Jamie Yuenger is pretty fearless about her business. She doesn’t expect everything to work so she sees experimentation as a real-life trial-and-error learning opportunity.
Yuenger owns StoryKeep, a Brooklyn-based business that documents family histories. Often that means interviewing elder family members to record their memories on video, and it can also mean reviewing photos and movies in the family’s archives and creating keepsake books.
StoryKeep projects are labor intensive, with Yuenger bringing in crew members to shoot and edit while she conducts interviews and crafts the story, so they’re not inexpensive. Prices range from $40,000 to $200,000.
Yuenger tried a variety of methods to identify clients who have sufficient disposable income and who understand and value her approach to telling family stories.
What she’s learned is that nurturing her network is core to her success.
StoryKeep’s marketing challenges
Jamie Yuenger proudly describes herself as an A student. She’s a smart, hardworking entrepreneur who’s worked with a business coach and a mentor to craft a thoughtful vision for StoryKeep.
So when she attended a daylong marketing workshop I co-taught with Amanda Hirsch, she came into it feeling she had her marketing strategy already set. She knew where she was going, she just needed to roll up her sleeves to get there.
But being that overachiever, she paid attention in our workshop as some marketing challenges revealed themselves.
- We said a business needs to identify its ideal customers — this helps with decisions from the tone of your website copy to whether and where you should place ads. You need to know who you’re talking to and where to find them.
Yuenger already knew she was aiming for high net worth individuals, not people who control a business investment of six figures but those who might spend that on a gift for Mom. That’s not Yuenger or her friends, so she needed to find ways to connect with them.
- We said a marketing message should have a call to action — what do you want the recipient to do next? That isn’t always “buy my product,” it could be moving one step closer to your business, like visiting your website or subscribing to your e-newsletter.
Some StoryKeep prospects take years before they commit. They might need to rally their siblings, see if their parents are interested, or wait for a milestone birthday or anniversary. Clients are mostly busy, successful business people, so Yuenger has keep them engaged during that long lead time, while understanding what kinds of actions they’d reasonably take if they are still deciding.
- We suggested email can be more effective at driving sales than social media — social media is good for engagement and awareness but data shows email remains a more effective marketing tool.
Yuenger had a huge email list but hadn’t made real use of it, focusing more on Facebook and Twitter. She had emails for people she’d met at networking events years prior and colleagues she’d worked with on projects mixed with prospects. She had to figure out who was who and what she wanted to say to flush out real potential clients.
StoryKeep’s marketing experimentation
As an A student, Yuenger wasn’t afraid of some homework. When I signed on as her marketing coach and we started meeting twice a month, she always came prepared with questions to ask, ideas she had, prototypes she wanted to discuss.
One effort we worked hard on was her idea to launch a podcast. Yuenger’s background is in radio and she had an enthusiastic intern who collaborated with her on a podcast prototype, with a This American Life approach to telling stories of people who work in and around preserving history.
Yuenger took a thoughtful approach to creating podcasts. She knew her target customers were unlikely to take the time to listen so she was aiming at peers, other creative people with an interest in history and stories, with the hope of building community and generating referrals.
She hosted a demo party where I led a focus group conversation. The feedback was clear: I don’t get how this connects to what you do, I want to see video and I want to see you interviewing families, not talking to people about their jobs.
“I spent three months producing podcast episodes to learn I shouldn’t do a podcast,” she said with a shrug.
“You have to submit yourself to the experience,” Yuenger said, adding that she’s committed to the long-term success of her business, not attached to the details of a smaller activity along the way. “This is a long game.”
StoryKeep’s marketing lessons
We learned together as we continued to meet and Yuenger fearlessly tried new ideas.
She tried several approaches to an e-newsletter, at first nearly obsessing about open rates, whether anyone followed through on the calls to action and waited for her cash register to ring.
She saw the most engagement when she shared snippets of stories she’d captured for her clients. By far the most popular was a short video excerpt of a video she’d done about a client becoming a single mother by choice. That’s because the proud mom shared that video with all her friends, who of course watched it.
That led to an A-ha: Make it easy for people to show off what they just bought. Referrals lead to almost all of StoryKeep’s business so help happy clients show off the results. StoryKeep’s final product might be an hourlong DVD and asking your friends to watch that is like pulling out 1,000 vacation photos, but adding a three-minute YouTube video to the client deliverables makes it easy to share their excitement in email or on social media. It adds value for the client and increases the potential for StoryKeep to get a referral. Everyone wins.
“I had to reframe my expectations,'” Yuenger said, noting she’d initially hoped prospects would call to book her when they got an email. Instead, she realized her emails could show different examples of work she’s done to help people imagine the story of their own family. “This is about building real relationships and relationships take time.”
Yuenger also realized she wasn’t taking full advantage of her passion for cooking and hosting.
She loved hosting the podcast demo event, even if the feedback was discouraging, and she enjoyed throwing a StoryKeep birthday party for clients and collaborators. So she planned a wine and cheese party, inviting past clients and prospects, and let them talk to each other.
“I finally realized that I could pull something I thought of as a hobby, something I did for fun, into my business as a way to engage with clients,” Yuenger said. Again, it’s about building long-term relationships and nurturing the trust that’s essential for someone to invite her into a family’s home and history.
What’s next in StoryKeep’s marketing
Yuenger recently finished a website redesign, including moving from Storykeep.org to Storykeep.com.
“From the beginning of StoryKeep, I knew I needed to buy the .com but I kept putting it off,” Yuenger said, noting it was thousands of dollars cheaper to buy .org. “But I needed to know what the brand was, I needed to try out various versions of putting the message out before I was ready to commit to that cost.”
She’s also hired a branding consultant to help her polish StoryKeep’s look, so it has the luxury feel that accompanies a big price tag, and hired a publicist to help her get media placements, like a mention in Forbes gift guide.
“I like working the business,” Yuenger said. “I keep experimenting with how to help people find me in the first place, and in nearly every case, it’s a referral. So it’s really important that I make my clients thrilled so they’ll tell their friends. It’s my job to figure out how to take it from there.”