Hi and welcome to Episode 19 of Startup Marketing. Today we’re going to be talking memes! This came to me as a special request from my best friend, Anneliese Johnson, owner of Eye Candy Quilts. And I love memes, so I’m super excited for this episode. Let’s dive in!

Memes, we all know them, we all love them. At least I think we do. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t like memes. When I started researching this episode, I definitely thought the answer to the question “should businesses use memes?” would come down to personal preference. Aside from the obvious of staying away from a meme that’s inappropriate, racist, sexist, or insulting to your customers, it seemed like you could really go either way. 

Me, personally, I love memes. I use them all the time. If I didn’t think it’d be annoying to the people I text, I would probably just communicate in memes and Bitmojis. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get what I’m saying. I love memes. They’re ironic. They’re witty. They’re a fun way to drop a truth bomb that few people get offended by. Love em. So, for me, I have no problems using a meme for Authentic. But what about other people?

The first result on a google search was from Social Media Examiner. If you’re not familiar with Social Media Examiner, definitely check them out because they have tons of great educational content about how to rock social media and trends within that industry. Ok, so the first result is from Social Media Examiner that says yes, businesses should definitely use memes. Here’s why:

  1. They’re inexpensive content. It’s already been created saving you time and money from creating an original photo or video. And, because they’re low resolution pics, you don’t even need design skills to create one. 
  2. Memes create a sense of community. You create a sense of belonging because your audience can relate to the situation you’re referencing, and they feel like they’re in on the same joke as you. 
  3. Meme-based content incites shares. Memes are meant to be shared, reposted and re-memed. When people send the meme to a friend for a laugh, they become ambassadors of your brand. 
  4. Memes create and support brand relevance. Memes are usually based on a current event or trend. So using a meme makes you relevant, modern and human. They make you feel authentic and relatable. Which, you know I’m all about. 

I really couldn’t put together a better list of reasons why you should use memes. When I started writing this episode, my list included “they’re funny. I like them”. Kidding. But really, I think Social Media Examiner nailed it on the head. Memes make you feel relevant and they create a sense of community. Both of which are essential for brands and small businesses. Before I do a deep dive in to how to use them appropriately, some things to consider and be aware of:

Do a gut check on your memes. Can they easily be misinterpreted as insulting to your customers? We’re not talking the 1% that are going to be easily offended here, we’re talking large numbers of insulted customers that in hindsight will make you cringe. We had this conversation a lot in my former marketing life at a credit union. We were all on board with memes, but there were boundaries. For example, we wouldn’t use the Batman meme, you know, the one where he’s slapping Robin mid-sentence mostly because he’s making a point that’s widely accepted as stupid or contrary to Batman’s preferences? So, we wouldn’t use that meme and make our members or customers Robin. Why? Because we’d be implying that we’d like to slap the crap out of our customers for doing something stupid with their money or for contradicting us in some way. Ich. Not a good look for a business. Totally fine personally because that meme is usually associated with low-risk opinions like saying you don’t like tacos. But implying that your customer base is stupid? Probably going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. So, do that gut check. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you think it’s going to be offensive, don’t post it. 

And of course, know your meme. If the meme you want to use is based on a current event or trend, make sure you know the background story. While most memes are created as light hearted humorous takes on things, you don’t want to find yourself accidentally using a meme that’s based on something offensive, racist, sexist, etc. 

Alright, so how do you use memes for your business?

Memes usually leverage satire, social commentary or nostalgia, according to Social Media Examiner. So a high quality meme is both funny and insightful. They’re widely understood among the Millenial and Gen Z generations, so if your ideal customer is in their mid-40’s or older, it’s not that you can’t use memes, you’ll just have to proceed more cautiously.  If this applies to you, my recommendation would be to start sprinkling them in. Look for memes that play off of something nostalgic. In the case of my friend who runs a quilting business, her audience spans young quilters like herself to women who are much older. She’s currently working on a lotion specifically for women who work with fabric all day. As she’s planning her social media content for the new product, she chose an “I love Lucy” screenshot from the Vita-meta-vegamin episode and captioned it “Are your hands listless and tired? Do they poop out at parties?” Then she talked about her new lotion. This particular meme appeals to her older demographic, and while the exact episode reference will be lost on her younger audience, they’ll still be able to appreciate the nostalgia of Lucille Ball (at least I hope—that may not be true for anyone younger than 30—gah!). When she asked for my opinion about posting it because some of her younger followers would 100% not know who Lucille Ball is or know she was the star of “I Love Lucy”, we decided she could add a second photo they could swipe to that would show the original episode clip and put the meme in context. Definitely not necessary, but if you’re nervous about a key part of your demographic missing the meme, this would be an option. But, I’d note that this kinda only works when you have to explain a meme you made up, not a pop culture meme. Having to explain a pop culture meme is the equivalent of having to explain a joke to someone. So, if you think that’s what you’ll have to do, maybe reconsider. See, I told you posting memes was going to come down to personal preference. It’s not as simple as throwing up a meme (all the time, anyway), as you can see, as a business, you really have to scrutinize the meme, unlike what you might do in your personal life. 

If you want to make sure that your meme really hits home for your audience, make sure you know them well. Who are they? What do they like to do? What shows, songs, movies are popular among them right now? Your goal with memes is engagement and reach, NOT to sell. In fact, if you include some kind of call to action in your meme, it will fall flat. Remember, they’re supposed to be social commentary or nostalgic. Trying to throw a sale in there is going to feel awkward and not very genuine or authentic. Big brand violations around here. 

If you’re looking for an easy way to find and post memes, try downloading the gifphy app if you don’t already have it. You can see current popular memes, search for memes related to specific content and create your own. This is where I find my Schitt’s Creek memes and it makes me incredibly happy to scroll through them because I can find a way to work them into any conversation. Guaranteed. 

It can be hard to work memes into your content because they don’t necessarily fit in to brand standards. This is probably the only reason I would say I’m against using memes for a business. There’s literally no way you can make them fit in your brand standards and I believe in following brand standards to the T. So, how do I reconcile this? I’m not even sure I have a good answer for this, honestly! I think if you use them intentionally and somewhat consistently, they become part of your brand. For example, maybe you’re a pop culture brand, so memes naturally fit into your lexicon. That’s easy. If something related to your industry is trending and you hop on, that feels on brand to me. For example, remember the little kid who’s arguing with his mom Linda? He goes “Linda, Linda, Linda, listen” because he’s trying to convince her to let him have cupcakes. If I’m a bakery or cupcakery, the Linda meme is 100% on brand. Otherwise, I think I land in the camp of” they’re ok to use on social media even if they don’t match your brand aesthetic, but they should always match your brand voice. I would not use them in advertisements. That’s just my opinion. As you can see from this conversation, it really comes down to what you’re comfortable with. And, if memes are working for you and they’re staying true to the purpose of a meme, then hey, you do you and I love everything about it. 

I think they’re a great way to relate to your audience and elicit a response from them. They’re shareable and relatable content. They’re also great for expanding your audience if you need to attract a younger demographic. Going back to my friend’s quilting business, this is a perfect example. She’s pretty established, so she has a wide range of ages among her customers. But, she definitely has a desire to attract younger quilters. You’re probably thinking that “young” and “quilter” don’t necessarily go together, so some strategically placed memes could be a great way to introduce a younger audience to her brand. If they’re stumbling across her content, they probably have an interest that’s tangential to her products and craft. Drawing them in with a meme, is a great way to demonstrate that quilting isn’t just for women in their 60’s. Her brand is young and hip and her quilts are beautiful with a touch of modern. This is her opportunity to capture more business. Even if they don’t think “I’m going to become a quilter now that I know it’s not just for my grandma anymore!”, she has the opportunity to sell a pattern for them to gift to their grandma (I’m making a lot of generalizations now), or to purchase a quilt as a gift for someone. She’s made the most beautiful and modern baby quilts for my kids and they’re truly things I will keep for them and give to them when they have their own kids (oh man, I sound like my mom now, but I swear, right now the quilts are the only things on my list to do this with!). But, do you see what I’m saying? Memes could make her brand feel more relevant to me. Or, I may be a young quilter and one of my other young quilter friends sends me the meme and now she has a new social media follower. 

In the end, you’re going to want to do what’s best for your brand. And if it’s not using memes, that’s 100% ok. If it is, that’s ok too. It’s a fine line that you have to walk as a marketer or business owner. So, I’ve created a checklist of things to remember when you’re considering using memes for your business. You can download it at: getauthenticbranding.com/resources.

And, as always, if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please rate, review and subscribe to Startup Marketing to help other business owners like you find this podcast. 

Until next time!