For the past eight years, Rendall Co. founder Deirdra Jones has been outfitting the hospitality industry, as described on the company website as “the people who bake our bread, roast our coffee, and fill our glasses” with extremely stylish aprons.
But as most major cities shut down restaurants to the public, Jones had to shift her business model, reach, branding and approach. Earlier in March 2020, Rendall Co. started creating premium cloth face masks. They aren’t just extremely well designed, they also have pockets for filters and custom copper nosebands for a snug, custom fit. And for every mask sold, one is donated to essential workers and nonprofit organizations.
In one fell swoop an industry-centric business expanded to serve a completely new and expanding demographic. There’s definitely a lesson here for content creators and distributors.
Rendall Co. revamped its media revenue-generating approach to meet a timely need
While Rendall Co. isn’t a content factory, their huge shift means that everything surrounding the brand will now have a timely angle that also happens to highlight the brand’s commitment to high style and service. The brand has suddenly become relevant outside their niche industry which opens up possibilities for inclusion in extended PR opportunities.
Like many companies, Rendall Co. had to shift their entire output to create something for a world that didn’t exist six months ago. The brand overhaul also provides a great lesson on how you can expand on or completely revamp your own tried and true media revenue-generating opportunities for a more immediate approach.
If you’ve been looking for inspiration on how to change your approach to monetizing your content beyond the tried and true, you’re in luck. There are so many ways to expand your reach and take advantage of emerging revenue streams beyond advertising. But where do you begin? Should you dive right in and hope for the best, or should it be a deep dive into R&D before even starting a new approach? Actually, neither.
But it might take a while until you fine-tune your needs and implement some new strategies. If you’re all about the quick and dirty approach, here’s a quick checklist of three things to do before adding any new potentially pricey or time-consuming elements to your suite of marketing and revenue-generating plans.
3 Things to ask yourself before shifting your media revenue approach
1. Do you clearly understand what you’re selling?
Unlike a traditional retail experience, if you’re going to be adding a product based element — be it traditional consumer packaged goods or branded merchandise — you need to do a deep dive first to figure out how the new products align with your overall brand. Sure, it’s fun to sell products in theory, but what happens if the items overshadow the rest of your brand and messaging? Will you be able to reclaim your heritage if everyone is only interested in swag? And while this seems like a great problem to have in theory, it could affect your long-term bottom line.
2. Are you diluting your brand?
It’s one thing to slowly roll out items or services that enhance what you already have but be careful not to muddle your strongest sale process to date. You might just end up confusing people.
3. Do you actually own your brand?
If the saga of Meghan and Harry is anything to go by, don’t start selling until you’re sure you can. The prince and his wife banked on the idea of the Sussex Royal branding until his grandmother Queen Elizabeth put the kibosh on selling their connection to royalty. Do your due diligence. Then hire someone to do a deeper dive. It’s cheaper than setting up something you’ll never be able to sell.
Going beyond the traditional media revenue approach
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, perhaps it’s time to take your own publishing or sales approach beyond traditional media revenue generation and onto something a little different and fun and hopefully lucrative.
With the news cycle crowded with stories of the election and the coronavirus, people are looking for a little relief that goes beyond typical reporting or standardized content.
Change yourself and fortune will change (and Fortune literally made changes)
After nearly a century in business, Fortune made some bold moves back in January by creating a new suite of premium offerings. Along with their digital upgrade, there’s a new app called Fortune: Global Business News, several newsletters, a video hub and even an enhanced print magazine. There’s also a three-tiered payment plan ranging in price from $49.00 to $199.00 a year depending on the level of access.
Worth noting, MediaPost reports that Fortune was sold to businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon for $150 million in cash in 2019 by Meredith Corp, which acquired the title in its acquisition of Time Inc. so it’s not only an evolving brand, but one with evolving ownership as well. Also of note, In March 2019, Jonathan Rivers was tapped as Fortune’s first chief technology officer.
Which leads us to our second checklist: Who does what? It’s one thing to conceptualize change within your agency or corporation, it’s quite another to trust that it will operate smoothly.
3 Types of people you’ll need on your new or updated team
1. A project manager
Wait, what? What about the creatives and writers? We’ll get to them. But if you want to make big changes, you’ll need someone who acts as the human version of Microsoft Word’s track changes. Someone who knows and understands the vision and keeps it in check and ensures that everyone meets deadlines. Someone who manages all the freelancers and creatives and campaigns and ensures that there’s a cohesiveness and continuity that keeps the new elements aligned with the existing ones.
2. A team of freelancers
Before you commit to your grand new plan, it might be a good idea to hire a team that can be rejiggered depending on your ultimate needs, in other words — freelancers (well, I always think it’s a great idea to hire freelancers!). In this way, you can get a quick and dirty understanding of the amount of work involved before committing to a full-scale company upgrade. And who knows? You might end up preferring to work with a virtual team for the long-haul and adding content specialists and creatives as you go.
3. A tough critic
It’s hard to gauge the success of a project when you’re really close to it — or when you have so much of yourself invested. Besides simply looking at the bottom line, you’ll need a no-nonsense individual with the ability to critique your endeavor and share helpful comments that allow you to move forward. It’s hard sometimes to measure success or failure, sometimes you need an unbiased voice to tell you if you’re on the right track or need to scrap it all.
Case study: A furniture maker shares their passion for conservationism with a different demographic
Outdoor furniture maker Polywood recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for their newest product line, the Ocean Chair, an Adirondack inspired group of chairs made from recycled ocean-bound plastic. While the environmentally responsible company has been making chairs from recycled landfill-bound plastic for decades (they process 30,000 milk jugs an hour and recycled 146,000,000 jugs last year alone), it’s the visual and fundraising approach that drastically differed.
Kickstarting their brand reach
“Launching this project on Kickstarter was definitely something new for us,” explained Jon Hueni, director of sales marketing at Polywood. It also took a lot of planning. “When planning the launch of the Ocean Chair, we wanted to expand our reach to people that are passionate about joining a movement.”
To that end, Hueni believed it was a good fit since “Kickstarter was built on the vision of people working together to see something succeed. We know that our cause is a big idea that will take a lot of people getting on board, so we wanted to reach a new demographic that may not have heard of us before.” And therein lies the marketing expansion as well. Instead of simply targeting their existing client base, Polywood took an entirely new approach for two key reasons as explained by Hueni. “We think that Kickstarter is a way to reach a younger audience, who, like our existing customers care deeply about taking care of our planet, but are just now starting to buy homes and think about how they want to style their outdoor spaces.”
So, how did Polywood go about translating their passion for creating beautiful and sustainable furniture to this new approach? They blended existing ideals and brand recognition in a different medium and approach.
“The content generated for the Kickstarter campaign was conceptualized and executed by our in-house creative team, and beautifully aligns with our brand values,” shared Sean Valencourt, EVP Information Systems at Polywood. Brand values that include stressing sustainability above all. “Sustainability has been a north star for Polywood since we were founded 30 years ago. The Ocean Chair is a way for us to target ocean-bound plastic specifically, and double down on something we’re already passionate about,” Valencourt said.
6 ways to use a campaign to foster your own media revenue
1. Test something new.
Inspired to try your own Kickstarter approach? Consider using an offshoot of your existing brand and highlight that. Maybe it’s the way you approach a project or a specific quirky way of sharing content. Or maybe it’s a look behind the scenes of the way you work. Whatever you do, make it something visually stunning and worth promoting. And then charge for it.
2. Be a tease.
If you have incredible artists and writers on your staff, consider creating a campaign that simply highlights those things for a change. Maybe create a guessing game that allows potential consumers to follow the breadcrumbs to your next best thing. Or maybe you’re simply providing a piece of a larger puzzle that leads people back to your original brand. It’s cheaper than a Super Bowl commercial and controlled by you and your team.
3. Be transparent.
If you worry that you might seem like you’re only about the hard sell, unworry. Like all tough topics it can sometimes feel awkward to say to your clients — hey, we’re trying to expand our media revenue. But what if you explain that the added money taken in allows you to create premium content or freebies or content specifically created to help solve someone else’s problem? Ahhh. Now you’re worth investing in.
4. Be consistent.
If you’re leading your customers in a new direction, you have to be sure they still know it’s you. You might want to update your buyer’s guide or brand bible to include the new elements and approach. (The five-part series I wrote on creating a buyer’s guide for your brand might help inspire you).
5. Try licensing something.
If you’re struggling to find new revenue streams, maybe it’s time to look outside the box… and to keep looking. In January, Digiday reported that Bleacher Report went beyond their traditional content to create third-party TV licensed properties and created a documentary they sold to Showtime. Even if your company has nothing to do with sports, a sports licensing partnership and subsequent creative launch could be the elevation by association necessary to jumpstart a sluggish or stagnant revenue stream.
6. Allow people to feel part of the movement.
A few years back I supported a Kickstarter campaign for a young artist to buy a complicated piece of 3-D cutting machinery. I think I donated about $45.00 but wish it had been more. Several months after his campaign was completed, I received a tiny but exquisite 3-D rendering out of wood that hangs proudly over my desk.
With that small-ish donation, I transformed my virtual interest in his career to a tangible piece of artwork that makes me smile every time I see it. I also follow his career with great interest and hope to someday be able to afford the spectacular pieces he’s now able to create.
Polywood’s Hueni had a similar outlook on the Kickstarter campaign since their Ocean Chair “gives us a way to tell the Polywood story to those who have never heard of us and give people a tangible way to respond and join us in making a global impact.”
Don’t expect to be an overnight success.
Just because you’ve gathered your entire team and explained to them that you have all these brilliant new ways to go beyond your typical media revenue approaches doesn’t mean it happens immediately.
As Hueni put it “Changing infrastructure takes time and isn’t sexy.” It does work though. And by creating new experiences that can be shared or in which your consumer becomes actively involved, you also quite literally have people invested in your future success.