Owned media, also known as owned marketing, has long been a valuable channel for brands to build communities with their consumers. During times of economic uncertainty, when marketing budgets are under increased scrutiny to prove ROI, owned marketing channels such as websites, email, SMS and social media are driving cost-effective customer acquisition and retention strategies.
These ultimately result in profits, particularly as brands plan for the biggest retail event of the year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
To highlight the emergence of profit- and growth-driving owned marketing channels, Klaviyo held its inaugural OWN IT virtual summit on Aug. 15-17. The three-day event featured fireside chats and panels with leading challenger e-commerce brands focusing on why owned marketing, scalable growth and profitability are more important than ever; how to scale customer retention strategies in a way that increases acquisition budgets; and accomplishing all this in anticipation of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and driving year-round growth.
Cody Plofker, chief marketing officer of Jones Road Beauty, spoke on how implementing a growth marketing strategy in the beauty industry was a novel concept when Bobbi Brown, the founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics and Plofker‘s mother, launched the DTC brand three years ago.
“I had the belief from the beginning that we always wanted to grow our paid and organic revenue at the same rate," Plofker said. “We didn’t want to be a brand that was completely reliant on unpaid, but we also wanted to grow. Our industry is so geared toward revenue at all costs, but that’s misleading because sometimes you can make more revenue but not make a profit.”
Building the brands of the future
Among the other featured speakers at the conference: Former Outdoor Voices CEO Ty Haney, co-founder and CEO of the Web3 platform TYB (Try Your Best) and the CBD supplements brand Joggy, who discussed why the future of marketing depends on using owned media and cutting-edge technology to build communities that co-create with brands.
Also speaking was Kyle Cooke, founder and CEO of hard teas company Loverboy, who detailed how he used the dramatic storytelling of the hit Bravo reality show “Summer House,” which he has starred in since 2017, to launch his brand five years ago.
And Kim Kreuzberger, previously chief revenue officer of Goop and founder and CEO of Pivot Projects, revealed how her consultancy firm helps scale such celebrity brands as Cravings by Crissy Teigen into sustainable businesses. She does that by creating exceptional customer experiences relying on measurable organic rather than paid social campaigns.
Panel discussions dove deeper into the debate over whether customer retention is really the new customer acquisition (spoiler: It isn’t, according to Plofker)—and how brands can best prepare for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Other speakers included Grace Clarke, founder of Grace Clarke Consulting; Tom Coburn, co-founder and CEO of quiz software maker Jebbit; Nikki Tooman, co-founder of retention marketing agency Sticky Digital; and Alexandra Cassis, U.S. partnerships director of customer-advocacy referral company Mention Me, discussing how brands can grow sustainably without sacrificing their ability to get in front of new and larger audiences.
Also on the agenda were Sriya Karumanchi, director of marketing and communications at sustainable jewelry brand Catbird; Amanda Kwasniewicz, VP of customer experience at women’s wellness product brand Love Wellness; Jacob Sappington, head of email strategy at digital growth agency Homestead Studio; and Molly O’Connell, senior manager of technology partnerships at e-commerce customer service platform Gorgias, exploring how brands can earn long-term loyalty in a time when customers are as fickle as ever.
Meanwhile, weighing in on the emerging trends to watch for this Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and how to evaluate the best- and worst-performing holiday shopping strategies, were Josh Behr, CEO of email and SMS marketing agency AMB Interactive; Rob Iacocca, head of user experience and design at growth marketing consultancy Stream Commerce; Sammy Tran, founder and CEO at BMO Media; and Dylan Gifford, VP of strategy at shopping experience company Rebuy,
Transforming a consumer base into a customer advocate community
While the myriad brands, agencies, tech platforms and consultancies that appeared during the conference represented a wide variety of industries, one major theme emerged: Success in the past, present and future. This was and is incumbent on brands who use data and owned media available to understand exactly who their customers are, so they can execute and refine marketing strategies to attract new consumers and retain loyal ones.
After spending most of the past decade in the DTC space at Outdoor Voices, Haney realized the immense value of community to brands. But engaging with that community was both difficult to manage and measure, she said.
“At OV, we would be engaging with our community across different channels—SurveyMonkey, Slack, Google Docs, etc., which was operationally difficult,” Haney said. “But more importantly, it was really hard to measure. So I‘d go to the boardroom and say I know that investing in community is netting more high-value customers, but I couldn’t show the clear ROI.”
Haney said TYB is all about helping brands make community a growth channel and proving the ROI of community, with the key making community measurable.
“For the first time, TYB is able to help brands formalize their relationship with their community members and then connect purchase data to engagement,” she said. “Engagement might be sharing on social, referring a friend, submitting a review—all things that are really valuable to brands.”
For Loverboy’s Cooke, many of the viewers of “Summer House,” the long-running hit reality TV show he appeared in, represented a built-in community to tap into, long before the brand even launched.
“No matter what you’re selling, no matter what industry you’re in, customer acquisition and retention is probably your biggest cost," he said. “And so when the opportunity to film “Summer House’ came around, I thought, Hey, that’s a fun way to make a buck, but more importantly it was a platform to raise awareness for a brand.”
Cooke noted two best examples to answer that question. In scripted TV, it was Avión tequila on “Entourage,” and on reality TV it was Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl margarita.
“Look at what the platform did for those two companies,” he said. “They essentially didn’t have a marketing budget. Imagine removing the biggest cost on your P&L. If the show happens to be successful, that becomes my marketing machine.”
For Cooke, the ability to depict the building of Loverboy allowed him to flip the traditional marketing plan for an alcohol brand on its end. Typically alcohol is wholesale-driven and then retail driven, he noted. “We’ve now done over $40 million in sales with zero marketing.”
The reality of celebrity
Pivot Projects’ Kreuzberger has a similar perspective on the unique advantages—and challenges—presented by the reality of marketing celebrity- or influencer-backed brands, particularly ones that she has consulted on, including Cravings by Chrissy Teigen, where she has served as interim CEO.
“They have these huge microphones, which are really just audiences,” she said. "So it’s determining how to use that audience, what is that lever we’re pulling, when are we pulling it and what’s working and what’s not working."
Kreuzberger said this can be powerful for conversion and connections, but on the downside, you always have to plan for your worst press release.
"With Chrissy at the helm, it’s been incredible because she’s truly so connected to our audience," she said. “But you just have to plan. Sometimes you can overshare, and sometimes you can be vocal about a subject that doesn’t connect with everybody who’s in our community. But ultimately I’m grateful to have that microphone.”
For Kreuzberger, building brand communities includes business partners that add value in an equal exchange. “If I was a founder, I‘d be looking for a lot of like-minded brands to try to acquire audience,” she said.
Clarke of Grace Clarke Consulting agreed. “Brands that are winning right now understand the power of building a community network for themselves that goes way beyond their customer,” she said.
The new normal: Customer reacquisition
The post-pandemic shift in consumer behavior, combined with privacy-driven changes in access to customer data has resulted in an economic and marketing climate that emphasizes customer retention over acquisition.
“There are three main things that have changed my client strategies,” Clarke said. “One is a focus on finding the right customer rather than as many customers as possible. People are thinking about building relationships for the long term with their customers. The second thing is actually thinking about retention in terms of reacquisition. Now that people have more choice than ever in the brands that they want to invest in, there might be less loyalty on the customer side."
Clarke also noted that brands are still heavily invested in paid, but they’re doing it in a way that’s more of a test-and-learn approach.
"So they are diversifying their paid spend across certain channels only when they’re ready, when they actually have learnings to scale them on Reddit or Twitter, or test new ad programs,” she said.
Clarke also noted that brands are still heavily invested in paid, but are doing it in a way that‘s more of a test-and-learn approach.
"You have to be able to adapt, and really look at earned growth," she said. "We have a customer who was saying they know they need to focus on their data and their earned growth, but they keep pouring money into paid and expecting results to be the way that they used to be. They’re not going to go back to the way that they were. Looking at your data and your earned channels is really important right now, as is making sure that you’re utilizing that data from your customers to get that retention—and acquisition.”
Speakers on multiple panels stressed the importance of not ignoring acquisition in the name of retention.
“One of the things we’ve been kind of dancing around is that it's really important to not think of acquisition and retention as two separate buckets,” said Jebbit’s Coburn. “If you could sit down and have coffee face-to-face with all the end consumers who buy your product, what are the things you’d want to walk away knowing? First, make sure you're engaging existing members of our email database; then once we get them on the existing database, we look for who the highest purchasers with the highest lifetime value are or who are the highest referrals that are promoting us the most.”
Coburn noted that after this, marketers can use that data to create better audiences to feed back to the acquisition funnel. Once viewed as one cycle, and your acquisition team and retention team are talking regularly, that’s where you really start to unlock the best benefits, he said.
Cassis observed that when you get a customer through referral, they’re a much better customer, with 11% higher average order value, two times higher lifetime value and five times more likely to refer their friend. “Acquiring a better customer is going to lead to better retention," she said.
“You actually do have to play with both sides of the coin at the same time,” said Love Wellness’ Kwasniewicz, urging marketers to look at customer types and understand what is most effective to them based on who they are.
“If you’re a brand-new customer who has never purchased, maybe we do need to give you an intro offer," she said. "If so, it’s really important to present a website that sprinkles a discount here and a popup somewhere else. But subscribers are a huge part of what keeps our DTC machine going. We use a lot of onsite personalization.”
Homestead’s Sappington observed that many people try to condense retention marketing down to just email and SMS, but subscriptions, loyalty programs and customer interaction with the support team are also important, he said.
“With retention marketing, it’s a multi-channel effect, particularly with email and SMS, if you see that a customer is a bit more lapsed or unengaged in that area, able to mimic some of the themes and timeliness of a product push or go-to-market strategy,” said Catbird’s Karumanchi. “This might be across Meta and with in-store signage and with personal email outreach. These are all multi-touch strategies to amplify your email and SMS strategy, and give it a little bit more efficiency as well.”
Black Friday and Cyber Monday trends to emulate
With the increasing focus on first- and zero-party data, personalization is driving strategies for Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, said AMB Interactive’s Behr.
“How much do you know about your customers and how do you use that first-party data in the subject line, something that’s going to grab the attention of the consumer in a very crowded market and busy area?" Behr asked. “If you’re an apparel brand, do you know the size that they’re looking for, the colors that they seem to be purchasing? How do you use that information as much as possible to get the opens and clicks—and sales—to your website?”
One phenomenon of the Black Friday Cyber Monday shopping season is that it seems to be expanding ever longer.
“We’re starting to see BFCM creep two weeks, three weeks, even a month prior to the actual date,” Stream Commerce’s Iacocca said. “And with that, there’s a lot of increased competition, specifically with people shopping across other brands. It’s even more important this year to ensure that you’re nailing the fundamentals on your site, things like site speed, and ensuring you have excellent and effective flow set up for after consumers purchase. These are all going to be really valuable this year.”
Brands dealing with a longer Black Friday Cyber Monday shopping season will have to do more to stand out with consumers rather than merely offering discounts.
“Those brands that can bring something interesting and unique to look at will have a significant advantage over the brands that are just trying to discount,” said Rebuy's Gifford.
Iacocca observed that personalization can mean a lot of things. For one segment that could be corporate social responsibility initiatives that are meaningful to some users. Another could be a limited-edition drop that has limited SKUs, a great way to try a different sort of value proposition.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday will continue to be impacted by post-pandemic consumer behavior. As people are starting to gather in person, there’s more of a propensity for people to focus on gift giving.
“I think it’ll be a good year," said BMO Media’s Tran. "And to everyone’s point, be different with your offers. What if you tried something else where you can give customers a gift card in exchange for purchasing a certain amount? What you’re essentially doing is giving them cash again to spend back on the site to combat post-sale fatigue.”
Gifford suggested doubling offers to remedy any shopper fatigue.
“Shopify’s made it easy for brands to set up post-purchase offers,” he said, noting that the moment someone completes checkout, you have the opportunity to present them with an offer.
"If someone purchases your hero product, then people can subscribe to similar products, giving them the chance to double up on that offer," Gifford said. "If you can market it as a gift to someone else, it will be gravy on top of a Black Friday you’ve hopefully already crushed.”