“At the end of the day, no one purchases your product, they purchase your brand.” with Melanie Balke and Candice Georgiadis

Here’s the number one mistake brands make on Instagram: Being too professional. Instagram is a social media platform and customers want to see your brand’s personality. When you do show your brand’s personality a customer’s emotional connection to your brand and who you are / what you stand for becomes so much stronger making them more likely to purchase. Because at the end of the day, no one purchases your product, they purchase your brand.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Melanie Balke, Director of Growth Strategy at BAMF Media, LA’s fastest growing marketing agency. Melanie has consulted for start-ups you have never heard of as well as global brands you interact with daily. She’s worked globally across several industries such as automotive, healthcare, clothing retail, skincare, tech and real estate, from Germany, Australia, China and the US.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

If we traveled back in time to when I was 15, we would be standing in the middle of an operating room and I would be helping dissect a cancerous intestine during my first ever internship. That’s a weird beginning to a story, but when I was younger I was torn between going to medical school and business school, which sounds silly because they are two completely different fields. What I loved about medical school was that I would be able to truly help people, but what I hated was the inflexibility. The fact that I wouldn’t be able to move from country to country easily or change who I worked with, take time off easily to have a family or focus on a hobby. Working for a marketing agency and in consulting truly is the best of both worlds because I get to help people realize their dreams and calling with their companies every day while at the same time I get to maintain the flexibility. It’s a blessing!

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?

In a nutshell, I would say that I have worked and seen brands small and large utilize social media in different ways for different purposes across various industries and types of businesses. Basically, I’ve seen it all and along the way have helped grow accounts organically from 200 to 20,000 followers within a few months while utilizing social media to build a stronger customer connection and increase sales.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

The most interesting story to share is probably when one of my clients, The Vibrant Body Company, accidentally went viral. The Vibrant Body Company is a bra brand that stands for making undergarments for women free of harmful chemicals. They had set up a coupon code for a charity event with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which then got leaked into a Facebook group aimed at sharing freebies. Within an hour, while we were on the phone trying to figure out what to do next, the orders for free bras went from about 160,000 to 300,000 orders.

The best thing is what happened next though. Someone on the internet thought that it was a bit suspicious that people were giving away a $90 bra for free. So, they figured it must be a scam, more specifically, a sex trafficking scam aimed at getting female’s home addresses so they could later be kidnapped. This story then spread like wildfire on Facebook and my client started getting death threats including pictures of guns, dogs as well as unsolicited visits by very angry looking men.

The moral of the story is, if you want to go viral on social media, you better be prepared for it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One time I was incredibly sick and totally out of it from all the medication that I accidentally copy and pasted the wrong link into the Instagram bio. Instead of directing people to the giveaway I had promised them in the post, I was directing them to a WebMD page about sinus infection. 🙈

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

It truly depends on the audience you are trying to reach. I’ve found that Pinterest is mainly made up of window shoppers. A lot of people will engage with your content and pin it but the number of people who will actually purchase from Pinterest traffic is fairly low. I worked with a bracelet brand where people would constantly visit the website coming from Pinterest and engage with the content there, but very few of them converted to customers. Especially because it was a higher price product.

On the other hand, I have found that Instagram story ads have been driving a lot of sales and revenue with the right target audience. Young female millenials are likely to click and purchase something based off of a cool Instagram story ad they saw, if it appeals to them. I’ve used this successfully for a clothing brand client who used summer themed ads with content shot on the beautiful Italian coast of Amalfi to promote their new collection during spring.

Snapchat is a great brand awareness platform. Creating sponsored post stories on Snapchat can really help you reach younger audiences to build brand awareness, which in the long term may also increase revenue, but in the short term usually doesn’t.

Last but not least, the giant, Facebook. Facebook can definitely increase business revenue from an advertising standpoint — (beware: As long as your business is the right fit). However, I’ve seen a decline in organic posts driving traffic from a client’s Facebook page to their website. The new secret weapon for Facebook is Facebook groups. With a client in the nutritional space we’ve successfully built and used a free Facebook group where we offered content around the Paleo diet of life, from recipes, eBooks, videos and nutritional coaching to upsell into a paid membership in another more exclusive group. The more exclusive group contained more / better recipes, videos, one-on-one coaching as well as fitness training.

Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

Absolutely, let me break down the 6 most impactful ways to dramatically improve your business with Instagram.

1) Leverage Instagram Stories To Drive Sales

Instagram stories are a great way to drive sales both through ads as well as through organic content.

400 million people use Instagram stories and observing habits I have noticed that people are more likely now to click through stories rather than scroll through a feed. Instagram stories have people be more actively watching and engaged than just scrolling through a feed. That’s where brands’ opportunity lies to create an Instagram story ad that is compelling and seems like organic content seducing the audience to watch your ad without even realizing it is one.

The number one mistake to watch out for is to have your ad be placed in an automatic placement on Instagram. That could lead to an ad looking like this:

The ad is immediately identified as such and therefore more likely to be skipped. Additionally, the text takes the focus away from the video/image where you want the viewers focus to be and where the audience on Instagram stories wants to focus. A better Instagram story ad is created specifically for the Instagram story audience and would look more like this:

The ad format fits the Instagram story screen perfectly, the video has subtitles for people who are watching without audio and the content on the example to the left seems 100% organic.

All in all, Instagram story ads are a great way to capture your audience’s attention when they are most likely to be receptive and engage with your content.

But there’s more! If you do not want to spend money on Instagram story ads you should still use the feature to create stories for your brand’s account.

Instagram stories are, like I mentioned before, more likely to be engaged with. Instagram at one point revealed that 1 in 5 stories gets a direct message from viewers. So, Instagram stories are a great way to engage with your customers and have them reply to one of your questions, which can create a stronger customer / brand bond, show behind the scenes material giving your customers insight into who you are and what you stand for, again, creating a stronger customer brand / bond, or just selling.

Soludos does a fabulous example of using Instagram stories to announce their new arrivals and jumpstart sales.

First of all, their story tells a, you guessed it, story. Second, their story features a strong call to action. Something that Instagram feed content doesn’t allow for as much. So immediately from watching the story you can swipe up to purchase. Something that is much easier via stories rather than feed posts.

2) Build A Name In Your Niche With Peers & Influencers

Instagram gives you the opportunity to reach out to and come in contact with people that you normally wouldn’t or at least wouldn’t as easily.

Use Instagram to reach out to peers. Brands in your industry that you respect and that would be great for a partnership. For example, Apt2B, an e-commerce furniture retailer I worked with, used Instagram to reach out to other home furnishing brands that would make good partners (not competitors). By regularly engaging with those peer’s posts and establishing a connection long before reaching out for a partnership a base of trust had already been built and the name Apt2B already had recognition.

We did the same partnerships with influencers. Instagram was a great medium to reach out to home decor influencers we liked and partner up with. Not just for posts, but even for long-term partnerships like that with interior designer Kyle Schuneman, who regularly designs collections, creates a DIY series and more for the brand.

Don’t underestimate the opportunity Instagram gives you to reach out to brands you want to collaborate with, influencers you admire or even customers for a one-on-one chat. Direct messaging people within the platform is much more effective and likely to get a response than emailing will ever be again.

3) Give Your Brand Personality

Here’s the number one mistake brands make on Instagram: Being too professional. Instagram is a social media platform and customers want to see your brand’s personality. When you do show your brand’s personality a customer’s emotional connection to your brand and who you are / what you stand for becomes so much stronger making them more likely to purchase. Because at the end of the day, no one purchases your product, they purchase your brand.

Here’s an example of a brand with no emotional connection created with their Instagram:

What did the brand do “wrong”? The images are mostly product images and don’t provide any real value to the customer. However, they are aesthetically pleasing. Let’s look at an example of a brand that curates interesting content driving value for their users.

Vissla is a surf brand, their customers engage with and enjoy surf related content. Instead of posting product pictures of plain T-Shirts that are uninteresting or unengaging, all their content, even the ones including products such as surfboards or wetsuits, are packaged as a visually engaging image. Most of their images are shoppable and really conveyed an emotional message with the image.

Therefore, make sure every post you share provides value to your followers. If you’re selling, don’t try the hard-sell. Rather, go for a soft sell with a shoppable amazing lifestyle image.

4) Create a Movement

More than one movement has come out of Instagram. From clean eating to body positivity and more. For your brand, Instagram and its hashtags offer a unique opportunity to create your own brand movement and engage your customers.

Clif Bar, for example, launched #meetthemoment asking their followers, fans and customers to post pictures of their outdoor adventures with the tag and offering a $1 donation to the International Mountain Biking Association per post. Ultimately, they raised $4,000 for the cause receiving many entries even after campaign end.

But it can go way bigger than that. These campaigns can cause entire movements such as it did for REI when they launched their #optoutside campaign closing their stores on Black Friday and encouraging their customers to rather spend the day outdoors in nature instead of shopping. The campaign turned into an entire movement with people now using the hashtag to express the best moments and days of their lives with over 10 million Instagram entries.

Creating movements like that can spread your brand’s name like wildfire and increases brand awareness exponentially. Encouraging your customers to engage with your brand supporting a movement and cause together also strengthens the emotional bond and liking of your customer towards your brand.

5) Turn Customers Into Advocates: Give Exceptional Customer Service

If you have an Instagram business account you will have likely already noticed that many customers will direct message (DM) you their customer complaints. Especially for younger generations, customer service hotlines and support emails are not the preferred method of communication. They want to talk to your brand on the platforms they are active on. Use this to your advantage and provide them with exceptional customer service by going above and beyond.

Besides answering direct messages that means answering and engaging with your (potential) customer’s comments on not just your pictures, but also pictures of your products by other customers. You can even use Instagram to just engage with potential customers in a fun and playful way even if you are not mentioned in the post at all, but it is content that fits your brand. For example, if you’re a fashion label you can comment on great outfit combinations even if they don’t include your brand yet. If they do mention you or post about your product, give them the deserved attention and repost / repurpose their content. Not only will your customer feel special and appreciated, but seeing user generated content serves as a very trustworthy source of referral for other potential customers.

Use Instagram to get close to your customers and go above and beyond with customer service.

6) Get to know your customers

Nothing is more valuable than having a clear understanding of who your customer is and what pain points they are struggling with. Why are they using your product? Why aren’t they? Where do they live? How old are they? What do they do for a living? Do they have shared interests? All the answers to these questions are crucial in understanding who your customer really is and why they need your product. This knowledge is what you truly need to advertise and communicate your product to the right people further.

The people that reach out to you via Instagram and engage with your brand are perfect examples of customers or potential customers. Using Instagram to study their accounts, who they are, what they enjoy and maybe even engage in further conversation with them to schedule a complete customer interview will give you insight into the questions above and help you refine your targeting and messaging to perfection.

The process might be tedious, but even using a small sample of a dozen people and closely studying their Instagram account and what they post can give you quite good insight into who your customers are.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Yes, please! If I could trigger a movement I would trigger “1 for 5”: You do 1 thing in 5 categories every day:

● List 1 thing you’re grateful for when you wake up

● Tell 1 person you love them you normally wouldn’t tell

● Do 1 random act of kindness for a stranger

● Pick up 1 piece of trash on the ground

● Do 1 thing that scares you or is out of your comfort zone

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to share a (vegan) brunch & Cappuccino with Ellen DeGeneres. First of all, she’s just so funny and I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to have Cappuccino spurt out of my nose (just kidding). Second, I admire her work and life story beyond being a TV host, but also a business woman and activist.

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!


“At the end of the day, no one purchases your product, they purchase your brand.” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.