Don’t Settle For Being Known. Aim For Being Preferred

Don’t Settle For Being Known. Aim For Being Preferred

Don’t Settle For Being Known. Aim For Being Preferred

By Jeff Barrett, CEO at Status Creative

In short:

  • Media exec Ian Bell is the founder of two millennial tech publications. He succeeded by focusing on his audience before building his products, instead of the other way around.
  • Bell’s case study applies to brands beyond media, as finding the right audience is essential to growth in any industry.
  • The quality of your brand's followers matters more than quantity. Whenever you’re tempted to simply “get more followers” for your brand, remember two key truths from Bell's story, below.

Ian Bell is an expert at brand-building. And he’s got a special sauce.

As the founder of tech publications Digital Trends and The Manual, Bell carved out distinctive spaces online by concentrating on finding the right audience—rather than the right content—before launching his brands.

Digital Trends serves up tech news and product reviews for millennials. (credit:

Both of Bell’s publications are geared toward the millennial Henry, an acronym for “high earning, not rich yet.” Bell says his brands took off because he defined this audience before creating his products.

“We knew success started with targeting the right demo,” Bell told Grow Wire. “We focused on the Henry millennial … No tech or lifestyle site was hitting that demo. A Henry just got their first nice job, a car, and they are actually paying for HBO to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ and not going on BitTorrent.”

Members of the Henry demo haven’t yet had kids, and they have disposable income. Bell gathered they were looking for publications that talked about tech and men’s lifestyle, but not about the specifics. Thus, he made Digital Trends a space that tells you what you can do with your device, not how it does it. He built The Manual off the same premise.

Last month, Digital Trends made the Inc. 5000 list for the third consecutive year. (It’s especially tough to make the list year-over-year because of how the researchers track growth. The first year is always the easiest.)

The key, Bell says, is sticking to his brand core despite media’s changing tides.

“In digital media, you are always adapting,” he said. “There’s always a hot new area to focus on, whether that is video or pivoting into other segments. But [Digital Trends hasn’t] changed that much, just mostly in distribution channels. We stayed true to our internal philosophy.”

Truth #1: A loyal 10 sells more than a passive 1,000.

In growing any audience, the common mantra is, “Get sheer mass.” There’s this idea that if you get as many people as possible to follow your brand, then all will be solved.

Sure, a massive amount of followers will never hurt your brand. But there are other factors to consider, ones that transcend media and relate to any business you’re looking to grow. Revenue is one of them.

“Don’t chase people,” Bell said. “… Traffic is a commodity. It doesn’t mean anything. Revenue per user does. Having the right audience and monetizing that audience is vital. It’s better to have unique, loyal and small audiences rather than be the largest.”

At a startup, it’s easy to get caught up in building an audience. But to what end? You likely aren’t in the business of growing audiences. You’re likely selling a widget or a service. So find the most productive way to sell that service. Targeting is important. A loyal 10 followers will always help you sell more than 1,000 folks who are passively interested. That’s true for business, political campaigns – any endeavor in which you’re trying to convince people to make one choice over another.

Truth #2: You’re selling an identity, not an awareness.

Before launching a brand—or a campaign within that brand—research your audience. Bell didn’t start his publications without a plan he could stick to. He was confident that his target market was large and affluent. He recognized there were plenty of guys who liked tech but didn’t identify as “geeks.” Then, he created a brand for them.

Almost any industry is a crowded space. There are very few where competition is low. That’s why positioning is so important in banking, insurance, automotive and other industries where the difference between product offerings may be only 1-2 percent. Recognize that you aren’t selling a product, but rather a feeling and an identity. If you were to take the hood ornaments off all cars, you may not know who makes each. Yet everyone has a brand preference once the ornaments are applied.

So in your business—whatever that may be—don’t just settle for being known. Aim for being preferred.

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