As far as the industry press is concerned, LittleThings has been like a stray cat sneaking around the yard. While no one was paying attention, the company — which specializes in uplifting, inspiring digital lifestyle content for women, ranging from cute animals and DIY to tiny homes — caught a lot mice, metaphorically speaking, racking up 80–120 million views a month across platforms since August 2015.
At the dawn of the new year, it received another piece of encouraging news. According to analytics firm Spike, LittleThings scored the #1 most interacted-with (likes, shares and comments) piece of content on Facebook in 2015 with its post featuring a video of former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant tearing up as he listened to Ann Wilson perform the band’s 1971 classic “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors.
Launched in September 2014 as a vlog on the PetFlow dog food e-commerce site, LittleThings is now a separate company. It has a full-time staff of more than 50 people at its New York City headquarters, half of whom are writers, producers, designers and videographers dedicated to content production, including “LittleThings,” an original eight-part DIY series featuring tips and tricks for food, crafts and other lifestyle categories launched last fall on both AOL’s and LittleThings’ desktop, mobile, tablet and social properties.
VideoInk spoke to LittleThings COO Gretchen Tibbits about where the company is going in 2016 and why its taking the journey without much help from YouTube.
In the online video world, everyone is all about millennials. But LittleThings’ core audience is women over 35.
Our audience since day one has been what I’ll call the millennial mom and up from that. We’re focused there for two primary reasons. One, we believe that it’s an underserved market that has incredible purchasing power. They’re buying not only for themselves but for their families. They’re very much the COO of their household, so they’re controlling personal purchase, family and frequently also company purchase. So we look at this as an incredibly underserved market with a huge purchasing power, and advertisers are telling us that they’re willing to pay more than one and a half times to reach our mom influencer than they’re paying on a CPM for millennials.
So why are so many other advertisers in the space hell-bent on pursuing millennials? Do they feel they’re making an investment in a consumer that will grow old with their brand?
In the older days of advertising, it was the conventional wisdom that your brand preferences get set at a young age and those are then retained throughout your lifetime. But if you look at a lot of the studies done more recently, that doesn’t hold true as much. But yet we find that a lot of the advertisers are still sticking to that old school mantra.
Are you happy playing in the streaming space or do you have ambition to get on linear TV or start your own OTT channel ?
We have a lot of ambitions. I wouldn’t put linear TV up there. When we look at our distribution channels, they’re going to be with some of our existing partners — Facebook, the “Today” show, AOL, Yahoo, Dailymotion — as well as our own site. We are continually approached by other publishers who are looking to syndicate our content. There are a lot of Hulus of the world that are doing different channels, not only of their content but also other key partners. Obviously, since I mentioned Hulu, it’s not going to be them, but maybe some others in a similar space where there are dedicated channels. We’re mobile-first design, and everything we do is built to optimize the user experience through whatever channel she finds us on. But most likely she’s going to be looking at our videos on her phone.
YouTube is conspicuously absent from the list of platforms you mention.
We are on YouTube. We just don’t find it for our audience as optimal for our distribution network as some of the other ones we’ve mentioned. It’s nothing against YouTube. And, quite candidly, the monetization opportunities that we have currently and are being presented to us by other players are significantly more substantial on some of these other distribution mechanisms.
How has your content evolved now that you’re handling more of it in-house?
The production values have increased. We’re finding that having the control of the in-house studio allows us to be very deliberate and specific in the style of the production that we bring to the audience Our viewer doesn’t want us to be overly glossy, she doesn’t want it to be too complicated. It should be something that’s approachable and straightforward that she feels like she can do. We focus on lighting and sound and good production values, but not glossy, over-produced. And we pay attention; we track the response rate. We have a propriety algorithm that we use to test all the content we create, but we’re also using that to drive both what gets published and what we do in the future as far as our content production mix.
A lot of the lifestyle content in the online space looks like a glossy Lancomme ad where the producer is trying to make something for their portfolio, selling their talents instead of the content. Is that something you’re trying to avoid?
Exactly. The quality of our writing and our visuals is of paramount importance to us because we feel that is vital to the user experience. But what our users have also demonstrated by what they like and what they share and what they continue to come back to is that they want it to feel like it’s something they could do. They want it to feel approachable, not intimidating. So they want it to be beautiful to look at, but it’s not that Martha Stewart level of perfection. It’s that neighbor down the street who always has the best cupcakes for the bake sale and the perfect Halloween costume for the kids. But it’s something where you feel you can almost get there.
So you’re performing a noble service for your users.
We found is one of those wonderful times in business when you can be a profitable company that makes your reader happy and literally makes her day better. Those who watch positive stories report having a good day 88 percent of the time. So we can help women who then share it in their network so their friends have a better day and they make money by doing it. And, honestly, for some of us, that’s a lot a more interesting than selling dog food. Not that there’s anything wrong with dog food.