Live your best life and show your authentic self are two mantras that best describe Kasey Hickey. She is the Co-Founder of Turntable Kitchen, a vinyl record label and website covering food, music, home, and travel that she runs with her husband, and has over 15 years of experience in marketing, PR, and content at early-stage startups including Asana, Evernote, and BetterUp. Her love for the written word and the feelings those illuminate shine in every piece of content that she creates. It is this mindset that has allowed her to differentiate herself within the startup community. Here, she shares how her focus on content and brand voice has benefitted her work, both as a content creator for startups and an entrepreneur.
RampUp: What’s the smartest marketing decision you ever made?
Kasey: When we launched Turntable Kitchen nearly a decade ago, we weren’t yet trying to sell products, but I knew pretty early on that we would want to build a business model beyond ads. Probably the smartest marketing decision I made was focusing on building an authentic, warm, and approachable brand voice. It sounds so homegrown, but I deeply believe that so many things can be automated and optimized—but not your voice.
I wanted people to relate to me as a human being first, and as a soon-to-be-business second. The trust we developed with our readers has translated to having customers who’ve been buying products from us for years. And these are the people who, three years ago, believed in us to help fund a Kickstarter for our new business. You can’t underestimate trust and loyalty in marketing. We built an e-commerce business by starting with content.
RampUp: How confident were you about focusing on your brand voice first?
Kasey: I think what gave me the most confidence was the feedback we’d get—on blog posts, on social media, in emails, and through surveys. All of the data points suggested that our voice was one of our biggest differentiators. To some extent, it made product-market fit almost irrelevant because people just liked what we were doing. They didn’t feel like they were buying products from a company. We weren’t addressing a pain point or a need—we were creating a community and a sense of delight. It’s amazing how much of this we’re seeing now, years after we first came up with the idea.
RampUp: What data points did you use to make this decision? Were there qualitative aspects to your decision too?
Kasey: In some ways, focusing on content first wasn’t the smartest decision from a data perspective. The data suggested that we should focus on churning out SEO-driven content at a time when SEO wasn’t so brand-centric (now, we think about SEO all the time, but always focus on voice first). Data points to speed, efficiency, optimization. We instead focused on the hand-made elements, like hand-stamping our boxes and writing tasting notes that usually included a personal anecdote or story. We brought people into our home, our family, our struggles. I applied this approach to everything we did early on—reaching out to reporters with personal notes, sending care packages to influencers without asking for anything in return, and building relationships with our customers.
RampUp: Did this approach feel risky at the time?
Kasey: We weren’t (and still aren’t) a VC-funded startup, and in a lot of ways, that has given us the freedom to go with our guts. We weren’t trying to 10x our business out of the gate, and we were both working full-time when we launched. We also didn’t have kids and were renting a small apartment, so the risk felt minimal. Every press story, every new follower, was humbling and validating. I once read that having boundaries can help creativity. I feel that being constrained by time (as a result of working full-time) and money forced us to think creatively. And candidly, being inauthentic felt riskier!
RampUp: What has been the long-term impact of focusing on building true connections with your audience through content?
Kasey: Seven years into launching a subscription-based business, we remain a largely self-funded operation (save a Kickstarter to help get our third subscription service, SOUNDS DELICIOUS, a vinyl record club for full-length cover albums, off the ground). We’ve learned a lot over the years about operational costs, and we’re still learning every day. But ultimately, I believe we wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t prioritize our voice as a key differentiator.
Without going into our financials, I can say that for a subscription-based business, our retention rate is incredibly strong. We believe it’s because our customers feel like they are our friends. We still prioritize content that feels very much like “us.” People feel like they’re following our story.
RampUp: Do you wish you had made this decision earlier?
Kasey: I don’t think I could have made this decision any earlier than I did, but I wish I was more confident in it and wish that I took more risks with it earlier on.
RampUp: Such as?
Kasey: Now that I have a family, I have so much less time (and resources!) but looking back, we could have invested more money into developing even more creative visuals that played off our voice. I would still love to spin off more projects as an extension of our brand—I feel like there’s still a book in me, somewhere.
RampUp: How has what you’ve learned through Turntable Kitchen impacted your work at Abstract and other companies you’ve worked for?
Kasey: One of the biggest things I’ve learned through Turntable Kitchen is that everyone is a person, first. What I mean is that even if you’re selling to an enterprise, you’re actually trying to make a human connection with a single person. Content is one of the most powerful ways you can do that. If you can build trust and recognition in the marketplace and have a solid product to back you up, you can create an incredible sense of loyalty and empathy. People will stick with you.
RampUp: What advice do you have for other marketing professionals looking to make a big, impactful decision?
Kasey: Authenticity beats virtually every other kind of metric when you’re marketing to consumers. It’s not about how many blog posts you publish or how produced the shots are. If you look at the brands that are killing it these days—Glossier, Everlane, Mailchimp—it’s their voice that stands out.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if a decision doesn’t make you feel a little scared or uncomfortable, it’s not bold enough. To build trust, you have to put yourself out there. You have to own what you say. If it feels too comfortable for too long, it’s probably boring. One thing I always tell people that I interview for my day jobs is that you can feel passion through the words. I can tell right away when someone has a story to tell that they’re passionate about—and nine times out of ten, the metrics back it up. People don’t want smoke and mirrors. We want to connect. This is the era of marketing that shouldn’t feel like marketing.
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