How One Ecommerce Agency Reduced Reliance on Facebook and Google Ads
With Apple’s privacy changes around the corner and third-party cookie restrictions looming, marketers are scrambling to figure out exactly what their next steps are for advertising their ecommerce stores on Facebook and Google.
Should you continue paying for these channels, or will the eventual lack of personalization make them more trouble (and more expensive) than they’re worth? If so, what are the alternatives? And what can you do now to prepare for these changes and set your brand up for future success?
Zac Cherin, co-founder of ecommerce agency Sidekick, has a few thoughts on the subject from his time working with direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. In fact, Zac and his co-founder Brendan have moved away from offering paid advertising services in order to focus more on helping brands make money through their owned marketing channels such as email and SMS.
Discover Zac’s recommendations for navigating the ever-changing world of digital advertising and find out why he’s reduced his clients’ reliance on Facebook and Google.
Read on to learn more about:
- Sidekick’s pivot from paid ads to email and SMS
- How brands can get the most bang for their buck
- How to create a brand your customers can trust
- Key takeaways
Sidekick’s pivot from paid ads to email and SMS
Today, Sidekick’s bread and butter is email and SMS marketing, but Zac and Brendan are experts in everything from search engine optimization (SEO) to ecommerce platform development—and they’ve helped their clients with all of it.
After working for the behemoth online marketplace known as Amazon, Zac and Brendan decided they were going to “switch teams” by working for small to medium-sized businesses. They figured the most impactful way to do this was by offering their talents to DTC brands, and thus Sidekick was born.
The duo started out by offering SEO and content marketing services. From there, they shifted to ecommerce platform development and quickly realized digital advertising went hand-in-hand.
While they did some email marketing, it was more of an after-thought—they didn’t set up email as a revenue-generating channel, so email only contributed to five percent of their clients’ total revenue.
But Zac and Brendan realized that, for DTC brands, there was more to the idea of developing a marketing strategy than owning a website. They realized the best way to help small businesses was to pivot their services towards building out robust segments and creating more personalized content.
“Even before Apple announced the iOS 14 privacy changes, our fear with ads was that you don’t have a lot of control—it’s a reactive business. Our clients would ask, ‘Why is ROI down this week?’ and the honest answer was, ‘We don’t know.’ We wondered how we were going to distance ourselves from something so reactionary to something where we could be proactive,” said Zac.
"Even before Apple announced the iOS 14 privacy changes, our fear with ads was that you don't have a lot of control—it's a reactive business. Our clients would ask, ‘Why is ROI down this week?’ and the honest answer was, ‘We don’t know.’ "
Zac Cherin, co-founder, Sidekick
And with only two people on their team, they knew they had to spend their time wisely in order to scale their business and generate results that would keep their customers coming back for more.
“We started testing more email marketing campaign strategies with a couple of our clients. After a month or two, we realized that was how we wanted to run our agency because we had discovered the most effective way to help brands,” said Zac.
Today, email and SMS are collectively responsible for 30 percent of their clients’ total revenue.
And they’ve achieved some incredible results for the brands they work with. For example, Sidekick increased women’s apparel brand Myrah Penaloza‘s email and SMS revenue from less than 20 percent of total revenue to over 40 percent by increasing the number of touchpoints with existing customers through marketing automations, sending more personalized email campaigns to more specific segments, and offering subscribers early access to new product drops via text.
Zac emphasized that Sidekick’s new focus has also created much more stability for their team—it’s easier to understand the results of each campaign, and even better, they can explain what’s working and what’s not to their clients.
“When you’re managing ads every day, you’re in the trenches. You’re trying to optimize them, you’re reallocating budgets, you’re doing all the things to get a computer and an algorithm to give you a favorable outcome—the whole thing is kind of silly when you take a step back,” said Zac.
“Email gives us the ability to spend a lot more time in the analytics, look at customer data, look at cohorts, and do more high-level strategic plays that are going to create the most value for our clients in the long run. It frees us up to do more impactful work, and once we understood that, that was the moment we realized this is what we set out to do—this is how we help businesses grow.”
"Email gives us the ability to spend a lot more time in the analytics, look at customer data, look at cohorts, and do more high-level strategic plays that are going to create the most value for our clients in the long run."
Zac Cherin, co-founder, Sidekick
How DTC brands can get more bang for their buck
In fact, Zac noted that paid ads are still one of the most reliable sources of generating traffic to your website, especially for bringing in new users. But he encourages brands to think beyond using these channels just to make a quick sale.
“We’re extremely bullish on email and SMS as revenue-generating channels, but the reality is they rely on a website having a consistent source of traffic. Consistent traffic means consistent opportunities to offer content, discounts, and incentives in exchange for a user’s email address or phone number, which also means growing your list and increasing the revenue-generating potential of those channels,” said Zac.
You’re probably not going to cut paid advertising out of your marketing budget completely. But if you want to cut back on ad spend and reduce your reliance on channels like Facebook and Google, there are smart ways to set your brand up for long-term success—namely, by using ads to grow your email and SMS lists.
“While it may be more difficult than ever to get purchases directly from new users through an ad, you significantly improve your chances of getting them to eventually convert if they sign up for your lists. With email automations, namely the welcome series and the abandoned cart, you have the opportunity to introduce your brand to every new user who signs up for your lists and nudge them closer to their first purchase,” said Zac.
"With email automations, namely the welcome series and the abandoned cart, you have the opportunity to introduce your brand to every new user who signs up for your lists and nudge them closer to their first purchase."
Zac Cherin, co-founder, Sidekick
Zac also noted he builds specialized flows for subscribers who come to his clients’ websites from paid ads, which differ from the flows visitors receive after they find the site organically.
“When someone fills out the form from an ad, they get a welcome series that’s more condensed because we want to move them towards the brand and the product. We push them to purchase since the trained behavior with an ad is typically that you click it because you’re going to buy something,” said Zac.
Zac recommends brands that are paying for Facebook and Google ads consider taking a similar approach to extend the longevity of each campaign and make each dollar you spend go further, especially as these channels get more restrictive.
Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of using email and SMS marketing metrics to better understand the performance of paid ads over time:
“By factoring in metrics like the opt-in rate of your forms, the performance of your welcome and abandoned cart automations, and your customer lifetime value, you can start to project the value of paid ads beyond the ‘user clicks an ad and immediately makes a purchase’ model. This is increasingly important considering how the push towards more consumer privacy is shortening ad attribution windows.”
Create a brand your customers can trust
Shifting focus to your owned channels doesn’t mean you no longer have to worry about protecting customer data.
Each email address and phone number you collect is invaluable, and they’re only going to become more sacred as paid advertising costs continue to rise and return on ad spend (ROAS) continues to decrease.
Your subscribers’ email and text inboxes are near and dear to them—often, people use these spaces to communicate with family, friends, and colleagues. This also means establishing a level of trust between your customers and your brand will be crucial in the weeks, months, and years to come.
Listen to the growing concerns around customer data and privacy that prompted Facebook and Google to change their policies in the first place by complying with data privacy laws and creating an exceptional experience for your customers.
“Policies around consumer privacy are only going to get more strict. As a general rule of thumb, always be as transparent as possible with your customers as to how you’re collecting data, what data is being collected, and how that data is being used,” said Zac.
"Policies around consumer privacy are only going to get more strict. As a general rule of thumb, always be as transparent as possible with your customers as to how you’re collecting data, what data is being collected, and how that data is being used."
Zac Cherin, co-founder, Sidekick
How to prepare for the near future of paid advertising
For many marketers, the imminent privacy updates and cookie restrictions may feel like Doomsday. But while these changes might seem daunting, there are certain steps you can take now to prepare your brand for what’s to come.
Keep these key takeaways in mind as you consider your next move:
- Leverage Facebook and Google ads as a pipeline for growing your email and SMS lists, rather than earning clicks that result in one-off sales.
- Ensure you have the basics—such as a signup form, welcome series, and abandoned cart automation—set up so that you can re-engage new shoppers if they don’t make a purchase during their first visit to your site.
- Invest your time in creating segments based on different customer behaviors and how different subscribers discover your brand so that you can target them with more personalized content.
- Don’t take a one-and-done approach to email and SMS; continue to iterate, improve, and optimize your marketing automations.
- Pay attention to performance metrics to better understand what types of content resonate with your audience and use that knowledge to inform your digital ads.
- Be transparent with your customers about the ways you collect and use data, and ensure compliance with privacy laws.
Remember: While you can’t control how Facebook or Google allow you to reach new audiences or what changes are to come on these platforms, you do have control over your owned channels and the way you choose to engage your customers and subscribers beyond their first touch on your site.
Looking to improve your ROAS? Learn the three marketing basics to optimize before you put a cent towards paid advertising.
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