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Case Study: How a Finance Director Left Her Day Job and Launched an 'Engaging Brand' Online via a Podcast and Blog

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Company: The Engaging Brand
Contact: Anna Farmery, Principal and Founder
Location: Bradford, UK
Industry: Marketing and Consulting, B2B, B2C
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 1

Quick Read:

After over 20 years in the world of finance, and having served as a group HR/finance director for global FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods, aka consumer packaged goods) companies, Anna Farmery felt stifled by the corporate silo. The loss of her father cemented her decision to leave finance.

Her initial goal was to launch her own business based in branding and engagement. But Farmery faced startup costs upward of $15,000 and had a very limited budget to establish her business through more traditional marketing tools. The costs of promoting the business even via Web sites, direct mail, and other sales collateral seemed an insurmountable barrier to founding a new venture.

With only an initial $1,000, Anna was spurred by the creative challenge of realizing big dreams with little funds; she launched her business, blog, and podcast, "The Engaging Brand," in April 2006. The first podcast had only 70 downloads and the blog had five readers on the first podcast day.


Merely two years later, the podcast now boasts nearly 200,000 downloads and is included in the Ad Age Power 150 top marketing blogs. The Engaging Brand was also a nominee for Best Business Podcast in 2007.

The Challenge:

Anna Farmery's challenge was to launch a company online using social media tools, including a podcast and blog. The blogosphere boasted some 40 million blogs at that time as measured by Technorati, and Farmery's podcast was one of hundreds, with no sponsors and no budget for PR or outreach to attract a listener base. Her podcast's success, and ultimately her business's, was dependent on word-of-mouth and link-minded bloggers who thought it worthwhile to their readers.

Farmery also faced the daunting task of not only launching a company with only $1,000 but also building a company that was not dependent on cash investment.

"When I looked at the costs of promoting the business via Web sites, promotional literature, PR, logos, etc., I was stunned at the thought of spending between $15,000 and $20,000. I didn't have that kind of money. So at first I wondered whether I should just give up on my dream," recalled Farmery.

Another challenge she faced was how to help people understand what her company did. Farmery works with leaders to explore how to engage with employees and consumers. Her work includes leadership coaching, strategic thinking, using social media and motivational speaking.

"My background of being a marketer, chartered accountant, and business coach means that I can show you not only how to engage people but also how you measure the effects on the bottom line," said Farmery.

"I questioned myself to begin with and then thought... no, my passion is engagement and working with people to create engagement that grows bottom-line profits."

Farmery wanted a company that had personality, "one that people wanted to find a way of working with...because they liked the personality, not the words on a piece of literature." In other words, Farmery's hope was that her success would come through transparency and authenticity, which are especially prized in the online world.

The Campaign:

After spending three weeks learning about blogging, podcasting, and social media, Farmery used a Logitech DSP500 microphone bought secondhand at under $20 from Amazon and debuted the Engaging Brand podcast in April 2006.

"I took every tutorial out there...then started creating. I used TypePad to build the blog and started the podcast. I loved the fact that I could experiment, that I didn't need to be a geek to do it...it was not about understanding the details of the technology but how to use the technology. I suppose it was the ultimate trial-and-error way of building a business," recalled Farmery.

During the first year of the once-weekly podcasts, Farmery spent most of her time connecting with readers and listeners of the blog through her blog posts.

Farmery submitted to all directories and used her blog to drive traffic to the podcast. She gave CD versions away to non-podcast listeners, and built friendships with listeners who in turn evangelized the show.

"I believe in the idea of 'givers gain'...the more you think about how to add value to other people's lives, then the more those people will believe in you."

That belief paid off, as close to 30% of new traffic to the site to date comes via listener referrals.

Farmery worked tirelessly to boost the visibility of her Engaging Brand's podcast interviews with leading authors and other marketers, in an effort to drive more visitors to the Engaging Brand blog. She focused on identifying popular categories and keywords—such as creativity, brand, and conversational marketing—for her blog-post topics. She also expanded her network using both Facebook and Twitter.

Farmery encouraged comments and feedback from podcast listeners; she also asked questions, issued challenges and shared inspiring stories during the weekly podcasts.

"My podcast was never about advertising me, it was about carrying on my dad's legacy of sharing knowledge and helping people through expanding their minds and inspiring actions...maybe that is why the podcast connects with people...it is my dad's legacy, not mine," Farmery said.

She devoted the same amount of time that she would in a traditional office job and worked tirelessly to find bloggers to connect with and reach out to through commenting and other social media tools.

Every podcast was also pushed out to iTunes and podcast networks, including Podcast FM; her podcasts are also featured on UK podcasting community Blubrry.

The Results:

The Engaging Brand blog is Anna's platform for both her company and her services. Well over 158 podcasts later, Farmery now has Web conferencing solution GoToMeeting as her podcast's main sponsor and has no trouble finding podcast guests to feature. GoToMeeting pays her based on the number of downloads per podcast. Farmery mentions GoToMeeting once during each podcast with a scripted message about the firm's services. 

Initially, Farmery recalled, it was a tough decision to have advertising as part of her podcast. "I decided that it had to be a product that I use, believe in and that was not pre-recorded. I felt that for bringing an hour per week of free inspirational thinking on leadership, marketing, and branding to people, they can cope with two minutes of advertising out of that hour."

Farmery is still growing the business and her client base and wants to continue to grow both in a controlled way.  Her clients range from small startups that want to engage with consumers to larger FMCG companies that want to engage and educate their own employees about company branding and positioning. She also offers social-media training sessions with companies all over the world, including Singapore, Denmark, and Canada.

"The connection is that they all understand that you cannot tell people why they should love you, they understand that you need to be offering a distinct value that people want to engage with," said Farmery.

On social media, Farmery still sees room for much more growth and cautions those who might think it's a quick way to reap vast rewards. "You have to come at this from brand awareness, and a brand personality angle. It is not a short-term, get-rich-quick scheme...you need to be in it for the long-term and evolve."

Lessons Learned:

  • Be aware of how your target audience receives your content. Don't be afraid to distribute you content early on in more traditional methods, including CDs, even if the content's original form is Web 2.0-ish.
  • It is not about the technology. The technology is an enabler, a tool. It is about how to use the technology to connect, to inspire, to create value in other people's lives.
  • Social media has changed the type of investment for a small business owner. It has moved from a financial investment to a time investment. "You need to be passionate about what you do, you need to want to share that passion—money is no longer a barrier, third parties are no longer a barrier. It is a return to the old days of investing time in relationships, and your passion will attract people," said Farmery.

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