Campaign Asia-Pacific sat down for an in-depth chat about how King works with brands after King's presentation at Social Matters yesterday. Thomas Crampton, the global managing director of Social@Ogilvy, also sat in. See all our Social Matters coverage.
“People need to connect,” King said. It was a simple way to explain social media as a business model but it also explained an essential ingredient to creating a successful brand in any category.
Crampton extended the idea, saying social media is “where people live their lives. If you are not involving that fundamentally when you are building a brand, or business, then you’re just not doing your job.”
Making connections is the force behind King's infectious videos. He says communications should be clean, curious and contagious. Though the last two aspects are harder to define, they’re exactly why people want to share his work.
So when he pitches ideas to a brand, before going ahead with any project, he’ll start with some of his “craziest ideas, something that I know will work with my audience,” he said. If a business can warm up to those suggestions, then he knows working together is likely to make sense. But if the company can’t see the connection and wants to direct him with a different agenda, that’s when King feels he needs to say “no”.
King believes his fans can accept commercial content in his videos as long as they get the same fun that they would have otherwise. His first brand involvement was with the rental company Penske in the US. King said there wasn’t much of a brief; he just had to put the company’s truck in the Vine. That presence alone was enough to build brand awareness. From there he’s gone on to work with international names like Coke and Nike. And now that he’s working with agencies, the commercial experience has gotten even better “because they [agencies] really get me and they fight for me”, he said. That lets him concentrate less on training brands to understand what he does and more on making videos and feeding his audience.
King's connection with fans is extremely important to him. “My work has been able to evolve because of the audience,” he said. Some of his followers are filmmakers who critique his work online, and he welcomes their feedback. Sometimes they might seem harsh and say a video was unbelievable because the way King jumped or moved didn’t look right. “But that helps me in the long run,” he said. He’s always open to learning and improving.
Crampton called that a “feedback loop” and said it's a vital part of how any company should conduct its business. He mentioned China’s Xiaomi smartphone brand to illustrate. The company has built a reputation for taking customer feedback and incorporating suggestions into subsequent iterations of the phone. That’s been a major factor in its assent to top producer in terms of sales volume in China. In a span of roughly two years, the phone maker has gone from little known to most in demand. “They use that feedback loop to improve their products,” Crampton said.
King goes out of his way to talk to fans and interact with them on social media. He believes deepening those relationships is essential to not only his personal brand but also for any of the names that might want to partner with him. Fan connections with YouTube stars or any artist are a strength that brands can leverage. But without the core relationship, there’s nothing to deploy.
King said companies can learn from that fact, citing an example of a Los Angeles hotel-chain that looks for and answers questions about its local area on Twitter, whether the question came from a guest or not. The engagement isn't just for engagement’s sake; the interaction makes a connection and builds a reputation.
The other thing that’s going on there, Crampton highlighted, is that the hotel “will be learning about what’s going on in the neighborhood.” It’s that feedback loop again, which helps improve the product.
But to explain the secret sauce that makes it possible for an independent artist, or social phenom like Zach King to work with brands and create audience connections as well as brand awareness, Crampton said it comes down to “making sure you’re working with the right person, in the right way for the right reasons”. All these connections have to align. “What you don’t want to do is use Zach as a tactic," Crampton said. "You want to build Zach into the brand ecosystem, building your brand or connecting with your customers.”
“Influencers and the rise of them will continue to grow,” King said, referencing social media’s power to create stars out of unexpected places. “Everyone is able to create videos or make blogs and websites. That’s something brands want to watch out for. If you can create relationships with those influencers, before they’re huge, or unreachable, you can partner their brand with your brand.”
And that connection is what can elevate mere awareness to customer loyalty.