Building Brands People Love: A Fireside Chat with AOL’s Tim Armstrong

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For years, AOL has been acquiring companies and building them into brands that people love.

Since 2009 Tim Armstrong has realized the potential of these acquired brands and amplified them into brands that people can connect with across the globe. The Huffington Post has been one of the most noted acquisitions, that AOL continues to heighten. Today it is one of the most shared content system on Facebook, with billions of views overall. In his fireside chat with Stephanie Ruhle, he outlined some of the strategies behind his successful acquisition of brands.

1. Know the Vision

As Armstrong interviews companies to acquisition, he says one of the most important questions he asks entrepreneur’s is where the company will be in the next five to ten years.

Beyond knowing the long-term scope of the company, Armstrong points out it’s critical that the entrepreneurs know where the gaps in this vision are. Without this, he says he doesn’t believe brands will find enough power within their markets to elevate themselves to the next level.

2. Foster the passion and lead accordingly

According to Armstrong, the passion behind brands is what drives them. But that can get complicated when your acquisitioning many independent brands and transitioning them to blend within a larger brand such as AOL.

To do this, you need to get behind the founder’s passion and support their vision. While this inverted pyramid style may sound questionable to some, Armstrong says this kind of servant-leadership builds trust and turbocharges the brand, ensuring its continued growth.

3. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate.

If you haven’t guessed it, differentiation, in Armstrong’s opinion is key to brand survival. He says it’s a road to non-success if people spend time looking at, and mimicking how Facebook and Google have done things.

So, this is what AOL has avoided. Instead of competing with tech-giants in Silicon Valley, Armstrong says he and AOL have simply acted as small arms dealers. They bring content that makes other companies compete to be the best. He says AOL has differentiated itself from these companies, as their platforms and services can be used to funnel and facilitate consumer purchases.

4. Make the relationship

Some believe people are no longer seeing content because there’s simply too much of it. But Armstrong disagrees. Instead he believes the way we consume content has changed dramatically. People are now paying attention to content produced by other people. This causes traditional big media to believe that there’s too much media, but this isn’t the case. Instead, people are starting to pay attention to content shared by individuals, rather than the other messages shared by seemingly random sources. Today, consumers are beginning to crave better, more personalized content.

To reach people where they are, Armstrong says we need to begin storytelling through non-generic methods, and begin building a distribution zone where there’s not too much media, but more media focused on relationships.

AOL has made significant strides in content development and branding. But their innovation is far from over. Throughout Armstrong’s speech, he made several hints at up-and-coming AOL announcements and developments. So consumers and advertisers will have to stay tuned.

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