Ashley McCollum

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Ashley McCollum is the Vice President of Tasty, the Buzzfeed food division. With 533 million global monthly viewers, Tasty is the most watched food content on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. One in three Americans watch a Tasty recipe each month, one in five Americans make a Tasty recipe within a week of watching a video.

Tasty started out as a curiosity. “Tasty started as an experiment on Facebook. We did not set out to build the next great massive food network.” McCollum and her team wondered, what the web allowed that was different from what came before. Once our phones had iOS, GPS, and LTE they did more than make phone calls. Once our homes had IFTTT, WiFi and iPads they did more too.

The Tasty/Buzzfeed advantage was that they were native to the web. “We just had internal talent that understood the social web.” Tom Goodwin reminds us that there is no such thing as electronic banking. Erika Nardini reminds us that there is no such thing as talk radio. We just bank, we just talk.

McCollum and her team understood the social web, understood the value of sharing, and understand that brand relationships have shifted.

“In the past brands told you about perfection. Now, customers don’t want perfection they want imperfection and to know that the brand understands them. Loyalty to a brand is no longer the driving force to why you make purchases. We have entered a phase of loyalty to me.” 

Patrick Doyle of Domino’s faced this problem during the pizza company’s turnaround. In blind taste tests, people liked Domino’s pizza more if they didn’t know it came from Domino’s. If you put the name on the box, it was about as good as Chuck E Cheese participants said.

In the past, Doyle/Domino’s could broadcast change and make it so. New and Improved – or something. But now, “It’s wallpaper. People don’t pay any attention when brands say, ‘We’ve got this new product and it’s new and improved.'”

What Doyle learned, McCollum knew. The Tasty start, “was rooted in the user, it was never about our authority.” Doyle immigrated to social, McCollum grew up there.

Cooking used to look like this, and you can’t make this up: After a date with Anthony Hopkins I was going to invite him to my giant house in Maine…

McCollum said, “You’re sitting on a couch, passively consuming video content that’s in a kitchen you can’t afford making a creme brûlée you can’t make.” And laughing with a celebrity friend, of course.

Social shifted sharing and consumption.

We’ve gone from aspiration to participation.

“Our point of view on food is that it’s about what you would want to tag your friend in to say ‘let’s do this, this weekend,’” said McCollum. These tagged posts are at least 15% of my Facebook feed. Tasty content, like Penn and Teller, meet and greets, are for sharing.

The Tasty content is made to be shared but that’s not all. “The focus was not on food. The focus was on a format that you can watch in your social feeds, post-literate, and audio independent.”

Watch it muted, watch it twice.

Watch it wherever, ain’t that nice.

Okay, but doesn’t alpha erode? Can’t someone come in and do it better? “People often copy Tasty’s format, it’s fairly cheap to produce compared to Game of Thrones, but what is very challenging to copy is what’s underneath all that. Why do these things work? Why do people connect with them?”

Why make the recipes they do? McCollum (and Ben Kaufman) know what their customers want because they see Buzzfeed clicks. Think fidget spinners and makeup have nothing in common? Think again.

Tasty surveys their users too, 75% still make a shopping list. Businesses serve customers to create sustainable profitability and from Jenn Hyman to Peter Rahal to Tiffany Zhong we see the value of understanding what customers want.

Ask what they want, watch what they do, or see what they click and then serve them.

McCollum at Tasty, as well as Kaufman at Buzzfeed Product Labs, are some of the more interesting and instructive studies in current commerce. Stores like Macys and Walmart think they’re doing something right and have signed agreements to work with the duo.

Marketing can be magical, creating something from just a story. That’s what Tasty is, a story about food, cooking, and who a person is. Stores like Target and Walmart used to have that. Now they have it less.

Why? Advertising used to create a brand, now content does.

Just look at sports. Each week of football season, each basketball home game, each soccer match is content that tells the story of the brand. Advertising was one-way authority, content is a conversation. That’s what McCollum knows.


Thanks for reading.

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