Brian Zuercher is the CEO of Seen, a Columbus, Ohio-based marketing agency that, in his words “brings brands to life with visual content”. He is also one of a special breed in the world of brand marketing – an artist and entrepreneur who improves his clients’ brands through a unique blend of social media marketing and visual storytelling.
Zuercher has spent years nurturing Seen and developing its campaign-building platform, which allows companies to launch, promote and measure their own Instagram and Twitter photo campaigns, while inspiring fans to spread the word on their social networks. His hard work has paid off: Seen now has a healthy roster of big-name clients, including Ford, Ram and Bath & Body Works, and is rising fast as one of the most sought-after brand marketing agencies in the country.
Zuercher first made a name for himself in 2011 with Flymuch, a consumer travel app that allowed travelers to build a network of people to recommend the best restaurants, hotels and nightspots in any given destination. The app combined location databases with social content like Instagram photos – a formula that, two years later, evolved into a new platform – and a new company – geared toward content marketing. Zuercher named this new company Venueseen, and then renamed it Seen shortly afterward.
Seen’s platform organizes photographs on sites such as Instagram, Twitter and Foursquare so users (or “influencers”, in Seenspeak) can display them in marketing campaigns. With the platform, Seen creates and joins a social network of fans and brands: the company has a social network to reach fans and create new ones; users can use the Snapfluence feature to connect with the brands that the company works with; and clients can use the Insights feature to see real data about their fans through hashtags. It’s personalized, community marketing for the 21st century.
Zuercher also serves as a mentor for WakeUp StartUp, a monthly presentation at Ohio State University in which entrepreneurs-in-the-making pitch their ideas and receive feedback from industry pros. They could pick worse mentors than an entrepreneur who is taking the content marketing field into the future, one photo at a time.
In an email interview, Zuercher tells TMM about building audience with social media, cultivating “influencers”, and bringing brands to life.
How did you get the company started?
Our story starts on a journey to build a consumer travel application by using user social data to make recommendations. That path turned us onto the intersection of social photos and brand managers’ need to connect with those users and platforms. Social platforms like Instagram present great opportunities and challenges for brand managers to connect in a meaningful way and scale those efforts. As we began discussions with brand managers about their [brands’] problems, we began building solutions for them to be able to scale their efforts. We have continued to evolve to meet their needs and focus on building, engaging and activating that audience through our different products and services.
What is your marketing model? How do you sell Seen?
We primarily attract our customers through building engaging and educational content about best practices and innovative uses of our products. In addition to that, we have a high referral rate from our existing customers. We continue to build and evolve this effort to have a diverse and valuable customer base to make the company attractive to prospects.
How do you work with “influencers”? How does your Snapfluence service allow you to work with them to promote brands?
Our Snapfluence service provides a way for influencers to sign up to be vetted by our software and team to become a part of our network. We are able to verify influencers’ interest and capabilities to produce great photos and videos for interest categories. We then work with our brand partners to make matches for short- and long-term needs for connecting on mobile social platforms. Our platform takes care of matching, scheduling, auditing and analytics between the brand and influencers.
Define your approach to branding, and give me an example of a client who made their brand more successful using your Campaigns Tool.
Our perspective on branding focuses on connecting and building audience on mobile and using consumer photos to build that connection. We believe that brands are able to inspire their customers to share an authentic message in a photo or video that connects to an audience. We worked with Bath and Body Works, who integrated their retail experience to inspire sharing by their passion for the brand. The campaign unlocked a passion with their fans to share and talk about how much they love B&BW. Bath and Body Works’ marketing team was able to utilize the photos shared by their customers across digital assets and collect customer registration information.
You employ Instagram and Twitter to help your clients’ brands. Of all the social media out there, how do those particular channels define and shape a company’s brand?
Instagram and Twitter pose opportunities and challenges for marketers because of the directional nature of the communication and content sharing. The opportunity for a marketer is very powerful. On a channel like Instagram, marketers have to think hard and experiment on what it is a customer or prospective customer would want to see and learn about. A brand like Patagonia can use the channel to drive a deeper connection to the lifestyle and aspirations of their customer base and never really talk about selling their products. It’s less about how that channel defines the brand and more to how the brand wants to define itself in a meaningful way with that channel.
You say you offer your clients “an increased awareness of their own brand.” What exactly does that mean? Could you give me an example?
We help brands focus on discovering the visual conversations in which they are being mentioned, and connecting with those fans. We’re not focused on social listening, but instead identifying where those customers are at in their experience with the product or service. By focusing on the customer’s place in the buying experience, at we are able to help brand managers understand which ‘moments’ their customers are connecting with them.
How closely do you work with clients in putting together campaigns? Do you work with them every step of the way, or do you stand back and let them figure it out for themselves?
We work in a variety of ways with clients, some closer than others. Half of our business is done with marketing agencies and half directly with brand managers. Each client has a dedicated team member who is able to coach them through different parts of the programs whether around strategy of how to build engagement, execution or awareness.
Tell me a story about working with a client. How did Seen help them improve their brand, and how did their business improve as a result?
Warrior Lacrosse (part of New Balance) is an early pioneer in building and engaging their audience through a channel like Instagram. We worked with Warrior to develop and launch the Paul Rabil product line. The program featured an opportunity for Warrior customers, primarily high school boys, to share Instagram photos of their customization of the product. Besides reaching hundreds of thousands of highly qualified customer targets, the consumer participation showcased the availability and features of the new product. The Warrior team hosted all the content on several digital spaces and we’re able to track and see where, how and when consumers we’re sharing. The launch met the sales goals and the products continue to be visually shared with the #warriorrabil tag.
Seen has gone through many incarnations over the years. How has your company’s identity and business model changed through the years? What core values have stayed the same?
Our evolution has been quite a journey. The business model has continued to evolve based on what our company has learned from our customers. As quickly as the social networking and technology landscape has changed, so has our services and model. At the core we have focused on two main components: service and value. We are relentless to be responsive for our clients and understand how much they are the lifeblood of what we do. We think about value in terms of not wasting our clients’ money on unnecessary parts of the product and service offering. These themes have stayed constant and kept us close to our customers.
Where do you see Seen in the world of customer engagement marketing? How do you stand out from the crowd? What makes you special?
We are very focused on making visual channels like Instagram scalable and effective intersections for consumers and brands. We stand out in that we spend all of our time building product and being experts in this space. Additionally, our service is focused on core brand goals, so the features and services are closely aligned with our customer needs. We can see that this type of engagement is very effective and expect communication with consumers and brands.
What have you learned from attending Startup Grind?
I consider myself a student of business and I love hearing and learning about new companies, founder stories and all the other goodness. The main thing I have learned from talking to other early stage leaders is that self-awareness is critical to success. There is no way to handle everything, and it takes a lot of hard-working, smart people to get things done. I am constantly thinking about what I am good at and who can help us succeed.
Where do you see Seen going, and how would you like to get there?
Our goal is solely focused on helping create success for our clients. It’s still the early frontier for most brands on understanding how to activate and participate in new social channels. We want to make it so easy for brand managers to participate on Instagram they can’t not be effective. Visual story telling is really fun, and we think it should be fun for consumers and brands together. At the end of the day we’d love our clients to think they couldn’t have gotten it done without us, and that we couldn’t have gotten it done without them.
Any advice for the entrepreneurs out there?
Don’t be afraid to start or stop. Too many people hang on for too long in good times and bad. Progress and learning is all that matters.