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We had the opportunity to interview Michael Jamin, co-owner of TwirlyGirl a small business that is selling happy childhood memories in the form of a beautifully made-in-America twirly dress. Michael talked about how to use story telling to build a brand.
From TV Writer to Marketer
Michael got involved with his wife’s company to help with the marketing and grow the business. But as a TV writer, he knew nothing about business, e-commerce, fashion, or retail.
That’s right, Michael is actually a TV writer (you may have heard of his work, and some of our personal faves: King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead, and Just Shoot Me). But he soon realized that his skills as a TV writer were applicable to marketing. He began the journey with the thought that “I’ll just write my way out of everything” and this actually lead him to telling the story of TwirlyGirl in the way you see it today.
It all started with the idea that his wife wanted to give their daughters a happy childhood memory, which is something she didn’t have herself, so she created these beautiful twirly dresses. Michael stepped in to help her tell her story. It all began very simple – by just pulling out the phone and shooting a quick video. He proved that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to tell the story.
We asked Michael to share some story telling tips with those of us who aren’t TV writers by trade and apparently we aren’t the only ones. He’s been asked this so much that he now has a training program, available at michaeljamin.com, that walks you through how to write a story.
Here’s Michael’s advice and their process for telling the story of TwirlyGirl: start with a premise of what you’re selling. In their case, they are selling happy childhood memories. They just happen to come in the form of a dress. So they made a list of happy childhood memories like cardboard rocket ships, birthday cakes, and fairies, and they incorporated all of this into their videos. Then, they created a script with the framework of fact, joke, fact, joke. This framework helped bring the story out. Michael says, of his training, “I can’t teach you how to be funny, but I can help you bring your story out.” And the great thing is, we all have a story to tell.
The story of TwirlyGirl resonated with a lot of people so they thought, “let’s shoot a commercial and see what happens.” Since they are also all about empowering kids, and because as all small businesses, they wanted to keep the budget low, they looked to a very interesting source for the solution.
Creating Content Creatively
Businesses need to be creative with their content – not just with the literal creativity of the content, but creative with how they produce the content. You see, not every business has a huge budget. But even if there is a huge budget, it’s not smart to spend it just because you can. You should always be thinking about the potential return on your investment. And this is where TwirlyGirl’s creativity really shines through.
Michael reached out to the cinematic arts department at the local high school where their daughter attends. He explained the project and the school was happy to connect them with a team of students who were a great fit for the project. In fact, they even give the kids a shout out in one of their videos!
Michael’s advice is to contact your local arts school – just Google it! – and contact the head of the department. Let them know that you’re interested in hiring students to create a video for your business. In this case, the students were paid, but it was far less than a professional production. The students now have a nice portfolio piece and the business has great videos to tell their story and promote their business!
How Personal Should Your Story Be?
TwirlyGirl was created by Cynthia Jamin, who tells a story of childhood abuse and how this robbed her of a happy childhood. She wanted to create happy memories for her own children, and TwirlyGirl was born.
As you can imagine, this is a very personal story, and not an easy one to relive. So how did she decide it was time to tell the story and how did she decide that she needed to share this?
The decision was made when she decided she wasn’t being honest with why she started this company. She felt like she wasn’t living her truth so she wrote the story down. Michael’s role was to facilitate the telling of the story by helping her bring it to life on video.
But telling this story came with challenges too. Although the vast majority of people appreciate her honesty and bravery, there are a small few who feel like she’s using it to sell dresses. It’s things like this that cause us to hesitate when we’re considering whether to share something personal and whether to be vulnerable. As Michael says in our interview, “It’s her story, she’s allowed to tell it, and you’re not allowed to tell her not to.” You can’t be everything to everyone, so be everything to the people that matter, and just ignore the trolls. At the end of the day, you’ll sell more by connecting on a personal level with your audience than you will trying to protect everyone’s feelings.
Invite Your Customers to Be Part of Your Story
One of the things we loved about the TwirlyGirl brand is the vast amount of brand advocates they have. Just one peek at their Facebook Page and you’ll find tons of videos of happy twirling customers.
But in a world where everyone is so concerned with security and privacy, I found it fascinating that so many of their customers had shared personal videos. So I asked – what’s your secret?
A few days after a customer receives their dress, they get an email asking them to write a review and post a video tagging them. As a policy, TwirlyGirl never posts personal details. And as a result, the brand has 100’s of videos of happy customers by simply asking and providing direction to tag them in their posts. Think of the power this has on their overall brand, knowing that people believe the opinions of complete strangers more than they believe a brand’s message.
So how does TwirlyGirl know that the video is working? How do they measure results?
First, they start with strategic thinking. They understand that people don’t want to leave Facebook to purchase something, but they do want to be entertained. They also understand that while the ultimate goal is sales, filling the top of the funnel by driving awareness for the brand is critical to increasing sales. So, their strategy is to drive awareness and they have determined that Facebook is the best place to do this.
Because Facebook is so widely used, and their audience of moms and grandmothers are frequent users, this is where they spend a lot of their budget. Michael focuses on engagement metrics (likes, shares, comments) to measure success because when people engage with a post, they help widen the audience because it is shared with their network. Video ads are driving a lot of engagement, therefore driving awareness.
As a secondary measure, they also ran an exit poll for a period of time, to track how people found out about them. This worked as a good reinforcement that the Facebook ads and video were working.
The key to success for TwirlyGirl is the entertainment factor. Their entertaining content is shareable, which broadens their reach and increases traffic to the top of the funnel.
Every brand has a story. Everyone has a struggle they face. Everyone has obstacles. So tell the story! People relate to other human better than they relate to brands. Tell YOUR story – get people to root for you and share your story with their friends. This is how great brands like TwirlyGirl are built!
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