weiss said that “70 percent of online sales and traffic comes through peer-to-peer referrals,” and that the Instagram ambassador program was responsible for 8 percent of revenue.

So, how can you apply what Glossier has learned over the years building an audience on Instagram to your own B2B brand?

  • Find the social platform that works best for you. Glossier has had so much success with Instagram because Instagram’s visual nature makes it the perfect app for showing off skin-care regimens and makeup tutorials. In many cases, especially in the business world, Twitter and LinkedIn are more appropriate platforms for discussions about topics like leadership, company culture, and sales. Whatever the case may be, give the platforms you choose to invest in some serious thought.
  • Be relatable. Something radical about the way Glossier approaches beauty is the resistance to posting overly aspirational content. The content generated on Instagram features real, diverse people (with a few models sprinkled in) and isn’t all part of a single, streamlined aesthetic. This approach gives the brand a much more down-to-earth image and makes the products particularly desirable for young people.
  • Put content-creation tools in people’s hands. When you order from Glossier, the products arrive in extremely photogenic packaging, complete with stickers so you can customize your makeup case, and branded hashtags printed on the box. When customers snap a photo, and Glossier likes or reposts it, it creates a positive feedback loop that encourages further content creation.

Glossier’s Instagram momentum shows no signs of slowing down, and as their community grows, it’s only becoming more inclusive. When Glossier releases new products, its community is quick to both celebrate and critique them, providing feedback and attracting new customers with every post. At the end of the day, who doesn’t want an authentic, inclusive digital community for the brand?

“When Glossier releases new products, its community is quick to both celebrate and critique them, providing feedback and attracting new customers with every post.”

Grow your audience one superfan at a time

As brands across the B2B world start to act more like media companies, it’s important that we learn from what B2C companies have already done before us. Want to start growing your audience with the content you create? That’s great! Jump into the conversations they’re having in real time, listen to what your audience wants and needs more of, and celebrate them when they show up for your brand.

Whether you invest in a video series, a podcast, or even a documentary, the goal is to build up trust in your brand just like you would with your product. At the end of the day, audience building is all about sharing ideas (and feelings) with the right people and creating a brand relationship that stands the test of time.

Jenny Coppola


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