In November 2014, Adweek's print magazine cover featured one of three women: Michelle Phan, Rosanna Pansino or Bethany Mota -- all three made famous on YouTube. The subsequent story highlighted the rise of these three women to mass fame, and the amount of money each is making, for herself and for the brands she represents.
The revenue numbers are impressive (in the multi-millions, each), and their avenue to fortune so very simple. With the click of a video camera, a bit of editing and some serious personality, each of these three women did what nearly every single brand in current existence wishes they could emulate.
They created a loyal fan base of millions.
Customer loyalty is a topic we talk about a lot. It is the cornerstone of any successful brand. After all, customers don't just purchase based on the lowest price. Purchasing decisions are emotional as well as logical, and if you can get a customer to like your brand, it's likely they'll spend more for a product they could have just as easily gotten elsewhere. And, when it comes to adding personality to your brand, YouTube is an ideal platform. In the end, when its just you and the camera, there's not much room for false advertising.
YouTube certainly has marketing power and influence beyond baking, beauty and fashion, the three industries highlighted by Pansino, Mota and Phan. In fact, we've rounded up three top small business YouTube channels and got the details on how these business owners use the outlet, what got them started there in the first place and how your brand can replicate their success.
BikeManForU: How to Grow to 32,000 Subscribers
In the middle of the U.S.'s most dire recession since the Great Depression, BikeManForU saw store revenue plummeting. Brick-and-mortar sales were down 50% from the year before, which were already down 30% from pre-recession sales. In all, Bartels Birk's family business of at-the-time over 25 years was sinking.
"We were very shocked and we had to do something," says Birk, co-founder and president of BikeManForU. "We decided that we better go online and start selling some stuff, whether it be bicycles, whether it be parts, whether it be whatever. We better get on it and we better get on it quick."
Birk looked first to marketplaces, eBay in particular.
"As anybody knows when they begin on eBay, it's all about feedback, feedback, feedback," says Birk. "We really didn't want to do auctions, but that's where we started."
Thumbing through eBay one day, an auto-play video ad caught his eye, and the idea for a YouTube channel for BikeManForU was born. After a quick trip to Best Buy and some YouTube platform learning, Birk's first video was up and live, and the feedback immediately began rolling in.
"If you looked at some of our real early videos, they're pretty rudimentary, but they work. They're one cut, and they're one take. Whatever we were selling we wanted to show the people exactly how it works, how to install it, the features and benefits of it -- all the stuff that a picture can't do," says Birk. "My philosophy was, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million. So, on we went to YouTube. Then, next thing you know, there's a subscriber, and I'm like, 'What the heck is a subscriber?' I look up a subscriber and think, 'Wow, OK, that's cool. These people want to see more videos.' This had nothing to do with eBay. It was just about our videos."
Today, BikeManForU's YouTube channel has more than 32,000 subscribers and the company is making deals with brands and advertisers Birk says they "cannot yet disclose." Even Birk's son is getting in on the action, choosing to do film work for the family company that is now celebrating its 39th year in business.
"My son who has recently been accepted to a couple of film schools is probably not going to any of them. He will be working full-time with us," says Birk. "The opportunities that we have coming up here are incredible. We are certified at YouTube's LA Space, as well as their New York space. There are five studios throughout the world: Tokyo, London, New York, LA, Sao Paulo, and we are accepted. There's nothing better than actual physical hands-on education. That's better than any school can possibly do. The internet is the Wild Wild West, and YouTube is the Wild Wild West. Technology is changing so fast that a lot of these colleges can't keep up with the products."
When it comes to tips for helping other small businesses replicate BikeManForU's success, Birk insists that consistency is key.
"If I can give a suggestion to anybody, consistency is the number one thing with YouTube and anything else. If you have a Twitter, a Facebook, an Instagram, a Snapchat, a YouTube, it is all BikeManForU." says Birk. "Let me spell it for you, 'B-I-K-E-M-A-N-F-O-R- and the letter U! Don't forget to rate, comment and/or subscribe.' Does that sound like its rehearsed? I've said it a trillion times. You've got to make sure that you have consistency."
Chair Dancing Fitness: How to Earn 50,000 Views or More
Jodi Stolove started a YouTube channel to help promote her fitness videos in 2007. Her channel today still has a low number of subscribers, but some of her videos are reaching audiences of 50,000 or more.
"YouTube is definitely a top referrer for us," says Stolove. "Anyone interested in seeing what our programs are all about or trying out the different types of fitness programs we offer can go straight to the Chair Dancing Fitness YouTube page.
There, they can try out a few routines from each of our 10 programs, and they get a feeling for what each DVD is like. It helps them to decide what kind of fitness they want to try and if they want to buy. We have no other referrer that gives us so much visual presence or that offers our customers accessibility to experiencing all of our different products."
In all, YouTube gives both existing and potential customers the ability to test out new workouts before deciding if they want to buy. Stolove also uses the videos outside of YouTube as embeds in blog posts and on social media. This way, followers and fans can view the videos without leaving their current platform (whether that be a blog post, Facebook or Twitter).
For other small businesses looking to use YouTube to increase brand awareness, site traffic and conversions, Stolove has a few tips:
- Make sure to have great photos and video clips that are updated and reflect your company's image.
- In the About Section, link all of your other social media outlets and have a concise statement reflecting your company's purpose.
- Post new videos as often as appropriate for your product and add as many tags as possible to come up on as many searches as possible.
- Edit your videos for them to show up in a clear manner online. YouTube offers many user friendly options.
- YouTube has a strong community following so engaging with your subscribers is important. Always reply back to as many comments as you can. You never know who could be your next client.
KnivesShipFree: How to Optimize YouTube for SEO
Selling a product like knives on the internet is a tough task. Where typical business owners would look to PPC to increase pageviews and gain a loyal following, Facebook and Google have stern restrictions when it comes to what you can and cannot advertise. And they don't look too fondly on knives.
"I'm using YouTube as a complete hack," says Derrick Bohn, founder and CEO of KnivesShipFree. "I have 1,900 followers and it keeps me in front of them."
Indeed, YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, just behind Google. If you can build a following for your niche products there, you're doubling down on your Google PPC efforts and building native links that boost your SEO rankings. But, Bohn isn't using YouTube solely for the SEO.
"YouTube allows customers to feel like they know me and they can like me," says Bohn. "People buy not necessarily on the basis of best price. Our products are priced competitively, but almost never the lowest. People buy from us because of emotion -- because they like us. YouTube is a huge part of that."
In all, Bohn is creating YouTube videos for every product and embedding those videos on all product pages. He also transcribes each video on the company's blog, as yet another means to amp up their SEO ranking via Google-friendly content. Keep in mind, Google bots do not read video. Writing out scripts helps both Google to better rank your page and gives your customer the option of watching the video or reading the text.
"We embed the videos on our website and I'm working on getting them on every product page because they help customers to convert. They are really, really good at that," says Bohn. "We have Facebook and Instagram, too. Facebook sends me more traffic, but it doesn't convert as well as YouTube. On Instagram, you can't put links in, so you can't tell how it converts. YouTube, though, is the most bang for the buck. Its the number two search engine in the world. It's a long-term strategy play."
In all, utilizing YouTube strategies as a product review outlet, a brand awareness play or even as a means to give away some of your product before your customers purchase are all great ways to build SEO, drive traffic back to your site and ultimately earn new customers.