Intro: Hey all, it’s Nathan Resnick and today we’ve got another epic guest on eCommerce On Tap. This is a show about the Entrepreneurs, creators and agencies that make up the e-Commerce world and the stories behind how they grew. Crack your brew because here comes another amazing episode.
Nathan: What is up? It’s Nathan Resnick with Sourcify, we’re here on eCommerce on Tap we have Benji Hyam. Today with Grow and Convert, he’s going to be diving deep into how eCommerce company can utilize content to drive traffic and grow their brand. Benji, thank you so much for joining us today, how’s the day going?
Benji: It’s going well, happy to be here thanks for inviting me.
Nathan: My pleasure, we’re so excited to have you, I’d be thrilled they get going and dive in first, I want to know about yourself how you got to marketing and what was your first marketing job?
Benji: Taking me back; so I got into marketing actually through a class in high school. Luckily my high school offered marketing classes and I decided to take it and realized that I loved it and so I ended up wanting to go to school for marketing, went to San Diego State studied marketing and I worked at a startup actually that did clothing manufacturing.
So, we used to print Greek apparel for a lot of the fraternities and sororities on campus and then also expanded to try to help clothing lines produce clothes.
Nathan: That’s incredible I mean I know also just a bit of your back story you went to college with the founders Pura Vida Bracelets for those of the listeners that don’t know Pura Vida, they’re one of the fastest growing Shopify stores they do over 8 figures in sales a year and their social media content is incredible. Did you have any insight in terms of how Paul and Griffin got started with their brand?
Benji: Yeah, I watched them grow from right when they came back from Costa Rica and with their first couple bracelets and watching them build out their entire brand over time; it’s been pretty incredible So yeah I know a lot of stories about stuff that they’ve done as well.
Nathan: That’s awesome and that’s something I want to get into this Podcast here so kind of dive in deep into the content side of eCommerce you know right now you see eCommerce where so many people are running different dynamic ads across channels but from a content perspective, I mean you’ve grown blogs from zero to forty thousand unique in you know half a year or less.
What do you think an e-Commerce entrepreneur can do to utilize content, to drive traffic or from the other side of the table? What maybe social media plays would you would you use to boost your content?
Benji: Yes, just to set some context most of the content marketing I do is on the B2B side but I want to differentiate. Well first of I’ll describe how I do it for B2B and then draw a comparison to how I think it’s different in the B2C side.
So, on the B2B side, what we really focus on first is User Research and I think it’s the same thing on the B2C as well. You really have to understand your customers in-depth. On the B2B side, what we’re looking for is who are the best customers? So who are the customers that are purchasing from us the most?
Like the average deal size so, on the B2C side of it has to be like average order value and then like customer support headaches which ones have the least? On the B2C side, you know you would want to look at which of the customers that are purchasing from you the most so the loyal customers the have the highest average order value and then learn as much as you can about those people.
So, what are their interests? Why are they buying from you? Those kinds of questions. And so, I would start there and to really try to have conversations with your customer whether it’s online, through chat, whether it’s through e-mail and asking questions to really learn about them? And for example, some are of the things that you might want to know; what kind of blogs are they reading? Who do they follow? What are their interests outside of potentially purchasing a product?
And from there, you can kind of back into what’s the kind of content strategy that I need to create for my customers? Also, the differentiation on the B2B side in the B2C side is that your customers are likely going to be very different.
So, on the B2B side, we have the advantage of knowing like pain points that are very common among people in the field on the B2C side, it’s very different because your audience is so much more segmented; you might have people that are thirteen to sixteen buying your product and sixty and there’s no real similarities in the persona other than that they like your product and they want to purchase from you.
So, what you want to do is again look at look at the people who are purchasing from you the most and people who are buying the high value products and then try to develop clusters and figure out what are the commonalities among those people? Who do they look up to? What influencers do they follow? What other brands do they pay attention to?
And from there you can kind of decide, “OK well what brands does it make sense for me to approach to maybe do content partnerships with?” What influencers can I target for campaigns on Instagram or for written stories and things like that. And I think that’s kind of how you can develop where to focus when you’re first starting out.
Nathan: That’s awesome and I mean there’s two things I want to dive deeper in with that number want to be content partnerships between eCommerce companies. I mean you see so many different players in the eCommerce world right now, how do you find the right fit for your brand?
Let’s start with that question my second question is going to be around utilizing influencers and the whole dynamic between a brand influencers right now?
Benji: Yes, so on the on the content partnership side, you’re looking for people that share a similar target audience as you. I think that’s the key thing so again going back to just the beginning you really need to understand your audience and once you do that then you can figure out OK well if I was to look at my space, What other brands come to mind or what are their brands to my customers pay attention to? Does that brand share the same audience?
And so, the reason that someone would want to partner with you then is because if they have the same audience, they’re looking to expand outside of their own network or their own following that they’ve been able to build on their own.
And so, you can approach them and just come up with creative ideas that add value to both sides. So, an idea is if you were to approach a brand and you might create the content and have them share it on their site or their own social networks to drive awareness back to your site or vice-versa. And again, the goal is to help both brands build audiences on either side and so I think that’s the real value there.
Nathan: That’s awesome I think sometimes you know as an e-Commerce entrepreneur you have to find someone that is fitting into your demographic with different products and someone that has the same you know sized audience because a big brand like you know Pura Vida Bracelets, isn’t going to deal with an eCommerce company that that’s just starting out.
Benji: I think that’s a great point and something I forgot to touch on which is yeah if you’re just starting out, let’s say you only have a thousand followers or an audience of a thousand people, email list of a thousand people and you’re going after someone who has two hundred fifty thousand; there’s really no value for that person to work with you at all.
And so well, you’ve got to do is start small I think. There’s a great book by Ryan Holiday ‘Trust me I’m lying’ which is the concept of how to hack PR essentially but he talks about this concept of trading up the chain; which is you want to start small, so when you’re first starting out, go to people that are similar size as you and then when you go to the person like let’s say you’re both at a thousand followers and then you do a some kind of content partnership with the person that’s a thousand followers and then when you go to someone who has five thousand followers you say, “Hey, I already did this content partnership with this person who has one thousand followers, they may know that brand, let’s do something together here’s how it worked”.
Then you do something with a brand that has five thousand followers then you go to the person that’s ten thousand and you say, “Hey look, I just did this content partnership with this company that has five thousand” and you just keep working up until you can get to those really high value brands that you want to work with.
Nathan: That’s amazing I mean I think that’s a great point the dynamic behind different brands is you have to have synergies among the audiences I think that’s really what it comes down to.
You know the other thing I want to touch on that you mentioned briefly was PR for eCommerce brands especially in you know ‘Trust me I’m lying’ in terms of the hack that he pulled.
Can you dive deeper into the dynamic of what Ryan Holiday did and also just you know what you see working for eCommerce brands in the PR industry?
Benji: Yeah, I mean we could probably spend a whole Podcast talking about PR strategies but I think the key thing is to figure out what reporters would want to tell stories about.
So, if you– let’s like one I would target specific publications maybe you’re not going after like a Business Insider some massive publication to begin with maybe going after trade publications or smaller publications; what you want to do is look at the stories on their site figure out what they’re covering and then figure out an angle that you can pitch to a reporter that’s exactly in line with what they’re doing.
And then your goal is to make their job easy for them, so these people have to write stories all day, a lot of the times there are certain quotas that they have to hit and so if you’re looking at these sites and really understanding what content they’re producing and what drives traffic and value for them and then you pitch a story around something that’s very similar to what they be covering, you’re making their job way easier for them. And so, I think that’s the key thing is just putting yourself in the shoes of a reporter and trying to figure out– you know what you can pitch that they would want to cover.
And then I think also just like thinking outside the box a little bit too, I think that’s key. So, you see the same stories over and over again is there like data you can create on your industry? Or is there an analysis that you can run on your customers that might be interesting to a publication that they wouldn’t be able to get on their own?
So, if you’re looking at your own business, you want to think about what information that you have that’s hard to get for everyone else and package it in a way that be interesting to the publication.
Nathan: That’s a great point and I think even for me looking back on the eCommerce stories that I’ve started like ‘Yes Man’ when I was a college entrepreneur I mean we crushed the PR game with Yes Man I mean that’s how we drove the majority of our traffic to a website and that’s how I became a writer for you know major media outlets like entrepreneur in the next web and often post was literally just through that college entrepreneurial story that I had and really pushed it to the Editors and Writers of those outlets.
The next topic in you know content marketing for eCommerce brand I want to touch on that you know we just had Kevin of Epic Gardening in here is about SEO. You know in terms of maybe developing a blog and then creating products that the readers of those blogs would like to utilize, do you want to you now dive deep into actually this dynamic between growing a blog and then either having products you can sell to your audience? Or you know most people obviously start by selling affiliate deals through a high traffic blog but what’s the dynamic that you think can be created between a high traffic blog and actually developing your own products?
Benji: Yeah, if I go back to the B2C and B2B analogy, I think B2C the challenges your audience is so much like larger and so from a traffic perspective, you need to create a lot more traffic to start seeing consistent sales than let’s say you would on the B2B side so on the B2B side you may be able to get something like ten thousand visitors on a blog and start seeing some pretty good results whereas on the B2C side, it may take fifty thousand to one hundred thousand people to start seeing the same kind of results.
One thing I’ll say on the on the gardening side; yeah I mean what he did is very similar which is start with the customer. So, if people are interested about gardening, what are some of the challenges that they may have? Like when it comes to gardening so maybe their plants are dying, what’s causing that? So, putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and figuring out all the challenges that they’re going to have about gardening and then educating them on that space.
So, I think that might be a little bit different than most people who have companies that are following this Podcast so like if you were to sell a watch or a bracelet obviously, people are going to be searching for how to solve problems with wearing a watch or a bracelet or anything like that.
So, you might have to think a little bit differently in terms of what would interest these people? What other things are they doing in their daily life? Like if you have a watch brand are these people living in an active lifestyle, could you tell stories about that professional sports people or people that have an active lifestyle and relate to your target audience in that way.
So, yeah on the B2C side, it’s not always as clear cut as just like figuring out problems that people have been writing solutions to them oftentimes it’s thinking about what type of life does this person live? And how can I tell stories or engage people that would be interesting to them that they would want to read on a regular basis?
Nathan: That’s incredible and actually reminds me of a company here in San Diego ‘Tower Paddleboard” those on Shark Tank and the founder Stephan Aarstol I think it is a name, they developed you know the Tower Magazine and Tower Media and now they develop a whole media outlet around that Tower Paddleboard lifestyle.
Benji: Yeah, I mean I haven’t worked with them or anything like that but I think that’s a great example to build off of so yeah let’s say you’re selling Tower paddle boards so what would people be interested in around paddle boards? So you could talk about surfing, you can talk about oceans, you can talk about the best waves, you could talk about different locations around the world that people are going paddle boarding.
Again, it’s thinking about your customer and what might interest them and then thinking about what stories or topics that you can cover to get in front of that audience and then attract them back to your website.
And then from a conversion perspective, you may want to have a product listing within the article so that if you’re already capturing the right person and people that would be interested in your product, you’re able to capture the sale at the same time.
Nathan: That’s awesome I mean in so you know diving deeper, one of the questions that I want to bring up is in terms of the content marketing that you see you know companies doing whether big or small, what is something that sticks out to you? What’s you know one company that really you think is hitting the nail on the head in terms of driving a unique story around their brand or utilizing content in the right way to grow?
Benji: Yes, so in eCommerce I think Lowe’s is probably the company that comes to my mind that’s doing a really good job, so if you think about the type of person I would come to their store buy from them online, typically around like home building projects and things like that.
So again, starting with their customer and the challenges that people may face and what their products help these people do, they realize a lot of people are trying to build things at home fix things and stuff like that so from a content perspective, they started educating people on how to do ‘Do It Yourself’ projects. So, from building a house to fixing a window to like building a patio outside just thinking about what projects people would need to come to Lowe’s for and then helping people solve those challenges and educate people about how to build some of these things from the experts.
And I think it’s a really good example of just maybe thinking outside of the box a little and just thinking about how you can add value to your customers through content and through education. And it’s not just written content it’s videos it’s interviewing experts and bringing in influential people who are known for building things and really using content to build like a lifestyle brand on top of just the eCommerce store.
Nathan: That’s awesome and I mean I see that you know with Lowe’s in the dynamic that they’ve created with their customers, that’s incredible. You know next question, if you were to start a eCommerce brand tomorrow what would you do? How would you grow it? and you can still have the existing knowledge that you have today in terms of all the content marketing and marketing knowledge that you have but if I said to you look here’s $5,000 I want you to grow an eCommerce brand tomorrow what would you do to take it to the next level? You know what would be your first step forward in you know how would you really grow the brand?
Benji: So I might have a little bit of bias in the way that I approach it but I would not build the store first; so what I would do is think about what I wanted to sell and then try to build an audience first for whatever that is. And so again, starting with the customer and the product and just figuring out what people would want to read or what ways I could engage the audience or build the audience get them on an email list something like that; and then grow the audience as much as I can.
And then go maybe test sell the product to the audience and see how viable it is before I go source it, before I go build a store and invest heavily in it, I think it’s pretty easy to find communities around whatever you’re selling beforehand and try to build the audience and build out engagement ask people questions and really learn from customers about what’s broken in the space or what people are wanting.
And learn that way first and only after I feel like I have a very good understanding of what customers want; go build and source the product and then I have a built in audience right from the start that I can continue to sell to.
I think yeah that’s how we built our marketing site so it started as a blog educating people about marketing and we educated people for 18 months before we turned it into an agency and then we had 29 leads for customers come in the day we launched our agency because we had spent time building the trust knowing what people wanted right from the get go I think.
Even though it’s in marketing in a different space I think the same thing could be applied to eCommerce you have to think outside the box a little and think about yeah again what people would want to read or what people would want to watch; if you’re on Instagram, what kind of content people would want and get back into it that way.
Nathan: That’s awesome I want to kind of dive deeper into your journey you know with growing can vary in terms of how you started with a blog in transition and pivot and you made a few different pivots and I just want to showcase that journey for an eCommerce entrepreneur because when you go out and start a story, you know it’s not like you’re going to hit product market fit right off the bat, you know there’s a lot of eCommerce stores that have had their ups and downs that you know might have started with slow sales.
Like you know Live Fit they’re a big athletic apparel brand you know they started slowly; guy was leery of a personal trainer Randall the CEO and founder was a personal trainer and he you know decided to start the Live Fit apparel brand because he was personal you know training these clients and said hey why not start my own apparel brand and just started selling to his own clients, started his own online store and it grew organically because he had that audience.
But going back to you know your whole journey in terms of developing a blog, growing an audience you know what were some of the main pivot set you made in you know take it more from a top level approach because it’s not directly eCommerce related but in terms of the pivots that you made in the mindset that you guys had to go through to make those pivots What was that decision process like?
Benji: Yeah so when we started this it was because I had grown a blog a previous company from zero to thirty five thousand monthly uniques in 6 months and we were generating revenue off the blog and I was the sole channel that was driving all the company revenue. And at the time I didn’t realize what I had done or if it was like challenging that was just my specialty and I kept getting other marketers asking how I did that.
And it maybe took me a year before I did anything about it but I kept getting the same question over and over again like, “How did you do that? What was the first step? How did you come up with ideas that attracted the right audience? How did you build up the writing team?”
And I got those questions enough for me to really think about oh well maybe there’s something here and there’s something that I can educate people on. And then it all came together when I went to a marketing dinner and sat with 20 different marketers and the same thing happened where all of them had the same question. And so, just the idea was to start a blog, it wasn’t a business at this point I was still working full time in San Francisco running marketing at a different start up.
But I yeah I started just writing what I knew about content marketing and really thinking about the challenges that people had around that and how I could help them solve these problems. And the gap that I saw in the marketing space was that people were writing these really high level articles that didn’t really help someone accomplish something and so we wanted to write only case studies to show how we did this from real experience and they go really in-depth and in the weeds on how to do everything in content marketing.
So, I started building the traffic and to launch we did this live challenge where we challenge ourselves to go to 40,000 monthly readers in 6 months and that’s what got people following along was just everyone wanted to learn how we were going to do this and we would share on a monthly basis everything that we had done from the content strategy to how we promoted the content and people really felt like they were a part of the whole experience.
So, we grew that we grew the audience a bunch and then it came time to monetize and so the hypothesis going into the monetization was that we were teaching people content marketing and we wanted to provide training for people who wanted to learn from us. So, the first monetization method was a phone course. We pre-launch so kind of the same hypothesis test method we just wrote out the course on a Google Doc landing page and then said it was going to be I think $750 and we just saw for anyone to buy just off of the audience that we had built and we sold out 10 seats.
So, the challenge with that was it wasn’t scalable, so we were to we are taking 4 hour phone calls with each individual person who had bought the course and it just wasn’t going to scale because we were selling our personal time but the whole goal was for us to validate an online course. The challenge was that at the end of this everyone said that they got a ton of value from it but the reason that they purchased the course was they wanted a buyer personal time. So, we’re like OK well it wasn’t about the material that we are educating people on it was more people just wanted our time to learn from us directly back to the drawing board.
So then, we said OK well how can we form another product that gives people more of our time so we came up with this idea of doing a workshop where we would sit down with companies in person and work with their whole team for a day.
Again, we sold a few workshops and then five in total but again it wasn’t scalable there wasn’t enough demand there and so it was back to the drawing board at that time we had validated both the content from the online course I mean the phone course and the workshop and the mistake that we made going into the online course was we didn’t read it we didn’t validate the course, we just decided to build it. We spent 4 months building our course, launched it and then realized we got about 10%-20% of the goal.
But here’s the key lesson I think what we learned in launching the online product one it was a great product but we sold it to the wrong audience and the learning was when we launched it we reached back out to customers for feedback in the audience that we built and asked people why they didn’t purchase?
And a lot of the businesses which was our target audience they said that they didn’t want training they would rather have us do it for them and that’s how we landed on the agency.
So, 2 weeks after the course we decided to pivot to our marketing agency just based on all the feedback that we had gotten from our audience and them saying that they wanted someone to do it for them again we launched with the google doc landing page at $6,000 a month and just saw if anyone would purchase. And we sold our first two contracts in the first 2 weeks after launching this and that agency has been growing ever since. So, I think the key lesson here is build an audience around something that interests your target customer and then use your customer base to get feedback and test ideas with them until you find something that works and then when you find something that works, double down on that and try to grow from there.
Nathan: That’s crazy I mean you literally had four major pivots pretty much become to come across this successful model and it like relating that more directed to eCommerce I mean think about the amount of audiences you have to test on Facebook if you’re driving Facebook ads or with AdWords what keywords you’re going to be going for.
Even across channels are you going to be selling on Amazon or through Shopify like there’s not going to be one route to success, it’s going to be a lot of iterations and a lot of pivots and you know I wrap it up here on e-Commerce On Tap; the last two questions I want to ask you. No. 1, I mean it sounds like after all those pivots there probably was a point that you thought you were going to fail and maybe thought you’d have to go back and get it you know the another marketing job, what was that process and thought process like?
Benji: There were multiple times; so I think January of last year, I was interviewing up in San Francisco for full time jobs again because we weren’t making enough money from our store and I got offers and then when it kind of came down to it, I had to make the split second decision on whether I was going to take it or whether I was just going to take the risk to keep focusing on the business.
And I just decided to keep trying to take on consulting projects to pay my way through the challenges that we were having in the business and then when we launched the online course that was kind of the end goal that we had set out to build right from the beginning and so when that failed, my partner in our business was like, “Hey, I’m just going to sell the whole business to you and you can kind of run it because I’m done and we haven’t made money from this and I’m tired of doing this” again it was about 18 months and yeah it was just about taking a step back and really trying to understand what went wrong? Asking the tough questions like, why did it fail? What did we do wrong?
And then going to get feedback from our customer base and I think the key thing and why I said I would build an eCommerce business this way is because when you haven’t built an audience you can afford to make those pivots because you still have the right customer base there if you didn’t have a customer base like for an e-Commerce company, if you’re driving traffic via paid ads or something like that, try to capture emails, try to like build the audience so that you have this core customer base that may be interested in what you’re selling and it grows over time.
I think that’s what afforded us all those pivots and got us through that is because we still had ten thousand people, twenty thousand people on our site every month and we had a growing email list of people who were interested in content marketing alone but maybe we didn’t have the right product to sell to them yet.
So yeah, it was just really about it is making tough decisions taking a little bit of risk but just looking at what the down side was, like I always knew I could go get a job if I needed to and yeah that’s kind of how we got ourselves through it.
Nathan: It’s incredible I mean your story right there is just amazing in so you know wrapping up here, the last question that we have you know e-Commerce on top we always like to bring in innovators thought leaders people that are really you know push the needle forward.
I know you’re one of the most connected marketers in the world you know you’re known all across the globe for your writing and growing convert and now for your agency that’s doing some amazing work if you were going to invite in another eCommerce entrepreneur marketer who would you recommend share their knowledge on our show take a second to think about it you know we don’t let everyone on the show to be honest with you we get quite a few requests to come on but if you have anyone in mind, feel free to share.
Benji: I’d look to all the brands that are doing really well I think it’s one thing to learn from like a marketer who runs an agency, it’s another to learn from someone who has actually had to build their whole company from scratch.
So, I would like to Pura Vida, MVMT all of those people who have taken kind of like a commodity product and have built a brand around and I think that’s a key theme I think it’s not only about your product, it’s about building this brand and those two companies especially, have built like a cult following around a watch and a bracelet.
I mean that’s pretty hard to do but I think it all comes back to their marketing; they were able to really figure out again who their customers were, what interests them and build like a lifestyle brand around those interests.
And I think that’s fascinating for me as a marketer to see someone be able to do that and then if I were to bring in a consultant I would probably bring in William Harris because I know he’s done eCommerce marketing for like little race cars and like all these little types of products and I think he’d be a really interesting person to learn from.
Nathan: Amazing you guys here are here for first we’re coming after you Pura Vida Bracelets and MVMT watches and William Harris.
Benji thank you so much for joining us on eCommerce on Tap it’s been a put a pleasure we look forward to seeing your agency grow and you know everyone we’re going to check out you know if they want to reach out to you a contact you see your writing where should they go?
Benji: Yeah, so we share marketing case studies on growandconvert.com and you can connect with me on LinkedIn, it’s Benji Hyam. And so, people can connect with me there or on Twitter, I’m super active, same thing my first name then my last name.
Nathan: Amazing, thank you so much, there we have a guy, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
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