The headphone space is already crowded with companies like Bose, Skullcandy, and Beats taking up the vast majority of mind and market share. For a one-and-a-half-year-old upstart like The House of Marley—even with its direct partnership with Bob Marley’s family—the question is how to penetrate the impenetrable?
The answer is to find a certain cachet. If you’re riding the subway and listening to Dr. Dre, you’ve likely got on the rapper’s eponymous headphones from Beats. But if you’re snapping on your skis to make first tracks down a backcountry slope, you’re probably using Skullcandy. And if you’re relaxing on a yacht, chances are you have Bose.
The House of Marley, however, differentiates itself in part through its focus on sustainability and charity. “Our goal with the House of Marley is to be big enough one day to make a difference in the world,” says Daniel Kaufman, product manager at the brand. “To donate large sums of money and make the world a better place.”
Of course, to get that big, one must first sell product. And for the House of Marley, this includes both over-ear and in-ear headphones, sound docks, and portable audio systems, as well as bags, watches, and other accessories.
“We don’t want to come to market with anything if there’s no purpose for it,” Kaufman says. “The key to the company is we’re not a brand grab—we didn’t just take the Marley name and slap it on (our products).” Kaufman points out that the wood used in the headphones are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an organization dedicated to the responsible use of resources from the world’s forests. House of Marley’s bags, he says, are made from a proprietary fabric called REWIND, which combines recycled water bottles, organic cotton, and—appropriately—organic hemp.
The problem for the House of Marley was engaging with customers to even begin getting its message across. About a year ago, the brand ran social media by itself and noticed a disconcerting trend: very few new fans and a lack of engagement. Management was displeased. “People think of the social sphere as something that’s easy to do,” Kaufman says. “It’s simple, not a big deal, there’s no skill to it. That was our mentality in the beginning.”
Of course, that mentality was wrong. The House of Marley brought in Blue Wheel Media, a digital marketing firm, to drive the digital audiences that the company clearly lacked. House of Marley was already aware of the challenges. Compared to its bigger, more-established competitors, it didn’t have a sizable marketing budget. Thus, the key for the company’s marketing wasn’t to go after every single person, it was to effectively hit a core demographic: Bob Marley fans for sure, but also people who care about the world and want to make a difference. And this goes well beyond the Rastafarians that typically identify with Marley. Even before the partnership with Blue Wheel, Kaufman knew he wanted to grab the attention of this segment. “We call ourselves Marley and not Bob Marley because Marley is our inspiration, but not our brand,” he says. “We take the amazing messages Bob Marley left us with and we expand on them—less about the man, more about what he believed in. That’s not specific to Rasta culture.”
But generating awareness, no matter whom you’re targeting, is more than just responding to Facebook comments or begging for likes. For Blue Wheel, the strategy is three-pronged: SEO, social media, and content. Trevor George, founder and CEO of Blue Wheel Media, emphasizes that all three were necessary components of the House of Marley’s strategy. It’s a veritable marketing Ouroboros: surfacing results on Google requires great content and social sharing, which only happens when consumers are engaged with content.
From a search standpoint, Blue Wheel’s challenge was to find the right word to fit with the House of Marley brand. Owning a search query for “headphones” for instance was wholly unrealistic. “We want to own the words that really correlate to the brand,” Kaufman says. “Anything involving eco-friendly headphones, sustainable headphones. Anything that really fits and that the target consumer will find.”
A more general term that the brand began targeting was “portable audio systems,” where the House of Marley sits as the fourth choice.
“Search has significantly changed,” Blue Wheel’s George explains. “We look at competitors and try to identify what keywords they’re going after. Then we identify holes and gaps and apply that to the House of Marley. If you go to most SEO agencies, they’ll try to sign you up and say, ‘We can get you one thousand back-links per month.’ But it doesn’t necessarily work that way. We craft content. To raise a certain keyword up the ranks of Google today, you need that fresh content in terms of social or blog posts.”
Surfacing the House of Marley for “portable audio systems” queries entails crafting content related to that term and sharing it on Twitter or Facebook, where retweets and shares get considerable weight from Google’s algorithms. Basically, it’s repeating the use of the keyword within original content that educates and entertains consumers.
In all, the House of Marley gained a 262% increase in Facebook fans, a 1,630% increase in Instagram followers, and an 85% increase in organic traffic.
But the next step, for the headphone manufacturer, is to focus its content on product.
“One of our issues is people see our brand—and it’s obvious we’re a sustainable product,” Kaufman says. “What we haven’t been able to get across is our actual performance. The Marley name hasn’t been synonymous with high-end well-made products.”
Toward that end, the House of Marley’s ascendance in queries like “portable audio systems” signals the beginnings of this next phase. More content, Kaufman says, will focus on product-specific videos and details that differentiates the company from a product perspective. Consequently, the company’s social/SEO/content campaigns will only intensify.
“People who don’t think that social is a full-time job aren’t doing it right,” Kaufman says. “It really is a full-time job. People are happy to get a response. They then feel connected and want to be a part of what we’re doing. They want to be a brand advocate.”