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211: From Seminary to Shopify Plus: A Conversation About Brands

Posted by Austin Brawner on August 6, 2019


The Golden Era of the direct-to-consumer business may very well be over.

But there are still ecommerce brands out there who are crushing it and in today’s episode we explore some of the reasons why.

Former Shopify Plus blog editor Aaron Orendorff has written a ton about ecommerce and the direct-to-consumer craze.

Today we have a thoughtful conversation about what it means to build an ecommerce brand in the current climate, what some fast-growing, successful companies are doing to show up in a more unique way, and how a bigger picture process around customer acquisition is helping them succeed.


Episode Highlights

  • 7:00 Introducing Aaron Orendorff and his two distinct professional lives.
  • 10:26 Aaron’s transition from Seminary to Shopify Plus.
  • 16:03 Why the Golden Era of direct-to-consumer is over.
  • 18:26 How do small ecommerce brands with limited products succeed at shifting categories to scale up?
  • 24:18 Engineering AOV from the start to the end of your sales funnel.
  • 28:58 Good loyalty program tactics.
  • 29:59 The three ingredients to a successful loyalty program.
  • 33:37 Some companies who are killing it with their rewards programs.
  • 37:23 Why it’s better to drive paid media to content rather than your product page.
  • 41:52 SEO as part of the long game for the success of your ecommerce brand…is it right for everyone?
  • 44:13 Which brands should invest in content and which ones shouldn’t.
  • 48:58 You can’t build a brand around itself, you build it around your community.

Links And Resources

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody, welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name's Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell, which is also @andrewfoxwell on Twitter. Something I want to talk about cause I feel like spending an increasing amount of conversation happening there, which is actually how I also met today's guest, so what do you think about it?

Austin Brawner: Twitter and my handle is @a_brawn, if you guys want to hit me up on Twitter because I also spend a little bit more time there. I have a very, very, love/hate relationship with Twitter, I don't think it's good for me, but I enjoy it.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I'm with you. I find myself actually, the thing I was saying to Gracie is, I share insights on there and I think that that's an in converse with people, I think that adds to getting the podcast out and, and adds to me learning. The part that I have found that's a negative part for me just completely transparently is what it does, I find myself thinking about my ego more like, “Oh, I feel like if I did this, people would really like it and that would be awesome for me,” which is stupid.

That's not something I should consider in my opinion. To me it should be about, “Am I driving value? Does it matter, does it actually do things for people, does it move needles?” It's like there's that self reinforcing, “Oh, they liked it and shared it so now people think that I'm really smart,” which is stupid, but I found myself in that. I'm embarrassed to admit it up a little bit, but I feel like that's what it's done for me that's been a negative impact.

Austin Brawner: But that the way that it works, that is the reinforcement that comes from social media, it's the retweets, it's the likes, it's the comments, all of that pushes us in that direction and it's very, very hard to fight against.

Then the other side, when I said I love and I hate it, I often feel like when you're in Twitter, you're in a different world where the rules are different and the reactions are different and they're more extreme. Sometimes I feel like, “Oh, everyone thinks this way.” Then it's like, “No, it's just Twitter.”

I do find that the beauty of Twitter and things ... one thing I have increasingly found to be helpful is starting relationships on Twitter, and moving them offline.

Andrew Foxwell: Same, totally and that's how I met Aaron. I started following him and when he was the editor of Shopify Plus, incredibly thoughtful person who takes the time to think about his answers and clearly believes the strength of the community is stronger than the person itself or himself. I love that cause, I mean, I have made really good friends and really good connections that way recently too, so that's part of the other reason why I keep coming back.

Austin Brawner: 100%. Well, this interview today is from Twitter, like Andrew said, we're really excited about Aaron Orendorff. He's a very talented communicator, he has written content about eCommerce, about direct-to-consumer craze. He was the, I believe, editor at Shopify Plus, is that correct?

Andrew Foxwell: Yes, he was the editor of the Shopify Plus blog.

Austin Brawner: Editor of the Shopify plus blog so you've probably seen his content all over. We have a very thoughtful conversation about what it means to be ... about like building a brand about different things you can do. He puts a lot of examples from really interesting, fast-growing direct-to-consumer companies that have maybe a more unique, bigger picture thought process around customer acquisition. I really enjoyed the conversation and I think you guys will enjoy it as well.

Andrew Foxwell: All right Aaron, welcome to show.

Aaron Orendorff: Thrilled to be here, sirs.

Andrew Foxwell: We are so glad to be here. I believe that we first met on Twitter many moons ago, so it's good to always chat with people that I know on Twitter and that we interact with on Twitter and get to know them and the way that they think.

You're someone that Austin and I had been talking about for a while wanting to get on because of your deep dive on the pieces you'd done on, on the state of ecommerce and just thinking greater about really where we are today in the world of ecommerce, so we're glad to have you on.

Aaron Orendorff: Well, if it's all going to be like this, I am super happy to be here.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. All we do is just a one-hour compliment session. We'll do three or four more and then you can just come back to us and get to compliment us over and over, it's great.

Aaron Orendorff: How did you not lead with that when you first asked me to be on this, I thought you were just going to jam me up and say terrible things about my family.

Andrew Foxwell: This is the backslapping of our podcast, you're just doing a great job.

Austin Brawner: That's my job, once he warms you up.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, exactly.

Aaron Orendorff: The hard and got-you questions are coming.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, exactly, exactly and in right off the bat, in fact, we have some of these questions. We've spent quite a bit of time reading different pieces you've written and understanding who you are, but can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do and what you have done that's led you to today?

Aaron Orendorff: If you want to go deep, I have lived two distinct professional lives and they overlap and they interlock. I don't know how far back you went on these touching me.

Andrew Foxwell: I haven't seen the previous professional life, so I'm interested in that.

Aaron Orendorff: This is very interesting, yes. I did not grow up in a religious home, but I had, what I at the time, would've considered a conversion experience at the age of like 17, 18. I went to undergraduate at university, studied English and writing nice little over that there with what I do today and then went to graduate school and got what's called Master's of Divinity with an emphasis in Hermeneutics, Greek and Hebrew, interpreting the text.

I spent about two years up here in the Portland, Oregon area at a multi-campus church, some medium size, cutting my teeth with upfront speaking, writing, teaching, all that kind of stuff. Then promptly at that two year mark, did a very effective job of burning down that original career and found myself unemployed and virtually unemployable about seven years ago.

That's the dramatic way of putting it, and it was, it was fairly dramatic when it all went down and that's when the second life, jumping into all things content and especially ecommerce these days began.

Andrew Foxwell: That is interesting, that's a similar story to Bob of Bob's Red Mill, the flour company guy. He was in divinity school and then h walked by an old mill and he didn't know if he was going to finish divinity school and he bought this old mill and decided to mill flour there. Also, I think in the state of Washington so in your ... the P&W, so there's something about that area.

Austin Brawner: He's laid a great blueprint for you there, so lots to stick that.

Aaron Orendorff: I didn't even know it. So for me, any that overlap, what ended up really happening was I was fortunate enough to really get exposed to phenomenal communicators when I was going through graduate school and on into the ministry career. There's one individual in particular, a guy named Tim Keller who's a pastor out in NYC, and when he released his first book about a decade ago now, it didn't go on the usual book tour, Christian Bookseller Association, mega Church thing. He ended up at a ton of Ivy League institutions, Georgetown, UC Berkeley, he has a phenomenal video of the presentation he gave at Google headquarters for their authors at Google Forum.

That just speaks to his ability to communicate persuasively, to speak someone's language, to crawl inside their mind, to say, “I don't have the right to disagree with you until I can articulate your position and your objections better than you and then I can say, "ah, but maybe there's a different way and maybe this other way actually gets you the things you already want.” All of those conspired together in the background of that first life to come to life in the second one.

Austin Brawner: So tell us a bit more about that, you're at this point where you're making the transition, what happened to get you from there to Shopify Plus, which I think many of our listeners might be familiar with you from there?

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah, most likely. I like to attach myself to something bigger than myself and try to get their shine and I left Shopify Plus about four months ago to go out into the wild world of freelance content and consulting, which is where I grew up in this second career as well.

I had a friend of mine tell me, “Depending on how the stock does, you can keep writing that name for five to 10 years so you're all right. You've got to do something neat in the next five to 10 years.” I appreciate you bringing that up, man. I had to eat and I knew I could write, I knew I could communicate, I had taught speech and writing courses at a couple of different universities already, so I was doing that just a bit to pay the bills. I threw up a website, it was embarrassing AF, like I had to fake the first iteration of my blog on Wix because they didn't even have a blogging platform at the time, I just rigged these Wix pages to look blog posts.

Then I moved over to Squarespace and in between all of that I bumped into ... I made some really amazing fortuitous friendships with people like Ann Handley from MarketingProfs who just happened to, when it was my mom and 10 other people reading my blog, she cold-emailed me out of the blue and ended up including me in her next book, which was a New York Times, Wall Street Journal Bestseller. Just insane things like that started happening and I turned that very first introduction, that cold email from Ann Handley into my first guest post on MarketingProfs, which inside the marketing world is a pretty good get.

Then I cozied up too and stocked and got really friendly with a guy named Damien Farnworth who was a Copyblogger, which was another really big marketing blog at the time and still is. Then from there I just thought, “Why don't I pitch the same process to mainstream publications like Entrepreneur and Business Insider and Fast Company?” I had no business writing for any of these publications, but good writing covers a multitude of ignorant sense. If you can polish something and learn how to match a publication's basic template and style and word counts and how do they format headlines and things like that and overlap it with a bit of Google Trends using celebrity news or business news to give it a flare, that editors will just eat up because they know it's going to do well on social or in search.

I would compose these entire articles and then just I'd blast every email address I could find for anybody that was associated with online publishing at Entrepreneur, that was the first in. Did the same thing at Fast Company, did the same thing at Business Insider and then Lifehacker and Mashable. That was really how I shortcutted my way to Shopify Plus, was I, I got a ton of logos, a ton of by-lines in a very short period of time and then I connected with the editor in chief at the time, Tommy Walker, at Shopify Plus and just fell in love with him and what Shopify and Shopify Plus was doing, came on board, and here we are three years later.

Austin Brawner: Tommy has been on the podcast ... oh, it was a quite-

Aaron Orendorff: Get out.

Austin Brawner: A couple of years ago actually, I think. As he transitioned from ConversionXL, he came on because that was ... I learned a lot. I read a lot of his articles when I was first getting involved in this industry, great writer, really great communicator. Where is he now?

Aaron Orendorff: Great communicator. Here's the beautiful thing, he makes me fall in love with him. I leave behind the freelance lifestyle, I take a pay cut on purpose because I'm in love with Tommy and I'm in love with what the Shopify Plus is doing and Hana Abaza just came on as Director of Marketing or Head of Marketing at the time, Director of Marketing now at Shopify, I knew her, this is it waves on, I'm going to become a fully cut marketer writer in the next year or two years. Then Tommy promptly leaves six months later and now he's at QuickBooks, he's their Editor in Chief of global content at Intuit's QuickBooks, he landed really well.

What that did was I just have all these stupid stories in my career that if Tommy hadn't left, and if I had been at Shopify Core instead of Shopify Plus, which was just building out its marketing at the time and just figuring out what to do with content, I wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to move up those ranks so quickly and actually been in charge of what went out across a host of different outlets, from email and social to the blog to eBooks and white papers, all that kind of stuff. Tommy's doing fantastic for himself and I got nothing but mad love for what that guy has done for me and we're still really good friends.

Andrew Foxwell: It's good to hear the journey and I think when I came across what you were doing with definitely was in the Shopify Plus world and now I've been following for you for a while, I want to ask you about some of the recent Twitter threads that you've put out after you clearly spent a little time with Reza at Shoelace. I'm going to go into some of those more specific questions that I think are really interesting, one of them being, you've recently stated in a tweet that the golden era of direct-to-consumer is over, can you define what this means for the listeners and why you think this is the case?

Aaron Orendorff: It's not a secret and it's not an original line, I think I stole that from Wilson Hung who's mad and smart, everybody should follow him as well. He runs growth for Kettle & Fire, but don't let that fool you he's just across the board, one of the people I listen to and pay attention to the most.

That was from a tweet of his, and it's basically encapsulating this idea that direct-to-consumer, D2C, digitally native vertical brands, ecommerce B2C, whatever you want to call it, had this explosive golden age when ad costs were low, particularly on Google, Facebook, and then eventually Instagram when competition was low. So, a lot of the today unicorns or even now the folks that are getting picked up by legacy brands, CPG brands in particular for hundreds of millions of dollars, they all had that first-mover advantage where they were able to scale very quickly thanks to those two confluence of factors, the low cost and the low competition.

Really the last two, three years we've just seen this balloon, this astronomical rise in competition, the number of brands that are entering the space as well as how crowded then all of those ad platforms are getting, the increase in clicks, the increase in customer acquisition. The golden days, the era, if it ever really existed of easy scale is done. The nail in the coffin or it's limping into its grave right now.

Andrew Foxwell: Completely, I completely agree with that. One of the things you talked about, I think, is how brands can differentiate core products and moving from what you call one constellation to another, so selling them related products and increasing LTV is something we've talked about.

In your opinion, how does a smaller brand or is it necessary now as a smaller brand that maybe has one product and doesn't have the ability to cross-sell, how do you think they want to make that part of the game? I'm just curious your opinion on that.

Aaron Orendorff: There's the difference there between that metaphor of inter-constellation and, I don't know, intra-constellation or like you've got this solar system of products that are all orbiting one flagship product and that's really been the pattern for how a lot of D2C brands have grown, is they've honed the product. They launch a product that they're in love with and then you go from mattresses to sheets to bed frames to lamps, you slowly expand from there in a very natural organic way. And that's all inside this one constellation that are orbiting the flagship product. The jump then is essentially like a reverse engineering of what makes multi-billion dollar companies, multi-billion dollar companies. It's that they're able to go from vertical to vertical category to a different category.

At this point, I think it's very much a hypothesis. Away made huge murmuring waves when they released their CPG wellness position, Head of Growth about a month ago and everybody just lost their minds about, “They're doing it. They're going to jump verticals, they're going to jump categories, here we go.” I don't know if they're going to be the first to do that. There might be other examples you know of, so the question of how does a non-Away size, like a medium to large-ish brand do that?

I firmly believe that they are the brand partnerships like healthy affiliate marketing where you do cross-promotion via social and especially you share that sacred space called the email list and especially the email list of strong reoccurring customer lifetime value customers. You create those if we can't actually spin up an entirely new vertical or category, who can we partner with? That's not a competitor right now, but complimentary. That to me is the just business partnerships insanely underutilized for cross-promotion and a very low-cost entry into new customers.

Austin Brawner: Which examples of companies that you've seen doing a good job? I see Harry's partnering with Soul Cycle, do you have any other examples of companies that are doing a good job of that right now?

Aaron Orendorff: I have yet to see, I subscribe to just a crap ton of eCommerce lists and I see it on social, especially with a lot of like the drink or the CPG or the wellness brands that will create like a co-branded product or you'll see it done really well with when influencer marketing is done at its best. This is really similar what I'm talking about, getting inside the world of an existing audience, but doing it in a official capacity, I've yet to get an email from Frank Body inviting me to some energy drink or some adjacent category. It's a hypothesis passion project of mine that I'm hoping to convince someone to do and maybe somebody hears it on this.

Austin Brawner: I think it's interesting, the Away example is, it's quite interesting because they have raised I think $180 million plus like that and they're looking for growth and they're trying to figure out what can they do to break out of the category that they're in to figure out whether or not they're going to be able to have a massive ... think about the investors they've got breathing down their necks.

It is going to be interesting to see what happens there because all the companies that have raised a lot of money are going to have to find ... they're in the WeWork scenario where WeWork keeps pushing and crossing over all these different boundaries because they've raised so much money. Likewise, I'm fascinated to see what's going to happen at these companies that have raised money and are pushing in these smaller-ish categories and having a lot of success.

Aaron Orendorff: VentureBeat just did a really fantastic piece on what they called startup purgatory along those same exact lines. It's just looking at the, here's the landscape now, the golden era is over, social media is not paying off anymore, Amazon is the elephant in every room and how can you avoid this situation of, you cannot sustain that growth that the money demands? It didn't actually come up with a very good solution inside the piece, it was more just like this, not click bait, but it was a really good examination of the problem itself, startup purgatory.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I think it's something that brands are doing totally different things, selling and cross-promoting with other smaller brands is one way and we're going to get to talking about content.

Another way that you propose that people can, or brands can be more successful in this is basically not just bringing in new customers, but ensuring that you said it as lower the barrier to entry is seductively and easily.

You think about Native Deodorant leading with a strong brand and then having the subscription or Buffy focusing on like a hundred night free trial of a comforter, what are other examples of, of brands or things that you've seen in terms of lowering that barrier to entry seductively and easily so you can cross-sell more easily to customers?

Aaron Orendorff: I don't think it even has to wait to cross-sell or upsell or enter a loyalty program. I want to say more about loyalty programs because it's insane to me how underutilized they are or poorly executed they are, but even when someone enters the funnel, their first purchase, engineering AOV from the ad to the product page to the overlays, maybe even to a landing page that somebody arrives at.

I love Black Friday, Cyber Monday and ever since I came onto Shopify Plus alongside all of those email lists I'm a part of, I just stocked the hell out of a favorite list of like 50 to 75 brands, in the lead up in Black Friday itself and then on into Cyber Monday and through December. Some of the things that I love that I've seen in different iterations and forms is simply not just having a blanket percentage off for an event like that or to attract new customers.

Brooklinen does this brilliantly during major holiday events, where they create a tier discount system based on cart value that opens with a free gift once you cross say a $50 threshold and all of it's interactive so that you get notified via pop up or at the cart level with suggestions and also a preview of the savings you're going to get if you unlock the next level. They put that into the ads themselves when they run so someone's coming into it with that expectation of not a pure discount, which can hurt brand value and brand equity over the longterm, but a really savvy approach to still seductively get them to spend more.

There's lots of ways to do this, 100% Pure that does makeup, they did this with this ... it was like a reverse product category that instead of discounting on the front end these select products that they would rotate day after day during the holiday season, they would display them but you couldn't order them, you couldn't add to cart, you couldn't get the discount until you crossed an initial threshold and then unlocked, inside the cart unlocked, so a URL would pop up, to then get inside and order these select products. And because they varied them, you would have to unlock that again and again throughout the process to drive up average order value. It lent itself insanely well to social as well as email because of the rotation and the updating of products throughout the process.

Austin Brawner: Well, first of all that creativity is what separates brands that are really going to do well during the holidays and ones that just settle for giving 50% off or 40% off. It's really interesting because going into the holidays, we're now ... I think this episode is going to come out sometime in August, which is the time you have to start preparing for quarter four.

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, yeah. It should be on already.

Austin Brawner: Those types of questions, like how do we structure a promotion that is not just discount-heavy. Those are the types of questions that everybody's asking themselves and everybody wants to have a better holiday season without just cut-rate, I'm going to give, you know, 35, 40% off during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, those are great examples.

Andrew Foxwell: I think that the complication is ... I agree with you, how many people complicate it to where it's like it's free shipping after X and then you get a free gift with ... how are you going to actually explain that versus on-site you add something to cart and I think comes up and it's like, “Oh God, that's awesome.” It's like incentivizing you right there to do something different and that's the type of different thinking that I think you absolutely have to have. Packages or bundles are also big, why not do more of that, which I don't think many people have taken advantage of.

I do want to go back to your loyalty program, what's the key in your opinion to having a good loyalty program bundle?

Aaron Orendorff: There's multiple keys and there's so many tactics to try, stuff like different tiered structures for levels of spend or order frequency, how you bump people up and incentivize the next level by skewing it so that there's higher rewards for higher spenders, there's different rewards like percent off, do people prefer dollar off, do they love freebies to go along with their orders are out of the blue? Different exclusives like preferred shipping options, do you release products early in collections just to your loyalty members? Last call reserves is a tactic that I really, really like as long as it's dealt with ethically to give people, “These are the hot selling trending products and we've saved 20 for you.”

There's different engagement methods, reviews and ratings, can you gamify everything, but it really comes down to three ingredients and the first one is have a program, just have one. Yotpo just did this fantastic D2C marketing study of medium, small and large brands and I was shocked, it was almost like a footnote at the end, that it's like a 31% industry average, not even a third of D2C brands even freaking have one.

The next best ingredient is just to make it easy. On the positive side, there's a number of great studies out there about what makes loyalty programs work, Accenture, the most massive one, found the number one reason and this is a shocker, is that it doesn't have formulas and all those complicated math you've got to do and steps you have to take to make it all work, it's just easy to use.

I think about the way my wife and I share a Starbucks account and interact with their loyalty program. It's all there in the app, you can buy additional star points and rewards, they gamify the hell out of it around peak buying seasons to drive people back in and to just keep the momentum going. But you don't have to necessarily be a Starbucks to do that either.

One of my favorite illustrations of simplicity is Ghost, Ghost sells supplements, pre-workout drinks, post-workout drinks, mixes, stuff like that. They literally have, you can purchase through money or you can purchase through points on every product page and in the cart checkout, so it's insanely easy to use.

The third really revolves around not just incentivizing purchases, like spend this, get that, but incentivizing the collection of data so you know more about your customers and incentivizing community actions. It's giving rewards for shares, hashtags, joining slack groups that are closed, participating in forums or on a existing customer in a new customer front, incentivizing the Q&A sections that a lot of review platforms now have at the bottom of product pages. Where somebody is interested, they want to know about sizing or fit or does it really work, incentivizing and emailing some of those top performing, top traffic pages to your loyalty program and giving them, not a cut but a reason to put skin in the game that just draws them back and builds affinity.

The other thing is to really, really, really save your best for your best so that there's, a genuine special-ness to how you treat that member. Earlier this month, I celebrated my 37th birthday and I got two offers, one from Inkbox saying, “Happy birthday,” via email and other one from Pura Vida bracelets, “Happy Birthday, here's the coupon.” I think for them it was like spend $30 get $15 off so it was a cash-based.

For Inkbox that makes temporary tattoos, I was already part of their rewards program, they knew that, they knew it was my birthday because I was part of the rewards program so they know about me, they can tailor and customize our communication.

What was clever in that was Inkbox they sent me 500 rewards points and when I click through it takes me directly to the tiered structure that shows my total number of rewards. I did just a tiny bit of math on my end and I realized that 500 points was the difference between level one and two and there was a $5 or $10 off, 5 or 10% off. It bumped me to that one, but it was just shy of kicking me into the next level three where it was $30 off or 20% off. I would love to believe that was on purpose, it might've just been the automation, but I caught that and it was such a great kick to try to get me to do something more.

With Pura Vida and these freaking hippies are geniuses, I got the email, but I also got a DM from their chatbot, so it's like separate from the regular order confirmations. Both of the lists were separate from my regular marketing emails that I get, so if I opt out of those, I'm still part of the loyalty program, they get to retain me, save the best for their best. Talk about making it easy, Pura Vida comes through, it's a celebration, it's branded, it's right inside Messenger. I click through at fires up my account, my discount is right there in the header, it adds up on the side when I add things to carts. It's just a thing of loyalty and incentivizing and customer lifetime value glory.

Austin Brawner: Sure, sure. I think in general I agree with you around the loyalty program and that not enough people are focused on it, but I think more than that it's not enough people really dive into the entire process of it and realize that it is a really long game and just setting one up out of the box isn't going to be successful. You have to go through and think through the entire strategy, build it out.

I love what you were talking about with Pura Vida bracelets, the fact that you're getting a message on your birthday because you were in incentivize earlier, that's a much longer strategy and it actually goes well with their business.

I always look at a couple of things like one, does it match, is it going to work with your business people buying multiple times and then two, do you have the bandwidth to actually be thoughtful about it? I think a lot of the stuff you're talking about comes back to being very thoughtful and thinking about the customer in a way more like a, to a certain extent of friend, but like a valued customer versus just somebody who bought from you online.

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah, valued customer, a member of the community, not built around the brand itself, but as the brand serves whatever community their target market already saturates, being a part of that.

Austin Branwer: One of the things you've talked a lot about is brands driving paid media directly to content also one of the things you've spent the second half of your career doing, which is creating content. Why do you believe that brands driving paid media to content versus driving that directly to a product page, why do you believe this is a better strategy for many brands?

Aaron Orendorff: As I understand it, first and foremost, it costs less to drive to content. You can cast the net wider than just a pure up front product ad and it's a much more natural way into product exposure or brand exposure, then leading with an offer.

The backside of that is to then collect that retargeting audience and take them on, you already mentioned Shoelace, a retargeting journey, so that you're building awareness, a more or less qualified pool, audience, and you're testing, is there a way to get them back to additional content? At what points when they come back, should they be invited to the email list and should that email list be content-driven as well or does it work at that point if they've been exposed long enough to incentivize it through a more traditional percentage off or exclusive deal, those sorts of things?

The costs on the front end is one thing. The other side is there is a wealth of search engine optimization and search traffic, organic traffic, that is completely aside from product pages themselves. If you're looking for something, anything related to how to, or evaluations or guides that are either one for one with a product like how to apply eyeliner or they're just associated with it, this is an outdoors-y theme about the best trails or an evaluation of different tents. These kinds of things that if you can find registered search volume for that, you can do very similar tactics to then creating a retargeting audience pool to build from.

It's a lot easier to get somebody to opt into the email list when you're giving away really good content with something as simple as "don't have time to save this whole article grab the checklist for the best tents or the maps that you can print out," whatever it is for the hiking, those sorts of things. All of those are, it's just naturally how we get to know people and we build affinity. We don't just go up and ask somebody to marry us on first sight, it follows this path that we're hardwired for as humans.

Andrew Foxwell: To comment on the costs, you're correct. It is cheaper generally to send people to content and where this really can be a very impactful strategy is with brands that have a higher AOV. Making sure that you are writing articles or you're to some degree potentially partnering with other brands, or excuse me, other publications or publishers that are writing an article about your story can be a very beneficial piece of content to put out there because obviously it establishes trust in different way than, “Hey, buy from us.”

I've talked about that a lot and people have heard that and I think do that. Where you hit pushback on it is with brands that, let's say have an average order value, and Austin, I'd be curious of your take here, of lower than let's say $70 or $50 us. Because what they're thinking is they're looking at content in a short term and they look at it in comparison to, in their paid media. In order to build a brand, which is what arguably most people have to do now versus just the golden age as we talked about previously, you have to have content be part of it, you have to explain why even more.

A Facebook ad can help you do that and your product page might, but that's why email I think is such an effective tool. When you hear that, when you hear D2C brand say, “It takes too long, it's a longer game,” your point I believe based on what I've heard you say before would be, “It's worth it and it'll help you build the long game and it has longterm SEO impact.” Is that correct?

Aaron Orendorff: Austin, you want to share it on this first and then I'll ... I'm curious too.

Austin Brawner: The a question around the lower AOV, Andrew, or just like what I've seen. I think it depends on the type of business that people are building. If they have raised $181 million like a company like Away or even raised a much smaller amount of money, $10, $20 million or $5 million, you've got investors that are looking for growth, then it comes out of the strategy around it like the strategy on are you trying to grow at basically break even. If so, those lower average order value businesses may still be able to grow using content as a way to continue to amplify their brand but it's typically not ... I haven't seen it typically perform in a way that it's highly profitable for them, compared to just running conversion ads.

To use the example of Shopify and the reason why content marketing I think is so successful for Shopify is because the lifetime value of a Shopify customer is so high and take a Shopify Plus customer, they can read 30 blog posts and then come in and become a customer and it justifies all the investment on the content side.

I think that where I always have questions, it's around which brands should invest in content and which ones shouldn't. I think that's a really, really tough question and now that you're working with clients, how do you advise people whether or not they should invest or should not invest in content?

Aaron Orendorff: For me, I work 95% with B2B, so yes, it's a foregone conclusion. By this time somebody connects with me whether through the website or via social or through a referral from someone else, just word of mouth, that the people that end up in my inbox in many ways they're already pre-qualified because they've got a high enough price point, the average order value, the customer lifetime value. They know there's a lot of upfront investment that they can afford if there's a payoff at the end because a lot of it's SaaS-based as well and SaaS is with high price points and high customer lifetime value.

I'm very cautious, one of the things I think when it comes to D2C is content doesn't mean the same thing in D2C as it does in B2B. B2B, it's fine to have the lion's share of a content strategy built around words and those words for economies of scale can be spun out into paid ads, driving somebody to a thing with words or into webinars or standalone slide decks or conference presentations or even entire live events, all that is content, but it's on this backbone of the written word.

With D2C, I see brand aesthetics and brand story, visual mediums, visual mediums being the center of gravity. There's words behind that that form the story itself, who's the hero of the story, the customer, what are they facing in opposition to what they want, the hell that they're going through and the heaven that they want to be delivered unto and then how does the brand come along and enter the story they're already telling themselves, as help, as a guide, as an avenue to an easier, better, more effective way to get the thing that they want to begin with.

Think about somebody like Tracksmith, running apparel. The founder is Matt, I want to say is his name, is so a part organically, living and believing that long-distance cross country running as a lifestyle, the pain and suffering that goes into running. "Race Day is Sacred," is one of the lines they use all over the place in their ads on their site and their aesthetics embodies that and they do a lot of written content. The place where that content may quote, "pay off" is their email, their social media, their paid ads, their repository for creative is fire.

It's that combination of, okay, we've got to meet it with the aesthetics and there's got to be this backbone storytelling to it but the economies of scale there are making sure it's spread out so it's not just a words-based SEO-based play at all.

Andrew Foxwell: I think about Outdoor Voices like golden example of this in my opinion, they're harnessing the passion. It's not even about the products, the products are our means, they're a vehicle to get to what they're talking about. If it's done well and then Tracksmith is doing that, they're harnessing that passion that's going to help people sell or help them sell in the long run and help want to be in a loyalty program.

That's a whole other question of how do you convince people to be in it longterm, but it's very interesting to hear your take on it and I'm really glad that you shared it.

I have a final question as we, as we wrap up which is, what is an unpopular opinion that you hold that the majority of our listeners will disagree with?

Aaron Orendorff: An unpopular opinion, you can't build a brand around itself. The popular consciousness, all the talk of community and loyalty and lifetime value, people look to Glossier and the blog that's now Glossier Play and the interactiveness of that and they say, "Glossier has built a community around itself." They're a shining example and they're super hard to replicate but that misunderstands what they did and the nature of building a brand. Which is not building it around your own story, your about page, your why page, the reasons you do what you do. But deeply understanding the community that you serve, entering their story and how you enter that story is what establishes and love and loyalty and customers that are a moat against competition and even against Amazon because you've entered their world.

That is so hard and it's so hard to put that on a spreadsheet and be like, "This is the one for one pay off," the same way something like conversion rates or performance marketing can be done. It gets lost because of that and because the popular wisdom out there is all that talk of community gets translated into it's about us, but it's not.

Austin Brawner: The idea of moats and, and competitive advantage in direct-to-consumer marketing is really interesting. I think it's still something that we're trying to figure out, what is going to happen with all these brands and where they're going and the ones that have had success, what does the next five, six years look like for those brands? It's going to be fun and it's going to be cool and interesting regardless of how it plays out.

Aaron, it's been a lot of fun chatting, thank you so much for coming on and talking with us. If somebody listening and they want to learn more about what you do, where would be the best place for you to direct them. Is it Twitter, is it your website, what's the best place you'd put someone? What direction?

Aaron Orendorff: Go to Google, Aaron O-R-E, and I think it autocompletes to Orendoff. That's my level of celebrity as far as Google goes, Aaron O-R-E.

Austin Brawner: I call that SEO dominance.

Aaron Orendorff: Someday I'm going to get to OR, it's going to be amazing and I'm going to celebrate. That's the easiest way, my name, it'll auto-correct it because there's no other Aaron Orendoff spelled the way mine is spelled. You can find me on Twitter very easily and that'll link you back to my website, I spend most of my time on Twitter. Anyway, I rarely put on anything under my own name these days. It's all really behind the scenes stuff so probably Twitter is the outlet.

Austin Brawner: Do you get as much satisfaction as I do from burying other people on Google?

Aaron Orendorff: Yes.

Andrew Foxwell: As I watch them be pushed off the first page with all my incognito, it feels so good.

Aaron Orendorff: I still like the vanity of it. I Google incognito search terms that owned on Shopify Plus and stalk from competitors, stalk them and they're still there and I'm like, “Yeah buddy, that's it.”

Austin Brawner: You're completely SEO dominant first page which is pretty awesome. Cool man, thank you so much and uh, we appreciate it. We'll talk soon, see you on Twitter.

Aaron Orendorff: Thank you gentlemen. Yes, absolutely. 

Austin Brawner: Hey there, it's Austin again and I have a quick message for you. If you enjoyed this podcast, I have something really exciting for you. For the last year and a half, I've been coaching eCommerce business owners and marketers inside a group called the coalition. You might've even heard me talking about it on this podcast, we have a lot of members who come on and actually share their story. Now, what launched as an experiment has become a game changer for our over 150 members. If you'd like me and my team of expert marketers and eCommerce operators to coach you on your journey to scale up your eCommerce business, this is your opportunity.

You can head over to to learn more, again, head over to to learn more. Everything we talked about on this podcast, we go into way more depth with actionable training and get actually one-on-one help from me to help you grow your business. Hope to see you guys inside.

Austin Brawner: What's up everybody, welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name's Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell, which is also @andrewfoxwell on Twitter. Something I want to talk about cause I feel like spending an increasing amount of conversation hap...

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