As election season reaches peak media saturation, there’s an increasingly common sight on the morning subway into Manhattan. Catch a glimpse of a smartphone, and you won’t be surprised to see a set of bold teal headlines atop slim news blurbs scrolling by on screen. This sleek text format is immediately recognizable as the theSkimm, a four-year-old e-mail newsletter that now counts over 4 million active subscribers.
That smartphone is probably in the hands of a 20- or 30-something, who probably happens to be female. That’s because theSkimm’s newsletter is made and marketed specifically with 22- to 34-year-old women in mind. And based on its rapid growth so far, it’s doing it right.
The fact that the company’s New York-based co-founders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin [read our interview with them here] are themselves both millennial females certainly doesn’t hurt. As 20-somethings working in the news media, they started their self-described “company that makes it easier to be smarter” from their couch, convinced of a market opportunity they were confident they could own.
theSkimm won over millions of millennial inboxes through a relentlessly focused product and brand. As with many born-mobile startups, brand and product developed and grew together, seamlessly meeting an audience need while resonating with their self-expression of identity.
On the product side, the flagship daily email newsletter offers a filter on the unconquerable fire hose of daily news, distilling a few digestible blurbs and links every morning from the morass of headlines hitting the net. The founders’ describe their readers’ needs in terms of social currency: the minimum needed to own the daily water cooler conversation without falling out of the loop. Early on, skeptics balked at their faith in e-mail as a medium to start something unique. With an average open rate of about 40 percent, the two entrepreneurs were clearly onto something.
Until now, the brand has manifested primarily in theSkimm’s voice, which Weisberg and Zakin call one of their brand’s key assets. It reads as a witty, irreverent best friend providing readers with what they need to know to start their day. That persona is coupled with the duo’s transparent, authentic audience relationship—for example, openly discussing the company’s first subscription-based product as a way to “make paper.” The result is a fun, believable brand young adults can relate to without reservation.
Not content to rest on those laurels, this year the company has received $8.5 million in venture capital funding to push the brand beyond an e-mail newsletter. And as with just about every other media company looking to grow digitally, that means video. SkimmStudios, an in-house content studio, will begin producing short-form videos by the end of the year.
It’s no coincidence that the largest investor, 20th Century Fox, knows a thing or two about large-scale video distribution networks. The New York Times is another investor, albeit on a much smaller scale. That investment is symbolic of theSkimm’s aspiration as a media company. The founders say they’d like to collaborate with the Times in the future, but have yet to solidify any specific plans.
In any business, expansion and growth will bring new challenges to maintaining brand consistency and health. Even two years into their endeavor, Weisberg and Zakin told brandchannel about the importance of maintaining brand guidelines for creative consistency. As long as brand as business asset remains top of mind, they appear likely to navigate a smart course while introducing theSkimm to new platforms and audiences.
Jared Spears is a New York-based creative strategist at Interbrand.