3 Lessons in Branding From a Black Hole
The first-ever photograph of a black hole and its bright halo was recently released, visually confirming a hundred years of scientific speculation. Though the photo itself slightly resembled a glazed donut, it represented unmistakable power and scale.
If you think about it, there are some striking similarities between black holes and brands themselves. The reason isn't that brands are fathomless voids that obliterate existence (despite what some customers may say). It’s because both entities command our attention and change the universe just a little bit.
One of the many mysterious properties of black holes is their infinite density, which allows them to increase in volume endlessly without ever changing in size. A brand should similarly aspire to expand its customer base without fundamentally changing its character, either by drastically altering its values or nullifying its brand promises.
What can we learn about growth strategies from the black hole? If brands want to reach new consumers as effectively as black holes colonize new corners of the universe, they need to explore new digital marketing strategies. Let’s take Pinterest as an example. The social discovery platform has grown to 265 million users, with 51 million added just in the last year. Just as impressive, 90 percent of weekly Pinterest users rely on it to make purchasing decisions. Online attention and engagement are hot commodities, but Pinterest manages to draw users in like black holes trap light.
According to Amy Vener, retail vertical strategy lead at Pinterest, knowing your customer is crucial: “We believe that the key to growth on Pinterest is understanding the full consumer journey, and measuring success through that lens.”
Use the following digital marketing strategies to turn your brand into the Pinterest sort of black hole -- an object of attraction that thrills people with possibility.
1. Take a lifetime view of acquisition.
Continual growth is important. However, it’s also important to consider how long you can keep customers around. Ideally, you’ll keep customers for life: Nothing’s coming back from a black hole’s event horizon -- don’t you wish your brand had that kind of gravity?
Drew Kossoff, CEO of digital media buying agency Rainmaker Ad Ventures, believes the best brands keep longevity in view. “They intimately understand the lifetime value of a new customer and build their customer acquisition formulas around long-term success, not day-one revenue,” he writes. “That means they’re thrilled to acquire a lead or customer at a small short-term loss in exchange for a big long-term gain.”
In practice, that entails upping your allowable cost per acquisition to put more resources into nurturing leads that add lifetime value. For example, are your email leads statistically stronger (i.e., do they offer more lifetime value) than webinar registration leads? Spend more money where you’ll get the biggest long-term gain.
2. Send signals regularly.
Contrary to popular opinion, black holes give and take. Even as they suck star matter toward themselves, they're hurtling radio waves (in the form of tidal disruption flares) out into the cosmos for reasons we don’t yet understand. As black holes send electromagnetic pulses during the process of expansion, digital marketers should similarly use messaging in their growth strategies.
Mobile messaging is an organic way to integrate a constant communication strategy into your digital marketing efforts. A 2018 eMarketer survey found that, by 2022, more than 36 percent of the global population will communicate primarily through messaging apps like WhatsApp. According to Twilio’s “Bridging the Communication Divide” report, effective digital communications result in 2.6 times the likelihood of revenue growth greater than 15 percent, so it’s important to understand exactly how consumers exchange information.
Beauty brand Sephora was quick to capitalize on the value of mobile messaging. It simplified and personalized in-store makeover bookings using a conversational bot on Facebook Messenger. Bookings rose by 11 percent, precisely because the brand was communicating through the channel its target customers preferred.
3. Create new universes.
Scientists have recently discovered that black holes can generate new universes. Our own universe may even have originated in a black hole -- a concept ripe for science fiction but also grounded in astrophysics. The point is that black holes are a force of creation, not just destruction.
Brands can also birth new worlds, if admittedly not on the same scale. Creating brand communities gives consumers a place to discuss products, offer recommendations, ask and answer questions and reciprocate enthusiasm. Brands build these spaces, but users direct them, creating an organic yet branded ecosystem. “In 2019, it will be the brands with the strongest communities that thrive,” writes Kathleen Booth, VP of marketing at digital marketing agency Impact.
Bumble, the dating and networking app, created the Queen Bee Ambassador Program to engage new users through grassroots community efforts. By relying on an eager and authentic community rather than conventional advertising, Bumble grew to 26 million users in three years. Brands will see growth when they give consumers a space to get excited about what they do.
Digital marketers and astrophysicists may have something in common, after all: an obsession with constant growth. The intriguing ways that black holes attract star matter can offer helpful strategy perspectives for marketers, from considering lifetime customer value to building brand communities. There’s your new marketing goal: to turn your brand into a supermassive black hole.