The New 80-20 Rule for Brand Perception (not Revenue)
Notion, Apple, and The NYT Games App have created brand evangelists to the point where the "face of the brand" is not on company payroll - their top superfans control 80% of public perception. How Tim Cook (& Apple) approach this, the rise of "Mr. & Mrs. Notions", and how Wordle TikTokers are taking over the world turning everyone into casual gamers (and NYT Games subscribers).
Welcome back to Meagan’s Newsletter: The Gen Z POV, where I break down trends, industries, and tech with a Gen Z lens every other week. I’m Meagan and I’m so happy you’re here. Today we’re talking about what I’m calling the “new 80-20 rule” in business: where the top % of your super fans (product evangelists) become responsible for 80% of your brand’s public perception.
I’ll share 3 case studies here on how this manifests with Apple, Notion, & The New York Times Games App:
Creators building personas around their favorite companies, even to the point of becoming “the face” of the brand
How super-fans & product evangelists can push a product (and community) to new heights
Ways brands are empowering these people to be a positive extension of themselves
I’ve been waiting to do this piece for a while, specifically on the Wordle Crew & rise of the NYT Games App… if you’re only going to read one part, this will blow your mind 🤯
Before I dive in, I have a big life update…I’ve moved to the UK 🇬🇧 & will be spending a year at Oxford! You can read more about my thesis below & my “why.” I’m extremely excited to be deepening my foothold in Europe after doing work with companies like FIFA, UEFA, Chanel, The Council of Europe and more as an operator — if you’re a large brand or startup that might want to get in touch while I’m over here… please reach out!
Now… let’s get into it! ⬇️ I also added a bunch of things I’m following at the bottom of the newsletter — lot of new trends happening.
Apple, iJustine, and Timmy Tim Cook
When you think of powerful companies with strong brands, there’s often 1 name or person that comes to mind — likely the founder or whoever’s behind the wheel. Tesla? Elon Musk. Facebook? Zuck. Spanx? Sara Blakeley. Amazon? Jeff Bezos. Glossier? Emily Weiss. The list goes on.
But in the digital age as more creators build personas around their favorite companies, it’s more fathomable that the first person who comes to mind for your favorite brand is not the founder… but instead, a super-fan or product evangelist.
Meet iJustine, the “face of Apple.”
Justine Ezarik is a 39-year-old YouTuber, one of the OGs on the platform. She’s been creating videos for 17+ years and has amassed a channel with 7M subscribers and over 1Bn views. From the start, her channel and persona has centered around her love for technology… but especially Apple.
If the name doesn’t give it away (iPhone, iPad ➡️ iJustine), her videos surely do. She goes to all the Apple launch events, reviews and performs demos of all the newest products, and even has a mini Christmas tree she decorates every year with tiny iPhones.
This TikTok video with 800K views & the comments say it all:
“Apple would be nothing with iJustine” — 27K likes
“iJustine has shareholders in Apple at this point” — 11K likes
“iJustine built that company brick-by-brick”… “she’s carrying that company on her shoulders fr”… “she IS apple 🍎”… “i go to iJustine STILL — if I need to know Apple, she’s my girl and has been since I was 7!!!!”
Apple recognizes the important role she’s played as an evangelist of the brand, with Tim Cook joining her as a guest on her YouTube channel (all while running a $2.75T company...), seeing her in-person at the iPhone 15 event to take a selfie, and beyond.
Apple has 18.3M subscribers on YouTube to iJustine’s 7M… so she doesn’t eclipse the brand in any way. BUT for many people, it’s more welcoming and easier to watch, follow, and engage with a person vs. a brand. It’s why you see so many founders publicly talking about their companies & their stories to build community.
Apple has many evangelists beyond iJustine — for example, when I think of Apple, I think of my college Professor, John Gallaugher, who developed an entire class & textbook (which I helped edit as a student!) to help people build iOS apps in Swift. The first thing you see in his LinkedIn heading is “ Distinguished Educator” — Apple is a part of his personal brand.
There’s also Marques Brownlee (6M followers on Twitter, 17.5M subscribers on YouTube) who was featured during a recent Apple launch event. His words carry weight for the brand & everyone in the brand’s ecosystem.
What a moment. To be quoted in the first few moments of the event is... quite validating, of course. Also inspiring to keep improving, keep opening doors and keep creating. Good looks Tim (doesn't mean I'm going easy on your new phones though 😅)
— Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD)
Sep 12, 2023
With the famed 80/20 rule in business, the saying goes like this: 20% of customers, and 20% of products, generate 80% of revenue.
What’s happening today with creators & evangelists isn’t that different — the top 20% of your customers (aka super-fans) can easily represent 80% of your organic footprint / brand perception. YouTube videos, product reviews, word of mouth, casual mentions on your favorite TV shows, etc. A couple Marques & Justines, hundreds of Professor Gallaughers, and all of a sudden your brand is extended in a material way.
I believe we’re moving towards a world that is fueled by product-led growth, digital interest-based communities, and UGC at the forefront — and this is the big conclusion:
It still matters what you say as a brand, but it matters even more that the right people are talking about your brand (and even incorporating it into their own). Because when your super-fans win, you win.
Notion & the story of The Notion Guy, The Notion Girlie, Mr. Notion, Sr. Notion… etc.
In the case of Notion, there is a creator that nearly eclipses the brand’s online following — he’s known as “The Notion Guy” or Easlo and has 767K followers across Twitter (304K), TikTok (395K), YouTube (35K), and LinkedIn (33K). Not to mention he made $240K last year selling Notion templates.
Notion on the other hand has 977K followers across LinkedIn (418K), Twitter (440K), and TikTok (119K) — only a 200K delta, despite Notion having 600+ employees and Easlo having 1 (himself, aka Jason Chin).
Again, we have someone who’s created their entire online identity/persona around a company — Notion — as a product evangelist. But it’s not just Easlo. It’s The Notion Girlie (25K), Notion for ADHD (13K), NotionWay (25K), Mr.Notion (204K), Sr. Notion (for Notion en Español, 124K) — all creators investing time, energy, and money into becoming a trusted voice and extension of a beloved brand.
Notion has 20M+ users (with many creating content on their Notion aesthetic, organizers, templates, etc.), a robust campus ambassador program, influencer team (I’ve worked with them on 2 campaigns!), and hundreds of evangelists that have helped them land 995M views on TikTok… largely creator-led.
In the case of Notion, I would absolutely argue my 80/20 rule applies.
The top superfans/creators in their ecosystem (by following — think Notion influencers like Easlo, Thomas Frank, etc.) are proving to other creators they can make money by pouring hundreds of hours creating videos about their Notion templates. This is encouraging other creators to make templates and sell them on Notion — growing the ecosystem via word of mouth (not on Notion’s dime).
The Notion power users (following count not as important) are educating new and existing users on how to better use the platform in a way that’s authentic, often going viral — again, growing the ecosystem via word of mouth.
1/ One of the best ways to make $1M is (a) selling digital templates and (b) being EARLY to the right platforms as a creator. In 2023, that's Notion 🤑
More below on @NotionHQ's new templates gallery & how creators are taking advantage (becoming 70%+ of their income) ⬇️
— Meagan Loyst 🧚♀️ (@meaganloyst)
Sep 5, 2023
The Wordle Crew
A group of 4 TikTokers single-handedly created my obsession with the New York Times Games App.
I went from an occasional Wordle player during the hype in early 2022, to a non-existent Wordle player through Spring 2023, to a now PAYING subscriber ($40 a year) who plays not only Wordle everyday, but also Connections, Spelling Bee, the Mini Crossword, Letter Boxed, and Tiles in the NYT Games App — Every. Single. Day. Oh and I post big wins on my IG story too (ie: solving the Mini Crossword in 25 seconds, a perfect Connections, Genius level on Spelling Bee, etc).
If you’re not familiar with Wordle, here’s a quick story-time. It started as an independent game where everyday, you have 6 tries to guess a 5 letter word. It became super viral in early 2022 in the U.S. and quickly sold to The New York Times which bundled it into their NYT Games App (now has over one million subscribers).
Savannah (aka @DailyWordle, her first TikTok username) saw an opportunity in early 2022 to start posting videos of her solving the Wordle every day on TikTok. Fast forward to today, she has 1.7M followers, left her full-time job to be a “Professional Wordle Player,” and has extended her brand to posting videos about Wordle, Connections, and several other games (even beating Joe Jonas on a TikTok filter game).
She first popped up on my FYP this summer doing Wordle challenges with her friends Michael, Kenny, and Cam (ie: how quickly can I solve 10 Wordles — hint, it’s less than 1 minute and 30 seconds)… and I was HOOKED.
I was intrigued by the strategy (ie: using the guesses Stare, Cloud, Pinky gives you the most important letters, allowing you to solve 10 games faster on Wordle Unlimited), by the plethora of games and challenges they played (all of the NYT Games, but also Wordle Unlimited, Consensus, etc.), and also how much fun they were having with each other. I couldn’t help but want to try the games myself and see how well I did every day… fast forward, and I’m fully addicted.
The New York Times as a brand quite literally played 0 part in my decision to download the NYT Games App, subscribe, and play every day. It wasn’t even the product or the games themselves — it was all the Wordle TikTokers. And it’s not just me — users on TikTok who watch their videos have created fan accounts, fake love stories between them (mainly Michael & Savannah), filters to find out “Which World TikToker Are You?”, brackets to battle your favorite Wordle Players so only one prevails, and even stats showcasing how good your favorite Wordle player actually is.
This is such a deep rabbit hole I could literally keep going, but Savannah (aka Sav) does a great job explaining the “comprehensive history of Wordle TikTok” in the video below:
HISTORY OF WORDLE TIKTOK! What did i miss?? #wordle #wordletok #gaming #gamer #dailywordle #dailysav #dailyxsav
All of these creators — Savannah (1.7M), Michael (1.7M), Cam (1.7M), Kenny (1M), Bryn (292K), Tyrese (1.7M), Cat (370K), Morgan (46K), Gabe (344K), Naomi aka @WordleLover (24K), WordleTips (117K) — get millions of views every day between their accounts. Meanwhile, NYT Games doesn’t even have a TikTok, and their IG account has 8K followers and 0 posts.
These super-fans & product evangelists have pushed the product and community to new heights, igniting fandom in others who wouldn’t have found their way to the NYT Games App otherwise. And they didn’t get paid to do it — they just saw an opportunity & ran with it because they loved gaming.
TLDR: Power users & public-facing super fans who evidently become an extension of the brand are going to power the companies of the future — as executives, it’s your job to find and empower those people. I expect to see more PLG companies focusing on community & bottoms-up growth, as well as more free training programs (for technical or tech-first companies) to help create product evangelists. For consumer brands, it’s focusing more on the community engagement side.
Sometimes a product is just so good that people want that brand to be a part of their story — I would consider myself to be a Shake Shack Chick’n Shack Evangelist. I’ve had probably 300+ Chick’n Shacks in my lifetime (it’s the only thing I order) and post about Shake Shack so often that random people send me Shake Shack gift cards via Twitter on my birthday. And the brand’s engagement with me has only deepened my love for Shake Shack — they sent me a holiday box this year, a free superfan hoodie, vouchers to try their new truffle menu, and comment with me on socials all the time. You’ve got to find the people who’s personal brands mesh with your brand… and love them up!
If you’re a brand looking to empower your product evangelists/super fans and have questions, please email me! I’m at [email protected] & I LOVE this stuff.
And as promised, here are a few things (tech, culture & life) I’m intrigued by at the moment. Literally so many things this week.
Tech: Digital footprints are REAL. Teen heartthrob Timothée Chalamet’s old videos from high school are re-emerging on the internet and they’re incredible. If you’re a fan of statistics, this is a must-watch — hence the reference above to “Timmy Tim” Cook lol. Also loving these tech illusion videos.
Culture: The Tube Girl bringing confidence to women everywhere & taking the world by storm. Also… men are apparently thinking about the Roman Empire every DAY? These two trends have completely taken over my FYP and my personal headspace.
And a personal favorite is the rise of TikToker Myra Magdalen, who let’s her individuality shine through her unique outfits & style — her room tour is composed of a keyboard wall, worm wall, and nail clipper picture frame collection, calendar, and music box. And her outfits are next-level — here’s her worm outfit, an outfit she made out of one of those kiddie toy car mats, and another featuring an animatronic singing lobster. To break out on TikTok, you have to be original and be remembered for something — she ticks the box.
Life: Honestly just getting used to British things takes some getting used to — like which side of the street are we walking on!?! Pick a lane, right or left. Also they call sales in stores “offers,” the grocery stores are incredible (everything just feels more local…), and everything is “brilliant.” I love it here. Also I am Taylor Swift & she is me — accurate representation of what I look like when I’ve had one too many and am dancing. Also thrilled about her clean sweep at the VMAs (as she should)!