Rick Steves and How To Correctly Build a Brand

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July 17  |  Brand Building  |   Ryan Clark

I’ve been a HUGE fan of Rick Steves for over 10 years now and it’s finally dawned on me that I love the man for more than his amazing Books, DVD collection and podcasts: Rick Steves has built an empire doing what he LOVES and, in terms of building a brand, he’s done just about everything absolutely right. Rick may be the dorkiest travel man in the business yet he can teach us all a lesson in personal branding at its finest. His digital and broadcast empire has been done so well that it provoked me to write this post to showcase how things should be done. While Rick Steves is the brand name, he is powered by an amazing team that includes family and friends who dearly respect the man.

Photo Credit: RickSteves.com

Do I secretly hope Rick will read this one day and consider hiring me to work with him? Yes. Am I sounding like the world’s biggest ass kisser at the moment? Yes. Either way, we’ll look at how Rick managed to transition seamlessly from Books and DVD’s to eventually taking over the web and building a brand that (I think) will be passed on for a very long time to come. Instead of regurgitating link building and social media marketing tips, I’ll be breaking down how the Rick Steves empire was built for the consumer in mind and why they NEVER have to worry about building links or tricking people into following them on Facebook/Twitter.

While you may not have heard of Rick Steves, he and his brand is “famous” within the travel industry. I’ve picked Rick to demonstrate what you should be doing here in 2012 and beyond. Over the years, so many brands have been duped or lead astray with lousy link building, boring social media efforts and no real long term branding strategy in play. I’m going to walk you through what it looks like when you put your love, effort and customers first and how that results in marketing gold. First up, for those who still don’t know who Rick is, check out this blooper clip from his show.

Video Credit: Rick Steves DVD’s

What Does A Natural Link Profile Look Like?

The main point I’m trying to get across is that doing amazing things and being active in your community/vertical will create the only truly natural link portfolio. The Rick Steves empire consists of a real world business first, and then the digital age takes over and his entire company adapts extremely well. Rick also does lectures and PBS specials, which, of course, lead to links and citations and, as you can see from the numbers below, it has done his company well!

Link Data via Ahrefs.com

That looks quite impressive; I’d hate to be his competition!

While not every company is going to be able to score this kind of a natural link profile easily, this should get your mind turning. Rick somehow manages to make the time to write for various authoritative sources and the rest of his links are seriously au-naturale! You won’t find Rick article marketing, socially bookmarking his content, spamming forums or blog commenting. I won’t completely break down Rick’s link profile as you can easily check it for yourself. I’d just like to showcase some of the goods and how being a leader in your vertical will draw in the links so well you’ll never have to build links.

Looking at the top links for Rick you’ll see he writes for The Huffington Post, NY Times Travel and USA Today Travel. This is one of the huge benefits of being a leader in your niche as you’ll be asked to write for the most authoritative resource available. First and foremost, he has grown his brand on his books and his television & radio shows have really propelled Rick to “celeb” status.

What does having those media advantages bring in regards to links? Well, to name just a few natural citations his organization has, the board of NORML, being on PBS, Wikipedia, Salon.com and way, way more. His website is truly a shining example of doing things right and I doubt the man even knows what link building is…

Another aspect besides TV and Radio I’d like to mention is something a lot of brands don’t do that they should: mobile and tablet apps. If you’re a major player in your vertical, or are trying to be, you should have something for the mobile crowd, or at least be in the process of getting something done. If not, you should give yourself a smack in the face and wake up to 2012; get in the game before it’s too late.

Ricks’ team has been on top of things and they have amazing audio guides for locations all over Europe. My friends who recently traveled the world used these and loved them while in Greece. You can nab the audio guides and apps for both the iPhone and the Android. This has lead to tons and tons of links both from the markets, app sites, travel news, travel blogs and press releases. This is another great example of creating amazing content that deserves links that are natural.

Social Media That’s Truly Social

By now you should know that having a Twitter and Facebook account is NOT partaking in social media. We have too many potential and current clients hooked on just seeing their follower numbers rise. Rarely do we have a client that is truly engaging with their customers, so hopefully Rick’s example empowers your efforts.

The post you see to the left is from the time I’m writing this article. Within 8 hours of being live, it has 700 likes and 35 comments. Can you imagine how many more eyes saw this in their timeline? This folks, is REAL engagement and a brilliant example of giving your social followers something they love. Not to bring up links in the social media portion, but imagine having those 200 radio stations all linking to your website. This is a clear indication that people absolutely love your brand and if you’re still getting 4-10 likes on your shares, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

I think the main problem for companies engaging in social media is that the beginning stages are quite slow and boring. The old saying that “all good things come to those who wait” couldn’t apply better here. It takes a while to build an audience, so hold in tight for the first few months and just do all you can to engage and entertain. Your amazing content is the key to success so make sure you actually have exciting things going on. Another important aspect is the design to match your branding across the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube). A visually appealing brand makes customers feel at home, comfortable buying and overall you just look damn good (3 piece suit anyone?). Just take a look at the Rick Steves Youtube Channel:

Rick truly loves connecting with his fans whether it be in real life or via the digital tubes called the internet. I always wondered how the man made time to do everything he does and I figured he didn’t do a lot of his social activities like blogging. I’m sure fans also wondered and here’s a great example of how Rick covered this and how it shows to connect to your followers. He made use of the Facebook Notes section of his business page to convey his message.

Some people have emailed us assuming that I don’t actually write these blog entries or read the responses. As my staff can assure you, I jealously guard my responsibility to personally write everything that we put on this page. Except for the rare guest blogger, I write every word you see. (I do have an editor proof my writing. The thinking among my staff: If you saw how poorly I spelled, you might think less of my guidebooks.) And I eagerly look forward to reading your responses. I rarely respond back, because that would suck me into an entire new arena — and I need to draw a few boundaries. (While my staff does make announcements for me on Twitter, I have little interest in tweeting.) One reason I enjoy this blog is that I can be unguarded, candid, and even reckless from a marketing point of view…and just call it fun. I feel like my traveling blog friends are a kind of special inner circle, and it’s refreshing to be able to call it like I see it. I hope you enjoy being part of it all.

This is what social media is all about folks! Engaging, discussing and educating your online friends will set your brand to be the leader in your vertical. The entire “stew” of what Rick’s brand has cooking has lead his website and videos to some of the hardest ranking positions in the entire travel industry. The whole point I’m trying to get across is that doing all the right things does lead to great rankings, boat loads of social followers and a reputation that puts forth trust within the consumers mind. If you can do all these you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank for a very long time to come. Your brand doesn’t build links to make money so do what it does, give your customers what they want and the links will come naturally.

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About Ryan Clark

I'm the CEO of Linkbuildr Marketing and the brains behind our branding and blog content. I specialize in effective marketing strategies for hotels, luxury brands and real estate. If your brand is in need of a boost then don't hesitate to contact me for a free proposal. Follow me on Google+: +Ryan Clark Twitter: @Linkbuildr on Twitter. You can also come ask me a question on our Facebook Page.  

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