Succeeding in Ecommerce’s ‘New Normal’

How to Drive, Convert & Grow Online Sales Stage by Stage

The state of ecommerce hardly needs recounting. All around us, data mounts.

When 2020 began, online sales were expected to account for 16.1% of all global retail. Today, the percentage sits somewhere between 25%-30%.

Lest we miss the economic impact, a low-end step change of 25% represents $2.32 trillion. Not in total ecommerce sales. In new ecommerce sales … in 2020 alone.

Figures like that are simultaneously thrilling and overwhelming.

To help you succeed in ecommerce’s “new normal,” we’re publishing a series of guides organized around the three key stages of an online funnel.


Section 1: Driving Traffic Efficiently
At the top of the funnel, we’ll focus on (1) creating ad content tailored to the times, (2) structuring your accounts for performance, and (3) marketing across channels — namely, social media placements to generate demand and search-engine marketing to capture it.

Section 2: Converting Onsite Visitors
Coming soon

Section 3: Growing Lifetime Value
Coming soon


Aaron Orendorff

Aaron Orendorff
Vice President Marketing, Common Thread Collective

 
 
Jake Cohen

Jake Cohen
Head of Product Marketing, Klaviyo

 

Published: May 15, 2020

1

Driving Traffic Efficiently

Creative that converts

Establish content that is sensitive to the time and matches what the target audience is thinking about by considering what triggers them.

Already, ad creative is the differentiator on algorithmic platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Having amassed the largest data set on purchase behavior ever known, “hacks” that once gave seasoned ad buyers an advantage have all but vanished.

Amidst COVID-19, this reality only intensifies.

Winning creative revolves around, first, crafting an offer that’s profitable for your business as well as empathetic to the times. Second, testing that offer’s copy (words), content (visuals and videos), and conclusion — its onsite experience and effectiveness.

In other words, it’s not enough to make your creative answer the question, “Why should your ideal customer buy from you instead of a competitor?” Instead — with new economic and social pressures brought on by global quarantine — the real question is, “Why should your ideal customer buy from you instead of a competitor right now in this moment?”

  Best practices

Divide your creative approach to coronavirus into three types: direct, indirect, and none.

  • Direct: Explicit mentions of the pandemic — e.g., COVID-19, coronavirus, etc.
  • Indirect: Secondary language about the effects of the virus like at-home, new normal, safety, health, essential, and concerns around shipping and fulfillment
  • None: Mainstay messaging that doesn’t address the situation at all

Pro tip

As you develop your creative content, place yourself in your customers’ uneasy shoes and anticipate the emotional triggers surrounding them:


You’ll think through and test each one. Mostly likely, you’ll end up with winners in each approach.

In fact, to get your creative juices going, let’s look at how these approaches have already come to life in different verticals.

  Examples

Beauty & Wellness

With customers stuck inside, there’s less need to wear makeup than usual. What’s more, switching skincare products can cause some short-term breakouts, particularly if the new product is made from natural ingredients that purge harsh chemicals.

Enter Bambu Earth’s “6-Week Skin Detox”:

Bambu Earth Facebook Ads

This is an example of the indirect approach. The ads don’t mention COVID-19, they simply embrace the zeitgeist with the opening lines, “There’s no better time.” Rather than spin up new still images, the team at Bambu Earth used existing assets and amended them with fresh copy to reflect the offer.

Once that initial offer proved effective on Facebook, the brand updated one of its existing video assets (left) and created a new video (right) with the same offer:

Bambu Earth Video Ads


Pro tip

If you don’t already have UGC (user-generated content), here are some ways that you can source it from your customers:

  1. Add a CTA in your post-purchase email sequence asking for videos and pictures explicitly, or asking them to post and tag your brand on social media.
  2. Send this email roughly 1-2 weeks after delivery so that customers have a chance to use your product before the request.
  3. Test the response rates of standalone UGC emails versus including them into your product review flow through a Klaviyo integration like Yotpo.

If you’re in a pinch and need to generate content quickly, create it yourself starring family, friends, or staff. (Don’t tell anyone 😉, but both those videos immediately above star Adrianne Verheyen, she runs Common Thread Collective training community, ADmission … and Bambu Earth just happens to be one of CTC’s in-house brands.)

As we’ll see later in the email section, indirectly addressing coronavirus in your ad creative at the top of the funnel doesn’t exclude direct messaging from other campaigns at the bottom.

As an alternative to the indirect method, Alya Skin went with using content that had no relationship with COVID-19 (none) in the wake of global quarantine.

To ease the price burden for shoppers and maintain average order value (AOV) for itself, the brand created an “AfterPay Day Slay” offer that combined (1) an automatic buy-now, pay-later option, (2) a 30% discount, and (3) bundled products.

Alya Skin Afterpay ad and checkout

Indirect and none work well in a staple category like beauty. But what about verticals that have been more negatively affected?

Fashion & Apparel

Like many apparel labels, Born Primitive was initially hit hard by social-distancing’s new normal. However, because its target audience is CrossFit enthusiasts for whom the very place they normally wear the brand was gone, COVID-19 was doubly negative.

But within that challenge lay a massive opportunity.

Wanting to do more than produce content about working out at home, Born Primitive’s CEO, Bear Handlon, decided to do something truly in service to its suffering community: a 50%-profit-sharing campaign with gyms across the United States.

For creative, Bear and a number of Born Primitive’s athletes shot short explanation videos, launched them organically, and added paid spend once proof-of-concept had been established:

Born Primitive organic Instagram ad and landing page

Born Primitive made a concerted effort to showcase all three types of content. In addition to its direct efforts (above and left below), the brand also pushed indirect creative (middle below) with the subtle line “No Delays On Order!,” and content that didn’t address the pandemic at all (right below):

Born Primitive Facebook ads

In similar fashion, premium-denim maker Mott & Bow has released a number of new creative concepts highlighting at-home targeted SKUs (left below) as well as comfort-focused and social-proof heavy ads (middle and right):

Mott & Bow Facebook and Instagram creative

The primary goal of varying your creative is to hone your own offer by testing the different approaches to see which resonates best with your audience.


Pro tip

Consider repositioning your products in the context of what people are dealing with at home. For example, if your fabric has been your differentiator, talk about the virtues of not needing to wash it as frequently or of how comfortable it is when you’re sitting at home.


Home & Pets

As a final run at content inspiration, consider two examples from brands that, on the surface, couldn’t appear more different: Igloo Coolers and Printy Pets. What unites them are their family-and-friends audiences and their creative response to COVID-19.

As a legacy manufacturer traditionally sold through retail partners, you wouldn’t expect Igloo to be having one of its best months ever since entering DTC ecommerce three years ago. But that’s exactly what’s happening.

Taking the direct path immediately after coronavirus descended, Igloo sprang into action by creating a donation collection with the CDC. The first creative iteration was so successful, it quickly unleashed ads with the same offer but for family-friendly and nostalgic products:

Igloo CDC Donation Campaign


Pro tip

Supporting a cause that benefits essential workers, healthcare personnel, or other individuals who have been heavily affected by the pandemic is a great way to promote special-edition products while also allowing your customers to give back.


Printy Pets, on the other hand, was born online. Unlike coolers, which are explicitly called out by Sparkline as one of the “fastest declining” products thanks to coronavirus (a trend Igloo has completely upended), pet product sales are skyrocketing online.

To lean into that trend, Printy Pets has capitalized on every opportunity: Easter, National Pet Day, and the wider atmosphere.

Printy Pets Easter and Cozy Up Campaign

  How-to guides

Structuring your accounts

The best creative in the world won’t drive results without a clear and measurable strategy. To do that, you’ll need a consolidated ad account structure that’s easy to manage, track, and optimize.

The core of your structure should center on three levels:

  1. Campaign Level
  2. Ad Set Level
  3. Ad Level

1. Campaign Level: Campaign Budget Optimization or “CBO”

If you’re new to Facebook Advertising, think of your Campaign as the largest of three Russian Nesting Dolls. Inside it lives the Ad Set Doll and the Ad Doll (more on them later).

Your campaign is where you turn “Campaign Budget Optimization” on, set your daily budget, and select your campaign bid strategy.

Make sure your campaign setup mimics the example below and set your Campaign Budget accordingly.

Not sure what your Campaign Daily Budget should be?

Facebook needs 50 conversions per week to optimize properly; therefore, your weekly budget should be your AOV (Average Order Value) times 50, divided by 7.

For example, if your AOV = $50, your daily budget will be ~$350.

Facebook ad account structure

2. Ad Set Level: Cost Caps & Broad Targeting

Your ad sets are where you configure your Conversion Event, Budget & Schedule, Audiences, Placement, and Optimization & Delivery.

Since the CTA on all your ads will be “Shop Now,” make sure your Conversion Event is set to “Purchase,” as shown below.

No need to set a start or end date on your ad schedule. Since you’re running with Campaign Budget Optimization and Cost Caps, Facebook will not exceed your ad budget unless it’s acquiring customers at your CPA target.

Facebook ad account structure

When it comes to audiences, just remember: broad, broad, broad. Facebook knows who your potential customers are better than you ever will.

As you’ll see in the Prospecting audience example, all we’ve done is set it to Men 18-65+ in the U.S, while excluding two custom audiences and our Lifetime Customer List. Prospecting is not true prospecting unless you’re following these exclusions. Otherwise, you’re paying precious ad dollars to re-acquire your existing customers.


Pro tip

If you have a new pixel, little to no historical data, or extremely low organic website traffic, give Facebook a little help by starting with an interest stack. For example, in a category like handmade metal jewelry, create a stack of at least one million people composed of interests that include your product one-for-one but also extend beyond it:

For example, if you’re selling handmade metal jewelry, create an interest stack with things like:

  • Joanna Gaines
  • Pinterest DIY bracelets
  • Etsy homemade jewelry
  • Etc.

Before hitting go, always make sure Detailed Targeting Expansion is turned “on.”

Facebook ad account structure, detailed targeting expansion

Next on the ad set level, turn Automatic Placements “on” as well. This means that Facebook will serve your ads where it knows your consumers are purchasing — whether it be Facebook Feed, Instagram Feed, or Instagram Stories.

Lastly, set your cost control to your true CPA target. If you’re not sure what your true CPA target is, conduct our Profitability Analysis using this simple calculator.

Facebook ad account structure, set cost control

Within your CBO Campaign, you’ll have two ad sets: (1) prospecting (outlined above) and (2) remarketing (sometimes called, retargeting).

You’ll configure your remarketing ad set up the same way with one change: audiences. Target a Custom Audience of Page Viewers from the last 7-30 days and continue to exclude past purchases:

Facebook ad account structure, target custom audience

3. Ad Level: +6 Unique Ads Within Each

Since you’re using Automatic Placements, make sure that you create each ad in two size variations: square (1:1) for feeds and vertical (9:16) for stories. Upload both sizes to the same ad and let Facebook do the rest.

As long as you’ve set Cost Caps to your CPA target, you’ll never need to kill an ad. If an ad isn’t spending, it means Facebook can’t find potential customers to serve it to.

So, what next?

Go iterate on a new ad idea that drives attention, interest, desire, and calls your customer to action. Once your new ad idea is done, drop it in the same ad set, flip it on, and trust the process!

Facebook ad account structure, iterate

It really is that easy.

Facebook ad account structure, ad examples

This structure, now tested and proven across various verticals and spend levels, takes full advantage of the Facebook Power 5 — eliminating the human decision-making element out of media buying.


Pro tip

Trust the algorithm to do its best work — the hard, analytical, mathematical work — while you (the media buyer) focus on creating ads that drive the consumer to stop in their feed, click, and purchase.


  How-to guide

Channels for demand generation and capture

Leveraging and selecting the right platforms and placements for demand generation (social) and then demand capture (search).

Creating awareness through paid social advertising inevitably leads to a significant increase in brand search activity on Google.

The outcome is logical. Some people will click on your social ads, others will not. But, the seed has been planted. Many will remember your brand – and turn to Google to find you.

When customers search on Google, your job is owning as much of that Search Engine Results Page (SERP) real estate as possible.

It’s all about plugging holes in your sales funnel, especially towards the bottom. At Common Thread Collective, we like to call it the “brand lasso.”

Search is an intent-driven medium. By the time a consumer actively looks for your brand, they’re past the awareness stage of a traditional AIDA marketing funnel – and well into interest, desire, or action driven phases.

If you’re not represented, your competitors will be happy to fill the void.

APL Shoes SERP and Google Shopping

  Best practices

To win on Google comes down to the order of approach in setup.

Configuration of Shopping campaigns is different from normal search campaigns. Instead of inputting keywords – give Google a product feed. Instead of writing ad text — product titles, descriptions, and images build the ad units.

Google Merchant Center

In order to run Google Shopping ads, set up a Google Merchant Center account and verify ownership of your website. (If you don’t already have this setup, do it first.)

Next, use an app like …

… to connect product data from your Shopify store to your Google Merchant Center “feed.”

Google Shopping by Shopify

By far the fastest and easiest setup – simply install the Shopify app, login, and connect to your Google Merchant Center account.

That’s it. A Smart Shopping campaign will be automatically created.

Be aware that connecting this app to your account will also create new conversions in Google Ads. That’s a great thing, unless you haven’t set up conversion tracking in advance. If you do have conversions set up already, keep an eye on your account as this could create duplicates.

The downside here is configurability. The app doesn’t leave a ton of room for detailed modifications.

Feed for Google Shopping

Affordable, highly configurable, and meets the needs of all but the largest SKU count projects (typically the more SKUs, the more complicated feeds are to manage).

There’s a learning curve compared to Google Shopping by Shopify, but it’s likely worth your effort. With excellent support and a YouTube channel – it offers helpful content on how to leverage the tool.


Pro tip

Once the app is configured, it’s quick work to get your feed sent over to Bing Merchant Center. This gets shopping ads running on Bing as well.


Smart Shopping

Smart Shopping is the newest version of Shopping campaigns and uses fully automated targeting and bidding. To work correctly, it’s critical that you have Google Analytics:

  1. Set up on your website
  2. With remarketing enabled
  3. Your Google Ads and Google Analytics accounts linked

Smart Shopping campaigns remove tons of heavy lifting of setting up and optimizing Shopping campaigns. Plus, their performance is excellent.

Google Smart Shopping Campaigns

With a single campaign setup, your ads will show on the Google Search Network, the Google Display Network, YouTube, and Gmail.

Brand Search Campaigns

Brand Search Ads are a core component of the strategy. However, be wary not to spend more than 20% of your total monthly budget on this campaign type.

Use brand search to defend against competitors, push promotional offers, tell interesting stories in ad text that you can’t organically, or message the moment.

During its Gym Stimulus campaign, Born Primitive achieved this explicitly through Google Ads. Notice the first text-based search result below the Google Shopping ads and how it connects with the direct messaging from Facebook:

Born Primitive Facebook and Google

Shopping Ads

Google Shopping — also known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs) — is the most critical component of any ecommerce SEM strategy. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Use tools like GoDataFeed, Feedonomics, or Simprosys to format and structure your data feed to align with Google’s product feed specifications
  • Pay close attention to your product titles. The tools above allow you to modify titles before sending them to Google without adjusting your product page (PDP).
  • Monitor Google Merchant Center for issues. Submitting a product feed to Google is not a “set it and forget it” activity. Google regularly crawls the product and your store, checking for inconsistencies. Inconsistencies can result in disapprovals causing your product not to show on the SERP.
  • Connect your product reviews into Google Merchant Center. If you’re using Yotpo premium tier — or a number of other pre-approved review aggregators — this integration can be completed with just a few clicks.

Homesick State Candles Google


Pro tip

You have 150 characters to work with in the product title field. Use as much as possible. Strategize around keywords and mind the order – the beginning carries more weight than the end of the field.


RLSA Campaigns

Now that you have branded search dialed in, maximized your data feeds, and optimized shopping campaigns – it’s time to utilize traditional Search Ads.

Start with Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). This ad type specifically shows search ads to people who have already visited your site. It’s a great remarketing, bottom of funnel tactic that should yield a solid ROAS.


Pro tip

Don’t forget to “negative match” brand terms — meaning, exclude them from your RLSAs.


Categorical Search

Categorical Search is traditional search ads targeting non-branded keywords.

While common, these campaigns are likely to have a tight ROAS (due to significantly higher CPC’s compared to Shopping campaigns), bring down your account average ROAS overall, and not drive much click volume.

This doesn’t mean you should never use Categorical Search campaigns, but don’t start with them. Instead, begin with Shopping campaigns.


Pro tip

Test the newest form of targeting in Search Campaign—Dynamic Ad Groups and Dynamic Search Ads. Instead of using keywords you provide, it uses Google’s crawl data from your site to target the ads. Use that website content to dynamically generate the headline portions of the individual ad units.

Google dynamic search ads


YouTube

Right now YouTube is one of the biggest opportunities within the Google Ads platform. Here are some eye-opening YouTube stats:

  • Two billion logged-in monthly users
  • 73% of US adults use YouTube
  • On mobile alone, YouTube reaches more 18-49 year-olds than any broadcast or cable TV network
  • YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine and second most visited site after Google

When you’re ready to start advertising on YouTube, start with TrueView Ads (shown in the first panel):

YouTube ads types

TrueView “in-stream ads” play before or during another video. Viewers see five seconds of your video and then have the choice to keep watching or skip ahead. You only pay when they watch for at least 30 seconds, watch until the end, or click on your video ad.


Pro tip

Don’t jump right into prospecting on YouTube. Start with a remarketing audience. You’ll get a better initial ROAS and then you can use successful remarketing audiences to build future ‘similar’ (aka look-a-like) audiences for prospecting campaigns


Display

Keep in mind your Smart Shopping campaigns automatically include Dynamic Product remarketing, so take that into account when thinking about when (or if) you want to execute a separate Display strategy.

If you do decide to invest in display on the Google Display Network start with remarketing. Target the most recent visitors first—starting with a list that includes only the last 7 days of visitors, if you have enough traffic.

If you don’t have enough traffic to fill a 7-day remarketing audience (Google requires at least 1,000 users), consider lengthening to 14 days or 21 days. But each expansion will likely reduce the overall return you can expect from the campaign.

Display Prospecting is only going to be relevant in the most advanced projects, with an active understanding of top of funnel measurement metrics, long view-through attribution, and a desire to drive a branding impact as well as bottom line ROAS. These campaigns will have sub 0.50 ROAS measurements in Google Ads, at best.


Pro tip

Use the new Responsive Display Ads (RDA) format for your display ads. The ad units are generated dynamically from a collection of text and image inputs provided by the advertiser. They save time, requiring your team to produce less, individual sized assisted. And have shown significantly increased delivery over standard display ads.


OPTIMIZATION

With our laser focus on measuring direct sales and ROAS at times we don’t do enough to value other less direct actions that absolutely contribute to the whole—like new email user signups.

Do some calculations to come up with an estimate of how much an email user is worth to your company. Then start measuring those email users sign up in Google Analytics as a goal conversion. Then import that conversion to Google Ads, and set the value of the conversion to the value you came up with in your earlier calculation. Now you’re officially reporting conversion value tied to the number of new email user signups that result from your Google Ads campaigns.

Putting it all together

To close out this first section, let’s look at a few final instances of how these top-of-the-funnel approaches come together in the wild.

  Examples

Bondi Boost — which we saw above — united its social campaigns with both Google Shopping and Google Ads. With the first, its branded PLAs feature the same products as its Facebook ads while its text-based Ads highlight a “30-day Money Back Guarantee”:

BondiBoost Facebook and Google

We already called attention to Born Primitive’s use of social-plus-search in its direct COVID-19 “Back the Gyms” campaigns. A similar, though more general tactic, is used across the board now that the direct campaign has ended:

Born Primitive Instagram ad and Google

As an alternative to social and search, Lauren Moshi guides its prospective shoppers with leading-edges through Instagram Stories Ads and Facebook Stories Ads. It then uses Dynamic Product Ads (DPAs) — a far more product-centric ad type — to remarket and close the loop:

Lauren Moshi Instagram stories, Facebook stories, and Facebook ad

Doral Bracelets bridges the demand divide from Facebook to SMS to branded search:

Dorsal Bracelets

And finally, with Igloo, we’re right back to where we started — a straightforward movement from social advertising to Google:

Igloo Coolers Facebook and Google


Pro tip

The point with all these variations isn’t to overwhelm you with options. Rather, it’s to overwhelm your audience, but in a good way. As long as you’ve set up your accounts following the guidelines above, you’ll be ready to test quickly and discover exactly where your audience discovers your brand … and exactly where you need to be to tighten your funnel.


  How-to guides


2

Converting onsite visitors

Coming soon

3

Growing lifetime value

Coming soon

Common Thread

About Common Thread Collective

Common Thread Collective is an ecommerce growth agency that exists to help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. We guide $2M-$30M DTC brands to scale profitably – across acquisition, conversion, and retention.

Learn more about how we’ve transformed our content services into a distributed COVID-19 powerhouse. Even when the world shuts down, get …

Ad Creative That Sells

Klaviyo

About Klaviyo

Klaviyo is the world’s leading owned marketing platform known for accelerating revenue for online business using the channels they own like email, web and mobile. Enabling companies to leverage these owned marketing channels, Klaviyo makes it easy to store, access, analyze and use transactional and behavioral data to power highly-targeted customer and prospect communications. Unlike other marketing platforms Klaviyo doesn’t force companies to compromise between advanced functionality or ease of use – so companies of all sizes are able to maximize their sales quickly. That’s why over 31,000 innovative companies like Unilever, Custom Ink and Eventbrite sell more with Klaviyo.

Grow with Klaviyo

So, what is Klaviyo?

Klaviyo is the world’s leading owned marketing platform known for accelerating revenue for online business using the channels they own like email, web and mobile. Enabling companies to leverage these owned marketing channels, Klaviyo makes it easy to store, access, analyze and use transactional and behavioral data to power highly-targeted customer and prospect communications. Unlike other marketing platforms Klaviyo doesn’t force companies to compromise between advanced functionality or ease of use - so companies of all sizes are able to maximize their sales quickly. That’s why over 21,000 innovative companies like Unilever, Custom Ink and Eventbrite sell more with Klaviyo. Learn more at Klaviyo.com

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