Newsletter Interview with Brands Mean a Lot

Brands Mean a Lot

Brands Mean a Lot can be described as a newsletter about the importance of branding in our lives, and how it influences us through our own perceptions. It tells the stories of relationships between people and brands by highlighting the ludicrous nature of brands that we tend to glance over in our daily lives, and adding in the necessary context with just the right amount of sarcasm to re-align it’s readers thoughts so that they can see each brand from a new angle.

Reading each article feels almost like seeing though an optical illusion for the first time, and realizing that you never knew it was an optical illusion in the first place.

Whether weaving in analogies between restaurant dining and American culture, or following an absurd thought experiment on alien conspiracy theories through to fruition, Brands Mean a Lot uses an eclectic and catchy writing style to bring to light the subtle parts of advertisements and branding that only our sub-conscious would normally recognize, almost forcing us to examine our own psychology through it’s brand analysis.

Can you give some background on yourself, your newsletter, and how and when it came about?

I’m 35 years old and I’ve always considered myself a good writer but have done nothing about it. For whatever reason, my mortality finally caught up to my procrastination and I told myself it was time to give it a try. I was also inspired by a friend, who began their newsletter, Below the Line from Kevin LaBuz a few months before me. He showed me how to make time to write while still maintaining a 9-5.

Ultimately, framing of both products and issues is what branding is: how can something make life better or worse for us. There’s a ton of subtext in the way these things are presented that begs for exploration. That’s what Brands Mean a Lot focuses in on.

Are you involved in branding / marketing professionally, or are you approaching this topic purely from personal interest?

I’m not. I’m approaching the topic from a lifetime of cynicism about how organizations--whether they be companies, political parties, or NGOs--present themselves. Because of the way we’re all connected, through money, they all have something to sell.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to make a buck, but I’m trying to highlight the strangeness and hellishness that accompanies those pursuits.

How many subscribers does your newsletter currently have?

I started with 100 subscribers (100 of my closest friends, colleagues, and family members) in July of 2020. I’m currently at 327 subscribers. It’s been slow but steady.

How do you come up with new ideas for your newsletter?

Sometimes it’ll be something I read in the news that sticks out to me as odd and deserving of more scrutiny. Other times, it will come from readers and friends who find something they think would be good for the newsletter. When I come across something, I’ll just paste it into a long Google doc I have called ‘Ideas’ and revisit when it’s time to write. It’s not a refined or particularly organized process.

I need a better method. Some weeks I find myself scrambling to find a topic and I think it can show in my writing.

How much time do you put into writing each article?

I spend between 5-8 hours each week writing/producing. Most of my time is spent writing and editing and research happens along the way. Because Brands Mean a Lot is commentary, there isn’t as much research required as there might be for another type of newsletter.

How have you gained your subscribers to date? Are there any tricks you have used to grow your newsletter?

Mainly through word of mouth and promotion. Reddit, LinkedIn, and Twitter have been my most successful forums for self-promotion. With Reddit and Twitter, it’s important to be timely and on-topic, which is difficult when writing and promoting isn’t your full time job. I also post on Y Combinator’s Hacker News and Orange Chew. It’s sort of random if your post will get steam, but if it does, it can be a huge help.

I also recommend sharing your content with people whose work you cite or mention in your own. They might appreciate a different approach or opinion, and who knows, maybe they’ll share it to their network.

Any tips for other writers / creators for sharing content on Reddit? Some subreddits are more friendly to promotion than others.

It’s a fine line I don’t have totally figured out yet, but be on-topic and don’t be sales-y. Usually, the subreddit you’re in will have ground-rules listed--make sure you read them before you post. Sometimes, self-promotion isn’t kosher, so don’t do it, just comment.

Sometimes, you’ll get scolded even if you don’t break any rules. Don’t let it get to you. Reddit is an amazing thing full of fascinating people and information, don’t let anyone’s negativity get in your way of sharing your own fascinations. I tell myself that if I want to write commentary, I’ll have to learn to deal with all manner of reactions.

Are you making any revenue?

I’m making nothing but self-satisfaction when a new subscriber joins. Maybe someday I’d charge, but right now my focus is on consistently nailing the quality of my newsletter. Quality content begets more engaged readers, which I believe will be my key to growth.

What do you think is your best article so far?

My best yet is ‘GoodRx? More like BadRx!’. It’s the best because it’s my most concise and to the point. I establish what I’m writing about and why the reader is there early on. From there, I did some unique analysis on an advertisement from a company that tries to frame itself as being good, but in fact behaves the exact opposite.

Have you received any feedback from companies or groups you have written about?

Not yet, but not for want of trying.

Have you found any patterns in your readers preferences?

Not yet! I recently did away with sending a ‘song of the week’ because I saw very few people were clicking on it. My length hasn’t varied that much, but I do notice the shorter/more concise I am, the better my reception.

There’s a pattern to be found about my subject lines, but I haven’t found it yet. My highest open rate is 66% and my lowest is 43%. There’s something there, but I haven’t quite cracked it yet.

What has been the hardest part of building your subscriber base so far?

Promoting! If a newsletter is a pie, then promotion is probably 45% of that pie. It’s a whole separate part that I’m not accustomed to, whereas writing is something I understand. It’s been a steep learning curve and something that I’m nowhere close to figuring out.

Also, self-promoting has been a journey. I rejoined Facebook and started engaging in Instagram again to get myself out there.

It feels icky to talk about yourself, but you have to do it if you’re keen to grow your base.

What are your future plans for your newsletter?

In the coming months, I hope to experiment with cross-promoting with other newsletters. I also intend on growing my Twitter following by participating in more conversations online. I’m at @jarholst if you want you help me grow beyond my 127 followers. I think having a large Twitter following is a great way to share your content, but to also share other writers and promote information you think is valuable. The more you can entice people into thinking your lens is interesting, whether that be by your content or others’ content, the more you can engage and bend their ear.

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