8 Online Brand Building Lessons From Lilly Singh

Juli Greenwood sat down with the YouTuber, comedian, talk show host, actress and New York Times best-selling author.

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Juli Greenwood sat down with the YouTuber, comedian, talk show host, actress and New York Times best-selling author.


8 Online Brand Building Lessons From Lilly Singh

Juli Greenwood sat down with the YouTuber, comedian, talk show host, actress and New York Times best-selling author.

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8 Online Brand Building Lessons From Lilly Singh

As we continue to live and market in relative isolation, making and nurturing real human connections is more important than ever. As part of our annual ImageCon event, I recently had the privilege of virtually interviewing YouTuber, comedian, talk show host, actress and New York Times best-selling author Lilly Singh about her experience of building a successful online brand.

Our fun, interesting and candid exchange during which Lilly shared her experiences of what worked well (and what didn’t) was full of helpful and often surprising advice for brands. Here are the top lessons that emerged from our inspiring conversation:

Lesson 1: Storytelling

As mentioned before, Lilly Singh has many strings to her bow. However, a common string  runs through her various activities, as she explains: “At the centre of everything I do, whether it is my YouTube channel, whether it is events like this, whether it is some of my social good initiatives -- the centre of everything is storytelling.”

Stories, she learned during her career, are vital because they “actually bring people together, make the world go round.” Only stories have this special capability of empowering, including, connecting. As videos can communicate so much information and emotion in a short format, they are particularly impactful for storytelling.

Lesson 2: Community building

Today, connecting people into communities is essential for a brand’s success. Telling relatable stories was chiefly how Lilly built her community of more than 15 Million YouTube subscribers.

During her talk Lilly explained her firm belief that “not every story needs to be about everyone but there should be stories about everyone.” And she encouraged the virtual audience to go out and create stories people can relate to.

Particularly with video, this is much easier nowadays as there are no gatekeepers. Anyone can create videos and post them on the internet. Once you have a community, stories tend to naturally emerge from audience interaction.

However, Lilly explained that these stories shouldn’t just be about products. As Lilly emphasised “people do not just connect solely with flashy products or flashy marketing. There has to be a connection, something you stand for, something the audience feels part of.”

Lesson 3: Authenticity

There are plenty of technical details to bear in mind with video. However, Lilly explained that if you expect to engage people and have them relate to your brand, you must be authentic. As she said, “We see in the times we are living in right now, authenticity and being a real person is really valuable.”

Lilly elaborated on changes over the last decade and how influencers today have become brands in their own rights. But Lilly longed for a reset because “everyone being a brand takes away from being people.”

Speaking from her own experience, she reminds us that before becoming a ‘brand’ people need to know that you are a person with unique views and a story to tell.

Lesson 4: Diversity

Brand authenticity also means showing different facets that appeal to different people. As a brand with an online presence, Lilly argues, you will talk to many different people. Your community will be diverse - there are all types of people with all types of beliefs from all parts of the world.

“To be authentic as a brand,” explained Lilly, “you need to have people working at your brand that can authentically tell different stories.” That requires a diverse workforce, people that look different, have different points of view.

Lesson 5: Stand for something

Beyond authenticity, brands today must stand for something more than just their products.

“People are very aware of the world today,” said Lilly. “They are very aware of the causes they care about; they are very aware of the people that need help; they are very aware of what needs attention.” She noted that millennials and younger generations particularly connect with products that stand for something.

Lesson 6: Learn to pivot

One thing brands with an online presence have to learn is how to pivot when things go wrong. Also, when one door closes, another can open. Lilly shared the story of when a major video shoot was cancelled, it led to her starting the #GirlLove movement, which aimed to “break girl-on-girl hate.”

This ended up being a massive campaign that helped hundreds of girls in Kenya attend school.

Lesson 7: Step out your comfort zone

Brands shouldn’t stay in their comfort zones just to avoid things going wrong. Lilly explained that taking risks is a currency in the online world; younger generations in particular dislike brands that are safe and completely predictable. She advises brands to ask themselves “as real people, what should we do here?” and not to be afraid to do something unexpected and cool.

Lesson 8: Define your legacy (beyond the stats)

When measuring your online success, it’s likely to be in numbers. Lilly did the same but explained why she finally changed tack. Her problem with numbers is that you are never satisfied; you keep chasing the target.

She decided to ask herself, “what legacy do I want to leave behind.” This inspired her to set a much higher ambition: measuring the impact her stories make.

Have they inspired the community to do something big? Have they encouraged people to try out something new? This quality of the feedback from her community has become her new measurement.

Lilly’s maverick and sometimes irreverent path to success shows that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to online brand-building.

At Cloudinary, we were particularly excited about and inspired by the many ways Lilly tapped into the power of video for authentic, relatable storytelling and community-building.

We hope the lessons she shared during our conversation at ImageCon have inspired you to inject some new ideas into your brand strategy. And we’d love to hear about them!

Juli Greenwood is Director of Communications at Cloudinary.

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8 Online Brand Building Lessons From Lilly Singh

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