If you’re an entrepreneur running a startup and begin to find some success, you will likely face a crossroads:
Should I bootstrap, funding the business myself with personal savings and/or ongoing revenue?
Should I procure funding and give away ownership interests to a venture capitalist or private equity firm?
To help you make this decision, we interviewed Brian Fricano, Founder/CEO, Sustainable Supply. He is an entrepreneur who has weighed the pros and cons of each option and made this decision for his own startup.
Brian and his wife launched Sustainable Supply seven years ago as a business with a social mission. “The core of what we were trying to do was sell products for commercial buildings that save water and save energy,” Brian said.
Profitable from day one
They started the business without any outside funding, according to Brian.
“Bootstrapping has forced us to be profitable from day one,” Brian said.
Without a cushion of outside funding, the company had to be creative, and launched with a “drop shipping” model, in which products are shipped directly to customers after they purchase and not to a retailer’s warehouse.
“We signed up dozens of suppliers that were willing to drop ship on our behalf, so we were able to become a virtual distributor, never taking possession of inventory,” he said.
Not only did the drop shipping model allow Sustainable Supply to start operations without the need to invest in inventory, it also tied into its social mission by reducing the carbon footprint and pollution generated from shipping products twice (first to the retailer, and then to the customer).
Success brings offers of capital
Sustainable Supply was successful, and was named the fifth-fastest growing retailer on the Inc. 500 list of America’s fastest-growing companies. This attracted the attention of venture capitalists interested in investing in high-growth startups.
This decision has worked for his company for two reasons. First, Brian would have diluted his ownership if he accepted the investment.
“Our growth after that has [grown four times over] since we made the Inc. 500 list. Had we brought on investors, we would have given away too much too early in the process,” Brian said.
Sticking to its social mission
In addition, his company has a social mission. Its tagline is “Build. Work. Green.” While there are a few exceptions, most venture capitalists are focused on growth and profitability, and less concerned with a social mission.
“Each venture capitalist has its own specialty, not a lot are specialized in sustainability…there’s not a lot out there that have a social component to them,” Brian said.
But I bet you would have thought I was crazy if I told you just a few months ago that two men would fall off a cliff chasing a pretend monster on their mobile phones (fortunately, both were rescued by firefighters and only suffered moderate injuries).
One thing the Pokémon GO phenomenon should teach all marketers is that – thanks to the evolving way customers interact using mobile devices – the digital world is not a vacuum.
Nowhere is that more true than in social media. Because companies do not own the conversation about their brands on social media. They can participate and engage and boost and shape and share the conversations about their brands. But they cannot control them.
So an important element of positive word-of-mouth about your brand is how customers interact with your brand in the physical, real-world environment. To put it in terms of an overused cliché – think outside of the digital box.
Here are three ideas to help you create unique ways to leverage the physical world for social media impact.
Idea #1: Invest in the product
This may be the most radical idea. Product cost is not usually considered part of the social media marketing budget. The usual (way overly simplified) thinking is: price – cost of goods sold = margin.
But what if you didn’t attribute all of the cost to produce the product as a manufacturing or R&D expense? What if you looked past simple production costs to consider what extra, special, unique touches you could add to a product (or service) experience that sparks enough extra joy in your customers that they’ll want to tell everyone about it on social media?
Wouldn’t this be a worthwhile investment? Specifically, a social media marketing investment? In fact, it might be worth more than, say, a paid Facebook ad.
“They actually were going to Instagram and posting very natural photos of what their experience was like when they received that box. They’d put their children in and want to take pictures of their babies in this box brimming with broccoli and kale,” said Cambria Jacobs, Vice President of Marketing, Door to Door Organics. “And all of a sudden, we realized that they were taking and sharing that joyful feeling. It was all over social media, and it was ours to embrace.”
Some products have a more expected passion behind them than others. And in this case, Door to Door Organics is an online grocer that delivers natural and organic groceries, a product that typically has a passionate following and lends itself unsurprisingly to social sharing.
However, any product experience has the potential for social sharing. All experiences are relative. When you create a better product experience than expected, you increase the odds of a positive customer experience on social (on the flip side, the same effect works in reverse when you don’t meet customer expectations).
If you’re serious about social, don’t leave that just up to product managers. Put some (budgetary) skin in the game to deliver positive surprises for customers.
But I had a deeper conversation with Joe Peppers, the Ecommerce Market Sector Leader at The Weitz Company.
But previously, Joe went to West Point and served three tours of duty in Iraq as a Captain in the U.S. Army, before going on to work in ecommerce for Amazon, Apple, Fanatics.com, and now The Weitz Company.
I discovered some interesting lessons from military service that can be applied to ecommerce, so we sat down to talk about it…
Personally, I have two big takeaways from this conversation.
Understand their pain
“Part of creating customer intimacy is understanding their pain,” Joe said.
You can imagine, serving in a foreign country and working with the local population, it was important to understand not only America’s goals, but what the Iraqi people needed as well.
Much the same is true for us marketers. The needs of your business are only half the equation. So Joe advises sitting down and interviewing customers. And then mapping out the value chain necessary for a customer to achieve her goals, discovering what constraints in the process are stopping that from happening, and focusing on overcoming those constraints.
There are two important points here. First, let’s talk about understanding the customer’s end goal (as opposed to myopically focusing on your product).
Reeves says, “Do not confuse a type of shoe with the desire for shoes.”
Lanning says, “Contrary to how things may seem, customers don’t really care about your product…So what matters and what must be at the heart of a real value proposition is those customers’ resulting experiences that happen because they buy [or] use your stuff rather than some other option.”
Or as Harvard professor Theodore Levitt has said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
So understand customers’ pains or goals. But then understand the process they undertake to get there, and what is stopping them or adding friction to that process. These may be large or small processes, depending on your product.
But from this, you may identify large or small insights to better serve a customer that will make them more likely to buy from you. A small insight might be that forcing customers to register for an account before they buy from you is causing them pain, you can remove that step from the process and increase sales.
Or a major discovery might be that nobody is buying this new product called shoes because they are uncomfortable. So you invent socks. And you fix a customer pain in the value chain that occurred before they ever got to your product, thus improving the customer experience and increasing sales of your product.
Respond with action
“Respond with action,” Joe advised.
There is a lot of collateral damage in war. But winning a war involves not just a battle of weapons, but a battle of ideas as well. And winning over the local population. So when a bombing would go awry, Joe would go into the neighborhood with money to make things right.
Action. Not just messaging.
The same holds true when something goes wrong with your customers. Joe gave an example from his time at sports retailer Fanatics. There was a customer who wanted a Kansas City Royals sports jersey, but was not going to be able to get it in time.
So, Joe bought an airplane ticket and flew a Fanatics employee to the customer to hand deliver the jersey. “The customer was awestruck,” Joe said.
Joe cautioned not to think that any customer touchpoint is not a big deal. “It is a big deal. If you treat it like a big deal, they will learn that that is the type of service you offer,” he said.
Or it can come at the aggregate level as well. We all know the famous example of Johnson & Johnson proactively pulling Tylenol off the shelf (even though it meant the company would lose money) when a few bottles were poisoned, killing seven customers.
Action. Not just messaging.
Every interaction with your customers – whether just one customer or a group of customers – is a valuable touchpoint. It is an opinion-shaping experience with your brand. Therefore, every touchpoint is marketing – an opportunity to improve the customer experience and thereby brand perception.
Fiduciary duty. These words have been in the news lately, as the government seeks to require that financial advisors have a fiduciary duty to their customers in certain cases.
A fiduciary duty is a legal duty to act solely in another party’s interests. So what this new regulation essentially means is, financial advisors must put customer’s interests before their own. And the financial industry has been fighting this.
As marketers – this should be crazy to us! This is what we should do every day: Put our customer’s interests before our own. How can a business, much less an entire industry, be against the customer?
Remember: You are not your customers
Customer-first marketing begins with the realization that our desires and goals are not necessarily the same as our customers’.
Let me give you an example. Mary Abrahamson is an Email Marketing Specialist at Ferguson Enterprises.
Usually if you go to marketing industry events, and a mobile vendor asks, “Who has a smartphone?” we see that everybody raises their hands. And so the vendor says – “See, everyone has smartphones.”
There are so many impressive things you can do with your website these days. Augmented realty. Rich animations. Micro-interactions. Interactive infographics.
But I like to think of it like this …
When the quarterback throws a 90-yard touchdown pass, the camera cuts to the wide receiver doing a celebratory dance, and then to the quarterback pumping his fist. What they’re not showing you is the right guard who picked up the blitz to allow the quarterback the time to heave up that bomb.
Your website, content, and digital marketing is often presented the same way. Advanced, flashy user interfaces are great. But looking in our own analytics, I was reminded there are probably a few unheralded, down-to-Earth, un-buzzworthy basics that should still power your online marketing.
“Basic” has become slang for “limited,” “rudimentary” or any number of other negative connotations. To quote Kara Brown on Jezebel, “Being basic just means that you aren’t that dope.”
And you probably feel that way about the content on your site as well. You are steeped in the latest, most advanced things going on in your industry. You focus on the breaking news. You spend your waking hours thinking about the coolest features of your products, and most advanced capabilities of your services.
“We try to have fun with everything we do, and our audience seems to respond to it pretty well,” Gregg Barclay, Senior Videographer, SparkFun Electronics, told me in an interview at last year’s MarketingSherpa Media Center at IRCE.
What it takes to produce online video marketing
YouTube, Vimeo and other online video sites have lowered the bar on what it takes to use video to promote your product to consumers. They no longer expect a slick commercial with a massive production staff and budget. The DIY feel can resonate with customers, as well (and for the right product, feel more authentic).
But, as with any business initiative, video still requires a resource investment. For a company with relatively limited revenue ($30 million in sales), SparkFun has nonetheless chosen to make a significant investment in video with seven or 130 employees dedicated to this purpose.
Only two (including Gregg) are involved in the actual shooting and editing of the video. Additionally, there are three full-time creative technologists building products. The team invests a few days in preproduction while the shooting and editing is complete in just a few hours.
This may be a reason SparkFun’s videos have been successful. After all, no matter how slickly a video is produced, it is just a container. You must fill that container with entertaining, helpful content.
“I never wanted our videos to feel like commercials,” Gregg said. “I wanted them to feel like these are projects that we would build whether we were working there or not, and I think that that’s what our audience really responds to because they’re doing the same things that we are.”
The electronics retailer introduces 10-15 products per week, and its team is able to produce two to five videos per week that shows customers how they can use them.
“We always think of fun first. It’s in our name — SparkFun Electronics,” Gregg said. “There might be more conventional uses for these products, but we try to think out of the box a little bit and really get people thinking of other ways to use this kind of stuff.”
As a result, 1.75% of people who view a video on SparkFun Electronics buy a product within that session. This doesn’t include people who watch a video and come back later to purchase, or those who watch a video on YouTube, so the real impact might be even higher.
In the article from today’s MarketingSherpa Chart of the Week newsletter, we share data produced exclusively for MarketingSherpa by Adestra and Econsultancy, which identified the mobile email marketing optimization techniques that most commonly produce excellent email marketing ROI.
If you need data to help justify the budget, resources, and buy-in you need from business leaders or clients for optimized mobile email marketing (or if you’re already optimizing your mobile email marketing but need resources to move to the next level), the chart is an excellent asset.
So now what? Let’s say you get the resources … where do you begin? Or perhaps you’re already several years down the road, but are running out of ideas on what to do next.
To help with your mobile email marketing, we interviewed four experts who gave us invaluable tips for both beginner and advanced mobile email marketers. We’re including all the tips in one blog post to allow you to easily scan because, let’s face it, one marketer’s “beginner tactic” is another marketer’s “advanced idea.”
Let’s get started …
Tip #1. Start simple
No matter your budget or resources, adding tasks to your department’s already overflowing plate is no easy feat. This is especially true when you consider the proliferation of mobile device types, screen sizes, operating systems, email readers, and download speeds.
(You can multiply that complexity several times over if you have an international customer base.)
But the experts we interviewed encouraged marketers to simply get started on the changes you’re capable of making right away, and not trying to swallow all that complexity with one bite.
“Most of those just starting on the mobile optimization journey feel overwhelmed, so they should keep in mind that simplicity is often the best route,” said Monica Savut, Senior Research Manager, Econsultancy. “Focusing on the core components is key, from using a single-column design and hiding content that might not be essential in a mobile view, to including a mobile-friendly pre-header and designing for ‘fingers and thumbs.’”
“For companies just starting to put a mobile strategy together, simplifying is key,” agreed Aaron Pearson, Product Manager, Listrak. “Simplify you template and layout; simplify your content such as copy, buttons, and images. A mobile-optimized template doesn’t necessarily have to be responsive, so don’t worry about spending time developing a hugely complex system to deliver content to your subscribers. Instead, focus on iterating your content strategy and begin to improve the conversation with your audience.”
How can you increase word of mouth for your products and services?
This will generate organic referrals at the highest rate.
But a deeper question is more applicable to marketers — how can you leverage word of mouth in your marketing to increase conversion?
Here are three ideas for your campaigns.
Idea #1. Help, not hype
“My experience with Summit has just been seamless. I got the opportunity to submit some different proud moments for marketing and my team’s successes. And then having the opportunity to be selected and the opportunity to be with such a prestigious organization was very flattering. Then I was very, very prepared every step of the way. I had a dedicated team that was sending me updates, giving me clear deadlines, supporting me along the way — just made it incredibly professional and certainly best in class.”
That quote is from Cambria Jacobs, Vice President of Marketing and Customer Service, Door to Door Organics, from a video promoting the MarketingSherpa Summit 2017 Call for Speakers.
Now, we didn’t need to have Cambria in the video. I could have told you how amazing it is to be a speaker at MarketingSherpa Summit 2017 at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas. How you’ll have your name up in lights. You will be fawned over by an adoring crowd of marketers. And, most importantly, you may even get the distinct honor and privilege of working directly with me for several months — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you will never forget — as I help you shape your story before we discuss it on stage.
Let’s say you’re an intrepid marketer at a company. You’ve read about the power of inbound marketing, have started your company’s blog, and … now what? How do you get these subject matter experts (SMEs) to blog? And what should they blog about?
Or perhaps you have an established content marketing blog — you’ve been going for years. But your SMEs are running out of ideas for blog topics. What should you do?
Keep reading (and then send your SMEs this blog post).
“Your brand is not what you say it is, but what your customers say it is.”
Or so goes the old advertising maxim.
If we were to update that to modern times, we might add, “And you can discover what they’re saying about your brand on social media.”
When Cambria Jacobs, Vice President of Marketing, Door to Door Organics, sat down for an interview at MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 with Courtney Eckerle, Managing Editor, MarketingSherpa, she shared that old advertising maxim along with her team’s journey on social media — from a customer service channel to a unified, proactive, brand-building strategy.
Here are four key lessons from Cambria’s interview …