Blueprint to Scale: A CMO’s Pillars For Building a $100 Million Ecommerce Business

pillars for how to grow a $100 million business

“How are we going to beat our goals for this year? What’s your plan?” 

This question may seem casual, but when it’s asked of you by your CEO, board, and team, it’s entirely loaded. 

The agenda behind the question also varies depending on who’s asking, which is why some marketing leaders might suggest you need a different response per audience—either more strategic or more tactical. That’s never been the case for me.   

I communicate to my team the exact same message, in the exact same manner that I’d communicate to my board. It’s the only way to ensure consistency of focus, message, and strategy. 

I’m going to communicate to you just the same. In this piece, I’m going to share three foundational pillar strategies to double your revenue growth. 

Setting the foundation

During 2020, I was firmly in the trenches with the team at Owlet and focused on serving my then customers and business. But despite the unique challenges of growing a business during a pandemic, by year end, we had grown from $50 million to nearly $100 million—no small feat. 

After joining the Klaviyo team this year, I’m in a unique position. Not only do I have the opportunity to impact Klaviyo’s growth, but also the privilege to share my strategies from my previous work with thousands of Klaviyo customers—customers who now ask me, “How should I think about beating my goals? What do you think of our plan?”

My answer revolves around three pillar areas of focus. 

 

The 3 pillars for scaling your ecommerce business

When I joined Owlet, the business had approximately $50 million in revenue. By all means, we were doing great, which was largely because our team expertly secured product-market fit. While this would be key to Owlet’s success, it wouldn’t be the key to scaling to $100 million. 

To determine how we’d scale, I had to take a step back and look objectively at the marketing organization and strategy. In doing so, a path emerged through three pillar strategies. These strategies have become my handbook for success as well as the makeup of my TedTalk to my team, board, and of course, Klaviyo customers.

What are those three strategies? 

  1. Creating a marketing organization that scales
  2. Balancing speed with depth
  3. Delivering marketing that’s contextual to the world and our audience

Let me provide you with more insight on what each of these pillars means.

1 | Setting up an organization that will scale

When I started at Owlet, the marketing team was small. Depending on the area of focus, the team was either very experienced or not experienced enough. Without a doubt, the team was busy and juggling a lot of different projects. 

But when I looked objectively at what we were doing, it didn’t feel cohesive or consistent. And most of all, we were lacking a true focus on and understanding of our customers. 

Before I could do, implement, plan, or make any changes, we needed to first paint a better picture of our customers. We had to answer the questions:

  • What are their motivations for buying? 
  • What are their need states?
  • What are the problems they’re trying to solve?
  • If they were describing their problem to a friend, what would they say and how would they explain it?

To be effective, we had to go deep into the minds of our customers and build a strong understanding of who they would be. 

Second, we had to establish a very strong and purposeful point of view for our brand, which included considering how we should and would show up in any channel. 

For so long, we were worried about offending someone in our marketing, so we became wallflowers, blending in as opposed to standing out. We realized what we really had to do was take a stance, be unique, be opinionated, and have a strong set of opinions.

For our marketing organization to scale, everything that we did had to circle back to who we were as a brand and ladder up to our ideal customer profile. Further, when we shared any sort of  message, it had to be clear, opinionated, consistent, and on-brand. 

 

What the first pillar looks like in practice

Owlet sells wearables for infants that monitor oxygen and heart levels. 

When speaking with our customers, many of them would describe their challenges as new parents solely as a “lack of sleep.” As we continued to dig, we learned that both mothers and fathers were waking up every hour on the hour to check on their newborn, ensuring they were sleeping soundly and breathing correctly. 

As we listened and reflected, we realized they were communicating a lack of peace of mind. They lacked a way to sleep soundly without being automatically alerted to a change in their infant’s health. 

Owlet makes smart baby monitors, but what they really do is track oxygen and heart rate to provide parents peace of mind in the middle of the night. These ideas and messages had to be present in all that we did moving forward.

2 | Balancing speed with depth

The most important thing you can do as a marketer is determine your ideal customer persona (ICP), as the first pillar exemplified. Once you understand who you’re creating or building a product for, the next step is challenging the internal assumptions, myths, and hypotheses the business has traditionally operated against. 

With a new understanding of your customer, do all of those historical ideas hold true, especially as they play out in your marketing channels? Do they drive performance? Do they resonate? 

At Owlet, we were figuring all of this out amid the pandemic. Transparently, the messages and tactics that may have worked before and during a pandemic year might differ in a new normal world. 

Nevertheless, a few key themes played out, which only came to light as we built and engaged deeply with our customers. 

We quickly learned that some of our historical assumptions were not as accurate as we once thought, and we needed to change core components of our marketing strategy in order to effectively communicate with our audience. 

We learned that our most valuable asset was our brand. We had to double down on removing the plain vanilla messaging. We had to share our opinion, stand out, and amplify our voice. 

Once we understood that, we created tactics around doing so. We revamped our blogs, our content strategy, our social media, our email. We overhauled everything marketing touched to lead with our newly defined brand values. We did away with all of our old operating models. 

You might ask, “How did you know you were successful? What were your early indicators?” 

As we began sharing our new messaging more broadly, we saw that our click-through rates (CTRs) across all mediums had risen significantly. Website traffic had increased dramatically. Feedback from customers told us the messaging was resonating. 

Owlet has a presence both online and in stores, but during a time when consumers were actively navigating away from in-person retail, our sell-through in stores was increasingly sharply—consumers were seeking Owlet out.

 

What the second pillar looks like in practice

Prior to our revamp, a typical Mother’s Day promotion would be a 15 percent off promotion, driving consumers to “buy now.” 

It was stale. It lacked opinion. It was a predictable campaign that produced predictable results. 

After the revamp, we fully focused our Mother’s Day campaign on what it should be focused on—mothers. We knew that the path to motherhood is unique for each mother. To truly stand out and be successful, we had to celebrate every woman’s journey to motherhood. Why should this national holiday only be about a discount when it could be about creating memorable moments with our customers?

We decided to recognize and celebrate all the paths to motherhood we knew and those that we didn’t. We invited our audience to share their unique story. 

In the end, our campaign generated hundreds of submissions, both from customers and prospects. Though Owlet’s products are typically a one time purchase, we saw we could create, build, and foster a community of engaged customers. Even well after their purchase, people we wanted to stay active in our ecosystem as longtime advocates, gift givers, and referrers. 

3 | Delivering marketing that’s contextual to the world and our audience

Marketing is just a small part of the overall world that we live in. 

Because of that, you can’t construct your marketing strategy in isolation of the world. It must be relevant and reflective of the day and time you share it with an audience. Relevancy is key. 

Let me be clear: To be truly effective, you need to be extremely contextual about what’s happening in the world. That’s not to say that you need to be predatory of world events, but adjacent to them. 

 

What the third pillar looks like in practice

At its core, Owlet’s technology is a pulse oximeter. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, those affected by coronavirus would encounter challenges with their respiratory system. 

The Owlet product was designed to provide peace of mind to parents about the exact symptoms they were most concerned about at the moment.  

This meant that we talked about the peace of mind Owlet could provide. While parents were the first line of defense for a child amid COVID, Owlet offered a “second line of defense.” 

That became our tagline within our marketing. We focused on talking about our product’s amazing features and the peace of mind they provide. 

It was a time-sensitive message that allowed us to position ourselves as a value-add to families. 

Rounding out the blueprint

In addition to these key pillar strategies, I’ll leave you with a few last pieces of advice. 

Lean into your customers, into their stories, their struggles, and their happiness. Across everything that you do within your marketing organization, put your customers at the forefront. 

How will Angela from Rhode Island receive, interpret, and remember this message? To get a personal reaction from a consumer, you have to make it personal.

All too often, marketers treat marketing within the silos of the individual tasks that need to get done. It’s easy to forget who we’re doing it for and how the audience will perceive it. 

At all times, you have to have it in the back of your mind that your work is customer-facing. You need to train yourself—and in turn, you team—to always calibrate against the customer. 

Wondering where to start? Ask yourself, “What’s the one unifying principle across our marketing team?” Remember: You need to tie it to your customers. 

Once you understand this, every single person within the marketing team can begin calibrating their actions, messages, strategies against that principal and against your customers. 

Wondering how to think about your marketing strategy post-pandemic? Check out these five strategies for customer retention.

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