Episode 39 of The Verblio Show
Want to learn the ins and outs of brand affinity marketing OR hear the scandalous story behind the former mob boss mayor of Providence, RI?
Chris Savage has you covered on both accounts in this far-ranging conversation with Steve. As co-founder and CEO of Wistia, Chris also shares how the company’s famously quirky brand happened by accident, why leading a startup was easier when he had no experience, and why the future of video isn’t just about video at all.
Name: Chris Savage
What he does: Co-founder and CEO of Wistia.
Get smart: “Scaling a company is about giving things to other people who will do them better than you and are excited to do them.”
Chris tells the story of how Wistia initially marketed itself as a big, traditional B2B company in the competitive video hosting space. Their transformation into one of the quirkiest, most human-forward brands in the business started by accident when dancing photos of the six-person team went viral—but it was immediately clear they were onto something. As they doubled down on candid, entertaining content, customers started rolling in.
“It was this crazy thing to watch happen,” Chris recalls. “Here’s this independent business, we raised a tiny little bit of angel money, we’re growing, and we’re funky and weird and different. And everybody else has all this money and has this big sales team but can’t figure out how to get the deals.”
Today, the power of authenticity is only growing as our personal and professional lives are bleeding together more than ever.
“There are brands who are getting comfortable with the authenticity that comes from making content when you’re at home and being willing to have your kids interrupt something and leaving it in,” Chris says. Look for that authenticity—or its absence—to be a primary differentiator of brands in the coming years.
Want to launch new products? Know how to kill them
Wistia isn’t afraid to launch new products. A lot of that confidence comes from knowing that if they build something and it doesn’t take off, they can shut it down.
One example Chris gives is Wistia’s former video production network called 50 Grove. The product was well-received, but they didn’t feel it was truly solving the problem they’d set out to address. “We could’ve just left it lingering,” he says. “But instead we decided, ‘This is a distraction. This is a problem. We need to actually shut this down, and it’s better for everyone if we do.'”
If nobody uses a feature, killing it is easy. If a few people use it, you can learn what problems it is solving for them, help them find other solutions, and use that intel to iterate on better, more successful future launches.
Build a brand through content, not just product
Brand affinity refers to the strength of your brand and the connection people have to it. “Traditionally,” Chris explains, “brand affinity comes from using a product.” Today, however, brand affinity is being built through content in a practice known as “brand affinity marketing.”
“Companies are making content with the goal being to reshape how people connect with and feel about their brand.” By spending time with a company’s content, their audience is able to understand their values and feel a connection to the brand—even before they become a customer.
This means a major opportunity for businesses. “In the same way they would spend time with your product, now they’re spending time with your content,” Chris says. Episodic content in particular—like a blog series or podcast—is particularly effective in brand affinity marketing because it allows your audience to spend a lot of time with you on an ongoing basis.
Startup Success Tip #1: There’s power in naivete…
“I think one of the biggest benefits [of starting a company with no experience] is just being naïve about what problems you can solve. And actually one of the challenges with having 14 years of experience is I look at something like, ‘Well, there’s gonna be a lot of good stuff that comes out of it, and there’s gonna be a lot of bad stuff. And what’s the balance between those things? And how are we gonna mitigate the bad while doing the good?’
Today, I know enough that every decision is almost more complicated. And when you’re naïve, you just make the move. I think in the early days, being really naïve, we tackled problems we had no right tackling and did things that no analyst or MBA would tell you is a good idea, and they were good ideas. And I think that’s like a superpower, is to try to figure out how to be naïve about the right aspects of your business so you can go in blindly believing that something’s going to work, because you need that.”
…but credibility requires realism
“There’s a moment for blind optimism, and then there’s a moment for realism with the team. You’re not credible if you don’t know how things are really going and you don’t know what parts actually suck.
Because the reality is, if you’re making anything big or with a lot of scale, with a lot of customers, or a wide service area of a product—if you’re trying to build something lasting—there will be things that are not good. And that’s just the nature of the beast. There’ll be something you did before that was good when it came out, that became okay, and is now not good. And if you can’t admit that and talk about that while also being optimistic about the future, you lose credibility with everyone.”
Startup Success Tip #2: Always be on the lookout to delegate
“We’re limited in the amount of time we have, so we have to find people who want to do things, who do them better than us, who are even more passionate about them. And sometimes they’re already here and they’re doing a different job, and sometimes you need to go hire them to do it. Sometimes you need to add it into the mix with something else that someone’s doing. But that is a constant, constant process.”
Even B2B audiences are human beings
“Every B2B company that’s trying to find someone to be their customer, every one of those potential customers is a human being who watches Netflix or Prime or Disney+, and some of them listen to podcasts, and some of them just read books. But they all consume content, and some of them really care about their career.
And those people who care about their career and consume content, they are looking for a way to grow. One of the ways you can help people grow is through making great content and teaching them and educating them. And if you have to choose between something that’s just educational or something that’s educational and entertaining, you’re going to pick that one every time.”
The opportunity in content right now: Being invited in
“As everything’s been melded together, you look at your phone, and you see podcasts you listen to in your personal time, that you think are a really motivating, fun thing, and then there’s work ones right next to them. And entering that part of someone’s world and getting permission to not interrupt them but to be invited in, is just an unbelievable opportunity. And the only thing that’s stopping companies from doing it is figuring out how to invest a little bit in making the content.”
The audience is in control
“The biggest trend I see happening is not just video. It is this intermingling of video, audio, and text, and that the power of consuming content is going fully in the hands of the audience member. What I mean by that, is that if someone hits your website and they’re on a product page, they actually want three options:
- Some people just want to watch—they want someone to walk through the best explanation you could possibly get of a thing.
- Some people only want to read. The last thing they want to do is watch. They want to skim. They want to copy and paste. They want to go search other stuff on the site.
- And some people want to listen. They want to listen to someone explain to them why things are compelling.
…You can get the information however you want. And as that becomes the norm, you are going to have to figure out how to take your video assets and turn them into audio assets, and have text things that go alongside them, and vice versa.”
[5:02] “I’ve realized you can drink so much coffee that you actually just get insanely tired.”
[12:19] “Scaling a company is about giving things to other people who will do them better than you and are excited to do them.”
[21:24] “If there’s a name and a methodology, it’s easier to make the case, it’s easier to try something, and it’s easier to be more successful in doing it.”
[21:48] “Content is infinitely scalable. Each additional view does not cost you the same amount that it does to get the first view or the first listen.”
[22:01] “In the internet culture that we live in, people find and gravitate towards content that teaches them or educates them or inspires them.”
Read the lessons Chris and the Wistia team learned from launching—and shutting down—their 50 Grove video production marketplace.