Greatist: Building a Millennial Brand

March 7, 2016

4:09 pm

Everything we do results in who we eventually become, and it is often the most trying situations that create the most impact. From who we chose to be friends with in high school, to what college (if any) we chose to attend, to even our daily lives – all these things affect who we become and how we perceive the world around us. The phenomenological mindset can also allow us to strive for greatness -or in this case the greatest – which goes beyond simply working out and eating right. This is particularly true for Derek Flanzraich, founder and CEO of the media company Greatist, who created an online publication dedicated to encouraging Millennials to make healthy life choices.

“I grew up as the biggest kid in class, and like all founding stories this started before creating the company. I lived in Palo Alto, moved to Miami, being the Big kid wasn't very sexy. I turned to fitness out of frustration. Ever magazine, every TV show, every search…they were ultimately not trustworthy and made me feel worse about myself. I didn't understand why there wasn't a brand and a business that was speaking with me and not at me. I saw my friends and myself shifting away how we saw fitness and health. So it became a personal thing for me. It was my personal side passion,” said Flanzraich.

Building the Brand

Health, fitness, and wellness comes in a variety of flavors. For Greatist and Flanzraich, the vision and core elements are the result of a happy accident, which were later refined into the existing brand.

“I joined a startup that sold, then launched Greatist. The mission was my life mission. I didn't know how to build the defining healthy life brand…five years later it’s been a hell of a ride,” said Flanzraich. “Really the idea from day one was to build a brand they love and trust. We didn't know how to do that at first so started with content.”

The initial content Greatist focused on always included expert opinions and reports. Each concept and approach was more than your typical BuzzFeed list post, and more so focused on real results. They focused on quality and expert-approved, science-based facts; however, in order to be impactful they needed to find their voice. “The most impact about what we do is the voice and tone. A realistic empowering lens we bring to all of our articles,” said Flanzraich.

When asked how they created and target their brand voice, Flanzraich had a very simple answer: being part of the audience itself. “They used to speak to us, and it worked well enough” said Flanzraich. There is a deeper understanding in this space, even a frustration. This is a direct response to how traditional media has communicated with their audiences. The voice the brand is the most important part of anything.”

Brands are paying more attention to the increasingly challenging task of marketing to the Millennial audience, as former tactics are no longer as effective. According to Flanzraich, the health and wellness market still corners the influencer world, using popular brands and celebrities to encourage a way of thinking. “For the most part, it's been really terrible. It's a real shame how brands have gotten away with it. Change is coming, if change isn't already here. That change will be more realistic, authentic, real voices to build a following. Not just lose weight quick, and get rich quick.”

Having found their voice, the company has since become profitable, raised a Series A in the past year, and now draw in 10 million unique visitors a month. For a media company of their volume they are have a scrappy team, and in the past month have hired six new employees. At 27 team members, they plan to add an additional 10 to 15 new employees. According to Flanzraich, Greatist is thoughtfully and strategically expanding. In order to retain the ideal level of consistency and quality each team member must share a common element.

“The obvious prerequisites is being passionate about making a difference… changing the way the world sees health, said Flanzraich. “If you are passionate about this, then we are looking for people who have very relevant experience or are hard working. We take benefits and perks to the extreme. We think if people are healthy and find their balance they will do their best work.”

Greatist also looks for those who continue to improve and learn. They are hyper self-aware, self-improvers, and may just need the right opportunity to thrive. Flanzraich likened the concept to team members being really great drivers, but nobody has given them the keys to move forward. Greatist starts the ignition, but it’s up to the team to roll out and reach their destination.

Knowing Your Audience

Millennials are difficult to define. Sure, there are specific age ranges that at an extremely high-level put a box around a generation, but past that things get hazy. When I asked Flanzraich how he would define them, he didn’t want to take a venture. Instead he posed a more specific question regarding what they thought about health. Among the research Greatist has come across, the most jaw-dropping statistic is regarding health versus wealth. More specifically, Millennials by and large would prefer to be healthy rather than wealthy.

“It's not about health and fitness, but why you are doing it. I have a pet theory that more millennials are less religious. More time on their phones, more ache for connection and identity. Health and wellness is sort of the religion of sorts to find that connection. Sweating together means being together,” said Flanzraich. “This is among the ways people are building community. An active longing to be part of being together. A physical, sometimes more spiritual aspect. If health and fitness is the new religion, where will people turn, who will be the church? Where will they turn to? What is the identity they are trying to adopt? Greatist…an identity between the couch potato and those active. They don't have to be great and that's OK.”

Building Trust While Growing

At the end of the day Greatist is still a business, and all businesses eventually need to grow. For many, quality of product often goes by the wayside during large periods of growth, which is why Greatist is focuses on data and kicking assumptions to the curb.

“Listening, engaging, truly engaging with the audience. We don't presume. Everyone is New York City-based, and it's not the world. So we are carefully listening,” said Flanzraich. He shared an example where they had initial interest in writing about small, unique gyms in New York, but scrapped it when it became evident that their greater audience didn’t care.

As a result their digital marketing is growing, and they recently brought on a head of analytics to decipher what their data is telling them. “The same way people think of health, we think of business,” said Flanzraich. The team doesn’t take shortcuts or focus on clicks. They watch, listen, and engage with their community.

“At Greatist out core metric is user trust. Not time on site or pageviews,” said Flanzraich. “How do we get people who visit Greatist to come back? The primary way in the past was to produce only amazing content. That's how it used to be. The future of media is going towards huge scaling or niche vertical brands. Expert approved and science fact with the right voice and tone. That’s the primary way we've done it so far.”

For Greatist, email is a powerful tool. Their mentality is that it’s not just content filling their inbox each day, but rather is an invite to speak with they every day. Much of their traffic also comes through social media, especially on Facebook. “Our job is not to force people to come to us, but to meet people where they are at. It’s a very Millennial thing,” said Flanzraich.

Currently the company is in growth mode. They went from zero to profitable last year, raised a total of $8 million in outside money, and are very focused on building partnerships with big brands. “We want to help shape, and change even, creating awareness for millennials trying to get better. We know them better than any, and we are investing heavily in that,” said Flanzraich. Into the future they plan to hire a sales team, create more video content, and produce more events.

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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@) or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.